Vincent Lecavalier, Alex Ovechkin

Southeast Division Watch (March 14)

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 14 -March 20th)

1. Washington Capitals (40-20-10 for 90 pts; 70 Games Played)

Current streak: Eight wins in a row.

Week ahead: Three road games – vs. Montreal (Tuesday), Detroit (Wednesday) and New Jersey (Friday).

Thoughts: The Capitals are one of the hottest teams in the NHL right now, there’s no doubt about that. Even with a five-point lead in the Southeast Division, they can’t rest on their laurels. Tuesday’s game against the Canadiens begins a six-game road trip that should test Washington’s growing case as a Cup contender.

2. Tampa Bay Lightning (38-22-9 for 85 pts; 69 GP)

Current streak: Two losses in a row.

Week ahead: Three road games – vs. Toronto (Mon), Montreal (Thurs) and Ottawa (Sat).

Thoughts: If I had to wager on the Capitals or Lightning, I’d probably have to go with Washington. Tampa Bay would improve their odds if they closed the gap to three points with 12 games to go if they beat the Maple Leafs tonight. Still, with eight of their last 13 contests away from home, it might be a bit much to ask.

3. Carolina Hurricanes (31-28-10 for 72 pts; 69 GP)

Current streak: Four straight losses.

Week ahead: Away vs. Buffalo (Tues), home against Toronto (Wed) and home vs. Islanders (Fri).

Thoughts: It’s probably true that every remaining game is at least somewhat big for the Canes, but the next two are still substantial, as they take on bubble teams on Tuesday and Wednesday. Cam Ward, Eric Staal & Co. actually play the Sabres two more times counting Tuesday’s big road contest, so they could conceivably close the gap in a vacuum if they won both of those games in regulation.

4. Atlanta Thrashers (29-28-12 for 70 pts; 69 GP)

Current streak: One win.

Week ahead: Road game vs. New Jersey (Tues), home vs. Philadelphia (Thurs) and @ Buffalo (Sat).

Thoughts: This week might just be a “fork in the road” moment for the puzzling Thrashers. All three of these contests could be defeats, but if they make an impressive showing, that will reveal their legitimacy in the home stretch. It’s tough to fault anyone who has been questioning their playoff credibility since New Year’s, though.

5. Florida Panthers (28-32-9 for 65 pts; 69 GP)

Current streak: One win.

Week ahead: Three home games – vs. Philadelphia (Tues), Toronto (Thurs) and Islanders (Saturday).

Thoughts: The Panthers have been solid in the first four games in their seven-game homestand (2-1-1), but solid wasn’t what they needed to make a last minute surge into the playoff picture. Instead, they leave their fans with yet another purgatory season in which they’re not good enough to make the postseason but not bad enough to get a great draft pick. Unless they start tanking right now, that is.

Campbell’s perfect snipe sinks Wings in OT

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Brian Campbell doesn’t score as many points as he used to, but he came up with a huge goal against the Red Wings on Sunday afternoon.

With the game tied, 1-1, in overtime, Campbell skated into the slot and beat Petr Mrazek with a perfect wrister to end the game.

It was also a pretty nice passing play between Jussi Jokinen, Jonathan Huberdeau and Campbell.

Dylan Larkin opened the scoring in the second period before Reilly Smith leveled the score with just over five minutes remaining.

The Wings have blown a lead in three straight games.

Detroit was up 2-0 and 3-2 in their last game, against Edmonton, before they finally closed the game out with an overtime goal by Niklas Kronwall.

They weren’t so fortunate against the Bruins on Wednesday, as they lost 3-2 in OT after leading 2-1 with under two minutes remaining in regulation.

This was the first meeting of the season between Detroit and Florida, but they’ll see each other three times between Feb. 4 and Mar. 19.

With Jonathan Bernier sputtering, we’ll meet Garret Sparks

Garett Sparks
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You can’t blame Mike Babcock for siding with the relatively unknown when the other option is Jonathan Bernier, a goalie who’s 0-8-1 so far in 2015-16.

With that in mind, meet Garret Sparks, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ expected starter for Monday’s game against the Edmonton Oilers.

Sparks was a seventh-round pick (190th overall) in 2011, a guy who was off to a great start in the AHL. That much wasn’t lost on Babcock.

Let’s face it, though; this is as much about the Leafs’ other two goalies as it is about Sparks (whose name inspired a very obscure reference in this post’s headline).

In Bernier’s case, there’s an “enough’s enough” feel:

Meanwhile, James Reimer‘s not quite healthy enough to play yet, so the window of opportunity is open for Sparks … a little bit.

Sparks will get a chance to make an impression, even if it’s just a small one.

Video: Dylan Larkin adds to his rookie goals lead

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So far, the 2015-16 crop of rookies is living up to the hype, if not exceeding it. Connor McDavid‘s unfortunate injury hasn’t even derailed this year’s crop.

The Detroit Red Wings are watching their own blue chip blossom, as Dylan Larkin is making an instant impact.

No. 71 scored his 10th goal of the season against the Florida Panthers on Sunday, fattening his rookie goals lead.

He still needs five points to match rookie points leader Artemi Panarin, though.

Latest report leaves Carey Price’s injury timeline fuzzy

Carey Price
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There’s one thing we seem to know about Carey Price‘s injury situation: he first got hurt stepping on a puck on Oct. 29, according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman.

Contrary to earlier reports about him missing about a month, it sounds like his window of recovery is still up in the air (which, to be fair, could mean that he’ll still miss about a month when it’s all said and done).

ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun reports that Price underwent testing with Montreal’s team doctor on Saturday and is expected to go through more; we may not know more about his expected injury timeline until early this coming week.

So, basically, Price’s situation is fuzzier than his mustache right now.

Leg injuries can be tricky anyway, so we shouldn’t be too surprised that there are mixed signals regarding Price, and this may remain a fluid situation for some time.

(But we’ll hopefully know more soon enough.)