Central Division Watch (February 8)

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 (February 8-14)

1. Detroit Red Wings (32-15-6 for 70 pts; 53 Games Played)

Current streak: One win.

Week ahead: Home vs. Nashville (Wednesday), road vs. Boston (Friday) and home vs. Boston (Sunday).

Thoughts: Pavel Dastyuk returned to the Red Wings lineup just in the nick of time, as Detroit had been shut out of two straight games. It’ll be interesting to see how they do in a back-to-back with the Northeast Division-leading Boston Bruins, the tail end of which will be NBC’s Game of the Week.

2. Nashville Predators (28-19-7 for 63 pts; 54 GP)

Current streak: One loss.

Week ahead: @ Detroit (Wed), home vs. Colorado (Sat).

Thoughts: After winning three in a row, the Predators have gone 1-4-1 in their last six games. As great of a coach as Barry Trotz is, he can’t seem to get this group to avoid these hot and cold runs.

3. Chicago Blackhawks (27-22-4 for 58 pts; 53 GP)

Current streak: Two losses in a row.

Week ahead: Three road games: vs. Edmonton (Wed), vs. Dallas (Fri) and Phoenix (Sat).

Thoughts: The ‘Hawks seem like they are cracking a bit, but the good news is that this week will complete this challenging six-game road trip. They don’t have any other road runs longer than this one remaining. If Chicago can pull out two out of three this week, they should be pretty pleased.

4. Columbus Blue Jackets (25-22-5 for 55 pts; 52 GP)

Current streak: Two wins.

Week ahead: @ Pittsburgh (Tues), home vs. San Jose (Wed), home vs. Colorado (Fri), @ Dallas (Sun).

Thoughts: Even with a banged up Pittsburgh’s team, that’s still a tough back-to-back for the Jackets. This week could give a glimpse what this team is (or isn’t) capable of.

5. St. Louis Blues (23-20-8 for 54 pts; 51 GP)

Current streak: One loss.

Week ahead: @ Florida (Tues), home vs. Minnesota (Fri), @ Minnesota (Sat), home vs. Vancouver (Mon).

Thoughts: It’s going to be a trying rest-of-February for the Blues. The good news is that the Wild will deal with the same back-and-back games as St. Louis, so that home-and-home series could be very big for both teams. The Blues should try to shoot for 5-6 out of 8 points this week.

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    Blackhawks’ Boris Katchouk sidelined by ankle sprain

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    CHICAGO — Blackhawks forward Boris Katchouk will be sidelined for four to six weeks with a left ankle sprain, the team announced.

    The 24-year-old Katchouk played almost 12 minutes during a 3-0 preseason loss to Detroit on Saturday night. He was acquired in a multiplayer trade with Tampa Bay in March.

    The Blackhawks open the season on Oct. 12 at Colorado.

    The team also said forward Jujhar Khaira is day to day with a right ankle injury.

    Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

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    ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

    The Finnish defenseman was conscious and alert with full movement in his extremities at UCI Medical Center, the Ducks said.

    The frightening incident occurred midway through the opening period when Vaakanainen smashed into the boards at a dangerous speed behind the Sharks’ net. Vaakanainen appeared to be concentrating on the pass he had just made to Derek Grant, who scored the Ducks’ opening goal on the assist.

    Vaakanainen’s teammates came onto the ice and gathered around him as he was taken away on the stretcher.

    The Ducks acquired the 23-year-old Vaakanainen from Boston last March in the deal that sent longtime Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins. After recording two assists in 14 games for the Ducks last season, Vaakanainen is attempting to win a top-six role on Anaheim’s defense this fall.

    Lightning donate $2 million to Hurricane Ian relief efforts

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    TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning and team owner Jeff Vinik are donating $2 million toward Hurricane Ian relief efforts.

    The NHL team announced that $1 million each will be donated by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation and the Vinik Family Foundation.

    “This is a tragic situation for many families and communities across the state of Florida, but especially so in the southwest region of the state,” Vinik said in a statement released by the team. “In times like these the most important thing we can do is support one another, and we hope this donation will help families recover and rebuild in the months to come.”

    Ian made landfall Wednesday on Florida’s Gulf Coast, south of the Tampa Bay area. The Lightning postponed two home preseason games and moved the club’s training camp to Nashville, Tennessee, during the storm.

    Maple Leafs sign defenseman Rasmus Sandin to 2-year deal

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    TORONTO — Rasmus Sandin has signed a two-year, $2.8 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the club announced on Thursday.

    The 22-year-old from Sweden was the 29th overall selection in the 2018 draft. Sandin had 16 points in 51 games with Toronto last season. He’s played in 88 career regular-season games, with six goals and 22 assists, and has one goal in five playoff games.

    “Got a great set of tools,” fellow defenseman Jake Muzzin said. “With experience, I think they’re only going to get better.”

    The signing comes as the Leafs’ blueliners been hit hard by injuries. Muzzin has been dealing with a back issue, and Timothy Liljegren recently had surgery for a hernia.

    Toronto then lost Jamie Benn (groin) and Carl Dahlstrom (shoulder) in Wednesday’s 3-0 preseason victory over the Montreal Canadiens, pressing forwards Calle Jarnkrok and Alexander Kerfoot into defensive roles for two periods.