Chris Thorburn, Tim Gleason

Southeast Division Watch (February 7)

With the All-Star break over, it’s time for the NHL playoff races to intensify. Every week, we’ll provide updates for each division’s outlook. The biggest contenders and/or closest races will receive the greatest amount of attention.

Bold = playoff contender; Italics = likely lottery fodder.

Southeast Division outlook (February 7-13)

1. Tampa Bay Lightning (33-16-5 for 71 pts; 54 Games Played)

Current streak: One win.

Week ahead: Two home games: vs. Buffalo (Tuesday), vs. Carolina (Saturday).

Thoughts: The Lightning lost to Washington, but other than that hiccup, they’ve been perfect during their ridiculous 12-game homestand so far.

2. Washington Capitals (29-15-10 for 68 pts; 54 GP)

Current streak: Two wins.

Week ahead: Home vs. San Jose (Tues), home vs. Los Angeles (Sat).

Thoughts: There’s an instinct to say the Capitals are “back to their old selves,” but that’s dead wrong. Instead they’ve turned over a new, defensive-minded leaf. It makes them less fun on some level, but a more dangerous playoff threat on another.

3. Carolina Hurricanes (26-21-6 for 58 pts; 53 GP)

Current streak: One win.

Week ahead: Four road games: vs. New Jersey (Tues), vs. Philadelphia (Thurs), vs. Tampa Bay (Sat) and Atlanta (Sun).

Thoughts: The Hurricanes are going into this week with some serious momentum, but the upcoming five-game road swing will be a serious test for the ‘Canes. It’s not outrageous to say they can lose every single one of these games; the Flyers and Lightning are division leaders, the Thrashers are fighting for the Hurricanes’ playoff territory and the Devils are suddenly looking like their old pesky selves. We’ll see what they’re made of.

4. Atlanta Thrashers (24-21-10 for 58 pts; 55 GP)

Current streak: Three losses in a row.

Week ahead: @ Toronto (Mon), home vs. NY Rangers (Fri), home vs. Carolina (Sun).

Thoughts: With just two wins in their last 12 games, the Thrashers are clearly in disarray. Sunday’s game against what could be a beleaguered Hurricanes team could be a pretty gigantic one for Dustin Byfuglien’s bunch.

5. Florida Panthers (23-23-6 for 52 pts; 52 GP)

Current streak: One win.

Week ahead: Three home games: one against St. Louis (Tues), vs. Buffalo (Thurs) and against San Jose (Sun).

Thoughts: Once again, the Panthers seem like they are a day late and a dollar short for the Eastern Conference playoffs. The next few weeks are crucial for the team to decide if they should go into sell mode during the trade deadline (they should).

Niemi blanks Pens, notches two assists in Stars debut

Antti Niemi, Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist

DALLAS (AP) — Antti Niemi recorded his 33rd career shutout and assisted on two goals in his Dallas debut, as the Stars beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-0 on Thursday night in the season opener for both.

Ales Hemsky had a power-play goal and an assist.

Rookie Matthias Janmark scored on his first shot on his first shift in an NHL game to make it 1-0. The Stars acquired Niemi and Janmark in trades earlier this year.

Dallas scored on two of five power plays. Jamie Benn, the NHL’s leading scorer last season, had a power-play goal in the third period.

Niemi made 37 saves to improve his career record against the Penguins to 5-1-1. He withstood a flurry in the final minute after Pittsburgh pulled goalie Marc-Andre Fleury for an extra skater.

Fleury had 21 saves.

The Stars are 4-0-1 in their last five home games against Pittsburgh, and have won three in a row overall.

Janmark skated down the slot, took a pass from Hemsky and shot between Fleury’s legs at 1:39 of the first.

The Penguins dominated the latter half of the period, but couldn’t score. Niemi’s best stop was a reaching glove save of Rod Scuderi’s drive from the blue line with less than 3 minutes remaining. Pittsburgh outshot the Stars 10-4 in the first.

Hemsky scored at 5:42 of the second on Dallas’ first power play. His shot from the top of the right faceoff circle went in over Fleury’s right shoulder.

The Penguins again had an advantage in shots, 13-11. Pittsburgh had chances in close, but Niemi turned those away. Midway through the second, John Klingberg cleared away a loose puck from in front of the net.

Seven seconds into the Stars’ fourth power play of the third period, Jamie Benn tipped in Jason Spezza‘s shot from the right point.

NOTES: Dallas acquired Janmark as part of a March trade that sent Erik Cole to Detroit. The rookie had been playing in the Swedish Hockey League. . San Jose traded Niemi’s rights to the Stars in June for a seventh-round draft pick. Also making their Dallas debuts were LW Patrick Sharp and D Johnny Oduya, teammates with Chicago’s Stanley Cup champions last season. . In his first game for the Penguins, Phil Kessel played in his 447th straight game. . Pittsburgh was 0 for 3 on the power play.

Fabbri’s first spoils McDavid’s debut as Blues down Oilers

Robby Fabbri, Justin Schultz
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ST. LOUIS (AP) — Rookie Robby Fabbri scored the tiebreaking goal midway through the third period to help the St. Louis Blues beat Edmonton 3-1 Thursday night, spoiling Oilers rookie Connor McDavid‘s NHL debut.

Vladimir Tarasenko had the tying goal for the Blues near the midpoint of the second period, and Troy Brouwer added an empty-netter with 18 seconds remaining in the third. Brian Elliott finished with 23 saves.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored in the first period for Edmonton and Cam Talbot had 28 saves.

McDavid, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, took 22 shifts, played 18:07 and was on the ice for Brouwer’s goal. He had two shots on goal, and struggled on faceoffs – winning only three of 13.

Fabbri, a 19-year-old forward — and McDavid’s childhood friend — was also playing in his first NHL game. The Blues’ first-round pick in 2014 was one of three rookies in the St. Louis lineup, joining defensemen Colton Parayko and Joel Edmundson.

Nugent-Hopkins gave the Oilers a 1-0 lead late in the first period with a fluke power-play goal. He lost a face-off but when Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo tried to clear the puck it bounced off Alexander Steen and past Brian Elliott. Nugent-Hopkins was credited with the unassisted power-play goal with 2:38 remaining in the period.

Tarasenko tied it a 9:10 of the second after getting loose on a breakaway with a stretch pass from Alex Pietrangelo and beating Talbot through his legs.

Tarasenko, who signed an eight-year, $60 million extension in the offseason, was the last Blues player to score in his debut.

NOTES: McDavid and F Anton Slepyshev made their NHL debuts for the Oilers. … St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina dropped the ceremonial first puck. … The attendance was announced as standing room-only 19,327.