The NHL All-Star Game has come and passed, and, for many teams, that meant getting back to business right away.

Some teams are still on their bye weeks, while others hit the ice on Monday. We’re well past the halfway mark in the season, so the sample sizes across the board are significant. If you’re really a contender, you can’t take your foot off the gas at any point going forward. And with the NHL Trade Deadline in a few weeks, it’s about to get spicy.

There are some tight playoff fights in both conferences and little room for error. Here’s a look at five teams that need to kick things off in a big way coming out of the break:

Vegas Golden Knights

Standings: No. 3 in Pacific, two points ahead of wildcard No. 1 Edmonton Oilers

The Golden Knights struggled profusely in the lead-up to the break, going 2-6-2 in the final 10 games. There were quite a few close losses along the way, but you can’t drop games to Detroit, Los Angeles or Arizona at this point. The team has a solid western swing, including some very winnable matchups against Chicago, San Jose, Anaheim and Nashville, but they can’t afford to extend their current four-game losing streak.

They’re now without captain and first-line right winger Mark Stone for the foreseeable future, so they’ll need some of the depth guys to step up in a significant way down the stretch – assuming they don’t end up making a big splash on the trade market. They also simply need better goaltending from Logan Thompson, who has allowed three or more goals in five of his past six starts. We know how dangerous this group can be, even when dealing with injuries. But now, sitting in third place in the Pacific with a two-point advantage over Edmonton, the pressure is really on.


New York Islanders

Standings: No. 3 in the wild card, tied with Pittsburgh for the final spot

The Islanders made the first big splash ahead of the deadline this year, acquiring Bo Horvat from the Vancouver Canucks early last week. They kicked off the new era with a tight 2-1 win over the Flyers, with Horvat leading his new team with four shots. By acquiring Horvat, the Islanders – who sit on the outside looking in – are making a statement by saying they’re not ready to miss the playoffs again and they believe they have the group capable of causing damage. But now the pressure is really on, especially after moving a first-round pick.

The immediate schedule will feature some winnable matchups, like Vancouver, Montreal and Ottawa. Seattle, Pittsburgh, Boston and Winnipeg will cause some issues, though, and they’ll especially need to win the two upcoming bouts with the Penguins. The Islanders definitely have a group capable of making noise, but they’re also so close to the race for Connor Bedard, too. They’re in a mushy middle that seems to change nearly daily, so the next few weeks will be paramount to the team’s end game. They’re committed to Horvat after signing him to an eight-year deal, so it’s not like they can flip him for more assets if everything falls apart.