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Atlantic Division Watch (February 23)

Every week, we’ll provide updates for each division. The biggest contenders and/or closest races will receive the greatest amount of attention.

Bold = playoff contender; Italics = likely lottery fodder.

Atlantic Division outlook (February 23 -March 1)

1. Philadelphia Flyers (39-15-6 for 84 pts; 60 Games Played)

Current streak: One loss in a row.

Week ahead: Home vs. NY Islanders (Thursday), @ Ottawa (Saturday).

Thoughts: The Penguins are clearly fading from the Flyers’ rear-view mirror right now, so it’s more about keeping pace with the Vancouver Canucks for the Presidents Trophy.

2. Pittsburgh Penguins (36-20-5 for 77 pts; 61 GP)

Current streak: Two losses in a row.

Week ahead: Home vs. San Jose (Wed), @ Carolina (Fri), @ Toronto (Sat).

Thoughts: Is James Neal the “answer” the Penguins have been searching for on the wing? Maybe not in the most absolute way, but he’s a major upgrade for Pittsburgh.

3. New York Rangers (32-26-4 for 68 pts; 62 GP)

Current streak: One win.

Week ahead: @ Washington (Fri), home vs. Tampa Bay (Sun), home vs Buffalo (Tues).

Thoughts: The Rangers were really struggling coming into Tuesday’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes, but they pulled out a win in a three-point game that might have left people groaning.

4. New Jersey Devils (26-30-4 for 68 pts; 60 GP)

Current streak: Eight wins.

Week ahead: @ Tampa Bay (Fri), @ Florida (Sun).

Thoughts: The Devils actually play another game against the Lightning in New Jersey next Wednesday, so it’s been quite the run of non-traditional franchises for the Devils. If nothing else, they made the jump from italics to bold this week.

5. New York Islanders (23-31-7 for 53 pts; 61 GP)

Current streak: One loss.

Week ahead: @ Philadelphia (Thurs), home vs. Washington (Sat), @ Washington (Tues).

Thoughts: The Isles are quietly hot, but this run of three elite East teams might flatten them out a little bit.

Leon Draisaitl continues hot streak with silky smooth goal (Video)

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Minnesota Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk has been the most difficult goalies to score against this season. Leave it to a high-level player like Leon Draisaitl to make it look this, well, “easy.”

Draisaitl scored his 13th goal of 2016-17 by capping this pretty give-and-go play with Benoit Pouliot. You can see the frustration from Dubnyk at the end of the tally, as if he was saying “How was I supposed to stop that?” (though probably with more colorful language).

Draisaitl came into Friday with five goals and three assists in his last five games, so he’s been almost unstoppable lately.

Read more about his rise here.

Video: Kuznetsov sets table for Vrana’s first NHL goal

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JUNE 27:  Jakub Vrana of the Washington Capitals poses for a portrait during the 2014 NHL Draft at the Wells Fargo Center on June 27, 2014 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
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In his fifth NHL game, intriguing Washington Capitals prospect Jakub Vrana scored his first NHL goal (and point).

Let’s be honest, though; Evgeny Kuznetsov deserves plenty of the credit, as he sent a fantastic pass for Vrana’s tap-in tally.

See it for yourself:

Even if that was mostly Kuznetsov, Vrana has been getting his chances so far.

He generated four shots on goal in two separate occasions so far in his four games of NHL action, so maybe he was due for a chance like this.

Considering he’s just 20 years old, the Capitals could get used to Kuznetsov to Vrana.

Update: The Capitals won 4-1, and Vrana’s first goal wasn’t the only noteworthy “first.” After piling on shots, John Carlson finally scored his first goal of the season:

Kulikov returns to increasingly healthy Sabres lineup

CALGARY, AB - OCTOBER 18: Dmitry Kulikov #77 of the Buffalo Sabres in action against the Calgary Flames during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on October 18, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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No one’s going to confuse Dmitry Kulikov with Jack Eichel, but the Buffalo Sabres are likely happy to have him back after a long absence, too.

The Sabres have been on an upward trend lately (5-2-2 in their last nine games), and now they get a key defenseman back against the Washington Capitals on Friday night.

Kulikov last played on Nov. 9 and hasn’t recorded a point in 12 games, making for a tough start to his stint with the Sabres. Maybe he’ll begin to get a little more traction with his new team tonight?

He’s far from the only returning Buffalo player, either, as Josh Gorges and Nicolas Deslauriers are also back in the mix. Kulikov is slated to be on the Sabres’ second pairing with Cody Franson.

Buffalo sent Brendan Guhle to the AHL to make room for these tweaks.

With Foligno out sick, Columbus gives Bjorkstrand another shot

COLUMBUS, OH - OCTOBER 13:  Oliver Bjorkstrand #28 of the Columbus Blue Jackets lines up for a face-off during the game against the Boston Bruins on October 13, 2016 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
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The Columbus Blue Jackets will be without captain Nick Foligno because of an illness on Friday, opening up an opportunity for interesting prospect Oliver Bjorkstrand.

The team tweeted out his linemates as Matt Calvert and Lukas Sedlak as a solid fourth line facing the Detroit Red Wings.

He failed to generate much (zero points, two shots on goal) in three games so far with Columbus this season, receiving about 25 minutes of ice time over that span.

With eight goals and 12 points in 19 AHL games so far in 2016-17, there’s the thought that he could eventually make the next step to becoming a decent contributor for the Blue Jackets.

Perhaps this will constitute his first real step in that direction?

Apparently this is a pretty abrupt situation for the 21-year-old: