|Marian Gaborik has 18 in 30 games so far this season.
Gaborik has missed big chunks of time in each of the past three seasons with injuries, including groin problems in each of the past two seasons. But when he’s healthy, there are few players more dynamic than the speedy Minnesota Wild forward. Just ask the New York Rangers: Gaborik lit up the Blueshirts for five goals in the Wild’s 6-3 victory Dec. 20, and had six goals and two assists in the week before Christmas.
Gaborik had 38 goals in 65 games in 2005-06 and 30 in 48 games last season. With 18 in 30 games this season, he’s on pace for his first 40-goal season — as long as his body cooperates.
Five up -- Five players who have been hot:
Kari Lehtonen -- Like Gaborik, Lehtonen has been held down by groin problems, but he’s back now and showing why the Atlanta Thrashers drafted him No. 2 overall in June 2002. Lehtonen was in goal as the Thrashers won all four of their games last week, with a 1.96 goals-against average.
Jason Arnott -- Nashville’s captain came up big when the Predators needed him. The highlight of his eight-point week came Saturday night, when Arnott had his first three-goal game in more than two years to help Nashville beat Los Angeles and end a five-game losing streak.
Ryan Miller -- The Buffalo Sabres were the NHL’s hottest team at the Christmas break, and Miller was a big reason why. He’s been in goal for each game during the Sabres’ six-game winning streak, allowing just 15 goals. His best performance was a 42-save effort in a 2-1 road win over the Islanders on Dec. 19.
Jason Spezza -- Spezza and Ottawa’s “Pizza Line” (Daniel Alfredsson and Dany Heatley) have been unstoppable in the past couple weeks as the Senators found their winning form after a two-week slump. Spezza has 15 points in Ottawa’s last seven games and is tied for the NHL lead in assists with 32.
Mark Recchi -- It looked like age might have caught up with Recchi when he was waived by Pittsburgh after going just 2-6-8 during the first six weeks of the season. But the soon-to-be 40-year-old has experienced a revival in Atlanta. He has four goals and eight points in his first seven games as a Thrasher.
Five down -- Five players who have been struggling:
Rick Nash -- Columbus’ top scorer had 18 goals and 31 points after the Blue Jackets’ first 28 games. Seven games later, he has yet to register another point, a key reason the Blue Jackets have struggled during the past couple weeks despite a favorable schedule.
Petr Prucha -- The third-year forward has gone from a 30-goal scorer as a rookie in 2005-06 to an afterthought in the New York Rangers’ lineup this season. Prucha has just two goals in 35 games, hasn’t scored since Nov. 15, is pointless in seven games since Dec. 7 and was scratched on Sunday.
Travis Zajac -- Zajac hasn’t scored a goal in his last eight games and has just one in his last 19. New Jersey’s lineup isn’t exactly awash in scoring, so the Devils need Zajac to break out of his slump soon if they hope to stay atop the Atlantic Division.
Phil Kessel -- The second-year Boston forward is in a scoring slump, with just two goals and five points in his last 17 games. His ice time was cut to just 7:26 in Sunday’s loss to Pittsburgh.
Dany Sabourin -- With Marc-Andre Fleury sidelined for a few more weeks with a sprained ankle, the heat is on Sabourin, who’s struggling as the No. 1 goalie in Pittsburgh. He’s 1-4-0 in his last five games and is losing playing time to recently-recalled Ty Conklin, who’s won his two starts.
Injuries, news and notes -- All Joe Sakic wanted for Christmas was good health. Colorado’s captain continues to be idle with a groin problem that has kept him out of the lineup for 12 games. He may not be back until the New Year. The only consolation: The Avs have gone 8-3-1 while he’s been out of the lineup, meaning a lot of his teammates have stepped up in his absence.
