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Plenty to see before the Olympic break

by Kevin Weekes

Having just attended the two games at Yankee Stadium involving the New York Rangers, New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders, I have to say it was all amazing. There were more than 100,000 hockey fans in two nights at Yankee Stadium. That's tough to beat. It was a great spectacle, it was a great show and I think all three teams played hard. It also provided a glimpse of what certain teams will need in order to make a playoff push before the Olympic break.

Coming out of the Rangers' 2-1 win against the Islanders on Wednesday, I was particularly impressed by the play of goaltender Evgeni Nabokov. If Nabokov can continue to play that way for the Islanders down the stretch and they can stay healthy, it would be huge. He can help provide confidence as well as a veteran presence. That would be big for them to make a push toward the playoffs.

If the Islanders hope to make up some ground during the sprint toward the Olympic break, they'll need that veteran contribution from Nabokov. We're seeing a similar contribution from Nathan Horton with the Columbus Blue Jackets, who have been great since their big offseason acquisition joined the lineup after undergoing shoulder surgery during the summer.

A team like Columbus can seem fragile because it is so inexperienced. But that's why having a guy like Horton back in the lineup is so important. He's a big-time playoff performer with two Stanley Cup Final appearances and a Stanley Cup ring. He's played in a big hockey market and is a first-line wing. He can help give that confidence and credibility to their locker rom. It's the same thing with Nabokov.

Much has been made about the importance of this period leading up to the 2014 Sochi Olympics. But really the next month is going to be crucial for every team. The NHL will impose a roster freeze during the Olympics, and the trade deadline comes just days after players return from Sochi and the season resumes.

I spoke to two GMs in the Western Conference and both of them said it's going to be really hectic for different reasons. Not only are a lot of teams still in the race, but what happens to players at the Olympics? Will they come back healthy? What if someone comes back unhealthy or gassed from those games? There are a lot of variables there.

I'm not sure what it will mean in terms of teams making deals. But it's certainly a challenge.

Whatever happens at the deadline on March 5, it will likely involve some impending unrestricted free agents -- and at the top of that list is Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller. I know almost any team that acquires Miller is going to get better because of it. But what's the price? And will he be a rental or will there be an opportunity to resign him? If Buffalo doesn't move Miller, will Tim Thomas be in play?

I'm hearing a lot of people talking about how Chris Stewart of the St. Louis Blues is in play. He's a heck of a power forward and could help any team. That's a great piece you cold potentially be adding to your lineup.

You'll want to pay close attention before the Olympics, during the Olympics and after the Olympics, because there will only be a few games for teams to assess where they are.

There is so much going on in the League right now, but we've got to talk about that 59-save shutout performance by Ben Scrivens of the Edmonton Oilers against the San Jose Sharks Wednesday. Are you kidding me? That was an unbelievable performance and the 59 saves were the most in a shutout in the expansion era. It definitely says a lot. It really showed that he has the ability to play in those situations.

I remember watching the Ron Tugnutt game live in 1991. That was 70 saves for the Quebec Nordiques in a 3-3 tie against the Boston Bruins. The performance from Scrivens is not that far off from Tugnutt's historic night.

I know the young guys in Edmonton got paid, so hopefully they can all pitch in and buy Ben Scrivens a car. Never mind a dinner, I'm talking about a car. And it better be high-end luxury model.

Fortunately for all of us, there should be plenty more highlights before we enter the Olympic break.

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