The National Hockey League regular season has reached the halfway point and the races in the North, East, Central, and West have begun to separate to the point where teams near the top of the divisions will look to add one final piece to make a playoff run and those trailing behind may begin to ponder selling before the April 12 trade deadline.
Here is a weekly look at players who have been significant difference makers and others who are not meeting expectations.
Nikolaj Ehlers (Winnipeg Jets): The Jets have narrowed the gap between them and the division-leading Maple Leafs to four points in the North after earning five of a possible six points in Toronto last week. Ehlers has been able to take on more of the offensive burden following the trade of Patrik Laine to Columbus, with 14 goals (6th in the NHL) this season and scored six points (3 goals, 3 assists) in the three-game set with the Leafs.
Frederik Andersen (Toronto Maple Leafs): The Leafs have struggled since sweeping the Edmonton Oilers earlier this month, losing five of their last six games. Andersen has a 13-7-2 record, 2.86 GAA and .900 save percentage this season, but has not been sharp since returning from a lower-body injury. In four starts last week, Andersen had a 3.70 GAA and .873 save percentage in losses to Winnipeg and Ottawa and an overtime win against the Jets.
Tristian Jarry (Pittsburgh Penguins): The Penguins chose to deal Matt Murray to Ottawa and sign Jarry to an extension after playing well last season, but the 24-year-old struggled early with the burden of being the #1 goalie in Pittsburgh. The Pens have played much better after the change in management from Jim Rutherford to Brian Burke and Ron Hextall, and Jarry has been a big part of it. The Pens goalie stopped 54 of 58 shots in a pair of wins over the Rangers and Buffalo.
The Buffalo Sabres: A complete mess from top to bottom and likely to spend permanent residence in this section the rest of the season. Head coach Ralph Krueger and assistant coach Steve Smith were fired on Wednesday following the club’s 12th straight loss to the New Jersey Devils. GM Kevyn Adams will now have the unenviable task of trading off players like Taylor Hall, Eric Staal and Brandon Montour before the trade deadline and begin the search for a new bench boss.
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Ondrej Palat (Tampa Bay Lightning): The Lightning are in a pitched battle with the state rival Panthers for the top spot in the Central, tied with with 42 points. Tampa Bay went 3-1-0 last week, with Palat leading the way with six points (1 goal, 5 assists). The veteran winger is tied with Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point and Victor Hedman for the club lead in scoring with 27 points.
Pekka Rinne (Nashville Predators): Rinne has been forced to play much more than expected with the injury to Juuse Saros and the absence of Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis on the blueline has left the veteran goalie exposed and without a lot of help. In three games last week, Rinne allowed 13 goals in losses to Carolina and Tampa Bay and the Preds are three points from the bottom in the Central.
Philipp Grubauer (Colorado Avalanche): Grubauer went 3-1-0 with a 1.24 goals-against average, .932 save percentage and one shutout last week to earn NHL First Star of the Week. In 22 games this season, the 29-year-old is tied for first in the league in shutouts (4) and is in the top five of league standings in wins (15) and goals-against average (1.91).
Anaheim Ducks Offense: The Ducks started off the week with some promise, scoring six goals in an overtime win against the Kings, but in a trio of losses to Los Angeles and San Jose, Anaheim managed only two goals. The club has the deadly combination of the second-worst goals-per-game average (2.23) and the second-most goals allowed in the league (103), which has them in last place in the West.