NHL: Pluses and minuses around the league

Times columnist Helene Elliott rates the pluses and minuses in the NHL from the previous week:

+ The New York Rangers solidified their hold on the top spot in the East with a weekend sweep of the Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals. They've beaten Philadelphia seven straight times since last February. With seven wins in their last nine games, the Rangers have a seven-point lead over the Bruins, setting up an interesting matchup between them Tuesday at Boston.

+ Pittsburgh forward Evgeni Malkin has run off with the NHL scoring lead since being placed on a line with James Neal and Chris Kunitz. Malkin has 69 points, including five points in an 8-5 victory over Winnipeg on Saturday and two goals in a 4-2 comeback win over Tampa Bay on Sunday. The trio has figured in 45 of the Penguins' last 83 goals.

+ Dave Tippett probably won't be voted the NHL's coach of the year, but he should be recognized for leading the Phoenix Coyotes to a six-game point streak that has them in a playoff position in the West. Despite dealing with the financial uncertainty still hanging over the league-owned team, he has kept players focused and gets more out of them than probably anyone else could.

- What's ailing the Chicago Blackhawks? They led the league with 64 points on Jan. 20 but are 0-7-1 since, triggering cries for the head of Coach Joel Quenneville. They can score but their goaltending is failing and their defense has been exposed as too thin and unable to get the puck out of their end. General Manager Stan Bowman will have to find a puck-moving defenseman and, probably, a goalie before the Feb. 27 trade deadline.

- The Capitals' road woes continue to hamper their playoff chances. They're only 9-15-3 away from home and will play 14 of their final 27 games in hostile arenas. Overall, they've won only three of their last 11 games, keeping them outside the top eight in the East.

- Trade rumors get more ridiculous every year and this season's trade deadline — noon Pacific time Feb. 27 — can't come soon enough. But the action could be relatively subdued. Overtime/shootout consolation points have inflated the totals of flawed teams, leaving them too close to a playoff spot for general managers to concede the season and begin the restructuring many of them need.


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