Alex Ovechkin is whole again with five goals in his past three games, six goals in his past five, and four straight multi-point games. In fact, since Ovechkin scored the only goal in the Capitals' 1-0 win against Winnipeg on Dec. 15, he has eight goals on 39 shots in nine games. He now has 17 goals for the season.
Ovechkin is shooting more in the past nine games than he did in the first 29 (4.33 shots per game vs. 3.69), and, with the puck going in, his confidence and assertiveness is growing -- especially on the power play. He's scored four of his past six goals with the man advantage after scoring only two of his first 11 that way.
Left Wing - WSH
GOALS: 17 | ASST: 16 | PTS: 33
SOG: 146 | +/-: -4
SOG: 146 | +/-: -4
He beat Winnipeg with a heavy wrist shot from the top of the right circle and did the same against Buffalo on Dec. 26 from the other side. On both shots the defense gave him room to shoot and he used it to his advantage.
He's comfortable with his shot again, so he's using it more.
Forty-one players in NHL history have scored 500 goals in their careers, and it's near impossible, if not totally impossible, to find someone in the hockey community that isn't rooting for Calgary captain Jarome Iginla to become No. 42 in a hurry. He can do it Thursday night in Boston.
Iginla, who has 15 goals this season, is one of the truly great guys in the game and deserves to have his name in lights when he does score No. 500 -- no matter when or where he does it.
In fact, there are probably more than a few fans in Calgary hoping Iginla holds off for one more night because they'd like to see him reach the milestone at home. Though he'd be happy to do it Thursday at TD Garden, Iginla more than likely feels the same way, and scoring No. 500 in front of the home fans would be special to him because he's also one of the guys who gets it.
New Year's resolutions for teamsBy EJ Hradek - NHL.com Analyst
NHL.com analyst E.J. Hradek has his list of New Year's resolutions for players and front offices across the League. READ MORE ›
The Flames, who have been kicked out of Scotiabank Saddledome for the past two weeks due to the World Junior Championship, return home to start a four-game homestand on Saturday against the reeling Wild.
Montreal forward Lars Eller's spin-o-rama penalty-shot goal 11 minutes into the third period Wednesday was spectacular not just for its theatrics, but also because it capped off a four-goal night for the young Dane. Eller was exciting, productive, innovative and really good all in the same 60 minutes. Basically, he was everything the Canadiens have not been.
Montreal's 7-3 win against Winnipeg on Wednesday was just its second in eight games under coach Randy Cunneyworth. Eller's four-goal night came four games after Cunneyworth made Eller and P.K. Subban healthy scratches. At the time it was an odd attempt to light a fire under the entire team. The thinking was, why make the young guys the scapegoats when the veterans aren't doing enough either?
Eller has at least responded -- scoring five goals and two assists in the four games since the benching. He was all over the scoresheet Wednesday.
Eller made it 2-1 Habs with 5:53 to play in the first period by scoring on a wrist shot from above the hash marks after a Jets' defensive-zone turnover. Eller gave the Habs a 4-2 lead 2:41 into the third when he scored on a one-timer in front after his forechecking forced Ron Hainsey to cough the puck up in the defensive zone.
He completed his hat trick 50 seconds later when Andrei Kostitsyn found him stationed at the right post for an easy one-timer. And, just for good measure, Eller, who has not been called upon in the shootout yet this season, scored his fourth of the night by taking Jets goalie Chris Mason right out of his skates with a spin-o-rama made for the highlight shows.
Jaromir Jagr will be 40 next month and he's playing in his first NHL season since 2007-08, but his return to the League has been remarkable in that on most nights he's looked 10 years younger. He's been playing with Claude Giroux and Scott Hartnell and has 31 points on 12 goals and 19 assists while averaging a quite manageable 16:28 of ice time per game.
Now, though, there may be reason to worry that Jagr might not be able to hold up and be as effective through the course of the second half of the season. According to Flyers GM Paul Holmgren, Jagr should be out at least another week with a mild groin strain. Holmgren initially said 7-10 days on Tuesday.
A groin injury, no matter how mild, on a soon-to-be 40-year-old hockey player is not something to take lightly. Jagr needs his legs and his lower-body strength to keep up in today's faster NHL, and a groin strain will sap him of some of that if it were to linger.
