Five players who need to step up


1. Matt Carle, Tampa Bay Lightning

When Carle signed a whopping six-year deal worth $33 million with the Lightning this past summer, the expectation was that he would help with the power play and the transition game, thus alleviating some of the defensive problems that plagued the Bolts last season. After a 6-1 start, the Lightning have gone 4-11-1 and fallen below the playoff bubble in the Eastern Conference. Carle has gone eight straight games without a point and has just one goal in his past 13 games. A postseason berth isn't out of the question, but Tampa Bay -- 26th in goals allowed per game -- is going to have to be a lot better on the defensive side of the puck if that's going to happen.


2. Martin Havlat, San Jose Sharks

The same issues dog the talented Sharks winger: durability and lack of timely production. So far, Havlat has delivered neither this season. After starting the season with a four-game point streak, he has just two points in his past 16 games. He left a game against Nashville this past weekend with an injury and did not play Tuesday. The team defense and goaltending have kept the team afloat in recent weeks, but Havlat is going to need to do more to ensure another postseason berth for San Jose.


3. Shea Weber, Nashville Predators

Weber has slowly started to come around offensively, but it's not enough if the Predators are going to join the playoff fray for the eighth time in the past nine playoff seasons. And a playoff berth is unlikely unless their offense -- 30th in the league in goals per game -- gets going. And the offense won't get going until the power play -- 26th in the league -- gets going. A season ago, Weber led the team with 10 power-play goals, the most among NHL defensemen. This season, he has no goals and just three power-play assists through the Preds' first 23 games, highlighting just how much he and the Preds miss Weber's longtime partner Ryan Suter.


4. Brad Richards, New York Rangers

The Rangers' top center has gone 11 games without a goal, and the Rangers are hanging on to the final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. A season ago, Richards scored 25 times, seven on the power play. This season, he has just two goals in total, none with the man advantage. On top of that, he was recently filled in by another Patrick Kaleta cheap shot that saw him miss Tuesday's game against the Philadelphia Flyers. Never mind the Stanley Cup many observers predicted New York was destined to win, the Blueshirts need more Brad Richards than they've seen in the first half if they want to assure themselves a ticket to the playoff dance.


5. Jason Pominville, Buffalo Sabres

A season ago, Pominville was the Sabres' only 30-goal scorer. And although the Buffalo captain got off to a good start in January, his production has gone south as the Sabres fell to the very bottom of the Eastern Conference. Pominville has managed to score in just two of Buffalo's past 14 games (three goals) and has just one power-play goal on the season. Given that the Sabres own the worst power play in the league by a country mile, you don't have to look very hard to see what Pominville and the Sabres need to do in the second half if they're going to crawl back into the postseason hunt.