The Los Angeles Kings knew they needed more offense from center Anze Kopitar to become a playoff contender in the West. Kopitar is more than meeting the challenge.
The NHL's only native of Slovenia begins the week as the League's top scorer after a 6-goal, 9-point week that helped the Kings sweep their four games. He had a goal in L.A.'s 4-1 win at Dallas, his first NHL hat trick in a 5-4 overtime win over the Stars at home, three assists in Saturday's 5-3 win at Phoenix and two more goals Sunday night in a 6-3 home victory over Columbus.
Through 12 games, Kopitar leads the NHL in goals with 10 and points with 21 -- and is on pace to shatter last season's totals of 27 goals and 66 points. Not coincidentally, the Kings are off to an 8-4-0 start and lead the Pacific Division.
Coach Terry Murray said recently that Kopitar had sacrificed some of his offense last season to buy into his checking system -- so he has to be happy to see that while Kopitar is piling up points, he's also plus-4, a big change from his minus-17 rating last season.
Kopitar, who in 2008-09 became the first Kings player since Luc Robitaille to tally at least 20 goals in each of his first three NHL seasons, is on track for career year. The 22-year-old Slovenia native leads the League in goals (10) and points (21) in 12 games.
Mike Cammalleri -- Cammalleri struggled in his first few games with the Montreal Canadiens, but he's now showing why the Habs were so eager to land him. Cammalleri had an assist in Tuesday's 2-1 shootout win over Atlanta, a goal in a 5-1 win over the Islanders -- and a hat trick, including the overtime winner, plus an assist, in a 4-3 win over the New York Rangers.
Cammalleri leads the Canadiens in scoring with 11 points (five goals, six assists) in 10 games.
Patrick Marleau -- San Jose won three of four games last week during a 3-1-0 Eastern swing, and Marleau was a big reason for the Sharks' success. He had 3 goals and 6 assists for 9 points, including the game-winner in Saturday's 4-3 victory at Atlanta, giving him 9 goals and 16 points in 12 games.
Marleau posted three multi-point games, beginning with a goal and two assists in a 7-3 victory over the Rangers Oct. 19. He recorded one assist in a 5-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning Oct. 22 and tallied two goals, including the game-winner, and one assist in a 4-3 win over the Atlanta Thrashers Oct. 24. Marleau finished the week by extending his point streak to five games with a pair of assists in a 4-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers Oct. 25. Marleau ranks second on the Sharks in scoring with 16 points (nine goals, seven assists) in 12 games.
Also hot -- Other players who are producing:
Roberto Luongo -- Whatever problems Luongo had at the start of the season appear to be long gone. He went 3-0-0 last week, leading the Canucks to a 3-2 win in Chicago and 3-1 and 2-0 victories at home. Luongo has allowed just six goals in his last five games after surrendering 16 in the previous five.
Antoine Vermette -- Vermette has been scoring the way the Columbus Blue Jackets hoped he would when they acquired him at the trading deadline. Vermette has a five-game points streak and was 2-4-6 for the Blue Jackets last week.
Craig Anderson -- No player has mean more to his team that Anderson, who has been in goal for every minute of Colorado's stunning 8-1-2 start. He and the Avs went 2-0-1 last week, with Anderson playing perhaps the best game of any goaltender this season in a 48-save 3-1 win over Detroit on Saturday.
Five down -- Five players who've struggled:
Christopher Higgins -- The Rangers have high hopes for the Long Island native, an offseason acquisition from the Canadiens, but he's playing his way into coach John Tortorella's doghouse. Higgins has just 2 assists in 11 games, no points in his last nine, and was benched for the third period and overtime in his return to Montreal on Saturday.
Cam Ward -- Not much has gone right for Carolina, which has shown few flashes of the form that got the 'Canes to the Eastern Conference Finals last spring. That includes Ward, who was 0-1-2 and allowed 11 goals in the three games. He's 0-3-3 in his last six starts.
Shawn Horcoff -- Horcoff is getting lots of ice time, but that's not translating into production. The Edmonton center hasn't had a point in his last six games despite averaging nearly 20 minutes of ice time a night. For the season, he's just 1-1-2 in 11 games.
Guillaume Latendresse -- Montreal's hot week didn't rub off on Latendresse, who continues to struggle. He has no points and is minus-4 in his last seven games and owns just one point (a goal) in the nine games he's played.
Injuries, news and notes -- Boston went 2-0-1 this past week, but took two major hits when center Marc Savard went down with a broken foot and top-six forward Milan Lucic broke a finger. The Bruins will be without both until late next month.
