Times columnist Helene Elliott rates the pluses and minuses in the NHL from the last week:
+ Despite losing 223 man-games to injuries, the Columbus Blue Jackets have continued to surge. They're 9-1-1 in December, including 5-1-1 at home, and have one game left to match their club record of 10 victories in a month. They've fueled their success by killing 23 consecutive penalties and cashing in on nine of 32 power plays (28.1%) this month.
+ The season is speeding toward the halfway mark and the Nashville Predators are vying for first in the Central Division after not reaching the playoffs last season. The difference? Goaltender Pekka Rinne is healthy and they've avoided slumps: the Predators have yet to lose two games in a row this season.
+ The New York Rangers took an eight-game winning streak into their game at Dallas on Monday, their longest winning streak since the 1974-75 season. They had outscored opponents, 26-11, and had given up two goals or less in seven consecutive games.
- Maybe there is such a thing as a sophomore jinx. Colorado forward Nathan MacKinnon, last season's rookie of the year, ended a goal drought at 16 games Saturday. Through 35 games he had six goals, 22 points and a minus-nine defensive rating. His award-winning numbers last season were 24 goals, 63 points and plus-20.
- Losing forward Evander Kane until early February is a tough loss for the Winnipeg Jets, who have been pushing for a West wild-card spot. As permitted by the NHL, the Jets were vague about the injury and said Monday it was to Kane's lower body; he blocked a shot Saturday and was seen clutching his right knee. The Jets have been hit hard by injuries on defense and their depth will be tested.
- Misfortune has taken new forms for the Minnesota Wild, one of five NHL teams to have had confirmed mumps cases. A stomach virus sidelined goaltenders Darcy Kuemper and Niklas Backstrom on Saturday and 30-year-old John Curry was called up to face Winnipeg on short notice. He lost on a fluky goal that hit the glass and the back of his head before entering the net. The Wild also lost center Mikael Granlund and defenseman Jonas Brodin to injuries in that game. Granlund will sit out a month after surgery for a broken left wrist.