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Vanek carrying Sabres' offense

Monday, 12.15.2008 / 10:51 AM / The Hot List

By John Kreiser - NHL.com Columnist

Thomas Vanek was one of the NHL's hottest players in the last two months of the 2007-08 season. He's carried that surge into this season, helping keep the Buffalo Sabres in the playoff race.

Vanek was the first player in the League this season to reach 20 goals, and he hasn't stopped. He scored 5 goals in the Sabres' four games last week, including a pair of two-goal performances in victories against Tampa Bay and New Jersey.

Vanek has a League-high 24 goals and is on pace to match Alex Ovechkin's League-best 65 goals of last season. But to do so, he might need some help from his teammates: Vanek has 37 percent of the Sabres' non-shootout goals this season.
   
Five up -- Five players who've been hot:

Petr Sykora -- After 870 games, Sykora finally got to experience the thrill of being showered with hats after the first three-goal performance of his NHL career. For the week, he had 3 goals and 8 points in the Penguins' four games.

Patrick Marleau -- The arrival of new coach Todd McLellan might be the best thing that ever happened to San Jose's captain. He's 4-4-8 in his last five games, had 15 goals and 34 points in 29 games and is on pace to break 40 goals and 90 points for the first time in his career.

Patrik Elias -- Like Marleau, Elias is rebounding from a poor season. He has 5 goals and 8 points in New Jersey's last five games, putting him on pace for his first 30-goal season since 2003-04.

B.J. Crombeen -- St. Louis landed the son of former NHL forward Mike Crombeen off waivers from Dallas to cope with injuries, but has gotten surprising offensive production from him. Crombeen has 6 goals in his last five games, including a hat trick at Nashville.
 
Brent Johnson -- Washington's backup goalie continues to press his case for more playing time -- assuming his sore hip cooperates. Johnson won both starts last week, allowing one goal in each game, and is 4-0-0 with a 1.25 goals-against average and just 5 goals allowed in his last four games.

Five down -- Five players who are struggling:

Joey MacDonald -- The bloom may have come off the rose for MacDonald, whose heroics for the New York Islanders in November made him one of the month's three stars. He's lost his last four starts, posting a 4.86 goals-against average and .852 save percentage.

Todd Bertuzzi -- Bertuzzi's hot start for the Calgary Flames (5 goals in five games) is a distant memory. He hasn't scored a goal since Nov. 2 and is minus-9 in his last 10 games.

Mark Parrish -- Parrish made a big splash by scoring three times in his season debut with the Stars on Nov. 7. Since then, he has scored just once and added 3 assists, and is pointless in his last seven games.

Patrice Bergeron -- Boston's rise to the top of the Eastern Conference has been accomplished without much help from Bergeron, whose scoring touch has yet to return after he missed most of last season with a concussion. Bergeron has gone nine games without a goal and is minus-2 during that span, but the Bruins have lost just once.

Jussi Jokinen -- The Finnish forward has gone 14 games without a goal, has just 2 assists in that span and hasn't produced a point in six games.

Injuries, news and notes -- Joe Sakic already was out with a back problem that was expected to keep him out into the new year when he caught his hand in a snow blower. He broke three broken fingers and will spend at least three more months on the sideline. It will be the second consecutive season he's missed substantial time due to injuries.

Out -- Montreal has been decimated by injuries and illness. Captain Saku Koivu sustained a foot injury Thursday and missed Saturday's game against Washington. Starting goalie Carey Price has missed a week with the flu. Defenseman Mathieu Dandenault will miss 6-8 weeks with a broken arm. Georges Laraque (groin) will miss at least another week, and Christopher Higgins (arm/shoulder) likely will to miss a good bit more after being injured against Calgary on Tuesday. ... Washington is struggling to find a healthy goaltender. Jose Theodore tweaked his hip flexor and didn't dress Friday or Saturday, and Brent Johnson didn't play Saturday due to a sore groin. The Caps also lost center Nicklas Backstrom (headaches) and defenseman Tyler Sloan (undisclosed injury) on Saturday, and center Sergei Fedorov, who returned Friday from an ankle injury, didn't finish the game, either. ... San Jose forward Jeremy Roenick tore cartilage in his shoulder Thursday against Anaheim and will miss about three weeks. Center Joe Pavelski left Saturday's game after suffering a lower-body injury in the second period. ... Minnesota forward Owen Nolan, who's had injury problems all season, has missed the Wild's last three games with an injured right leg. ... Buffalo defenseman Craig Rivet is out again after playing three games following his return from an upper-body injury. He missed the games Friday and Saturday, and coach Lindy Ruff said his captain will miss a few more. ... Dallas defenseman Stephane Robidas broke his jaw Wednesday and didn't play Friday or Saturday. The Stars hope he'll be ready some time this week. ... St. Louis goaltender Manny Legace was placed on IR after sustaining a concussion last Wednesday. ... Pittsburgh defenseman Hall Gill, who has missed more than a week with a shoulder injury, may not return before the new year.

