Semyon Varlamov, Steven Stamkos

Southeast Division Watch (March 7)

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.

Southeast Division outlook (March 7 -March 13th)

1. Washington Capitals (36-20-10 for 82 pts; 66 Games Played)

Current streak: Four wins in a row.

Week ahead: Away vs. Tampa Bay (Monday) and two home games – vs. Edmonton (Wednesday) and Carolina (Friday).

Thoughts: In all the times we’ve published Southeast Division Watch posts, this is the first time that the Capitals are atop the division. Of course, that could change in tonight’s huge game in Tampa Bay. That’s not to say today is the only important one, as they face playoff desperate teams in Carolina and then Chicago next week.

2. Tampa Bay Lightning (37-21-7 for 81 pts; 65 GP)

Current streak: Three losses in a row.

Week ahead: Three home games – vs. Washington (Mon), Chicago (Wed) and Ottawa (Fri) plus a road game against Florida (Sat).

Thoughts: Again, the biggest game for both the Lightning and Capitals is tonight, but the match against the Blackhawks is big too. Tampa Bay still has an excellent chance to win the Southeast, but they need to turn around their recent slump.

3. Carolina Hurricanes (31-26-9 for 71 pts; 66 GP)

Current streak: One loss.

Week ahead: Home vs. Atlanta (Wed), @ Washington (Fri) and home vs. Columbus (Sat).

Thoughts: The Canes earned a big overtime win against Buffalo last week, but that only gave them an extra point against the hard charging Sabres. They’re now one point behind Buffalo, with one less game remaining. To keep this a two-horse race for the eighth place spot, they need to win against the Thrashers on Wednesday.

4. Atlanta Thrashers (27-28-11 for 65 pts; 66 GP)

Current streak: One win.

Week ahead: Away vs. Carolina (Wed), home vs. New Jersey (Fri) and @ Philadelphia (Sat).

Thoughts: It might already be too late, but if not, this will be a big week for the Thrashers to prove themselves as still viable. In the next two weeks, they play against Carolina and Buffalo once plus the Devils and Flyers on two occasions. The way things are going, it probably won’t work out, but they can make an impact on their situation in the next 14 days or so.

5. Florida Panthers (26-31-9 for 61 pts; 66 GP)

Current streak: Five straight losses.

Week ahead: Three home games – Chicago (Tues), Ottawa (Thurs) and Tampa Bay (Sat).

Thoughts: If you’re questioning the decision to put the Panthers in italics, try this on for size: they haven’t earned a regulation win in their last 12 games. The Panthers play their next six games in Sunrise, so maybe they can move them back into the convoluted Eastern Conference playoff bubble again after two weeks. So we’ll just have to wait and see.

Struggling Sabre Tyler Ennis out with upper-body injury

Tyler Ennis, James Wisniewski
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Tyler Ennis can probably relate with the Buffalo Sabres’ opponent on Wednesday, as he’s struggling almost as much as the Nashville Predators.

Perhaps some of that has to do with health?

Whether that’s the case or not, Ennis is out for the Sabres tonight, as the team announced that he’s dealing with an upper-body injury.

The Buffalo News discussed Ennis’ struggles in this article.

“I’d say he’s pressing too much. You can’t make those plays in every situation and in every point you touch the puck,” Dan Bylsma said to the Buffalo News. “ … He’s just got to simplify his game. He is a special player who can make those plays, but he can’t be trying to do it every time he touches the puck.”

He’ll need to wait a while to start getting things together, anyway.

WATCH LIVE: Wednesday Night Rivalry (Flyers-Islanders; Blackhawks-Sharks)

Ryan White, Matt Martin
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You can check out tonight’s Wednesday Night Rivalry doubleheader on NBCSN, and you can also stream them online.

Here are the handy links for the two contests.

First, the New York Islanders host the Philadelphia Flyers.


After that, the Chicago Blackhawks visit the San Jose Sharks.


Braun out with upper-body injury; Zubrus to make Sharks debut

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The San Jose Sharks will be missing a top-4 defenseman tonight when they host the defending champs from Chicago.

Justin Braun has an upper-body injury. His status is considered day-to-day.

“Brauny has been one of our unsung heroes here through the first quarter of the season,” coach Peter DeBoer told CSN Bay Area. “He’s played some outstanding hockey. So, we’re going to miss him, but it’s a great opportunity for Mueller and Tennyson and one of these guys to establish themselves. It’s a great opportunity for us to reward Dillon for how well he’s played.”

Against the Blackhawks, Brenden Dillon will take Braun’s spot on the top pairing alongside Marc-Edouard Vlasic; Paul Martin and Brent Burns will stay together on the second pairing; and 20-year-old Mirco Mueller will skate with Matt Tennyson.

Mueller has played just four games for the Sharks this season. In his last game, Thursday in Philadelphia, he received only 9:13 of ice time.

Also tonight, new Shark forward Dainius Zubrus is expected to debut on the fourth line.

Related: Sharks sign Zubrus, because DeBoer

Johansen calls trade rumblings ‘weird,’ says relationship with Torts is ‘great’

Ryan Johansen
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One day after reports surfaced of Ryan Johansen being at the center of trade talks, all parties involved from Columbus did what they’re supposed to do — downplay the situation.

You can read the denials in full over at the Dispatch, but here’s the gist:

— Johansen said the rumors were “weird” and that he’s “never seen it before.” He also said there were no issues between him and head coach John Tortorella, calling the relationship “great.”

— GM Jarmo Kekalainen wouldn’t address the report, nor would Johansen’s agent, Kurt Overhardt.

— Johansen added he hasn’t spoken to any of Columbus’ management about the trade rumblings.

So there’s that. What’s next?

At this stage of the game, it’s hard not to think about another Overhardt client, Kyle Turris.

Turris, you’ll recall, spent four (mostly) stormy years with the Coyotes before his trade out to Ottawa was orchestrated. Turris eventually told GM Don Maloney “this is not going to work out” with the club, and he was gone.

So, consider the similarities now:

— Turris was 22 at the time of the trade, with four years and 137 games under his belt.

— Johansen is 23, with five years and 291 games.

— Both had contentious contract holdouts with their respective clubs.

— Both are Overhardt guys.

— The Turris trade happened after the Coyotes went from Wayne Gretzky to Dave Tippett as head coach.

— Johansen is already on his third head coach (Scott Arniel, Todd Richards, Tortorella).

For now, these are all coincidences (or a forced narrative, depending what you think of the author).

And, of course, the one big — big — difference between the two is that, at the time of his trade, Turris wasn’t as good or established a player as Johansen currently is. Therefore, logic suggests any Johansen trade would be a lot more blockbuster-y and, therefore, probably more complex.

And as we know, complex deals aren’t easy to pull off.