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Trending: Devils, Gagner hot; Southeast still unsettled

Thursday, 02.09.2012 / 10:25 AM / NHL.Countdown

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

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Trending: Devils, Gagner hot; Southeast still unsettled
The Devils came out of the break hot, though perhaps not as scorching as young Oilers forward Sam Gagner. Find out what the other big stories are that have people across the NHL talking.
Another Eastern Conference contender emerges, a young Western Conference team shows more signs of coming of age, a division remains up for grabs, a Sedin in the trainer's room, the future of two veteran players and the potential of an atypical month in Toronto -- it's all been in the news, so now you find it in Trending This Week:

#RedHotDevils

The Devils have silenced several doubters with five straight wins coming out of the All-Star break, including four against the three Atlantic Division teams that were ahead of them in the standings. They beat the Rangers twice, and jumped out to big leads against Philadelphia and Pittsburgh before holding on for regulation wins.
 
They're now ahead of the Penguins in the Eastern Conference, sitting in fifth place, thanks to the games played tiebreaker.
 
Prior to the break, the Devils had their chances to prove they belong among the East's elite, a spot they say they deserve to be, but they were not close in losing twice to Boston and once to the Flyers.
 

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They've now proven it with their hot streak coming out of the break. Even though coach Pete DeBoer doesn't want to call them statement wins, that is, in fact, what they are.

#WatchTheOil

Sam Gagner got hot, set an Oilers record, and put everybody in the NHL on notice that the 22-year-old center might just be finally finding tapping into his potential after four-and-a-half seasons of consistently average production.
 
Jordan Eberle is fulfilling his. The Oilers All-Star forward is now eighth in the NHL with 54 points in 50 games.
 
Taylor Hall, the No. 1 pick in 2010, has been hit by some injuries, including an incredible near travesty, but he's nearly a point-per-game guy in his sophomore season.
 
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the No. 1 pick in 2011, is dealing with a second shoulder injury sandwiched around two games played, perhaps a sign that he's still not strong enough to handle the rigors of a full NHL season. But he's also nearly a point-per-game guy in his rookie season.
 
These Oilers have been in the news lately with Gagner's streak, Eberle's consistency, Nugent-Hopkins' shoulder injury, and coach Tom Renney's fluke injury in practice on Monday. And this is one team that is so worth watching despite the fact that it's not in the playoff picture.
 
Edmonton's young core is developing, and veterans on the team reportedly want to be a part of it. Earlier this week, Pierre Lebrun of ESPN.com reported in his Daily Debate with colleague Scott Burnside that pending unrestricted free agent Ryan Smyth has not been asked to waive his no-trade clause and has no plans of leaving Edmonton because he's enjoying the team far too much.
 
Smyth wants to re-sign with Edmonton after the season. Andy Sutton, another pending UFA, also wants to return to Edmonton.
 
This is not to say that Smyth and/or Sutton won't be shopped between now and Feb. 27. They could always go to a contending team now, try to win a Stanley Cup, and then return to Edmonton on July 1. But, the prospect of that happening, slim as it may be, is just another reason to pay attention to the Oilers.
 
So, too, are Ales Hemsky and Magnus Paajarvi.
 
Hemsky, who at 28 still has loads of potential, has a disappointing 22 points in the final year of a contract that is paying him $4.1 million. Paajarvi is supposed to be a key part of that core, but he's struggled and has spent most of the season in Oklahoma City of the AHL. He's back now due to Nugent-Hopkins' injury, and he should be given an opportunity to earn a full-time role in Edmonton.

#SoutheastSalsa

Alex Ovechkin
Left Wing - WSH
GOALS: 22 | ASST: 19 | PTS: 41
SOG: 184 | +/-: -5
The Southeast Division is up for grabs. Does anyone want to run with it?
 
For now (that could change tomorrow), it looks like the Capitals are the favorite with one more point and six more non-shootout wins than Florida. They put together a vintage performance Tuesday for a 4-0 win over the Panthers that included the Alex Ovechkin of old.
 
Ovechkin had two goals and was dominant in a way that he's going to need to be down the stretch if the Capitals want to not only win their fifth straight division title, but be considered legit contenders in the playoffs.
 
However, it was only seven days earlier that the Panthers topped the Capitals, 4-2, thanks to a pair of goals from Mikael Samuelsson and 26 saves by Scott Clemmensen. Florida beat Winnipeg and the Capitals by a combined 6-3 before losing their last two games to Tampa Bay and the Capitals by a combined 10-3.
 
As for the Capitals, they host the Jets on Thursday, looking for their first two-game winning streak since mid-January, when they won three in a row. They're just 4-4-2 over their last 10 games while the Panthers are a shade worse at 3-4-3.
 
These teams, which have so far split the season series evenly at 2-2, meet again on Feb. 17 in Florida. However, if they continue at this consistently inconsistent pace, the division title might be up for grabs on April 5 in DC when the Panthers and Capitals clash for the final time this season.

#OneSedinDown

First Henrik Sedin was separated from his brother Daniel as Canucks coach Alain Vigneault juggled his lines, and now his ironman streak of 552 consecutive games played is in serious jeopardy due to a right ankle injury. He was struck on the outside of the ankle by a shot from Nashville defenseman Kevin Klein in Tuesday's game, but missed only a few shifts before returning to add two assists in a 4-3 shootout win.
 
