Has Alex Ovechkin found his scoring touch?
It sure looked that way Saturday night, when he was all over the ice in Washington's 4-1 victory at Toronto. Ovechkin had his first hat trick of the season, finished the night plus-3 and led all shooters with eight shots.
The hat trick capped perhaps the best week of the season for Ovechkin, who had a goal in a 3-2 overtime loss at Philadelphia on Tuesday and the primary assist on both goals in a 2-1 victory against the Islanders two nights later. Add in his three goals against the Leafs and it’s a six-point week -- especially impressive when you consider the Caps scored just eight goals.
Five up -- Five players who've been hot:
Tim Thomas -- There's no question who's been the best goaltender in the NHL so far this season. Thomas continued making his case for a second Vezina Trophy in three seasons by going 3-0-0 for Boston last week, allowing just four goals while notching his seventh shutout. He's on track for the goaltending triple crown -- he's tops with a 1.83 goals-against average and .945 save percentage and shares the shutout lead with the Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist.
Martin Brodeur -- After the worst first half of his career, Brodeur is starting to look like his Hall-of-Fame self. Thursday's 2-0 shutout of the Penguins extended his NHL record to 114 and gave him a 4-0-1 mark in his last five starts since coach Jacques Lemaire gave him a few days off earlier this month.
J-P Dumont -- After a dreadful first three months, Dumont has finally started producing offensively, giving the Nashville Predators a much-needed boost. He had 5 goals and an assist in his last three games, including his first hat trick in nearly 10 years in a win at Phoenix.
Steven Stamkos -- After a slow start in 2011, Stamkos is on a roll again for the Tampa Bay Lightning. He had back-to-back two-goal games last week and has 6 goals in the Bolts' last five games after going goal-less in the first six games of the new year.
Mike Ribeiro -- Dallas is showing that its hot start is no fluke, and Ribeiro is a big reason they're on top in the Pacific Division. He has points in his last 11 games, the longest streak in the League, including 7 points in the Stars' last four games.
Five down -- Five players who are struggling:
Nikolai Khabibulin -- It continues to be a tough season for the man once known as the "Bulin Wall." He allowed 10 goals in three losses last week and is 0-10-0 since beating Columbus on Dec. 16.
Chris Drury -- It's tough to provide leadership when you're not producing on the ice, and the New York Rangers' captain isn't doing much offensively since returning from a broken hand. He has just 4 assists in 19 games this season -- and no points in his last 13 games.
Filip Kuba -- The Ottawa Senators are struggling badly, and Kuba is part of the problem. Usually a solid point-producer on the back line, Kuba is pointless in his last 12 games and is minus-11 in that span.
Mason Raymond -- Raymond's spectacular shootout move a couple of weeks ago made him a video star, but the Vancouver Canucks need him to produce when they other team is on the ice. He's gone nine games without a point, a big reason the Canucks are struggling to score.
Michael Frolik -- Florida needs offense to get back into the playoff race in the East, and the Panthers can't afford to have top-six forwards like Frolik go eight games without a point. He has just 8 goals after getting 21 in back-to-back seasons.
Injuries, news and notes -- Peter Forsberg is apparently going to give his career another try. Forsberg started practicing with the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday; he doesn't have a contract but wants to see where he is physically before deciding whether to attempt a comeback.
Out -- Pittsburgh, already without Sidney Crosby due to a concussion, is also without its other big gun -- Evgeni Malkin sat out the Pens' last two games with a knee injury. … Bruins center Marc Savard is heading back to Boston after leaving Saturday's game with a head injury. … Colorado lost forward Tomas Fleischmann for the rest of the season when he was diagnosed with pulmonary emboli. … The Islanders lost goaltender Nathan Lawson with a knee injury Friday night, four days after defenseman Milan Jurcina went down with an upper-body injury that landed him on IR. … The Rangers lost forward Brandon Dubinsky for at least another three weeks with a stress fracture in his leg, and Ruslan Fedotenko won't be back until after the break due to a shoulder separation. … Buffalo forward Drew Stafford left Tuesday's game with a lower-body injury and hasn't played since, missing three games. Patrick Kaleta tried to play Friday despite a broken hand but had to leave the game. He won't be back until after the break. Center Tim Connolly (hip) missed Sunday's game. … San Jose put goaltender
Antero Niittymaki on IR after he went down with a lower-body injury at Tuesday's morning skate in Vancouver -- forcing the Sharks to sign a local college goalie as an emergency backup. … Toronto placed forward Colton Orr on IR with a concussion. … Blues defenseman Barret Jackman sat out Saturday's game with a lower-body injury. St. Louis put defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo on IR earlier in the week with an eye injury after he was hit in the face by a puck on Tuesday night. … Montreal forward Michael Cammalleri left Tuesday's game with an upper-body injury that's expected to keep him out for at least two weeks. … Washington goaltender Michal Neuvirth left Tuesday's game with a lower-body injury and hasn't played since. … Phoenix placed defenseman Dave Schlemko on IR after he was hit in the head during Monday's game. … Los Angeles forward Marco Sturm, who missed most of the first half of the season while recovering from offseason knee surgery, was placed on IR with tendinitis in his knee. … Edmonton forward Ales Hemsky won't play in the All-Star Game due to a concussion. … Florida defenseman Bryan McCabe will miss at least another month with a broken jaw and other facial fractures. … New Jersey defenseman Colin White left Saturday's game with a lower-body injury. … Columbus defenseman Rostislav Klesla was helped off the ice Saturday after crashing into the boards knees-first…. Vancouver defenseman Kevin Bieksa left Saturday's game after a first-period fight and didn't return.
