Central Division Watch (February 2nd)

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.

Central Division outlook (Wednesday, February 2nd – Tuesday, February 8th)

1. Detroit Red Wings (31-13-6 for 68 pts; 50 GP)

Current streak: Two wins.

Week ahead: Win vs. Ottawa, vs. Columbus (Friday), @ Nashville (Saturday), home vs. Rangers (Monday).

Thoughts: Nashville’s slippage ends yet another here-today gone-tomorrow threat to the Red Wings’ top spot in the division. They’ll face the two most recent contenders/pretenders to the throne in a back-to-back this weekend.

2. Nashville Predators (27-17-7 for 61 pts; 51 GP)

Current streak: Three losses in a row.

Week ahead: @ Philadelphia (Thurs), home vs. Detroit (Sat), home vs. Edmonton (Monday).

Thoughts: There’s not much room for slumps in the bitterly competitive West. Nashville is now threatened by just about every Pacific Division team outside of Dallas and their own division foes from Chicago. If they go into lull mode this week, the scrappy bunch could see their cushion disappear completely.

3. Chicago Blackhawks (27-20-4 for 58 pts; 51 GP)

Current streak: One win.

Week ahead: Two road games – one against Vancouver (Fri), one against Calgary (Mon)

Thoughts: The Canucks and Red Wings are the only two teams with better goal differentials than the Blackhawks’ +21, yet Chicago is in a far more tenuous playoff situation. The Hawks begin a five game road trip (and a tough February with eight of their next 11 games away from home) this week. Perhaps having a ton of all-star representatives will inspire them to, you know, actually make the postseason.

4. St. Louis Blues (22-20-7 for 51 pts; 49 GP)

Current streak: Four game losing streak.

Week ahead: home vs. Edmonton (Fri), @ Tampa Bay (Sun), @ Florida (Tues).

Thoughts: The Blues aren’t totally out of contention, but they’re fading fast. It won’t be an easy February overall (especially after the next two weeks), so they might want to consider going into “sell mode” if they don’t at least earn two wins.

5. Columbus Blue Jackets (23-22-5 for 51 pts; 50 GP)

Current streak: Two losses in a row.

Week ahead: @ Detroit (Fri), vs. Edmonton (Sat), @ Pittsburgh (Tues)

Thoughts: The next week might do the Blue Jackets in, especially when you consider the fact that they’ll face the suddenly hot San Jose Sharks on Wednesday the 9th. Not sure how many players on the Columbus roster are trade deadline material (the team is largely comprised of young and/or overpriced players), although I’m sure there might be some people interested in defensive center Samuel Pahlsson.

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    Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

    Ilya Mikheyev
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    VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

    Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

    Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

    Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

    Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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    Nick Turchiaro/USA TODAY Sports
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    Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

    The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

    Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

    After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

    Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

    Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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    MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

    But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

    “I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

    Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

    “I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

    Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

    Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

    Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

    All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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    Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY Sports
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    SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

    Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

    The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

    Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

    Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.