|Since being called up to replace injured starter Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Ty Conklin has been playing at an all-star caliber level, sporting an amazing 10-0-1 record.
The Penguins signed Conklin during the summer as insurance in case something happened to starter Marc-Andre Fleury. That “something” was a sprained ankle last month that has sidelined the former No. 1 overall pick, earning Conklin a recall from the minors on Dec. 6. He got the chance to play when Dany Sabourin struggled, and he shows no signs of letting go of the No. 1 job.
Conklin won his first start by beating Boston 5-4 in a shootout on Dec. 20. Since then, he’s been unreal, going 9-0-1 while allowing just 13 goals and fueling the Penguins’ rise toward the top of the Atlantic Division. And it’s not that he’s had it easy — Conklin has faced 35 or more shots in six of his last seven games, including 44 in Monday’s 4-1 win over the New York Rangers. In all, he’s 10-0-1 with a 1.72 goals-against average and a .949 save percentage — a remarkable performance for anyone, let alone a goaltender who never has been a full-time starter in the NHL.
Five up – Five players who’ve been hot:
Daniel Alfredsson — Ottawa’s captain is leading with his production on the ice. He has an 11-game points streak that includes a pair of goals in Saturday night’s big win over Detroit, and already has matched last season’s total of 29 goals.
Scott Hartnell — Hartnell, one of Philadelphia’s big off-season acquisitions, is heating up after a slow start. He has five goals and eight points in his last four games, including a natural hat trick last Thursday at the New York Rangers.
Marian Gaborik — Minnesota coach Jacques Lemaire wasn’t pleased with Gaborik’s effort in the first few games after his five-goal night against the Rangers on Dec. 20. He’s probably a lot happier now: Gaborik has four goals and four assists in the Wild’s last four games, including road wins at Detroit and Chicago.
Mathieu Garon — Edmonton signed Garon to back up Dwayne Roloson, but he’s taken over the No. 1 goaltender job. Garon won all four games during the Oilers’ recent winning streak and has kept them in the Western Conference race. He’s also the king of the shootout, winning all seven he’s taken part in.
Tomas Plekanec — Very quietly, the Czech center is putting up nice offensive numbers for Montreal. He’s 5-6-11 in his last seven games, including a pair of goals in the Canadiens’ 3-1 victory over New York Islanders on Tuesday.
Five down – Five players who’ve been struggling:
Nikolai Khabibulin — “The Bulin Wall” has been showing a few cracks lately. Khabibulin has lost his last five decisions, including a 5-2 home loss to Minnesota on Friday in which he stopped just 11 of 15 shots.
Derek Roy — Buffalo’s No. 1 center has been battling a variety of injuries that may be hampering his play. He has no points in the Sabres’ last five games and hasn’t scored a goal since Dec. 19.
Miikka Kiprusoff — It’s been a tough season for Kiprusoff, one of the NHL’s top goalies for the last few seasons. He has gone 0-3-1 in his last three starts, allowing 12 goals on just 113 shots (.894).
Jason Blake — It’s been a tough season for Blake, who has just three points – all assists – in his last five games. The 40-goal scorer last season with the Islanders has just eight in Toronto’s 46 games this season.
Bryan Berard — The former Calder Trophy winner hasn’t been producing the way the New York Islanders hoped he would when they signed him a few days into the season. The veteran defenseman has just two assists since Thanksgiving and was a healthy scratch on several occasions before getting back into the lineup last weekend due to injury.
Injuries and notes
Out – Washington’s playoff hopes took a jolt Tuesday when the Caps announced that center Michael Nylander will miss the rest of the season after surgery on Wednesday to repair a torn
Returning – Ottawa forward Patrick Eaves was back in the lineup Tuesday after missing 16 games with a separated shoulder. … Washington got defenseman Tom Poti (upper body) and goalie Brent Johnson (knee) back on Sunday. Poti had missed 2½ weeks; Johnson hadn’t
The week ahead – It’s a hectic week as the All-Star Game approaches, with most teams facing three-game-in-four-night and/or four-in-six sequences.
Games to watch:
New York Islanders at New Jersey (Jan. 16) — The Devils, off since Saturday, should be well rested as they try to beat the Islanders for the first time in five tries this season.
Dallas at San Jose (Jan. 17) — The Pacific Division leaders square off as the Stars wrap up a five-game road trip.
Detroit at San Jose (Jan. 19) — San Jose will be seeking to avenge a 4-2 loss in the Wings’ last visit, back on Oct. 18.
Boston at New York Rangers (Jan. 20) — NBC begins its weekly coverage with the back end of a home-and-home series between the two Original Six rivals.
Washington at Pittsburgh (Jan. 21) — Alex Ovechkin meets Sidney Crosby for the third time this season. Crosby and the Penguins have won the first two meetings, including a 4-3 overtime victory on Dec. 28 at Pittsburgh.
Tough week ahead:
Edmonton Oilers — The Oilers hit the road for a swing through the Southeast Division, including their first trip to Carolina since losing Game 7 of the 2006 Final at the RBC Center.
Chicago Blackhawks — After a Wednesday home date with St. Louis, the Hawks head west for games at Colorado on Friday, Phoenix the next night and San Jose on Tuesday.
Columbus Blue Jackets — Now comes the payback for spending almost all of December at home: The Jackets go Phoenix-Dallas-Colorado-Dallas in a six-day stretch.
Easy week ahead:
San Jose Sharks — Three games at home, all with at least a day off. Now, if the Sharks only can play as well at HP Pavilion as they do on the road.
Phoenix Coyotes — The Coyotes also spend the week at home, playing the middle three of a five-game homestand. Like the Sharks, they’ve also been much better on the road.
Calgary Flames — They finish a quick road trip in Minnesota on Wednesday, then host the Kings on Friday and have the weekend off before Minnesota’s return visit on Tuesday.