Returning -- Minnesota starting goaltender Nicklas Backstrom (hip) returned Wednesday, and backup Jose Theodore (hip) was able to dress for Saturday's game at San Jose. … Dallas defenseman Matt Niskanen returned Friday from a badly cut hand that kept him out for six games. … Philadelphia got defenseman Chris Pronger (foot surgery) back on Thursday after he missed 13 games. … Islanders forward Kyle Okposo made his season debut Thursday after missing more than three months with preseason shoulder surgery. Center Frans Nielsen also returned Thursday after missing seven games with a groin injury. … Los Angeles forward Wayne Simmonds returned Thursday after missing two games with a lower-body injury. … San Jose's John McCarthy (upper body) also returned Thursday after missing five weeks. … Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard was back in the lineup Thursday after missing a week with a bruised knee.
Still out -- Detroit forward Danny Cleary skated at practice Friday, the first time he's done so since breaking his ankle last month. He hopes to play when the Wings resume after the break. Mike Modano, out since November with a wrist injury, was able to do some passing and shooting drills. He's not expected back until March at the earliest. Pavel Datsyuk (broken hand) skated Friday but won't be back until early February. … New Jersey defenseman Matt Taormina will have ankle surgery that could keep him out for the rest of the season. … Washington forward Matt Bradley (broken finger) skated on Friday. … Islanders defenseman Mark Streit, who has yet to play after injuring his shoulder in September, is skating again but isn't expected back before March at the earliest. … Vancouver defenseman Sami Salo continues to skate at practice as he works to return from an offseason Achilles injury. … St. Louis forwards David Perron and Andy McDonald have passed their baseline tests as they work to return from concussions. … Pittsburgh forward Eric Godard, who's missed 12 games with a broken orbital bone, has been cleared to practice.
The week ahead -- It's a short week, with regular-season play ending Wednesday night for the All-Star break.
Games to watch:
New York Rangers at Washington (Jan. 24) -- Versus will be on hand as the Rangers come to the Verizon Center, where the Caps will be looking to avenge a 7-0 wipeout at the hands of the Blueshirts last month.
Dallas at Vancouver (Jan. 24) -- Two of the three best teams in the West meet when the Stars finish a Western Canada trip with a stop in Vancouver.
Boston at Los Angeles (Jan. 24) -- The Bruins finish up before the break with a rare visit to Los Angeles -- it's just their third trip to L.A. since 2003
Minnesota at Chicago (Jan. 25) -- The Hawks host the Wild to wrap up their pre-break schedule in their last home game until mid-February.
San Jose at Los Angeles (Jan. 26) -- The Sharks come to Staples Center for the last game on the schedule before the League takes five days off for the All-Star break.
Tough week ahead:
Edmonton Oilers -- The Oilers finish a homestand on Sunday night, then head to Dallas for a game on Tuesday and fly to Phoenix for another game Wednesday.
Nashville Predators -- The Preds have been spending the last two weeks before the break on the road. They start a swing through Western Canada on Sunday in Edmonton, then go on to Calgary and Vancouver.
St. Louis Blues -- It's off to the mountains for the Blues, who finish their pre-All Star schedule with visits to Colorado and Calgary.
Easy week ahead:
Detroit Red Wings -- The Wings play their only game of the week at home, where they get to host the last-place New Jersey Devils.
Pittsburgh Penguins -- Like the Wings, the Penguins have just one game this week -- at home against a team that's struggling. In this case, the Penguins will have had two days off before hosting the New York Islanders on Tuesday. The Isles will be playing their fourth game in six nights.
Tampa Bay Lightning -- The Bolts can settle in for a long stay at home. They opened a 12-game homestand on Sunday, host Toronto on Tuesday, and spend almost the entire month of February at home.