Bruins, Habs rising in Eastern Conference; Leafs continue downward spiral

Trending up

  • Boston Bruins: Slowly but surely, the Bruins are beginning to look like the team we're used to and the one opponents expect to see come spring. Winners in eight of their past 10 games, the Bruins have won two straight and they hold onto one of two wild-card spots in the Eastern Conference. A big part of their resurgence comes as a result of goaltender Tuukka Rask’s improved play. Rask had a stellar month of January and most recently turned away 30 of 31 shots faced in the team’s 3-1 win against the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings on Saturday.

  • Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals: For the 10th time in 10 NHL seasons, the great No. 8 has reached the 30-goal milestone, an accomplishment that few players in league history have reached. Only four other players -- Wayne Gretzky, Mike Bossy, Jari Kurri and Mike Gartner -- have done so, making the argument for Ovechkin being one of the sublime generational talents an easy one. The superstar finished with two goals and three points in the Capitals’ 4-3 win over the St. Louis Blues on Sunday as Washington clings to the last wild-card spot in the East.

  • Michael Del Zotto, Philadelphia Flyers: The once highly-touted prospect has seen his stock drop significantly since playing for three different teams over the past two seasons, but the talented young defenseman is coming on for the Flyers. With the lone goal in the Flyers’ 1-0 shutout win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday, Del Zotto extended his season-high point streak to six games; he has three goals and seven points during that span. Not too shabby for a player who was a consistent scratch for the Flyers earlier this season.

Trending down

  • The Maple Leafs’ offense: Another week goes by and marks another opportunity to shake one’s head in disbelief at the new depths to which the Leafs seem to have sunk. Their utter lack of offense spelled their demise once again against the Flyers on Saturday, as the Leafs’ skid hit nine games. The Leafs have a measly seven -- seven! -- goals during that span, managing more than one goal in only one of those games. Poor Peter Horachek.

  • Evgeni Nabokov, Tampa Bay Lightning: Many found the Nabokov signing to be a puzzling one in the first place, with the Lightning having both starter Ben Bishop at the team’s disposal and prospect Andrei Vasilevskiy in the pipeline. It appears that the former has proven himself capable to the Bolts’ brass, because the Lightning placed Nabokov on waivers Sunday. The veteran netminder was 3-6-2 with a 3.15 goals-against average and .882 save percentage for Tampa Bay this season.

Injury report

  • Phaneuf “week to week”: As if the Leafs can afford to be without their top minute-logging defenseman, Dion Phaneuf. The embattled captain, who boasts a team-leading 23:05 of ice time per game, was declared “week to week” once the Leafs convened after the All-Star break last weekend, though it is not immediately clear how he sustained the injury.

  • Okposo out: Speaking of undisclosed injuries, the New York Islanders were similarly vague with the details on the injury to top winger Kyle Okposo, who is expected to be sidelined six to eight weeks. Okposo was in the midst of another terrific season for the high-flying Isles, who will be tested without one of their most consistent scoring threats.

  • Murray returns: Let’s not even begin to revisit the Columbus Blue Jackets’ well-documented injury history this season, but instead focus on the bright side for the ill-fated club. The team returned defenseman Ryan Murray to the lineup for the first time since Nov. 1. The 21-year-old blueliner played over 19 minutes in his first game back from injury, chipping in with an assist in his team’s 3-1 loss to the Lightning in the process.

What to watch for

  • Montreal rising: The Montreal Canadiens and the Lightning continue to jockey for the top spot in the Eastern Conference, but the Habs have ample opportunity to gain ground on the Bolts with a couple of feeble opponents on their schedule this week. Sitting just one point back of Tampa Bay in the standings, the Habs host the bottom-feeding Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday and the lowly New Jersey Devils on Saturday.

  • Making moves: With Boston rounding into form, one has to wonder whether general manager Peter Chiarelli wants to get a leg up on his Eastern Conference foes in advance of next month’s trade deadline. There remains a need to upgrade at right wing, a position they have really failed to fill since Jarome Iginla’s departure last summer. Will he pull the trigger early and get a jump on the rest of his competition?