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Helene Elliott's NHL plus/minus ratings

Toronto, San Jose and Minnesota are trending upward, but things aren't going so well for Sidney Crosby, the New York Rangers or the entire Southeast Division.

March 31, 2013
  • Toronto Maples Leafs goalie James Reimer makes a glove save off a tip during a game against the Ottawa Senators.
Toronto Maples Leafs goalie James Reimer makes a glove save off a tip during… (Jana Chytilova / Getty Images )

Pluses

There might be playoff games in The Center of the Hockey Universe for the first time since 2004, with the Toronto Maple Leafs having won three straight games and earned points in eight straight. Nazem Kadri and linemate Joffrey Lupul have played big roles, with Lupul collecting five goals and nine points in his last four games and Kadri scoring six goals and 14 points in his last eight. For that, Kadri was rewarded — or should that be punished? — by a kiss on the cheek from Don Cherry on Saturday.

Have the San Jose Sharks finally gotten their act together? Victories over the Ducks (twice) and Detroit Red Wings within four days made them look more like the team that started 7-0-0 than the group that forgot how to score and drifted toward oblivion. They continued their success Saturday by rallying for a 3-2 shootout victory over the Phoenix Coyotes.

The Minnesota Wild is 8-2 in its last 10 games, heating up its battle with Vancouver for first in the Northwest Division. Goalie Niklas Backstrom took the league lead Saturday with his 19th win in a 4-3 comeback victory over the Kings, and defenseman Ryan Suter has overcome a slow start to earn Norris Trophy consideration while averaging a league-high 27 minutes 18 seconds of ice time per game.

Minuses

The news Sunday that NHL scoring leader Sidney Crosby is out indefinitely because of a broken jaw, suffered when he took a puck in the face Saturday, killed the buzz after what should have been a great week for the Pittsburgh Penguins. They have a 15-game winning streak — the last three by shutout — and recently acquired veterans Brenden Morrow, Douglas Murray and Jarome Iginla. That depth will be tested without Crosby and defensemen Paul Martin (broken hand) and Kris Letang (broken toe). Good for General Manager Ray Shero for going all-in on trades, but a great regular season doesn't guarantee anything — just ask the top-ranked Vancouver Canucks of 2012.

The New York Rangers, clinging to the last East playoff spot, have been shut out in their last two games. It's so bad, even retired agitator Sean Avery ripped Coach John Tortorella. Avery tweeted Saturday, "Fire this CLOWN, his players hate him and won't play for his BS." One surprising footnote: Tortorella, who doesn't hide his disdain for the media, ordered every player to be available for media interviews after their 3-0 loss at Montreal on Saturday.

Somebody has to finish first in the Southeast and get an automatic playoff spot, but this division could be won by a team that's barely .500. It would be fun to have NHL playoff hockey in Winnipeg again, but the Jets aren't doing much to earn that honor. The Washington Capitals have shown some life lately but haven't been consistent enough to overtake the Jets.

helene.elliott@latimes.com

Twitter: @helenenothelen

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