Right Wing - PHI
GOALS: 12 | ASST: 19 | PTS: 31
SOG: 85 | +/-: 12
SOG: 85 | +/-: 12
There are a couple of fun games on tap this week, starting Thursday when Chicago heads back to Philadelphia for the first time since Patrick Kane's overtime goal in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final clinched the Blackhawks' first championship in 49 years.
Then, on Saturday afternoon, the Canucks head to Boston for a rematch of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final. The last time the Canucks were in Boston, so was the Stanley Cup. It was Game 6 at TD Garden and Vancouver had a 3-2 series lead, but the Bruins rolled Roberto Luongo and the Canucks for a 5-2 victory to bring the series and the Cup to Vancouver for Game 7.
Boston won the Cup at Rogers Arena two days later.
In anticipation of the Hawks return to Philadelphia, Chicago captain Jonathan Toews said earlier this week that he downloaded Games 5 and 6 of the 2010 Stanley Cup Final onto his iTunes and he and some of the boys watched the games during a recent road trip. Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville also recalled how great his cigar was that night in Philadelphia.
As for the Bruins, coach Claude Julien said Wednesday that his players haven't brought up the highly anticipated Cup Final rematch yet. Julien is probably telling the truth, but the players had to have circled the rematch date on their calendars the moment the League revealed the schedule during the summer.
That is unless they were still too busy celebrating to realize it.
The fan vote for the All-Star Game is complete and the First Six -- Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza, Milan Michalek, Erik Karlsson, Dion Phaneuf and Tim Thomas -- are guaranteed a spot. Good for them. Those are some solid and sentimental picks, especially from Ottawa fans, which is great because the event is supposed to include the players that people want to see.
All-Star Fan Balloting
F - Claude Giroux: Dynamic Flyers' center has 46 points in 33 games; never disregards the D-zone.
F - Henrik Sedin: Canucks captain has been smooth again with a League-high 38 assists and 48 points.
F - Jonathan Toews: Hawks' leader on pace for his best season with team-high 22 goals and 39 points; better than 60 percent on faceoffs.
D - Shea Weber: Mr. Everything for Predators with 29 points, including five power-play goals, 106 shots and 52 blocks.
D - Zdeno Chara: He has 23 points and has been a plus-1 or better in 17 of 34 games; huge reason for Boston's League-best plus-60 goal differential.
G - Henrik Lundqvist: So good that his biggest rival, Devils' Martin Brodeur, admitted he's a fan; 17 wins, a 1.92 GAA, a .937 save percentage.
Even though Canada won't win gold at the World Junior Championship for a third straight year, the fact is that without the Canadians, the tournament wouldn't have the type of following that it does. It's growing in stature in the United States, too, with the involvement of NHL Network, but TSN treats the World Juniors like it's the Stanley Cup Playoffs, if not bigger because it is played on an international stage.
But, whether you love the WJC for the passion that the players bring to every game, hate it for the hype over how many people watch and critique 18- and 19-year olds, or find yourself somewhere in the middle, one thing that seems to be obvious is how important the tournament has become, perhaps largely because of the Canadian presence.
Scouts from all 30 teams have been following the tournament during the past week and a half, and you can be assured that they'll all be watching from somewhere around the globe Thursday as Russia goes for its second-straight gold medal against Sweden, which hasn't won one since 1981.
Not everybody that competes in the WJC will make it in the NHL, but think about how Anaheim must feel now about Swedish prospect Max Friberg. He was a fifth-round pick by the Ducks last year, and he leads this year's tournament with eight goals. For at least right now, Friberg is looking like a steal, except every other NHL team has a good read on him now, too.
If Washington GM George McPhee wasn't already, he has to be thinking prospect Yevgeni Kuznetsov is close to making it in the NHL. Kuznetsov, who plays for Russia, leads the tournament with 13 points. The same goes for Minnesota and Finnish prospect Mikael Granlund, who has 11 points.
There are no assurances that those players will succeed in the NHL, but the WJC has offered more reason to believe they will.
Then, of course, there are the draft-eligible players stating their case in Alberta, such as Nikita Gusev, who has already been passed over twice in the NHL Draft. He's fifth in scoring with 9 points, the same amount as 2012 top prospect Nail Yakupov. Canadian prospects such as forward Tanner Pearson (four assists) and defenseman Ryan Murray (plus-6) may have helped themselves as well in front of the scouts.
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl