The Avs sent Stewart to Lake Erie of the AHL early this season after coach Joe Sacco questioned his work ethic. But he returned two days later because the Avalanche ran into injuries, and he's done nothing but produce ever since.
Stewart came back from the Olympic break to have the best week of his young NHL career, totaling 5 goals and 4 assists in four games. He capped the week by scoring on a second-period penalty shot Saturday night to complete his first career hat trick and 4-point night.
That performance was good enough to earn him NHL First Star of the Week honors.
With 24 goals, Stewart already has more than doubled last season's output, and his 51 points is a big reason the Avs are solidly in the top eight in the Western Conference.
Second Star: Steven Stamkos -- Stamkos is showing everyone why the Tampa Bay Lightning were right to take him with the first pick of the 2008 Entry Draft. After scoring 23 goals as a rookie, he reached the 40-goal mark in his second season with a pair Saturday, extending his points streak to 16 games and completing a week that saw him total 5 goals and 6 points in three games.
Third Star: Bryan McCabe -- Florida's captain is doing his best to keep the Panthers in the playoff race. McCabe had 1 goal and 7 assists while going plus-3 last week, helping Florida to a 2-1-0 record.
Jose Theodore -- Theodore is doing his best to show he should be in goal when the Washington Capitals start the playoffs. Theodore was 2-0-0 last week while allowing just one goal on 54 shots, extending his unbeaten streak in regulation to 14 games (12-0-2).
Mike Richards -- Philadelphia's captain came home from the Olympics with a gold medal, then set about to improve the Flyers' playoff position. He had 4 points in his first game back and finished 2-5-7 in four games.
Five down -- Five players who are struggling:
Rostislav Olesz -- Olesz was averaging about a point every two games before hitting a dry spell in mid-January. He's now gone 14 games without a point, a big reason that Florida has struggled to score.
Mike Modano -- The most prolific U.S.-born scorer in NHL history has gone cold. He was pointless in Dallas' three games last week, extending his drought to seven games while seeing his ice time reduced to less than 13 minutes a game.
Tomas Kaberle -- Toronto's points leader has also gone cold. He hasn't scored a point in five games, and was minus-5 in four games last week despite averaging more than 20 minutes per game.
John Tavares -- The first pick of the 2009 Entry Draft scored 15 goals in his first 31 games, but has completely lost his scoring touch since then. He had no goals in the New York Islanders' three games last week and has scored just twice in his last 34.
Martin Brodeur -- Brodeur played his way out of the starting job with Team Canada and struggled in his first week back with New Jersey. Brodeur surrendered 10 goals on 80 shots (.875 save percentage) while going 1-2-0 in three games.
Injuries, news and notes -- Most of the NHL's participants in the Olympics came back in reasonably good health, but not all. Boston's Patrice Bergeron injured his groin playing for Canada in the gold-medal game, and New York Rangers forward Marian Gaborik, who went to Vancouver battling a severe leg cut, played for Slovakia and came home with a lower-body injury. Happily for their NHL teams, both players missed only two games before getting back into the lineup.
Out -- Islanders defenseman Andy MacDonald will miss at least four weeks with a broken foot sustained Tuesday -- the same night forward Trent Hunter went down with an upper-body injury that's likely to keep him out for at least a week. … San Jose center Scott Nichol likely will miss another week with a shoulder injury suffered last Thursday. … Boston goaltender Tuukka Rask sat out the Bruins' last three games with a knee problem, while defenseman Andrew Ference missed all three games with a groin injury. Center Marc Savard was knocked out of Sunday's game with a concussion. … Vancouver forward Steve Bernier missed the Canucks' last three games with a groin injury. … Buffalo center Paul Gaustad went down with an upper-body injury Tuesday. He might be ready late this week. … Colorado forward Brandon Yip injured his shoulder in the Avs' first game back after the break and will miss 3-5 weeks. … Detroit forward Todd Bertuzzi left Sunday's game with a lower-body injury. … Nashville defenseman Shea Weber left Friday's game with an upper-body injury that kept him out Sunday. … Atlanta forward Evander Kane left Saturday's game with a foot injury after blocking a shot. He sat out Sunday. … New Jersey center Dean McAmmond left Sunday's game with a shoulder injury. … Toronto forwards John Mitchell and Fredrik Sjostrom left Saturday's game with upper-body injuries. … Pittsburgh forward Bill Guerin missed the Pens' three games last week with back spasms. … Phoenix center Robert Lang sat out Saturday's game with a lower-body injury. … Colorado defenseman Ruslan Salei left Saturday's game in the first period with what the team is calling a "torso" injury.
