As if the Western Conference didn't have enough teams playing well lately, the Minnesota Wild over the last two weeks have played their way into the mix. I was very high on Minnesota last season after it added Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, but it looks like it took them a year to put it together and there are a few reasons why.
Obviously, a big reason is goalie Josh Harding, who has played exceptionally, and he did suffer an injury this past weekend, but the Wild have pretty deep goaltending with Niklas Backstrom behind him. Not many teams in the NHL have better goaltending than Minnesota.
Another big reason is their young players, especially Mikael Granlund. I thought Granlund was going to explode on the scene last season, and it's taken him a while, but he's playing very well this season, which makes the Wild a much deeper offensive team on the whole. Mikko Koivu is also playing better this season. I've been a fan of his for a number of years because he is immensely talented, but he hadn't quite put it together.
Then you look at Ryan Suter. It's hard to say this, but I think Suter is playing better than he did last season. Right now he'd be my pick for the Norris Trophy, and while he's putting up huge minutes every night, I don't think he's going to end up burning out. Suter plays huge minutes, but they aren't physical minutes. He doesn't pound his body like Zdeno Chara or P.K. Subban. He is such a skilled guy that he intercepts passes, he uses stick checking and he's a beautiful skater. He uses his body very well and cuts off angles, but at the same time I can't ever remember seeing him get drilled or drilling somebody else. Because of that, I don't think his body will wear down like someone else's might with those types of minutes.
VANCOUVER -- The Los Angeles Kings should get a needed scoring boost with Jeff Carter expected back in the lineup Monday night against the Vancouver Canucks after he missed the past 10 games with a broken foot.
Coach Darryl Sutter would only confirm Carter was being activated from the injured list before the game and would be one of 13 forwards to take the pre-game skate.
Carter wasn't available to talk after the morning skate, but it seemed clear from the line rushes he would be back and on the second line. Carter, who had five goals and nine points his first 14 games, returns to a team that scored one goal its past two games, including a 1-0 overtime loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday.
Despite the drought, the Kings, who also get big fourth-line forward Jordan Nolan back after he missed four games with an undisclosed injury, have a point in nine straight (6-0-3).
"We have been getting a lot of opportunities, we're just not finishing it off," Sutter said.
Reaves, who has played in all 22 games this season, will be placed on injured reserve and re-evaluated in six weeks.
The 26-year-old has two goals, four points and 65 penalty minutes.
EDMONTON -- The Edmonton Oilers feel their game has improved over the past couple of weeks.
On Monday night, the Oilers should get a good gauge on how far they've come, hosting the Chicago Blackhawks at Rexall Place.
The Oilers have won three consecutive games entering their matchup against the Blackhawks, but know the defending Stanley Cup champions present a unique challenge.
"The great thing about today is that I feel our players are looking forward to this game," Oilers coach Dallas Eakins said. "We just played these guys a few weeks ago and we were not great in the first period, I thought we were playing shy and safe.
"But in the second and third period, I thought we got going and matched them. I think we've taken a little bit of a step forward, and it's always a good measuring stick when you have the Stanley Cup champions coming in. The good thing about this morning is that I sensed our guys were excited about tonight, they want to play, they want to play hard and they want to try to send a message."
Coming into the season, fantasy owners didn't know what to expect from David Perron.
The St. Louis Blues shipped him to the Edmonton Oilers in July, raising questions about his long-term fantasy value. Between his injury history and his new team's string of bottom-10 finishes in the League standings, he was far from a commodity.
In fact, he wasn't drafted on average in Yahoo leagues. But to everyone's surprise, he's been one of the most indispensable players from a fantasy standpoint this season. Somehow, he's still available in more than 50 percent of leagues.
The team's leading scorer with 19 points, Hanzal left the Coyotes' 4-2 home loss Saturday to the Anaheim Ducks in the first period with a lower-body injury.
Hanzal saw only 2:09 in ice time against Anaheim but participated in the Coyotes' morning skate Monday.
"He'll go for warm-ups tonight and it looks like he'll be a player," Tippett said.
TAMPA -- For the Tampa Bay Lightning, coming off a four-game West Coast road swing where they went 0-3-1, there very well may be no place like home. At least, they hope so.
Monday night at the Tampa Bay Times Forum the Lightning will met the New York Rangers, a team they have lost three straight games to by a combined score of 12-4.
To make matters that much more difficult, New York has won six of its last nine games and has the most road wins in the Eastern Conference with eight.
With Steven Stamkos out with a broken tibia and Ryan Malone nursing a lower-body injury, the Lightning have reached down to their American Hockey League affiliate in Syracuse and promoted forward Nikita Kucherov, a second-round selection (No. 58) in the 2011 NHL Draft. This game will mark Kucherov's NHL debut after only 17 games with Syracuse.
Colaiacovo was brought back to the team after defenseman Jordan Leopold (hand surgery) was lost for two months to provide veteran depth. After being bought out of the final year of his contract with the Detroit Red Wings this past summer, the 30-year-old Colaiacovo was without a job but keeping in hockey shape in Toronto.
Colaiacovo got the call from the Blues and a contract was consummated quickly.
"That's what I was told. Hopefully that's the case. If it is, it's exciting for me," Colaiacovo said regarding his insertion into the lineup. "... At the end of the day, I'm confident in myself, I'm confident in my abilities that I can come in here and play a simple game, use the experience of my partner and the guys on the back end and just focus on getting a win."
Hayes immediately joined the Panthers after the trade and played in the last four games of Florida's five-game road trip.
Olsen had been playing with the San Antonio Rampage of the American Hockey League until he was called up on Sunday.
It's very special, obviously; there is draft day and then there's the day that you sign your first deal. It's been a crazy couple of weeks and I'm very honored to be able to do that."