NHL Players on Playoff-Bubble Teams Who Must Step Up

Allan Mitchell@@Lowetide_Featured ColumnistFebruary 7, 2016

NHL Players on Playoff-Bubble Teams Who Must Step Up

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    Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

    NHL teams are preparing for the stretch run, and every club still in contention will need strong performances from their veteran players. This year, there are many teams with a chance to make the playoffs, so every game is important and highly contested.

    Each of the bubble teams has a player under the microscope. Some are established veterans who can't find the usual magic, such as Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators. Others are youngsters who are struggling after early success, such as Ottawa Senators defenseman Cody Ceci.

    Here are seven players on bubble teams who need to deliver outstanding performances for the remainder of the 2015-16 season.

Arizona Coyotes: G Louis Domingue

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    Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

    What Is His Established Level? Louis Domingue of the Arizona Coyotes has played at all levels of pro hockey since signing in 2012. 

    What Is He Delivering This Season? He has been a strong option for the Coyotes, who needed a replacement when Mike Smith was injured.

    Is He Trending In A Good Direction? Domingue was solid in December and January, posting a .924 save percentage, but he has faltered in February. The Coyotes appear to have found a fine option in net for the future. After speaking to GM Don Maloney, Craig Morgan of Arizona Sports recently reported on Smith's status, and it looks like Domingue will be active throughout February.

Colorado Avalanche: RW Jarome Iginla

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    Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

    What Is His Established Level? Jarome Iginla of the Colorado Avalanche is a significant offensive threat, even at age 38. He scored 59 goals in the two seasons leading into 2015-16. 

    What Is He Delivering This Season? Iginla's 13 goals put him on a pace that will see him finish on around 20 for the year.

    Is He Trending In A Good Direction? He started the year with three goals in October and five in November, but he has cooled off since. Iginla needs to deliver more offense if the Avalanche are to have a chance of making the playoffs.

Montreal Canadiens: G Mike Condon

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    What Is His Established Level? Mike Condon of the Montreal Canadiens has been slowly working his way up the organizational depth chart. He has been thrust into a feature role this season because of Carey Price's injury problems.

    What Is He Delivering This Season? Condon's .905 save percentage is not a strong number, and Montreal is in real danger of falling out of the playoff race.

    Is He Trending In A Good Direction? In his last five starts, Condon has delivered only one performance with a save percentage over .910. Ben Scrivens played well on February 6 in a win over the Edmonton Oilers, so help may finally be on the horizon.

Nashville Predators: G Pekka Rinne

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    Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

    What Is His Established Level? Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators has a career save percentage of .918 and was a splendid .923 in 2014-15.

    What Is He Delivering This Season? Rinne is off his game in a real way, posting a porous .903 save percentage. He has been unable to find consistency during the year, delivering a few outings that could be considered alarming, such as Jan. 14's 5-4 defeat to the Winnipeg Jets, in which he posted a save percentage of just .792.

    Is He Trending In A Good Direction? He has been good in four of his last five starts, perhaps signaling a return to form. Backup Carter Hutton is effective in that role, but the Predators are life and death to make the playoffs this year. Rinne must perform at his established career levels if they are to make the postseason.

Ottawa Senators: D Cody Ceci

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    Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

    What Is His Established Level? Cody Ceci of the Ottawa Senators has been an NHL regular since the middle of the 2013-14 season. He offers his team a strong two-way option and can play solid minutes—he's averaging 18:35 in his NHL career to date. 

    What Is He Delivering This Season? Ceci was about average in even-strength possession a year ago—Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com had him at 49.0 percent—but this year the Senators are below 42 percent with him on the ice.

    Is He Trending In A Good Direction? The numbers since his return from a lower-body injury have not been encouraging, and the Senators might be wise to make a trade to give some cover to their young defender.

Pittsburgh Penguins: RW Phil Kessel

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    What Is His Established Level? Phil Kessel is an outstanding goal-scorer and entered this season averaging 30 goals over 82 games for his career. 

    What Is He Delivering This Season? Kessel has 15 goals in 50 games, a pace that will see him fall well shy of his career average.

    Is He Trending In A Good Direction? The Pittsburgh Penguins acquired Kessel for his ability to score goals, but he has been disappointing this year. That said, snipers are known for going on hot streaks, and it is a good bet Kessel will carry Pittsburgh for a prolonged stretch in the final push this year.

Vancouver Canucks: RW Radim Vrbata

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    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

    What Is His Established Level? Radim Vrbata of the Vancouver Canucks scored 51 goals in the two seasons previous to 2015-16. He is a substantial offensive player. 

    What Is He Delivering This Season? If Vrbata continues at his current rate, he will finish with 18 goals—his lowest full-season total since 2006-07.

    Is He Trending In A Good Direction? Vrbata delivered 10 goals in the first three months of the year but only one goal in January. The Canucks are going to need all hands on deck to make the playoffs and will be relying heavily on the veteran winger for goals.

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