DUCKS ON THE RISE: Anaheim waited until the final three weeks last season to make its playoff push; after defeating Detroit the other night, the Ducks improved to 11-4-0 in their past 15 and no one would be surprised if they surged into the top eight by the end of the season. One team that's suddenly vulnerable: the Nashville Predators, just 4-6 in their last 10. … A sign that the Red Wings are starting to get healthy again: Defenceman Jonathan Ericsson was held out of Tuesday's game against the Sharks, in which Detroit battled back for a big come-from-behind win after spotting San Jose an early lead. … Jason Blake essentially returned to his NHL roots this past week, landing in Anaheim as the third piece of the J.S. Giguere-Vesa Toskala deal. Blake turned pro with the Kings in 1998-99, signing as a free agent after a monster college career at North Dakota. By joining the Ducks, he became the 20th player in history to play for both of the southern California NHL franchises. … Rumours persist that the Dallas Stars might part with Mike Ribeiro, if the right offer came along: Ribeiro earns $5-million a season; in his absence, rookie Jamie Benn has done a credible job filling in for him on the line with Brenden Morrow and Steve Ott. Dallas isn't exactly knee-deep in centres, given that this could be Mike Modano's final year, but if it determines Benn can play there, then moving Ribeiro might give it a better chance of signing Ott, an upcoming unrestricted free agent, to a contract extension.
BOOTH RETURNS: The Florida Panthers' David Booth is back playing, but still having a difficult time adjusting to the pace of the NHL game, after missing 45 games with a concussion, the result of a hit to his cranium by the Flyers' Mike Richards. The U.S. Olympic team replaced two injured defencemen Tuesday (Ryan Whitney and Tim Gleason in for Mike Komisarek and Paul Martin). If there's an injury up front, Booth is a candidate to play in Vancouver. ... The Islanders put long-time, hard-rock defenceman Brendan Witt on waivers this past week. Witt received a little notoriety earlier this year, when he was hit by an SUV earlier this season leaving the hotel in Philadelphia - but brushed it off and played that night against the Flyers. A knee injury has slowed him this season; it remains to be seen if the intangibles he brings will make him a candidate to move at the trade deadline again. That happened to Witt once earlier in his career - back in 2006, when the Washington Capitals were in salary-dumping mode. Nashville gave up a first rounder to rent Witt for 17 games; the Capitals turned that draft choice into goaltender Semyon Varlamov.
AND FINALLY: Pittsburgh will likely wait until the 11th hour to make its roster tweaks, in part so that it can get a clearer idea of how much - or how little - it will get out of two players - Chris Kunitz and Max Talbot - who made big impacts in last year's playoffs. Kunitz was scheduled to return to the line-up this week, perhaps even Saturday night against the Montreal Canadiens, after recovering from abdominal surgery. Kunitz has 20 points in the 30 games he's played, and will likely go back and play left wing with Sidney Crosby. Talbot, meanwhile, has been in and out of the line-up and has just five points (and one goal) to show for his 28 NHL appearances. Talbot starred in last year's playoffs on Evgeni Malkin's line and appears to be struggling with a groin injury, after missing the start of the season recovering from surgery. In theory, the Penguins could keep Talbot out until after the Olympic break, just to ensure everything heals properly. Talbot had 19 points in 24 playoff games last season and was a major force in the Penguins' championship drive. If healthy, both are top-six forwards in Pittsburgh's scheme of things. If not, then general manager Ray Shero may have more work to do.