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Conklin giving Penguins sweet dreams

Wednesday, 01.16.2008 / 10:00 AM / The Hot List

By John Kreiser - Columnist

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.
Ty Conklin is having a dream month, and the Pittsburgh Penguins hope he never wakes up.

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

left rotator cuff. The Caps also got captain Chris Clark back on Sunday after he missed 16 games with a groin problem, only to have him tweak the groin and miss Tuesday night’s game. … Ottawa lost All-Star right wing Dany Heatley for at least a month when he separated his right shoulder on Saturday against Detroit. … Minnesota put defenseman Sean Hill on IR with a sprained right ankle. … San Jose defenseman Kyle McLaren is on IR with a knee injury and likely won’t return until after the All-Star break. … Nashville lost forward Jordin Tootoo for at least three weeks with a hip flexor injury and will be without forward Darcy Hordichuk for at least a few days with a lower leg injury sustained on Sunday. … Islanders defenseman Brendan Witt hasn’t played since leaving Friday’s game in Calgary with a sprained ankle. … Florida probably will be without center Jozef Stumpel this week due to a separated shoulder.

Still out – Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh’s starting goalie, is skating again. He went down with a sprained ankle in early December, opening a spot for Ty Conklin, who’s been the NHL’s

hottest goalie for the past few weeks. … Dallas hopes to get some of its injured players back soon. Center Jussi Jokinen (sprained knee) might be back before the All-Star break and forward Jere Lehtinen (hernia surgery) could be back by the end of the month, but defenseman Philippe Boucher (separated shoulder) isn’t likely to return until mid-February. … Chicago hopes to get rookie center Jonathan Toews (knee) back after the All-Star break. Defenseman James Wisniewski (knee surgery) is skating again and could be back early next month, but forward Jason Williams (groin) still is weeks away. … Nashville defenseman Shea Weber’s injury-filled season continues; he’s able to practice again but has missed 11 games with a leg injury after being idled for much of the early weeks of the season with a knee injury. … Minnesota forward Derek Boogaard is skating again, but still is weeks away from playing due to a herniated disc. … Islanders defenseman Radek Martinek continues to be sidelined with a leg injury. … Los Angeles forward Mike Cammalleri made the trip to Western Canada with the Kings, but is unlikely to play due to a rib injury.

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

played since late December. … Philadelphia got a boost on Jan. 10 when Simon Gagne returned after missing nearly two months after sustaining his second concussion of the season. Captain Jason Smith (bruised shin) returned the same night after missing two games with a leg injury, as did forward Sami Kapanen, who missed a game after taking a puck in the face. … Anaheim forward Brad May (broken foot) came back on Sunday after missing three weeks. … Chicago defenseman Brent Sopel was back in the lineup on Friday night after missing seven games with a broken finger — and scored early in the first period. … Minnesota got center Mikko Koivu back on Friday after he missed nearly eight weeks with a broken bone in his leg. … Boston defenseman Aaron Ward returned on Thursday from a broken foot. … The Rangers hope to get forward Brendan Shanahan (knee) back on Wednesday after he missed a couple of games. They did get forward Martin Straka (concussion) back on Saturday after he sat out two games. … Carolina has been plagued by the flu. Forward Ray Whitney was back in the lineup Tuesday after missing three games due to illness; defenseman Niclas Wallin was sick and sat out. … Toronto defenseman Bryan McCabe, who broke his left hand on Dec. 15, is expected to resume skating this week.

Probably not returning – The Nashville Predators announced Tuesday that center Steve Sullivan, who hasn't played this season due to back problems, is highly doubtful to return this season.

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.



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