 
Returning -- Chris Chelios played his first game of the season Saturday at Phoenix. The 46-year-old Detroit defenseman missed more than two months after breaking his leg late in training camp. ... Washington got center Sergei Fedorov (ankle) and defenseman Mike Green (shoulder) back Friday after forward Alexander Semin and defenseman Tom Poti returned earlier in the week, though Fedorov didn't make it through Saturday's game. ... Philadelphia defenseman Matt Carle returned Saturday after missing five games with a rib injury. ... Tampa Bay forward Matt Pettinger, out for three weeks with a knee injury, came off injured reserve and played Saturday. The team expects forward Ryan Malone (upper-body injury) back Thursday. ... Minnesota forward Marian Gaborik skated at practice Friday and could return this week. He's played just two games all season due to a lower-body injury. ... Carolina goaltender Cam Ward, out since Nov. 30 due to a groin strain, returned Saturday night against the Rangers. ... Montreal defenseman Mike Komisarek, who's been out with a shoulder injury, has been skating in practice and hopes to be back this week. ... Atlanta hopes defenseman Mathieu Schneider, out for five games with a shoulder injury, will return Tuesday. ... Toronto defenseman Mike Van Ryn returned to the lineup Friday against the Sabres after missing more than a month with a broken hand, a broken nose and a concussion. ... Colorado got defenseman Adam Foote back Friday after he missed three weeks due to a back injury. ... Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury dressed but didn't play Saturday. He missed 12 games with a groin injury, but should play this week. ... New Jersey defenseman Andy Greene, out since Oct. 29 with a broken hand, is back at practice and hopes to play by mid-week. ... Chicago defenseman James Wisniewski is expected to join the team Tuesday in Edmonton. He had knee surgery in July and has been playing with Rockford in the American Hockey League on a rehab assignment. ... Columbus forward Derek Dorsett, out since Nov. 28 with a finger injury that required surgery, could be back Wednesday. ... Florida forward Cory Stillman returned Sunday after missing 13 games with post-concussion symptoms. The Panthers hope to get another forward, David Booth, back Thursday; he's missed two weeks with a shoulder injury.

Still out -- Vancouver had hoped Roberto Luongo might be ready as soon as this past weekend; instead, the All-Star goaltender experienced a setback in his recovery from a groin injury that has sidelined him for three weeks. He's experiencing soreness, and there's no definite date for his return. ... Washington captain Chris Clark, out since Nov. 24 with a stress fracture in his arm, had the cast removed last week and hopes to be back in a week or two. ... Columbus defenseman Rostislav Klesla, out for a month with a high ankle sprain, may start practicing this week. ... Dallas put defenseman Sergei Zubov (lower-body injury) on IR. He's been plagued by injuries since the middle of last season.

The week ahead -- 'Twas the week before Christmas, and all through the League, teams were busy playing lots of games -- well, most of them, anyway. Most teams play at least three games, and several play four as the NHL prepares for the two-day Christmas break next week.

Games to watch:

 
Washington at New York Islanders (Dec. 16; 7 p.m., VERSUS, TSN2) -- A national TV audience will see Alex Ovechkin and the Caps make their first visit of the season to Long Island.

Edmonton at Vancouver (Dec. 17) -- Prior to the game, the Canucks will honor Trevor Linden, who retired after last season as the all-time franchise leader in games played and near the top in most offensive categories.
   
San Jose at Detroit (Dec. 18) -- The Sharks visit Joe Louis Arena for the first time this season. Detroit will be looking to avenge a 4-2 loss in the teams' previous meeting, at San Jose in October.

Toronto at Boston (Dec. 18) -- The Leafs make their third and final visit of the season to TD Banknorth Garden; the teams have split the first two games.

Carolina at Montreal (Dec. 21; 7 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, NHLN-CA, RDS) --
What could be rarer than a Sunday night game in Montreal? Not much -- this is the only one scheduled all season. Carolina has not lost in regulation at the Bell Centre since 2004.

Tough week ahead:
   
Colorado Avalanche --
The Avs spend the week away from the Pepsi Center, with four games in seven days on the road, including three in four to start the week. They go from Detroit to Philadelphia and then play both Florida teams.

Chicago Blackhawks -- The Blackhawks spent the last two weeks of November out west; they spend the week before Christmas in Western Canada, visiting Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver.

New York Rangers -- It's off to California for the Rangers, who play all three Golden State teams in a five-day span, ending with a game at San Jose on Saturday.

Easy week ahead:

Detroit Red Wings -- The Wings spend the week at home with three games, including the first visit of the season from the San Jose Sharks, who've been the best in the West this season.

Tampa Bay Lightning -- Tampa Bay gets a four-day break to recover from its four-game trip before Colorado comes to the St. Pete Times Forum on Thursday. The only other game is a short hop to Atlanta on Saturday.

Vancouver Canucks -- Having finished a seven-game trip Saturday, the Canucks can do some Christmas shopping at home; they play only twice this week, both GM Place.
Quote of the Day

I just wanted to do something to take my mind off the shot and let me relax a little bit. It seemed like the fans liked it. I'm glad I was able to score.

— Oilers forward Taylor Hall on lifting his arms to fire up the crowd before his penalty shot
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