Alex Ovechkin's slow start this season left many people wondering if he'd ever return to the form that made him a terror to goaltenders in his first five NHL seasons. Ovi's performance last week more than erased any doubts.
Ovechkin had just two goals in the Washington Capitals' first 10 games, and he scored just 10 times in their first 24, Since then, he's been on fire -- and he took his offensive game to another level last week by scoring seven times and adding two assists as the Capitals swept four games to move into first place in the Southeast Division.
He was especially potent during the Capitals' weekend sweep of the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning, scoring five goals in the two games -- enough to move him into a tie with Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos for the League lead in goals with 25. That includes 15 goals in Washington's past 12 games.
Five up -- Five other players who had a good week:
Nicklas Backstrom -- Goal-scorers need someone to get them the puck -- and in the case of Ovechkin and his big week, that person was Backstrom. He didn't score a goal last week but set up nine of them and is now third in the NHL with 34 assists.
Henrik Lundqvist -- Last week might have been Lundqvist's best of the season. He allowed only five goals on 131 shots as the New York Rangers solidified their playoff standing by going 3-0-1. Lundqvist's best performance came Saturday when he stopped 48 shots in a 4-1 win at Carolina.
Ryan Miller -- Miller isn't going to let the Buffalo Sabres fall out of the playoff race without a fight. He stopped 91 of 96 shots as the Sabres beat the Pittsburgh Penguins, Ottawa Senators and New Jersey Devils for a 3-0-0 week.
Taylor Hall -- The first player chosen in the 2010 NHL Draft had seven points in his first two games of the week, helping the Edmonton Oilers sweep the Calgary Flames. He enters the week eighth in the scoring race.
Alex Chiasson -- The Dallas Stars traded off three key veterans before the deadline, opening the way for younger players to show what they can do. Chiasson, a college star at BU, helped make a case for more playing time by scoring three times in weekend wins at Anaheim and San Jose.
Five down -- Five players who didn't:
Dustin Byfuglien -- The Winnipeg Jets have been giving Byfuglien time up front as well as on the blue line, but it's not helping his game. Byfuglien, one of the NHL's top-scoring defensemen last season, has gone six games without a point and is minus-7 in that span. His slump is a major reason the Jets have dropped out of the Southeast Division lead.
Gabriel Landeskog -- The 2011-12 Calder Trophy winner and youngest captain in the NHL is going through some sophomore struggles as the Colorado Avalanche fall out of the playoff race. He's gone without a point in six games and has just seven goals and 12 points in 26 games this season.
Adam Henrique -- One year after helping the New Jersey Devils come within two victories of the Stanley Cup and becoming a Calder Trophy finalist, Henrique's offensive struggles are damaging their chances of making the playoffs. He's gone eight games without so much as a point despite averaging 19 minutes a night during that span.
Daniel Alfredsson -- The Ottawa Senators and their captain are both trying to break out of a slump. Alfredsson has gone six games without a point, and the Senators have dropped the past four, putting what looked like a sure trip to the playoffs in potential peril.
Jack Johnson -- It was a tough week for the Columbus Blue Jackets, whose playoff hopes took a hit. One problem has been a lack of production from the blue line. Johnson averaged 39 points in the past three seasons, but has gone eight games without a point despite playing at least 22:43 in every game.
The week ahead -- With the season into its final three weeks, only seven teams have as many as four games; three others play just twice. The Ottawa Senators play games 4, 5 and 6 of a seven-game road trip; Phoenix and Pittsburgh are also away all week -- the Penguins hit the road while the NCAA Frozen Four takes over Consol Energy Center. San Jose also hits the road this week after a seven-game homestand that moved the Sharks well up in the Western Conference standings.
Games to watch:
Carolina at Boston (April 8; NHLN-US) -- The Bruins are back home after losing a battle for the Northeast Division lead in Montreal on Saturday night; the Hurricanes are trying to arrest a 1-10-1 slide.
Chicago at Minnesota (April 9; NBCSN/TSN2) -- The Blackhawks need a victory to move two points closer to the Presidents' Trophy; the Wild are in a battle with Vancouver for the Northwest Division lead.
Boston at New Jersey (April 10; NBCSN/TSN2) -- This week's rivalry night game brings the Bruins to New Jersey, where the Devils will try to avenge a 1-0 loss in Boston last Thursday in which goaltender Tuukka Rask made 40 saves.
Pittsburgh at Tampa Bay (April 11; NBCSN) -- The Penguins have all but locked up the Atlantic Division title, but they need a win against the struggling Lightning to help lock up the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
Detroit at Chicago (April 12; NHLN-US/RDS) -- The Red Wings are in the unaccustomed role of having to battle merely to make the playoffs, and they want revenge for a 7-1 home loss to the Blackhawks on Easter Sunday.
Montreal at Toronto and Anaheim at Los Angeles (April 13; NHLN-US) -- U.S. viewers will get a double dose of rivalries on Saturday night. The first game will also be shown on Hockey Night in Canada, which will air another of the NHL's most heated rivalries -- Calgary at Edmonton -- as its second game.
Chicago at St. Louis (April 14; NBC) -- The Blues are one of the few teams to send the Blackhawks home without two points this season; they rallied for a 4-3 shootout win at Chicago last week.
Detroit at Nashville (April 14; NBCSN/TSN) -- The Predators are scrambling to avoid missing the playoffs and need a victory against their Central Division rival.
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