Islanders, Ovechkin rising in the East; Devils' scoring issues continue

Trending up

  • New York Islanders: The Isles have strung together four straight wins as they continue to pace the Metropolitan Division. The team’s most recent win featured a six-goal effort on Saturday against the Columbus Blue Jackets, their offense continuing to roll even without top-line winger Kyle Okposo. Anders Lee has emerged to be a force for the team; both Lee and linemate John Tavares finished with four points each against the Blue Jackets.

  • Alex Ovechkin: Joining Tavares and Lee in this category this past weekend, Ovechkin also tallied four points in helping to lead the Washington Capitals to a critical 5-3 win over the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday. Ovechkin’s two-goal, two-assist performance put him in first in the goal-scoring race. He leads the NHL with 36 goals through 57 games. His teammate, Nick Backstrom, paces the league with 43 assists.

  • Cam Talbot: There have been a few shaky performances by Talbot since he has taken over the starting job in place of an injured Henrik Lundqvist (neck), but Talbot looked resolute between the pipes in the New York Rangers’ 5-1 win on Saturday, making 34 saves to stymie the Arizona Coyotes. If the Blueshirts want to retain ground in the Metropolitan Division, they’ll need Talbot to settle in and find consistency during Lundqvist’s absence.

Trending down

  • Toronto Maple Leafs: I considered putting the Leafs in the "Trending up" category simply because they have finally started the type of tear-down necessary for a team riddled with so many glaring deficiencies. With respect to the long-term plan, Brendan Shanahan made the right move in shipping Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli to the Nashville Predators, but in the short-term? Hoo, boy, imagine how much these Leafs are going to struggle now without two of their most effective, hardworking players.

  • New Jersey Devils: No matter how many coaches are behind the bench, it continues to be a woeful season for the Devils, who dropped their fourth straight over the weekend to the red-hot Predators. The Devils have managed only three goals over their past three games, providing goaltender Cory Schneider little room for error. Not even 35 saves against the hottest team in the league was enough for Schneider to earn a win Saturday night.

Injury report

  • Neil injured: Hard-nosed Ottawa Senators forward Chris Neil garnered plenty of interest with the trade deadline drawing near, but the gritty winger has been ruled out indefinitely with a broken thumb. It is believed that Neil sustained the injury in a fight with Edmonton’s Luke Gazdic over the weekend.

  • Mason on the shelf: Philadelphia’s Steve Mason has been hampered by injuries throughout his time with the Flyers, and he will be battling yet another setback with his team desperately trying to cling on to its playoff hopes. Mason sustained a lower-body injury recently and is expected to miss at least two weeks. Consider the Flyers cooked, if you didn’t already.

  • Panthers taking hits: With Brandon Pirri expected to miss two weeks with an upper-body injury and captain Willie Mitchell sidelined since Feb. 3, the Panthers are already short-staffed as they continue to push for a playoff spot in the East. Meanwhile, Dmitry Kulikov did Florida’s blue line no favors in executing a reckless hit against the Dallas Stars’ Tyler Seguin, which resulted in a four-game suspension for Kulikov.

What to watch for

  • Winnik watch: With Franson and Santorelli already dealt, assume that the next forward to depart Toronto will be Daniel Winnik, who has attracted interest from multiple teams for his versatility and modest price tag. He should be a relatively easy commodity to move, though Shanahan has to be considering even bigger splashes. If he truly is weighing whether to trade captain Dion Phaneuf or forward Phil Kessel, those deals promise to be much more difficult to consummate, with the steep cap hit each player carries and the significant return Shanahan will be expected to yield.

  • Bolts on the road: Neck-and-neck with the Montreal Canadiens for the Eastern Conference lead, the Tampa Bay Lightning face a tough week ahead as they continue a five-game road trip out West. They began the trip with a 5-2 win against the San Jose Sharks on Sunday but now must travel to Los Angeles, Anaheim, Arizona and Colorado before returning home to host the Chicago Blackhawks a week from Friday.