Stars, Ducks on the rise in West; Sharks, Kings have some issues

Trending up

  • Dallas Stars -- Winners in eight of their past 10 games, the Stars are finally showing signs of being the team so many people projected as one of the up-and-coming contenders out West. So much was made of their offensive firepower heading into this season, yet early struggles quickly dampened the hype. Now, they are finally making a push. Though the Stars dropped a 5-4 overtime decision to the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday, they have picked up 17 of their last 20 possible points and have scored 20 goals in their past four games. Still some significant ground to make up, however, as they trail the fourth-place Winnipeg Jets by five points in the Central Division.

  • Anaheim Ducks -- Honestly, what more can we say about the Ducks, who just keep managing to find ways to win? The Ducks rallied against the Nashville Predators for a 4-3 win on Sunday, racking up their 20th one-goal victory of the season. The Ducks lead the league with 58 points despite a lineup that has been decimated by both injuries and mumps (238 man-games lost).

  • Patrick Sharp, Chicago Blackhawks -- The veteran forward has been on a roll for the Blackhawks as of late, and he capped a strong weekend with an overtime winner in the team’s 5-4 victory against the Dallas Stars on Sunday. Sharp, who has two goals and three points in the past two games and five points in the past four, was also one of the most dynamic players on the ice during the Winter Classic, where he led the team with 10 shots on goal.

  • Matt Hendricks, Edmonton Oilers -- Not too many opportunities to give the Oilers some love, so we’ll take it when we can get it. The jagged-edged Hendricks tallied twice in Edmonton’s 5-2 win over the New York Islanders. He also notched a goal in the team’s shootout win against the Los Angeles Kings last Tuesday, one that halted a nine-game skid for the Oilers.

  • T.J. Oshie, St. Louis Blues -- With a hat trick in the Blues’ 7-2 beatdown of the San Jose Sharks over the weekend, Oshie now has five goals and six points in the past six games. Nice little tear after a five-game goal drought the second half of December.

Trending down

  • Nashville Predators -- This may seem an odd selection, given that Nashville currently occupies first place in the Central Division, but the Preds appear to be losing a bit of momentum lately, and if I were head coach Peter Laviolette, I’d be a tad concerned. Beyond having one of the best goaltenders in Pekka Rinne, who is having himself a sensational season, Nashville boasts an impressively deep, young and mobile defensive corps. Yet the Preds haven’t been very stingy over the past few weeks. They have surrendered 23 goals in their past six games, 10 in their past two. It’s not time to panic, but the Preds could stand to clean up some things with their game heading into the All-Star break.

  • San Jose Sharks -- Missing veteran center Joe Thornton, the Sharks were absolutely manhandled by the Blues on Saturday night. Sharks netminder Antti Niemi was pulled after giving up six goals, and after the game coach Todd McLellan blasted his team for being ill-prepared to compete both mentally and physically.

Injury report

  • Joe Thornton, Sharks -- Thornton’s ironman streak of 319 consecutive games played ended Saturday, when he missed his team’s bludgeoning by St. Louis with an upper-body injury. Thornton was subsequently placed on injured reserve, meaning he will miss at least the next two games before he is eligible to be activated.

  • Kris Versteeg, Chicago Blackhawks -- Versteeg was forced from Thursday’s Winter Classic match against the Washington Capitals when he was struck by a shot in the left hand during the third period. According to coach Joel Quenneville, Versteeg is expected to miss a month, though the injury will probably not require surgery.

  • James Neal, Nashville Predators -- Neal has missed two straight games with a lower-body injury, though he is reportedly day-to-day and could return this week.

What to watch for

  • Bounce-back opportunity -- The Minnesota Wild are sputtering with only three wins in their past 10 games, and a 7-1 rout by Dallas on Saturday has to have Minny eager to get back out there and get things going in the other direction. Mike Yeo’s squad will face another team licking its wounds when it hosts the Sharks on Tuesday.

  • Defensive concerns for Kings -- My colleague Craig Custance posted an excellent read last week about some emerging issues for the Los Angeles Kings, namely on defense. Slava Voynov remains suspended indefinitely, while Drew Doughty is handling monster minutes as all members of the team’s back end are shouldering an increased responsibility. The Kings have dropped three of their past four games and they surrendered seven goals to the Nashville Predators in Saturday’s loss. Have to wonder if there are bigger cracks in the championship veneer than we thought.

  • Corey Crawford, Blackhawks -- As ESPNChicago.com colleague Scott Powers has noted, Crawford’s performance may be one to monitor. The Blackhawks’ starting netminder has not been great since his return from injury, and the injury in and of itself is a whole other issue, given that Crawford hurt himself while at a concert. The Hawks have still managed to win games, but Crawford’s play must improve if the Hawks want to continue to battle for the top spot in the Central Division.