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No stopping Ovechkin and the Capitals

Monday, 02.08.2010 / 12:05 PM / The Hot List

By John Kreiser - NHL.com Columnist

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No stopping Ovechkin and the Capitals
Alex Ovechkin was named the NHL's First Star of the week after capping a superb week with a hat trick and an assist in Sunday's 5-4 OT win over Pittsburgh.
Alex Ovechkin sure knows how to put on a show.

With a national TV audience watching on NBC and a full house at the snowy Verizon Center looking on, Ovechkin lit up the ice on Super Bowl Sunday, capping yet another brilliant week.

Ovechkin's hat trick helped the Caps rally from a 4-1 deficit to force overtime, and his power-play blast off the post in OT turned into the game-winning assist when Mike Knuble tucked in the rebound for a stunning 5-4 win -- Washington's 14th in a row.

Sunday's performance capped yet another sensational week for "The Great 8." He ended with 6 goals and 10 points in four games (all victories) while going plus-6. Sunday's hat trick moved him past Sidney Crosby and Patrick Marleau into first place in the goal-scoring race with 42 (he's the first 40-goal scorer this season).

Overall, he has 16 points during a seven-game points streak and 36 in his last 17 games (he had points in 16 of those). The only thing that will stop him from terrorizing NHL goaltenders is the Olympic break that begins next Sunday.

Second Star: Jean-Sebastien Giguere -- Talk about making a good first impression and getting the fans on your side! Toronto's newest hero began his Leafs career like no other goaltender in franchise history -- putting up shutouts in back-to-back games. He blanked both New Jersey (3-0) and Ottawa (6-0) -- ending the Senators' 11-game winning streak in the process.

Third Star: Nicklas Backstrom -- As great as he is, Ovechkin is hardly a one-man show. Backstrom, his center, is a key cog in the Caps' juggernaut -- and he was almost as good as his linemate last week, scoring twice and adding eight assists. With 73 points in 59 games, Backstrom is on his way to a 100-point season of his own.

Worth watching -- Three players who've been hot:

Sidney Crosby -- Ovechkin may have upstaged "Sid the Kid" on Sunday, but that doesn't mean Crosby's losing his touch. He had a hat trick Monday night against Buffalo, an assist at Montreal Saturday and two more goals against Washington. Crosby already has matched his single-season career best by scoring 39 times.

Antero Niittymaki -- Don't look now, but the Tampa Bay Lightning are solidly in the top eight in the East, and Niittymaki is a big reason why. He went 3-0-0 last week and allowed just four goals as the Bolts swept Atlanta, the Islanders and Calgary. He's 6-0-1 in his last seven starts and has grabbed the No. 1 goaltending job in Tampa Bay.

Jonathan Quick -- The 24-year-old U.S. Olympian has carried the Los Angeles Kings to unprecedented heights -- a franchise-record nine-game winning streak. He went 3-0-0 last week to give him a League-high 34 victories, one short of the Kings' record for a single season.

Five down -- Five players who are struggling:

Steven Reinprecht --
Florida's offense has gone cold, and a lack of production from Reinprecht is a big reason. The 33-year-old has gone 10 games without a point and hasn't scored a goal in 16 games since Jan. 3.

Jonathan Cheechoo -- Few players have slid faster than Cheechoo, who was a 56-goal scorer in San Jose four years ago. He's scored just five times for Ottawa this season and hasn't had a point in nine games -- while seeing his ice time sharply reduced.

Miroslav Satan -- The Bruins brought in Satan to give their offense a boost. So far, it hasn't happened. Satan has just 2 goals and 4 points in 16 games for the struggling Bruins, and has failed to put up a point in his last eight.

Ryan Miller -- Team USA has to hope Miller rebounds from perhaps his worst week of the season. Miller lost all three of his starts for the Buffalo Sabres last week while allowing 12 goals on 96 shots.

Rick DiPietro -- DiPietro has cooled off after a hot start following his return from knee surgery. He has lost his last four starts, and has allowed 14 goals on just 120 shots in his last five appearances for the Isles, who've dropped seven in a row.
   
Injuries, news and notes -- It was a big week for the NHL's wheelers and dealers, with Ilya Kovalchuk (Atlanta to New Jersey) the latest big name to be moved. Don't be surprised to see more deals this week before the Olympic roster freeze takes effect.