What's amazing is Henrik has either completely eluded the injury bug or played through pain over the past six-plus season because he has not missed a single game since March 19, 2004, but he was seen limping around in a walking boot Wednesday. Unless he finds some serious healing power in St. Paul, it seems unlikely he'll be in the lineup when the Canucks take on the Wild on Thursday at Xcel Energy Center.
 
If Henrik does sit out Thursday's game, the question then becomes how many more will he have to miss due to this injury? The answer is still to be determined, or at least made public. With X-rays turning up negative Tuesday night, Sedin was scheduled to have a CT scan on his right ankle on Wednesday. The results, should the Canucks release them, will likely be made available Thursday.
 
Sedin leads the Canucks with 57 points, including a League-best 46 assists. If his injury is long-term, it may affect what GM Mike Gillis does prior to the trade deadline.

#Iginla'sFuture

Jarome Iginla
Right Wing - CGY
GOALS: 21 | ASST: 23 | PTS: 44
SOG: 175 | +/-: -6
Just when you thought the future of Jarome Iginla would no longer be in question, the topic returned this week.
 
Forget the fact that Flames GM Jay Feaster has said he's not trading the captain, including a comment he made to NHL.com last month that included the words, "Ownership's intention is this player will finish his career with the Flames. There is no appetite to trade Jarome Iginla." The deadline is only two-and-a-half weeks away and the Flames are still not in a playoff position, so Iginla is again having to answer questions about his future.
 
"Oh yeah, I intend to," Iginla said, according to the Calgary Herald, in response to a question about whether he plans to finish the season a Flame.
 
And with that, it should end. He has a no-trade clause that for all intents and purposes he shouldn't be asked to waive.
 
Iginla said he believes the Flames, who are now one point out of eighth place, will be a playoff team.
 
"That's where the focus is," he said. "As far as trade-deadline rumors, to be honest, I haven't kept up on them. … I don't know where I'm supposed to be going."
 
Nowhere.

#Nabokov'sFuture

The same can't be said about Islanders goalie Evgeni Nabokov, who could be an interesting name to consider as trade discussions heat up.
 
Nabokov is 12-12 with a 2.21 goals-against average and .925 save percentage in 26 appearances this season, proving he can still bring it as a National Hockey League goaltender. The fact that he is making only $570,000 this season and will be an unrestricted free agent come July 1 makes him a cheap and enticing option for a team looking to shore up its goaltending for the stretch run (Detroit? Chicago? Ottawa?, Tampa Bay?).
 
However, the questions come back to the Islanders: Do they believe they're in the Eastern Conference race? Can they part with Nabokov regardless?
 
Nabokov is winning games for the Isles, such as the 1-0 shootout win over Philadelphia on Tuesday, when he made 45 saves and two more in the shootout. The Islanders are 11th in the Eastern Conference and nine points out of a playoff spot, which seems like miles away, but they are 6-1-2 over their last nine games and 11-5-2 in the last 18.
 
If the Islanders decide trading Nabokov is their best option, it'll be because they believe that they're both out of the race and have no chance to re-sign him. Al Montoya and Kevin Poulin would finish out the season, which may not be terrible considering Poulin could be the team's goalie of the future (depending on Rick DiPietro, of course).

#LeafsLayingLow?

Luke Schenn
Defense - TOR
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 13 | PTS: 15
SOG: 54 | +/-: 9
NHL Network and TSN Insider Bob McKenzie had an interesting report Tuesday that if true, will probably cause some unrest in Leafs Nation. McKenzie reported that Brian Burke, who has repeatedly said general managers make more mistakes at the trade deadline than at any other time, could sit back and make very little changes, if any at all, to the team's current roster before the Feb. 27 deadline.
 
The Leafs would love to have a power forward that can play in their top-six, and it would be even better if that person is a center, but McKenzie suggested players like that are not being made available at this time because there are more buyers than sellers.
 
James van Riemsdyk was reportedly on the Leafs' radar, but he's been sidelined with a concussion. McKenzie suggested Ryan Malone is a target, but Tampa Bay doesn't appear willing to deal him.
 
Toronto would likely be willing to dangle defensemen Luke Schenn and Carl Gunnarsson, and perhaps even promising young forward Nazem Kadri, as trade bait, but they'll need a big return and that may not be possible now. Of course, as the days tick off the calendar and Feb. 27 approaches, the market could open a bit as more of those teams currently tip-toeing in the middle fall over into the sellers' category.
 
The Leafs are 5-0-1 in their last six games. Their lone blemish was that 5-4 shootout loss to Pittsburgh, a game in which the Leafs blew a 4-1 lead in the final 12 minutes of regulation. They're seventh in the Eastern Conference, closer to sixth than they are to ninth by one point.
 
They're playing well, but by no means secure just yet.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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He seemed to thrive on his own and didn't really need any push from me. I certainly don't want to get in the way of the coaches. You see how that goes sometimes. I never really worried about it and just enjoyed the ride.

— David Ekblad on his son's [Aaron Ekblad] journey to the NHL, signing with the Florida Panthers