Returning -- Colorado forward Milan Hedjuk returned Saturday after missing 17 games with a back injury and scored 2 goals. … Chicago center John Madden returned Tuesday from a knee injury. … Rangers defenseman Michael Del Zotto played Thursday, meaning he missed just two games after incurring a 50-stitch skate cut on his abdomen Feb. 12. … Detroit defenseman Andreas Lilja returned Monday after missing a full year recovering from a concussion. … Dallas defenseman Mark Fistric returned Thursday, four weeks after going down with a knee injury. Goaltender Kari Lehtonen, idled all season while rehabbing from a back surgery, made his season debut the same night. … Colorado forward Ryan Stoa returned Wednesday after going down with a shoulder injury Jan. 28. … Minnesota forward Chuck Kobasew returned Wednesday; he'd been out since Dec. 26 with sprained ligaments in his left knee. … Calgary forward Rene Bourque played Wednesday after missing the Flames' last three games before the break with a shoulder injury. That injury didn't prevent the team from signing him to a new six-year contract during the break. … Columbus center Derick Brassard didn't make the trip to San Jose on Saturday due to a hand injury, though he may play Monday. … Chicago activated Adam Burish (knee) off injured reserve; he's expected to play this week.
The week ahead -- It's another busy week, with every team in action at least three times and a dozen teams looking at a four-game week.
Games to watch
New York Islanders at Philadelphia (March 9, 7:30 p.m. ET, VERSUS, TSN2) -- The Islanders will try to do something they haven't done since Feb. 12, 2008 -- beat the Flyers. Philadelphia has won the last 14 meetings, including all four this season.
Carolina at Washington (March 10, 7 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, NHLN-CA, RIS) -- The Hurricanes have been one of the NHL's best teams since the calendar flipped to 2010, and they own one of the three regulation wins by a visiting team at the Verizon Center this season.
Pittsburgh at New Jersey (March 12, 7 p.m., NHLN-CA, RDS ) -- The top two teams in the Atlantic Division get together when the Penguins come to Newark for the first of two visits in six days.
Ottawa at Vancouver (March 13, 10 p.m. ET, CBC) -- Forgive the Canucks if they wonder where they are when they walk into GM Place. After all, they haven't played a home game since Jan. 27 -- and will have survived a 14-game road trip, the longest in NHL history.
Washington at Chicago (March 14, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBC, TSN2) -- The Caps come to the United Center for the NBC Game of the Week -- and a potential Stanley Cup Final preview.
Tough week ahead
Boston Bruins -- The B's began a seven-game trip Saturday on Long Island. They'll spend this week bouncing from Toronto to Philadelphia to Montreal -- the last two are games against teams the Bruins are battling with for a playoff berth.
Florida Panthers -- No warm weather for the Panthers this week. Florida starts in Minnesota, heads West to Denver for a meeting with the Avalanche, and ends in San Jose.
Ottawa Senators -- The Senators have struggled coming out of the Olympic break, and this week's schedule -- a Western Canada swing through Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver -- doesn't figure to help.
Easy week ahead
Anaheim Ducks -- The Ducks will be spending a couple weeks at home. Their three games at the Honda Center this week are part of a seven-game homestand that started Saturday -- one that the Ducks need to capitalize on to climb into the top eight in the West.
Detroit Red Wings -- The Wings spend the week at home, hosting Calgary, Minnesota and Buffalo.
Montreal Canadiens -- The Habs are home for the week against a less-than-overwhelming schedule -- Tampa Bay, Edmonton and Boston come to town. Only the Bruins are an immediate threat to the Canadiens in the playoff race.