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Trending: Jets surge, Leafs struggle, Toews still out

Tuesday, 03.06.2012 / 11:00 AM / NHL.Countdown

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

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Trending: Jets surge, Leafs struggle, Toews still out
Jets and Maple Leafs are trending for different reasons this week.
Winnipeg's winning ways, Randy Carlyle's instant impact in Toronto, Jonathan Toews, New Jersey's Jekyll and Hyde act, Capital confusion, Dallas' delight, and Hockey Canada's big announcement are all stories in the NHL right now, so they've all found their way into the Twitterverse. Here is what is Trending This Week with 32 days remaining in the regular season:

#JetSetting

You didn't even have to be in Winnipeg on Monday night to understand the atmosphere. It was easy enough to see on television how big that game, that 3-1 win against Buffalo, was to the 15,004 that packed, rocked and shook MTS Centre.

The Stanley Cup Playoffs have arrived in Winnipeg a month early. It's truly amazing.

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Save for select players, these Jets are mainly the same group that represented Atlanta with the Thrashers this past season. They are mainly the same group that fizzled out of the playoff race with 10 wins in its last 30 games last season. Yet here they are three points up on the struggling ninth-place Capitals after Monday's impressive win against a Buffalo team making its own desperate playoff push.

Maybe it has to do with the thrilling atmosphere in Winnipeg as opposed to quieter crowds in Atlanta. Maybe it has to do with the pressures that inevitably come when you play in a Canadian market. Or maybe, just maybe, these Jets are better than the Thrashers of last season -- and better than the Capitals of this season.

Whatever it is, the Jets are making it appear that it will be an exciting final month of the season in Winnipeg -- even though they have only six more home games remaining.

Yes, it's possible the road schedule -- with two upcoming at Vancouver and Calgary and then three straight later this month at Pittsburgh, Washington and Nashville -- will eventually do in the Jets. They are, after all, only 11-17-4 on the road. Maybe they fly off course and leave the door open for the Capitals or the upstart Lightning and Sabres.

But what if the Jets, who have won two in a row and have points in eight of their past nine games, win this snail race to the finish line in the Eastern Conference? Imagine what the city will be like then. Imagine how much MTS Centre will shake.

#TaskmasterCarlyle

When news breaks in Toronto it gets traction across the hockey world. There's no two ways about it. And the past three days, especially Sunday and Monday, have been some of the most newsworthy in Toronto in a long time.

Randy Carlyle has captured not only the attention of his team with his long, spirited practices, but he's also grasped the attention -- and perhaps imagination -- of his new market, starving for success. He'll make his debut behind the home bench at Air Canada Centre on Tuesday against Boston, and you can be sure there won't be any "Fire Carlyle" chants in the building.

Well, at least not for the first period.

One thing for certain is that Carlyle is not Ron Wilson. They may have the same gruff demeanor, but it appears Carlyle will be far more demanding on the Leafs than Wilson ever was. He put the Leafs through back-to-back practice sessions Sunday and Monday that made Rink 2 at MasterCard Centre look like a blizzard had just blown through.

The ice was not, shall we say, playable by the end of Monday's session, which approached the two-hour mark.

The buzz around the building was that Carlyle was making the Leafs look like they were in training camp again. Carlyle even admitted as much, saying in a way it is training camp for him and the players as they get on the same page.

The difference, though, is when the Leafs take the ice Tuesday night, they'll be playing game No. 66 in a season that they believe is still very much salvageable. So unlike in training camp, where mistakes are teaching tools, there's barely any room for error for the Maple Leafs right now.

#CaptainQuestionmark

Jonathan Toews
Center - CHI
GOALS: 29 | ASST: 28 | PTS: 57
SOG: 185 | +/-: 17
Jonathan Toews remains out of the Chicago Blackhawks' lineup with what many in the Windy City believe to be concussion-like symptoms. The Hawks have not said as much and coach Joel Quenneville continues to call Toews "day-to-day" with an upper-body injury, though Captain Serious is not with the Blackhawks in St. Louis and has not resumed skating.

Chicago has gotten on without Toews, winning three straight, including Sunday's 2-1 thriller in Detroit against a Red Wings' team that was missing Pavel Datsyuk, Nicklas Lidstrom and Jonathan Ericsson, and then lost All-Star goalie Jimmy Howard to a lower-body injury after the first period.

On the surface, the quantity of quality Detroit players missing from Sunday's game makes the Hawks' woes with Toews seem less worrisome; but the surface is not where the story is. Toews is without question the biggest piece to Chicago's playoff puzzle and the mere fact there is uncertainty about his condition should be a scary proposition for the Hawks and their fans.

Quenneville turned some of the pessimism around Monday when he announced that Toews successfully completed an off-ice workout, but he still gave no indication as to when he will start skating again. Toews will miss his seventh straight game Tuesday in St. Louis. The Hawks have scored just 11 goals without him.

#DevilishTime

Zach Parise's honesty following the Devils 1-0 loss Sunday to the Islanders is part of the reason why he is the captain in New Jersey. Parise told reporters that the Devils could have been facing a pee-wee goalie in the first two periods against the Islanders and it wouldn't have mattered.

Parise was angry with the Devils' lack of urgency in the first two periods as they managed only 12 shots on goal against Isles rookie goalie Anders Nilsson, whose only other start in the NHL came in Pittsburgh on Nov. 21, when he lost in Sidney Crosby's return game.

