Detroit Red Wings: It sort of feels like the Red Wings are the sleeping giant of the Eastern Conference, right? While everyone continues to hype the sexy picks like Tampa Bay and the New York Islanders, the Wings keep chugging along and racking up wins while keeping a relatively low profile. Detroit has won nine of its past 10 games and 11 of its past 13. February will be a tough test for coach Mike Babcock’s squad with a road-heavy schedule, particularly toward the end of the month, but we’ve seen the Wings rise to the occasion time and time again.
Montreal Canadiens: The Habs just seem to have the Boston Bruins’ number. There’s no other way to explain the dominance we’ve seen in recent years when these two foes square off in what has been one of the most compelling, heated rivalries in all of hockey. On Sunday, Montreal dispatched the Bruins 3-1 to complete the series sweep. With two straight wins and seven in the past 10 games, the Canadiens trail the Atlantic Division-leading Lightning by a mere two points.
Brian Boyle, Lightning: The hulking forward notched two goals in the 5-3 win Sunday over the Anaheim Ducks, one that allowed the Lightning to take sole possession of first place in the Eastern Conference. The versatile center continues to show the Rangers what they are missing. Boyle, who signed with Tampa Bay as an unrestricted free agent last summer, was a key contributor to the Rangers’ run to the Stanley Cup final last spring.
The New York Rangers’ goaltending: Speaking of the Rangers, there is concern in the Big Apple over the stunning revelations about starting goalie Henrik Lundqvist’s vascular injury. Lundqvist told reporters Sunday that he would be in a life-threatening situation had he continued playing with the neck injury that is expected to keep him out for at least three weeks. Lundqvist, who was struck by a puck to the throat during a game against Carolina on Jan. 31, could have suffered a stroke (even though he finished the game against the Hurricanes, and played the entire game Feb. 2 against Florida before being shut down). The Rangers will have to rely on backup Cam Talbot for an undetermined amount of time; Lundqvist is hoping to return in time for the playoffs.
Ottawa’s offense: The Senators have lost three straight and have been limited to just three goals during that span in what is just another road bump in a season already riddled with disappointment. Ottawa, 20th in the league in overall offense with just 2.67 goals per game, is 14th in the Eastern Conference with an abysmal 20-22-9 record.
Lundqvist explains: According to Lundqvist, he suffered a “sprained blood vessel” that will keep him out of action for an indefinite amount of time. The Rangers, who will have him evaluated again within the next three weeks, said in a statement that they will “confer” with medical experts in the meantime.
Grabner on IR: The Islanders are already without top-line winger Kyle Okposo, who has a detached retina, and now have been forced to place winger Michael Grabner on injured reserve with an upper-body injury. Both Cal Clutterbuck and defenseman Calvin de Haan missed Sunday’s game against the Buffalo Sabres because of injuries as well.
Mason forced from game: The Rangers are not the only Metropolitan Division team to see their starting goaltender go down with an injury. The Philadelphia Flyers watched in concern as Steve Mason had to be helped off the ice during the second period of the team’s 3-1 win Sunday against the Washington Capitals. Flyers general manager Ron Hextall told reporters after the game that Mason’s lower-body injury will prevent him from traveling with the team to Montreal.
What to watch for
Open for business: With the Senators struggling mightily and the franchise intent on pinching pennies, we might see quite a bit of action in the weeks leading up to the trade deadline. According to ESPN.com’s Pierre LeBrun, gritty forward Chris Neil is drawing a fair amount of interest, though he may not be the only Senator on the move. Names like David Legwand, Marc Methot and Chris Phillips will be bandied about in trade talks as well, no doubt.
Rangers' plans: Four years ago, Rangers backup goaltender Martin Biron broke his collarbone right before the trade deadline, forcing general manager Glen Sather to scrap his original plans and scour the market for a suitable replacement. Sather balked at the prices and called up Chad Johnson instead. This year, however, he won’t be under that same tight time constraint if in fact the team decides to seek goaltending help, with Lundqvist’s status up in the air.