New York Rangers: It’s not just that the Rangers have won five straight, it’s how they’ve done it and who they’ve done it against. The Blueshirts return home after posting an unblemished 3-0-0 record on their California trip, besting the Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks despite a grueling three-games-in-four-nights stretch. A well-deserved All-Star nod for Rick Nash, we might add, for what has been a sensational first half of the 2014-15 season.
Gerard Gallant: Let’s give credit where credit is due: Gallant has done a fantastic job with a young, relatively inexperienced Florida Panthers squad. The Panthers recently rattled off their third consecutive win with a 4-2 victory against the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday, and sit just one point behind the Boston Bruins in the Atlantic Division standings. Goaltending has been good, scoring has been balanced, and the development of the Cats’ young stars has been a major plus.
Boston Bruins: Maybe Charlie Jacobs’ comments last week that put everyone in Boston on notice did some good for a sputtering Bruins squad that has barely resembled the skilled, punishing Bruins teams of recent years. The Bruins have now recorded three straight wins after downing the Pittsburgh Penguins, New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers since last Wednesday. Tuesday’s match against the Atlantic-leading Tampa Bay Lightning should be a good barometer of whether the Bruins are finally settling into a rhythm or this recent streak was just a tease.
Buffalo Sabres: Had to feel bad for Sabres netminder Michal Neuvirth, who was saddled with a loss despite a stellar 45-save performance in Buffalo’s 2-1 loss to Tampa Bay on Friday. The Sabres have now dropped seven straight and seem to have established themselves as the clear front-runners for the No. 1 overall draft pick and young phenom Connor McDavid. Hopefully, McDavid's performance at the World Junior Championship provided the team some solace last week. Hope for the future, if nothing else.
Philly’s goaltending: With starting netminder Steve Mason out for the near future, Ray Emery has not been the answer for the Flyers. Emery has given up six goals on the past 23 shots he has faced and has been hit with three straight losses. That’s not to say that he has a particularly stout defense playing in front of him -- he doesn’t -- but the veteran backup has to give the Flyers more for them to have a chance each night.
Mason's outlook: Steve Mason is expected to miss up to two weeks with a lower-body injury, general manager Ron Hextall told reporters Sunday. Mason has been hampered by injuries already this season, with a back injury dogging him in December and an undisclosed ailment setting him back earlier this week. Many people assumed heading into this year that the Flyers’ success would hinge on Mason and his ability to stay healthy. It appears they were right.
Wings missing Howard: Speaking of goaltenders, Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard is also on the shelf with a groin injury that has him on injured reserve. The Wings are hopeful that Howard will not miss extended time, but he is expected to undergo more tests Monday to determine the severity of the injury.
Buffalo's McCormick out: As if things couldn’t go any worse for the downtrodden Sabres, head coach Ted Nolan told reporters on Sunday that veteran forward Cody McCormick was hospitalized with a blood clot in his calf muscle. McCormick is out indefinitely.
What to watch for:
Nylander’s North American debut: Toronto Maple Leafs top prospect William Nylander has been recalled from his Swedish club, MODO, to the Leafs’ minor-league affiliate, the AHL Marlies. The 18-year-old center had eight goals and 20 points in 21 games for Modo this season, and it will be interesting to see how he’s able to adapt his game on the smaller North American ice.
Grudge match in N.Y.: Two of the top teams in the Metropolitan Division square off Tuesday in a renewed rivalry between the Rangers and the New York Islanders. The Isles lead the Metro with 57 points, but the Blueshirts are red hot with five straight wins heading into Tuesday’s match.