The Devils appear to be on solid ground in the playoff chase with eight points separating them from the ninth-place Capitals, but their Jekyll and Hyde ways of late have to be alarming to coach Pete DeBoer and GM Lou Lamoriello. Unlike a few weeks ago, when it seemed the Devils could do no wrong, they can't seem to put any type of run together.

They're 1-4-1 since a four-game winning streak. They routed Washington, 5-0, on Friday but managed only seven goals in the combined five defeats around that win. They've got two chances this week to get back at the Islanders, but first they have to play the Eastern-leading Rangers on Tuesday.

#CapitalLosses

Alex Ovechkin
Left Wing - WSH
GOALS: 26 | ASST: 23 | PTS: 49
SOG: 231 | +/-: -9
Just when you want to start feeling good about the Capitals, when you want to start believing they're turning the corner, their offense goes quiet in back-to-back losses to teams ahead of them in the standings.

And amid the drought, Capitals coach Dale Hunter decided it was in the team's best interest to sit Alex Ovechkin for about seven minutes during Sunday's 1-0 loss to Philadelphia.

Seriously, what gives? Three games into their five-game homestand, the Capitals have so far had to mount a ridiculous comeback to beat the Islanders in overtime, and have lost by a combined 6-0 to the Devils and Flyers. They won the two games leading into the homestand, but for some reason haven't been able to build on it despite being a much better at home than on the road.

GM George McPhee did nothing to change the team's dynamic at the NHL Trade Deadline, and word came down Monday that Nicklas Backstrom was returning to Sweden in hopes it will help him heal from a concussion. The Backstrom situation is serious, and there's no telling when he'll even say he's close to being ready to return.

Don't look now, but the Hurricanes and red-hot Lighting come to Verizon Center this week. Then it's off to Boston on Saturday and back home the next day to play what could be the rejuvenated Maple Leafs. Oh, and then starts a five-game road trip with stops at Long Island, Winnipeg, Chicago, Detroit and Philadelphia.

The gauntlet to the playoffs is only going to get harder to skate through, and the Capitals have shown few signs that they'll be able to navigate it.

#ShiningStars

Maybe GM Joe Nieuwendyk was right not to trade Steve Ott or anybody else off his roster in Dallas. Maybe Nieuwendyk was right not to make any move at all prior to the NHL Trade Deadline.

The Dallas Stars are hot and are looking not only at a playoff berth on the horizon, but the potential for as high as the third seed in the Western Conference. As the Stars try to pull away from the pack at the bottom of the Western Conference playoff race they find themselves only a simple tiebreaker out of the top spot in the Pacific Division.

Dallas has the same amount of points as Phoenix (75) and has two more non-shootout victories (the first tiebreaker at the end of the season), but the Coyotes have played in one fewer game than the Stars so they are currently the division leader and third-place team in the conference. The Coyotes didn't lose a game in regulation in February, but the door to the division title is open with Phoenix having lost three straight and San Jose two in a row this month.

The players who were rumored to be on the block -- Steve Ott, Sheldon Souray and Mike Ribeiro -- have all played well since the trade deadline passed. Michael Ryder has been impressive with goals in four straight games as well as points in six straight games and in 12 of the past 13. Loui Eriksson also has nine points in the last six games.

Nieuwendyk had options at the deadline and could have moved some players, but he never got the offers he desired so he held firm and it showed faith in his roster. The players are rewarding him with a run that could culminate with a division title banner going up at American Airlines Center.

#GoldStandard

Steven Stamkos
Center - TBL
GOALS: 47 | ASST: 33 | PTS: 80
SOG: 230 | +/-: 8
Hockey Canada is going back to the well. Can you blame them?

Steve Yzerman on Monday was tabbed as the executive director for the 2014 Canadian Men's Olympic team. Yzerman, of course, put together the club that won gold two years ago in Vancouver. His chief lieutenants will again be Ken Holland, Doug Armstrong and Kevin Lowe -- the same trio that helped Yzerman select the championship roster that will never be forgotten by this nation of hockey fanatics.

While the NHL has not committed to sending players to Sochi for the 2014 Olympics, the announcement that Yzerman will be returning to his role as executive director has at least allowed imaginations to run wild.

If the NHL does send players, which ones will represent Canada in 2014? It's a fun, spirited debate that is likely going on between friends right now.

With a little less than two years before the Sochi Games, it would appear that the Canadian team could have some dramatic turnover from 2010 if the NHL players are again involved.

For instance, Yzerman likely would have to find space on the roster for at least Steven Stamkos, Claude Giroux and John Tavares. James Neal, Joffrey Lupul and Jordan Eberle might be playing their way into consideration. Jason Spezza is right there. So are Logan Couture, Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, Taylor Hall, Alex Pietrangelo, Kris Letang, P.K. Subban, Carey Price and Cam Ward.

It's a fun exercise now, a quick diversion from the playoff races. If Hockey Canada did nothing else with the announcement on Monday, it got people talking about the potential for 2014.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

Quote of the Day

It's pretty crazy, but believe me when I say we didn't draft these players with the mindset we had to because they had good hockey-playing dads. It just turned out that way. But we're certainly glad they're a part of our organization.

— Arizona Coyotes director of amateur scouting Tim Bernhardt regarding the coincidence that six of the organization's top prospects are sons of former NHL players