As Southeast rivals make big changes, the Hurricanes are left twisting in the wind

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everythingisonstaalandward.jpgOne of the easiest questions for most hockey people – aside from the least objective Washington Capitals fans, perhaps – was “which division is the weakest in the NHL?” Any puckhead worth his or her salt would swiftly choose the Southeast Division as the league’s worst.

The fact of the matter is that the SE might still be the weakest in the NHL, but the once-middling lightweights are building up resources to knock off Ted Leonsis’s heavyweight gorilla in DC.

The Atlanta Thrashers are bulking up with former Chicago Blackhawks including Dustin Byfulgien, the Tampa Bay Lightning are experiencing a shrewd makeover thanks to new GM Steve Yzerman and the Florida Panthers are trading a little success today for potential payoffs tomorrow with multiple draft picks and younger players. Despite those moves, you’d have to be quite the Kool-Aid drinker to handicap anyone as the division winner over Ovechkin & Co. and GM George McPhee can probably point to the natural internal improvements that come with having a young team to explain his lack of splashy moves.

For years, the Capitals would run away with the division while one other team was lucky to even make the playoffs (if there even was a second team; one year the Atlantic sent four teams, the Northeast sent three and only the Capitals represented the Southeast). If there was one team that gave the Caps at least a token effort, it was former Stanley Cup winner Carolina. With a talented goalie in Cam Ward and a great young forward named Eric Staal, the team would experience some of the most dramatic peaks and valleys of any in the NHL.

But what now? The team lost Ray Whitney (via free agency) and the rapidly declining Rod Brind’amour (retirement) while doing very little to improve their team outside of signing the strange “in one year and out the other” defenseman Anton Babchuk and another retread in Joe Corvo. Even in a top heavy league like the NHL, it cannot make Hurricanes fans too comfortable to realize that Staal, Ward and defenseman Joni Pitkanen account for one third of the team’s meager $44 million salary structure.

You can’t completely blame GM Jim Rutherford since owner Peter Karmanos wants to make the team cheaper and therefore easier to buy, but who can the Hurricanes even hope to step up this season? Aside from Brandon Sutter, I don’t know many go-to guys once you get past Staal and Ward. Considering that injuries and inconsistent play doomed a more credible Canes roster last season, it would require quite the coaching job by Paul Maurice for this team to make an impact, even in a decidedly soft Eastern Conference.

While all four of their divisional cousins can point to an improving short-term and an even better long-term future, the Hurricanes must see nothing but clouds and uncertainty on the horizon.

Video: Flyers’ Read (upper-body injury) will not return versus Predators

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Philadelphia Flyers forward Matt Read is done for the night with an upper-body injury, the team announced.

Read, who only played three shifts today, was hit into the net by Nashville Predators forward Filip Forsberg during the first period. Flyers GM Ron Hextall announced the veteran forward suffered an upper-body injury.

There was no call on the play.

In 26 games this season, Read has six goals and 10 points.

Video: Radulov goes top shelf in the shootout and it’s pretty sweet

MONTREAL, QC - NOVEMBER 08:  Alexander Radulov #47 of the Montreal Canadiens looks on during the warmup prior to the NHL game against the Boston Bruins at the Bell Centre on November 8, 2016 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Boston Bruins 3-2.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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Alexander Radulov has been a pretty good acquisition for the Montreal Canadiens, and he continued to prove that Sunday against the L.A. Kings.

Radulov scored in the shootout against the Kings, helping the Canadiens to a 5-4 victory. He also scored in the second period and had two assists for a three-point night. Not bad.

But his shootout goal was sweet. Just made it look easy, as he went to the backhand, top shelf on Peter Budaj.

With reported tension between coach Michel Therrien and Max Pacioretty, the Habs captain scored twice and had an assist. Another three-point night.

So, the Habs got offensive contributions from their best players.

That said, one of their best players, Alex Galchenyuk left the game late in the third period after a collision with Anze Kopitar away from the puck.

Galchenyuk didn’t return for the overtime. In 25 games, he has nine goals and 23 points, emerging as the No. 1 center in Montreal when the season began.

The Toews injury isn’t getting better, so Chicago’s captain will sit versus Jets

NEWARK, NJ - OCTOBER 28:  Jonathan Toews #19 of the Chicago Blackhawks skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on October 28, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The Blackhawks face the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday, and they’ll do so without captain Jonathan Toews.

Toews will miss a fifth straight game because of a reported back injury.

On Sunday, per CSN Chicago, coach Joel Quenneville provided an update, saying the Blackhawks forward will now be kept off the ice for the next few days because the injury essentially isn’t getting any better.

The Blackhawks are coming off a 3-1 road loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday, and they’re going through a difficult time with injuries to key players. Not only is Toews out, but goalie Corey Crawford has been sidelined for two to three weeks after undergoing an appendectomy.

Scott Darling will start in net tonight for Chicago, which has a three-point lead in the Central Division.

The Jets will be without their top point producer Mark Scheifele for a second straight game with a lower-body injury, per NHL.com.

Buffalo’s depth on defense is dwindling

BUFFALO, NY - OCTOBER 18:  Josh Gorges #4 of the Buffalo Sabres skates against the Boston Bruins at First Niagara Center on October 18, 2014 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Jen Fuller/Getty Images)
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The Buffalo Sabres aren’t known for their depth on defense, so when they have to deal with injuries at that position, things can get complicated.

Well…I guess things are about to get complicated.

On Sunday, the Sabres announced that Josh Gorges (pictured) will miss “weeks” because of a non-displaced fracture in his foot. The injury occurred after he blocked a shot in Thursday’s game against the Rangers.

Besides Gorges, Buffalo is also without Zach Bogosian and Dmitry Kulikov.

Bogosian has been out since Nov. 3 with sprained ligaments in his knee, and he’s still 10-to-14 days away from getting back into the lineup.

The news is a little better for Kulikov, who returned to practice on Sunday. He’s missed 11 games because of a back injury he suffered in the preseason. He tried playing through it, but obviously he was still in some discomfort.

“Kulikov has now skated two days with some physicality and now been skating for seven days,” coach Dan Bylsma said, per the Buffalo News. “Hopefully, that means we’ll see him in practice soon – in the next week hopefully.”

Now, some of the replacements for these guys are starting to get hurt.

Taylor Fedun missed Sunday’s practice and it’s unclear if he’ll be able to play against the Capitals on Monday night. If he can’t go, Buffalo will need to call someone up from the minors.

Things got so wacky last week that the Sabres called up Brendan Guhle from junior on an emergency basis. By rule, he can stay on the roster as long as he keeps playing. Once he stops playing, the emergency tag is removed and he has to go back to his junior team.

Guhle, Rasmus Ristolainen, Jake McCabe, Cody Franson and Justin Falk are the healthy defensemen on the roster right now.