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Thoughts From The Weekend

by Jay Levin / Nashville Predators
This past weekend was a key stretch for many teams around the NHL; teams on the playoff bubble waiting until the last minute to determine if they should be "buyers" or "sellers" at Monday's Trade Deadline and teams inside the playoff picture trying to determine where they stack up and what areas they may look to shore up on Deadline Day.

With the completion of the Anaheim/Chicago game on Sunday evening, all of the games scheduled before Monday's 2pm CT deadline are now completed. So, what have we learned from the past 72 hours?

Going back even as far as 10 days ago, there has not been any additional clarity to the playoff situations in either conference.

More Breathing Room For The Preds: Heading into Thursday night the Preds were only up three points over No. 6 seed Chicago jockeying for better positioning in the Western Conference playoff picture with both teams hosting games that evening. While the Preds skated to a shootout against St. Louis, the Hawks dropped a regulation decision to Dallas. On Saturday night the Preds rebounded with a win and the Hawks dropped their second in a row, a road game at Los Angeles to allow the Preds to push their lead up to six points over the Hawks. Chicago dropped the back half of its SoCal back-to-back on Sunday to keep Nashville six points clear of the Hawks with a huge two games in-hand over Chicago. The Preds can now turn their attention to the two division teams ahead of them in the standings (St. Louis--four points ahead for the No. 4 seed--and Detroit--six points ahead for the Division lead) without having to worry as much about teams creeping up from below them in the standings.

What's Different In the West: Heading into games last Friday (Feb. 17) there was an eight point gap in the Western Conference between 13th place and the playoffs, with Phoenix and Los Angeles tied for the No. 7 and No. 8 seeds; entering play on Monday night that gap has been trimmed to six points between No. 13 seeded Anaheim and the playoffs with Dallas now sitting in the No. 8 slot and San Jose in the No. 7 seed just one point ahead of the Stars. Phoenix's hot 10 days (4-0-0, 8 points) allowed them to leapfrog San Jose for the Pacific Division lead and the No. 3 seed in the conference, while Los Angeles slid down to the No. 9 seed, tied with Colorado two points out of the playoff picture. Calgary, 1-0-2 in four games during that stretch, fell from ninth place and just one point out, to 11th place and three points out.

Little Change In the East: In the Eastern Conference there was also an eight point gap between the No. 8 and No. 13 seeds back on Feb. 17, with an additional four point difference to the next playoff seeds, New Jersey and Ottawa tied for the No. 6 and No. 7 seeds. And there was a mere three points separating the No. 8 through No. 10 seeds. Heading into Monday that eight point gap remains from No. 8 to No. 13, but Toronto and Winnipeg essentially swapped places -- the Leafs had held the No. 8 slot on Feb. 17, four points ahead of No. 10 Winnipeg; the Jets now hold the No. 8 slot, three points ahead of No. 10 Toronto. Washington has remained in the No. 9 slot, still one point out of eighth place. With Toronto's recent struggles, the No. 11 and No. 12 seeds have closed to within six points of the playoff cutline, actually making the situation more crowded now than 10 days ago.

Ten days ago, the Southeast Division lead was also very much in play with Florida holding a four point lead over second place (and conference No. 9 seed) Washington and five point edge over third place (and conference No. 10 seed) Winnipeg. The Panthers still hold the division lead heading into the Deadline, but that advantage has been trimmed to two points over the Jets and three over the Capitals.

Quiet Sunday: In past years the night before the Trade Deadline has brought about a couple of trades --- whether trades fully completed or just the structure to deals finalized Deadline Day Morning. In 2011 Brad Boyes moved the day before the deadline. In 2010 it was Nick Boynton, Alex Ponikarovsky, Andy Sutton. So far Sunday has brought just one deal, AHL goaltending prospect Ben Bishop going from St. Louis to Ottawa. Even the trade rumors, which usually heat up as Deadline Day approaches, are fairly quiet this evening.

The Smithson Surge:
It may just be coincidence, but in the three nights since the Preds traded forward Jerred Smithson both Ryan Flynn and Jani Lajunen, a pair of Preds AHL prospects often compared to Smithson by Preds scouts, had big weekends. Flynn, who has showed well during Training Camp the last two years, scored three goals in three weekend games, including a key shorthanded goal in Friday night's Admirals win and the game-winning goal in Sunday afternoon's game. At 6-foot-3 and around 210 pounds, Flynn has a very similar body build to Smithson (6-3, 209 pounds). And much like Smithson, his game is more defined by defense and ability to win one-on-one battles (especially along the boards) than by goals and assists. Lajunen assisted on Flynn's shorthanded goal on Friday night and extended his scoring streak to five straight games with a steal and un-assisted goal on Saturday night, Milwaukee's lone goal in a shootout loss. Lajunen, in his first season in North America, is projected to have more offensive upside than Smithson, but at just 21-years old, he already has a very "mature" recognition of his defensive responsibilities. Lajunen was key match-up forward during Team Finland's Gold Medal winning run through the 2011 World Championships, with a +2 plus/minus rating during the tournament and even scoring a goal during Finland's 3-0 win over Team Russia in the Semifinals game.

This is not to indicate that either Flynn or Lajunen will be in the NHL this season, but they both are making statements for extended consideration --- if not his season, at least for next season.

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