Updated: December 12, 2013, 11:34 PM ET

Just A Thought


Scott Burnside@ESPN_Burnside: It's always interesting to see how teams bounce back from emotional wins and losses. Those games might actually be a greater test of a team's identity. Take the New York Islanders, coming off a 3-2 shootout victory against tough San Jose on the road Tuesday that ended a 10-game winless streak. The Isles traveled to Phoenix and were shelled 6-3 Thursday night. Oh, well. So much for turning some sort of corner. But we were impressed with the Philadelphia Flyers, who were embarrassed in Chicago Wednesday night 7-2 but returned home to sneak by the Montreal Canadiens 2-1. The Flyers got a goal and an assist from captain Claude Giroux and another solid night in goal from Steve Mason, who stopped 20 of 21 shots as Montreal lost for the second straight time. The Flyers, meanwhile, are shockingly tied with Columbus, just two points back of Carolina, which sits in third place (and thus in a playoff spot) in the Metropolitan Division.

Craig Custance@CraigCustance: The Red Wings lost in a shootout. Again. The Maple Leafs dropped their third straight and have the Blackhawks and Penguins waiting for them on the schedule. Don't look now, but one of the most inconsistent and puzzling teams this season, the Senators, has worked its way back into the Eastern Conference quagmire. It helps to play back-to-back games with the Sabres, with Thursday night's 2-1 win a positive one because Craig Anderson stopped 40 shots. Ottawa is hanging around by gathering points at home, but the degree of difficulty ratchets up considerably with the Blues and Kings coming to town, an opportunity for these Senators to prove they've made some strides this season.

Pierre LeBrun@Real_ESPNLeBrun: Watching the San Jose Sharks beat the Minnesota Wild 3-1 Thursday night reminded me of how the "peloton" is beginning to thin out in the Western Conference. OK, I don't know anything about cycling, but I get brownie points for "peloton," right? In any case, the Wild are game and they're a great story, they want to swing with the big boys in the West so badly. But truth is, the big boys are an exclusive club: Chicago, St. Louis, San Jose, Anaheim and Los Angeles (in no particular order). They're not only the best five teams in the West, they might be the best five teams in the NHL. All of which makes me look forward to Saturday night's game in Vancouver between the Canucks and Bruins. Vancouver has impressively played itself back into contention ahead of Friday's home game with Edmonton. The Bruins, to me, are the class of the Eastern Conference. Drop the puck, as they say.

Katie Strang@KatieStrangESPN: With four wins in the past five games, including Thursday night's decisive 4-2 victory against the Rangers on the road, the Columbus Blue Jackets are steadily gaining ground in the Eastern Conference standings. They leapfrogged the Rangers in the Metropolitan Division and sit only two points back from the eighth-place Carolina Hurricanes, with a game in hand. The Blue Jackets are getting their act together, even without starting goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. With the 2013 Vezina Trophy winner on the shelf with a groin injury, Curtis McElhinney has been holding down the fort in his stead. Then, when McElhinney left the game Thursday night with a lower-body injury, the Blue Jackets rallied around third-string goalie Mike McKenna -- who was making his first NHL appearance since the 2010-11 season -- to secure the two points. Considering Columbus also has been without Marian Gaborik and Nathan Horton for a significant stretch, the Jackets might still be a sleeper team yet if they can get healthy.

Picture This

Daniel BriereEric Hartline/USA TODAY SportsDaniel Briere receives a warm welcome from the crowd before his first game in Philadelphia since the Flyers bought out his contract.


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