|Sergei Zubov is the NHL's top defensemen this season, he is No. 1 in scoring from the blue line with 28 points (four goals, 24 assists).|
Zubov always has flown under the radar in discussions about the NHL’s top defensemen, though he’s third in points among active blueliners with 760 points, trailing only Detroit’s Nicklas Lidstrom and Chris Chelios. But this season, the Dallas Stars’ 37-year-old is No. 1 in scoring from the blue line with 28 points (four goals, 24 assists), two more than Lidstrom. That includes a four-point night in Monday’s 5-4 overtime victory over Edmonton.
Few players are as non-flashy as Zubov; that’s one of the reasons it’s easy to overlook him. He does things that don’t always show up in the game summaries – control the tempo, anticipate plays and kick start the Stars’ transition game – and he does them every night. He also quarterbacks the power play and is one of the few NHL defensemen to take a regular turn in shootouts.
In his 15th NHL season, Zubov is off to one of his best starts. Maybe that will help get him the attention his play deserves.
Five up -- Five players who have been hot:
Milan Hejduk -- With five goals and four assists in Colorado’s last four games, Hejduk has stepped up in the absence of Joe Sakic. Hejduk had the best night of any player this season when he scored three times and added three assists in Sunday’s 9-5 victory over St. Louis.
Nikolai Zherdev -- Zherdev’s rebound season in Columbus continues. He scored again in Monday’s 4-3 overtime loss to Dallas, extending his streak to five games. His 12 goals in 30 games are two more than he scored all last season, and with 24 points, he’s on pace to top his career high of 54, set in 2005-06.
Dominik Hasek -- “The Dominator” is living up to his nickname again. After a slow start that saw him lose playing time to Chris Osgood, Hasek is 3-0-0 in his last three games and allowed only three goals while posting a .942 save percentage.
Anze Kopitar -- The Los Angeles Kings have been struggling, but Kopitar, a second-year center, has stood out. He now has a seven-game points streak after scoring a goal in Monday’s 4-2 win over Vancouver and is 3-6-9 in his five games.
Alex Auld -- From unwanted in Phoenix to savior in Boston, that’s the story for Auld, who was acquired by the Burins when Tim Thomas was injured last week. Auld stopped 69 of 71 shots, including 44 on Monday in Buffalo, in winning his first two starts for the Bruins.
Five down -- Five players who have been struggling:
Jaromir Jagr -- The Rangers captain has yet to find any sustained chemistry with anyone not named Michael Nylander. He’s pointless in his last four games and is minus-7 during that span. With 21 points in 30 games, he’s on pace for the worst season of his career.
Matthew Lombardi -- One reason the Calgary Flames have struggled is a lack of scoring from any line that doesn’t have Jarome Iginla on it. Lombardi is one of the culprits – he’s pointless in eight games with a minus-2 rating.
Jan Hlavac -- Like the Flames, Tampa Bay has had problems with secondary scoring. Hlavac is stuck on four goals after going 11 games without scoring – despite seeing lots of ice time on the second unit with Brad Richards – and has just two assists in that span.
Jason Arnott -- Nashville relies on its captain for goals as well as leadership, but the goals haven’t been coming. Arnott hasn’t scored in seven games, though it hasn’t been for a lack of trying; he’s had 29 shots on goal.
Marc-Andre Bergeron -- The Islanders were counting on the defenseman with the big slap shot to generate enough power-play offense to overcome any defensive liabilities. Instead, he’s scored just two goals, struggled badly in his own zone and has been scratched several times.
Injuries and notes -- The NHL’s longest active ironman streak of 542 consecutive games played is expected to come to an end Wednesday night. Vancouver’s Brendan Morrison was sent home for an MRI on his wrist, which has bothered him since he injured it in the preseason, and he’s expected to miss the Canucks’ game in Anaheim. Morrison would have had a long way to go to catch record-holder Doug Jarvis, who played 964 games in a row in the 1970s and 1980s.
Returnees -- Edmonton’s power play should get a boost with the return of defenseman Sheldon Souray, who came back Tuesday and had a goal in St. Louis. He missed 25 games after separating his left shoulder in a game against Vancouver on Oct. 13. … Boston defenseman Andrew Ference is expected to return Wednesday night after missing three weeks with a sprained knee. … Columbus defenseman Duvie Westcott (concussion) returned to action Saturday after missing five games. … Boston defenseman Aaron Ward (sprained ankle) also returned Saturday, as did Carolina defenseman Niclas Wallin (shoulder), Los Angeles forward Scott Thornton (bruised sternum) and Nashville forward Vernon Fiddler (groin strain).
