WAIT TIL NEXT YEAR: The Oilers can comfortably turn the page on this season, now that goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin has undergone surgery to repair a herniated disc in his back and will miss the rest of the season. Without its No. 1 goaltender - general manager Steve Tambellini called Khabibulin "our MVP" - as well as perennial scoring leader Ales Hemsky, Edmonton has zero chance of making up the necessary ground in the Western Conference standings. Accordingly, the goal in the second half will be for Pat Quinn and staff to get a read on which players they believe they can win with down the road, and which are expendable at the trading deadline. If the Oilers land a top-three pick, it'll be the highest they've ever selected in the NHL entry draft … Ottawa seemed to get a lift out of that dodge ball game, on the ice, in Manhattan's Central Park Wednesday, given that they went out the next night and shut out the Rangers 2-0, behind the goaltending of Mike Brodeur. It marked the second time in 48 hours that a goaltender named Brodeur threw a shutout at them. New Jersey's Martin managed the trick on Tuesday, the 107th of his career. For the Rangers, they have now gone 144 minutes and 23 seconds without a goal. Marian Gaborik has cooled off of late, with just three points in January, and no one else is picking up the scoring slack. The Rangers are competitive because of goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who also earned a shutout in a shootout loss versus Jersey and came within less than two minutes of another versus the Senators. In effect, they surrendered just one goal in regulation over two games and earned only one of a possible four points in the standings. No wonder coach John Tortorella is sounding even more frustrated than usual ... Neil Smith, the Rangers' general manager in 1994 when they won their last Stanley Cup, has gone behind the bench for the first time in his 30-plus years in the industry. A two-time NHL executive of the year, Smith installed himself as coach of the ECHL's Johnstown Chiefs earlier this week, becoming the first owner/governor/coach in recent memory, a latter day Eddie Shore. Smith replaced Jeff Flanagan, who was let go this past Monday after a 9-19-7 start.
THIS AND THAT: Here's the latest on the Ilya Kovalchuk front: The Atlanta Thrashers captain is still unsigned; still poised to become an unrestricted free agent; still unsure if $9-million per season on a lifetime contract is enough to stay in the NHL; and still the object of the Continental Hockey League's burning desire. In short, nothing's changed … The New York Islanders' surge to respectability has been largely framed as a John Tavares/Dwayne Roloson production, but the play of second-year forward Josh Bailey has been integral as well. Bailey has 15 points in his last 11 games, and in the month of January, had 10 points through Thursday, or one more than Sidney Crosby.
AND FINALLY: A few words of wisdom from Colorado Avalanche defenceman Scott Hannan, whose team is - against all odds - jockeying with Calgary and Vancouver for top spot in the Northwest Division. With the Avalanche at the start of a stretch in which they play 11 of 13 at home, Hannan was asked if his was team was being taken more seriously now than at the start of the season. His answer: "Taking teams seriously, or not taking teams seriously, I don't know if anybody can do that. You see teams at the bottom go out and beat teams at the top all year long. We've got to be ready for every team in the league, just as every other team in the league has to be ready for us. You have those mental lapses because you're tired, or make a bad play defensively, those things cost you. That's the biggest thing I've noticed in the game right now. You give up a bad goal early, somehow the game ends up 1-0. Every shift has to matter."