Out --
Boston forward David Krejci left Sunday's game with an undisclosed injury. Defenseman Johnny Boychuk is out indefinitely with a broken orbital bone after taking a slap shot to the face on Saturday. ... Florida center Stephen Weiss missed Saturday's game with a lower body injury. ... Carolina goaltender Cam Ward missed games Friday and Saturday with a back injury and will see a specialist this week. ... Buffalo defenseman Steve Montador left Saturday's game with an undisclosed injury. ... Nashville forward Marcel Goc sat out Saturday's game with an upper-body injury, and defenseman Cody Franson likely won't play this week due to a broken rib. ... Edmonton forward Sam Gagner left Saturday's game with an injured knee. ... Detroit forwards Tomas Holmstrom (knee), Drew Miller (ankle) and Patrick Eaves (ankle) all left Saturday's game, but the injuries are not believed to be serious. Defenseman Niklas Kronwall (knee) missed the Wings' last two games... Dallas defenseman Mark Fistric suffered an upper-body injury on Thursday and didn't play Saturday. ... Columbus defenseman Fedor Tyutin sat out Saturday because of a sore left knee, and forward Fredrik Modin sat out with a foot injury. ... Calgary's Rene Bourque left Saturday's game with an undisclosed injury. ... Colorado's Ryan O'Reilly left Saturday night's game with a bruised foot. ... Montreal defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron missed the Habs' two games this weekend with a leg injury after blocking a shot on Thursday. ... Pittsburgh center Max Talbot missed the Pens' games over the weekend with a groin injury. ... Ottawa defenseman Erik Karlsson will miss this week with a shoulder injury sustained on Thursday. ... San Jose center Manny Malhotra didn't play Saturday due to an undisclosed injury.  ... Minnesota goaltender Josh Harding's sore hip kept him out of Saturday's game. He may not be back before the break.

Returning -- Atlanta recalled Kari Lehtonen from his conditioning stint in the minors. He's been out all season after back surgery. ... Detroit forward Johan Franzen, out for most of the season with a knee injury, is expected to be reactivated Tuesday and play that night in St. Louis. ... Pittsburgh forward Chris Kunitz returned Sunday after missing nearly a month with an abdominal injury that required surgery. ... Boston defenseman Andrew Ference returned Sunday from a groin injury that kept him sidelined since Jan. 4. ... San Jose defenseman Dan Boyle returned to the Sharks' lineup on Saturday from an upper-body injury that kept him out for six games. ... Minnesota goaltender Nicklas Backstrom, out for six games with back problems and illness, expect to practice Monday and play Wednesday. ... New Jersey's Patrik Elias, sidelined with a concussion since Jan. 16, returned Saturday after missing three weeks. ... Nashville forward Wade Belak returned Saturday after missing 11 days with a foot injury.

Still out -- Boston put defenseman Mark Stuart on IR with a broken finger, an injury that kept him out last week. He's not due back until after the break. ... New Jersey says forward David Clarkson (broken leg) won't be back until after the Olympics. ... The Islanders placed forward Josh Bailey on IR with an upper-body injury. He won't be back until March.

The week ahead --
With the season going on hiatus for the Olympic break after Sunday, this is one of the busiest weeks of the year -- 13 of the 30 teams play four times in the final seven days before the Winter Games.

The oddest schedule belongs to Philadelphia. The Flyers play four games but face only two teams -- they have home-and-homes with New Jersey (Monday-Wednesday) and Montreal (Friday-Saturday).

Games to watch:

New Jersey at Philadelphia (Feb. 8) --
Versus will be at the Wachovia Center when the new-look Devils, featuring Ilya Kovalchuk, come calling. The Flyers have won two of the first three meetings this season.

San Jose at Detroit (Feb. 11) -- The Sharks are on top of the Western Division, but not because of any success they've had against the Wings. Detroit won the first three meetings and will be going for a sweep of the season series.

New York Rangers at Pittsburgh (Feb. 12) -- The Penguins will try to extend their seven-game winning streak against New York; it's the longest string by either team since the Penguins entered the NHL in 1967.

Washington at St. Louis (Feb. 13) -- The Caps enter the week three wins short of the NHL record for longest winning streak. If they can win at Montreal and Ottawa earlier in the week, they'll come to the Scottrade Center looking to match the record set by the 1992-93 Penguins.

Anaheim at Edmonton (Feb. 14) -- The Ducks complete their two-game swing through Alberta in the last NHL game before the Olympic break.

Tough week ahead:  

Nashville Predators --
The Sommet Center has seen its last NHL hockey until March. The Predators spend four days in the New York metropolitan area playing the Islanders, Rangers and New Jersey Devils (they're the only team this season to play all three in a row on the road) before finishing with a Sunday afternoon game at Pittsburgh.

San Jose Sharks -- The Western Conference leaders work their way East as they play the last four games of a six-game road trip in a span of six nights, ending in Buffalo on Saturday.

Vancouver Canucks -- The first segment of the longest road trip in NHL history comes to an end this week. The Canucks figure to get some sunshine with a two-game stop in Florida, but then it's back to the realities of winter with games at Columbus and Minnesota.

Easy week ahead: 

Carolina Hurricanes --
After a tough trip (four games in six nights), the 'Canes get to spend their last week before the break at home as Florida, Buffalo and New Jersey come to the RBC Center.

Pittsburgh Penguins -- Not only do Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin & Co. get to spend the week at home, the competition (Islanders, Rangers and Nashville) isn't exactly hockey's version of Murderer's Row.

Toronto Maple Leafs --
The Leafs are the only team that has just two games on the schedule. They host San Jose on Tuesday, visit St. Louis three nights later and then get a jump on their Olympic break.
Quote of the Day

Not only is it a great idea, but if you don't [start using analytics] you're going to fall behind. You have to be on the cutting edge. It was [Arizona Coyotes assistant general manager] Darcy Regier who said, 'If you didn't invent it, you have to be the second- or third-best copier, because if you're fourth or fifth you've got no chance.'

— Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock on his interest in advanced statistical analysis