Out -- Carolina lost talented forward Justin Williams for at least four months when he tore the ACL in his left knee on Dec. 20. The injury required surgery; the Hurricanes hope he might be back at some point in the playoffs. … Edmonton’s Ales Hemsky left Sunday’s game against Chicago with an injured left knee. … Washington defenseman Brian Pothier will be out another 1-3 weeks after breaking his thumb on Dec. 20. … Nashville forward Martin Erat missed the last two games before Christmas with an illness, though the Predators say it’s not a concussion. … Edmonton goalie Dwayne Roloson is battling a case of strep throat that sidelined him for the Oilers’ last two games before Christmas. … Martin Havlat’s return to Ottawa Saturday didn’t go well, even though Chicago rallied for an overtime win. Havlat left the game with a groin injury and didn’t play Sunday against Edmonton. Chicago also lost center Dave Bolland in the Edmonton game with a broken finger. He’s out indefinitely. … Pittsburgh defenseman Mark Eaton sustained a knee injury on Sunday against Boston and could miss several weeks. … Tampa Bay defenseman Brad Lukowich sat out the Lightning’s last two pre-holiday games with a shoulder injury. … Phoenix lost forward Daniel Carcillo for at least six weeks with a knee injury sustained on Dec. 20. … Boston forward Glen Murray has missed three games with a hip flexor injury sustained last week and he’s likely to miss more time.
Returning -- San Jose hopes to get forward Jonathan Cheechoo back in the lineup this week. He’s been out since Dec. 7 with a groin injury. … Detroit expects No. 1 center Henrik Zetterberg back in the lineup Wednesday after he missed a game with back spasms. Linemate Tomas Holmstrom missed the Wings’ last two games before Christmas with a knee problem. … Columbus center Michael Peca returned Sunday after missing time with an injured pectoral muscle. … Colorado hopes to have forward Ryan Smyth back on Thursday; he’s missed three games with a neck injury. … Boston defenseman Andrew Alberts, who sat out four games with post-concussion syndrome, could be back this week. His return would help a unit that lost Aaron Ward for a month with a broken foot sustained in practice Friday. … The New York Rangers got forward Sean Avery back Sunday night after he’d missed 11 games due to a wrist injury that required surgery. … Columbus reactivated forward David Vyborny on Dec. 21 after he missed seven games with a groin injury. … Buffalo’s Dmitri Kalinin returned to the Sabres lineup Dec. 19 after missing 23 games with sprained knee. … Minnesota activated Petteri Nummelin (head injury) from injured reserve Saturday; he played for the first time in 14 games. … Carolina defenseman Mike Commodore returned Dec. 20 after missing four weeks with a broken finger, but he missed Saturday’s game at Tampa Bay due to a foot injury. … Tampa Bay got center Chris Gratton (hip) back Dec. 22 after missing three games.
Still out -- Florida defenseman Cory Murphy’s absence is 17 games and counting. He’s had a shoulder injury that has defied diagnosis. The Panthers will also be without defenseman Mike Van Ryn for at least 10 weeks after he had surgery on his right wrist last Thursday. … Chicago forward Rene Bourque is expected to start practicing this week as he recovers from a broken thumb. … Washington’s Boyd Gordon is likely to miss another few days as he recovers from a broken foot. He’s practicing again.
The week ahead -- The schedule heats up quickly after the two-day Christmas break, highlighted by the Winter Classic in Orchard Park, N.Y., on New Year’s Day.
Games to watch:
Detroit at St. Louis (Dec. 26) -- The Wings visit St. Louis for the second time in a week. Detroit has lost both previous visits to Scottrade Center.
Toronto at Philadelphia (Dec. 27) -- The Leafs end a marathon seven-game road trip with their second post-holiday game in two nights.
New Jersey at New York Islanders (Dec. 29) -- The Devils are 0-3 against their New York-area rivals, but have been the hottest team in the Atlantic Division for the past six weeks.
Vancouver at Calgary (Dec. 31) -- This Northwest Division battle is the last game of 2007.
Pittsburgh at Buffalo (Jan. 1) -- The first game of 2008 also is the NHL’s initial foray into outdoor hockey in the United States. A cold, clear day would be a big help.
Tough week ahead:
Anaheim Ducks -- The defending champs spend the last weekend of 2007 playing three games in four nights in Western Canada.
Toronto Maple Leafs -- Toronto played its last five pre-Christmas games away from the Air Canada Centre, and the Leafs go back on the road for games Wednesday on Long Island and Thursday at Philadelphia before coming home Saturday.
Detroit Red Wings -- The Wings had better enjoy their brief holiday break; they return with three games in four nights, ending in Phoenix, before coming home for New Year’s Eve and their fourth game in six nights.
Easy week ahead:
Calgary Flames -- Calgary doesn’t go back to work until Thursday in Vancouver, then plays at home Saturday and Monday.
Chicago Blackhawks -- The Hawks only have two games, both at home, in the first five days after Christmas before heading west.
Dallas Stars -- The Stars get to stay home after Christmas with games Wednesday, Saturday and Monday.