Out -- Colorado's Darcy Tucker (Friday vs. Carolina) and Florida's David Booth (Saturday at Philadelphia) were taken off the ice on successive nights with concussions. Both are out indefinitely. ... Chicago center Jonathan Toews and defenseman Brent Seabrook both misses Saturday's game with possible concussions sustained on Wednesday. ... Atlanta captain Ilya Kovalchuk left Saturday's game in the first period with a foot injury and didn't return. ... Pittsburgh lost All-Star defenseman Sergei Gonchar with a broken wrist on Tuesday; he'll miss at least a month, though he's able to skate. ... Vancouver center Kyle Wellwood missed Sunday's game against Edmonton with a broken toe after blocking a shot on Saturday. Rick Rypien missed the Canucks' last two games with a groin injury. ... San Jose forwards Devin Setoguchi and Ryan Vesce both sat out Sunday's game at Philadelphia due to leg injuries sustained on Saturday. ... Blues forward T.J. Oshie will miss a week or two after undergoing an appendectomy on Saturday. Forward D.J. King (hand) and defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo (lower body) both left Saturday night's game against Dallas with injuries and didn't return. ... New Jersey forward Jay Pandolfo left Saturday's game against Pittsburgh with a shoulder injury. Defenseman Paul Martin also went down with a broken left arm, and another blueliner, Mike Mottau, missed the game after injuring his hip on Thursday. ... Anaheim goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere left Saturday's game after injuring his groin while allowing the go-ahead goal in the third period. ... Carolina defenseman Tim Gleason missed the Hurricanes' games Friday and Saturday with an upper-body injury. ... Nashville captain Jason Arnott is expected miss another week with an arm injury. ... Buffalo defenseman Toni Lydman sat out Saturday's game at Tampa Bay with a groin problem.
Returning -- Vancouver defenseman Mathieu Schneider made his season debut Sunday night against Edmonton. He hadn't played since last April and had off-season surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff. ... Washington hopes to have forward Alexander Semin back in the lineup on Tuesday after he missed two games with an undisclosed ailment. ... Dallas hopes to get defenseman Matt Niskanen back on Wednesday; he missed Saturday's game with a head injury. ... Minnesota got forward Cal Clutterbuck back on Saturday -- and saw him score the game-winner in OT. He had missed five games with a sprained ankle that was expected to keep him out much longer.
Still out -- Los Angeles forward Justin Williams has missed three games with a lower-body injury, though he skated Sunday morning. ... Colorado forward Cody McLeod didn't go on the Avs' four-game road trip due to an eye injury. He hopes to be back in the lineup when Colorado returns home next week. ... Anaheim placed forward Ryan Carter on the injured list after he sustained a foot injury at Friday's practice. ... Minnesota placed defenseman Kim Johnsson (upper body) or IR; he's expected to miss a few weeks.
The week ahead -- How big a holiday has Halloween become? Four teams have scheduled afternoon games that day, which may make it easier to combine hockey and trick-or-treating
Games to watch:
Philadelphia at Washington (Oct. 27) -- With Versus on hand, the Flyers come to the Verizon Center for a rematch of one of the best games so far this season -- Philadelphia's 6-5 overtime victory over the Caps at the Wachovia Center three weeks ago.
New York Rangers at New York Islanders (Oct. 28) -- The Rangers have slowed down a bit after their seven-game winning streak, but they've had the better of the Isles over the past few years entering round one of this season's battle for metropolitan-area bragging rights.
Los Angeles at San Jose (Oct. 28) -- It's not a surprise that this game involves the first-place team in the Pacific Division; the surprise is that it's the Kings, who are 8-4-0 and one point ahead of the Sharks, who improved to 7-4-1 with a 4-2 road trip.
Edmonton at Boston (Oct. 31) -- The Oilers come to Boston for the first time since February 2007. Not that they've missed the trip -- Edmonton hasn't won in Boston since a 6-0 in November 1996.and owns only six regular-season wins in Boston since entering the NHL in 1979.
Toronto at Montreal (Oct. 31) -- The Leafs spend Halloween in Montreal, where they finish a five-game trip over a span of eight days. Toronto lost 4-3 in OT to Montreal on opening night and dropped its next seven in regulation.
Tough week ahead:
Colorado Avalanche -- The Avs, who just came off a seven-game trip, head right back on the road for four games, visiting the two Alberta teams, San Jose and Vancouver. After this week, they'll have played 11 of their first 15 away from the Pepsi Center.
Toronto Maple Leafs -- The winless Leafs had a week off before beginning a trip with a loss Saturday in Vancouver. They start this week in Anaheim and work their way East, with stops in Dallas, Buffalo and Montreal.
Vancouver Canucks -- The Canucks begin the week with a home game against Detroit before heading out for two games in Southern California and a trip to Denver.
Easy week ahead:
Calgary Flames -- For the second week in a row, the Flames play just twice, both at home. This time, Colorado and Detroit come to the Pengrowth Saddledome, with the Wings arriving at the end of a five-game trip.
Tampa Bay Lightning -- Like the Flames, the Bolts get to spend another week at home with only two games on the schedule. The Lightning host Ottawa and New Jersey, with the game against the Devils a Halloween matinee.
Los Angeles Kings -- The surprising Kings stay on the West Coast, visiting San Jose in the Sharks' first game back after a six-game trip before hosting Vancouver.