Sidelined -- Vancouver goaltender Roberto Luongo will be out indefinitely with bruised ribs. … Boston goalie Tim Thomas sustained a groin injury late in regulation time last Wednesday in New Jersey and could miss another 7-10 days. … Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury hasn’t played since spraining his ankle last Thursday in Calgary. Dany Sabourin has inherited the starting job and Ty Conklin was recalled from the AHL to be his backup. … San Jose’s Jonathan Cheechoo sat out Tuesday’s game against Minnesota after sustaining a groin injury on Saturday. … Vancouver forward Jeff Cowan is out indefinitely after separating his shoulder in Saturday’s game against Pittsburgh. … Anaheim defenseman Kent Huskins sprained his knee last Wednesday against Buffalo and hasn’t healed yet. … Washington center Michael Nylander has missed three games with an undisclosed injury. … Montreal center Bryan Smolinski will miss six weeks with a sprained right knee sustained on Dec. 6, and forward Steve Begin will miss at least two weeks with a separated left shoulder.
Still out -- Philadelphia’s Simon Gagne (concussion) is skating again and feeling better, but there is no date set for his return. He might not play this month. … New Jersey center Jay Pandolfo has missed six games with a lower abdominal injury and still isn’t skating. … Columbus’ Fredrik Modin has been out since Nov. 1 with back spasms and suffered a setback in his efforts to get back into the lineup. The Jackets also say forward David Vyborny (IR, sore hip) is at least a week away from skating. … Colorado defenseman Kurt Sauer (neck) isn’t ready to skate yet, but center Joe Sakic (groin) is expected to return to practice later this week. He’s missed five games. …. Chicago forward Rene Bourque (broken thumb) is expected to miss another two weeks, though he may return to practice soon. … Montreal goaltender Cristobal Huet (groin) is practicing but may not play until next week. … Florida defenseman Mike Van Ryn (wrist) still isn’t healing; if he needs surgery, he could miss the rest of the season. Another Panther, forward Garth Murray, had season-ending shoulder surgery this week. … Los Angeles forward Alexander Frolov (groin) says he’s close to returning, but there’s no timetable. He’s been sidelined since Nov. 21. … Detroit forward Kris Draper (sprained knee) still is sidelined, as is linemate Kirk Maltby, who’s missed six games with a back injury. … Rangers forward Sean Avery (wrist surgery) is skating again but still at least a week from playing.
The week ahead -- The schedule continues to be heavy as the holidays approach, with several teams playing most or all of their inter-conference road schedule.
Games to watch:
Vancouver at Anaheim (Dec. 12) — The Canucks continue their swing through California. The Ducks are looking to avenge a 4-0 loss in Vancouver in late November.
Calgary at Tampa Bay (Dec. 13) — The Flames pay their first visit to the St. Pete Times Forum since the Lightning beat them in Game 7 of the 2004 Stanley Cup Final.
Toronto at Montreal (Dec. 15) — The road team has won each of the first four meetings in the NHL’s oldest rivalry.
Philadelphia at New Jersey (Dec. 16) — The Devils have been one of the NHL’s hottest teams, while the Flyers have cooled down after their sizzling start.
Tough week ahead:
Calgary Flames — Calgary is spending most of the week in the Southeast, including a three-game-in-four-night stretch against the two Florida teams and Carolina, then visits St. Louis and Columbus before going home.
Florida Panthers — It’s off to the Midwest for the Panthers, who play three times in four nights against Central Division teams beginning Thursday, then visit Montreal on Tuesday.
Phoenix Coyotes — Phoenix heads east for a three-game-in-four-night swing through the New York area, beginning Thursday on Long Island, followed by a trip to Philadelphia on Tuesday.
Easy week ahead:
St. Louis Blues — The Blues get a chance to catch their collective breath, with only a pair of home games (Florida on Thursday, Calgary on Sunday) in a nine-day stretch.
Chicago Blackhawks — No three-in-fours for the Hawks, though they have a Saturday (at Buffalo)-Sunday (Florida) weekend. But they have two days off on either side.
Columbus Blue Jackets — Columbus sandwiches home games against Colorado on Wednesday and Calgary next Tuesday around a Saturday visit to Boston — part of a December schedule that features 11 of 14 games at home.