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Avs' dynamic duo fueling Colorado's surge

by John Kreiser /
The trade that sent Tomas Fleischmann from Washington to Colorado earlier this month was the best thing that could have happened to Matt Duchene.

Fleischmann, who was often overshadowed by players like Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom in Washington, has been on a tear in Colorado, scoring 5 goals and 10 points in seven games since joining the Avs. His arrival has also been a boon for Duchene, who has 12 points in the seven games since Fleischmann's arrival.

The two were an unbeatable duo last week – both had 4 goals and 7 points as the Avs won three times to extend their winning streak to five games. They accounted for all three game-winners – Fleischmann set up Duchene winner on Monday and scored a third-period hat trick in a 4-3 win at Chicago on Wednesday before Duchene got his second of the game in OT on Friday to give Colorado a 6-5 win against Ottawa.

Five up — Five players who've been hot:

Nikolay ZherdevGetting scratched by Philadelphia coach Peter Laviolette last Saturday appears to have lit a fire under Zherdev. The speedy Ukrainian forward scored 4 goals and added an assist in helping the Flyers win all three of their games last week.

Dustin Brown Brown, the captain of the L.A. Kings, is known as one of the NHL's busiest hitters. But he has good offensive skills as well, and he's on one of the best rolls of his career. Brown has 2 points in each of his last four games and 11 points during a seven game point streak.

Brian Boucher
Boucher has been eclipsed somewhat by rookie Sergei Bobrovsky, but he's making his case for more playing time to Philadelphia coach Peter Laviolette. Boucher won both of his starts last week, allowing just three goals, and is 4-0-0 with five goals allowed in his last four starts.

Eric Staal Carolina's captain has been a big factor in the Hurricanes' four-game winning streak. He has 4 goals in his last two games, including a natural hat trick in Saturday's 4-2 victory against Anaheim, and now leads the team with 16 goals and 33 points in 31 games.

Eric Boulton Saturday was a night Boulton will never forget. Not only did the Atlanta Thrashers roll over New Jersey 7-1 to move into first place in the Southeast Division, but Boulton – who has never had more than 4 goals in a season – got three in a game for the first time in his 10-year NHL career.

Five down — Five players who are struggling:

Jiri Hudler --
Detroit was delighted to get Hudler back in the lineup after he spent a season in Russia. Unfortunately for the Wings, he appears to have left his scoring touch behind. Hudler has gone 10 games without a point despite playing on one of the NHL's best teams and has just 1 goal and 6 points this season.

Steve MasonThe 2009 Calder Trophy winner struggled last season, and he's continuing to have his troubles stopping the puck, Mason lasted less than five minutes on Monday night, allowing two goals before being pulled, then was torched for six by Edmonton on Thursday. His goals-against average is up to 3.29 and his save percentage is down to .901.

Andy GreeneNew Jersey was counting on Greene to put up the kind of numbers he generated from the blue line last season (6 goals, 37 points). Instead, he has 2 goals and 10 points in 32 games, including no points in his last 11 games, a span in which he’s also gone minus-10.

Gilbert Brule The horde of young talent in Edmonton is passing Brule by. After scoring 17 goals and 37 points in 65 games last season, the former first-rounder has just 4 goals and 6 points in 30 games – and hasn't had a point in his last eight.

Semyon Varlamov
Washington's young goalies, Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth, have struggled badly during the Caps' eight-game losing streak. Each has lost his last four starts, and Varlamov has allowed 15 goals in his four losses.

Injuries, news and notes -- Talk about an unwanted Christmas present: The Philadelphia Flyers will be without defenseman Chris Pronger for 4-6 weeks after he went down with a broken foot while blocking a shot Wednesday night in Montreal.

Out -- The Rangers lost forward Ryan Callahan on Tuesday when he broke his left hand by blocking a shot. He's expected to miss at least a month. … Los Angeles defenseman Willie Mitchell's return after missing 14 games with a broken wrist didn't last long. He returned on Monday but went down on Thursday with a lower-body injury and is listed as week-to-week. … Toronto goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere didn't play Saturday after injuring his groin two nights earlier and is likely to miss a few games. … Columbus goalie Pascal Leclaire missed a start on Friday with a lower-body injury. … Pittsburgh forward Chris Kunitz has missed the Penguins’ last two games with an undisclosed injury. … Islanders goaltender Rick DiPietro sat out Saturday's game with a swollen knee. The team says it's not serious, but DiPietro has missed most of the last two seasons with knee problems that required surgery. ... Carolina forward Jiri Tlusty suffered an upper-body injury on Thursday is expected to keep him out for a few weeks. … Chicago forward Viktor Stalberg left Wednesday’s game with an upper-body injury and sat out Friday. … Washington’s Alexander Semin missed games Wednesday and Saturday with a lower-body injury. He’s also been battling the flu. Boyd Gordon (lower body) is likely to miss another week. … Coyotes goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov was sent back to Phoenix on Saturday with an upper-body injury after he missed Thursday’s game with the flu -- he got sick Thursday afternoon, giving former college goalie Tom Fenton a chance to dress for an NHL game as an emergency signee. … Edmonton’s Jim Vandermeer will miss another week or two with an ankle injury sustained last week. … Nashville forward Patric Hornqvist missed the Predators' games Friday and Saturday with an upper-body injury.

Returning – Marco Sturm might make his debut with the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday. He was acquired from Boston earlier this month and hasn't played since tearing up his right knee in May. …  Teemu Selanne was back in the lineup for Anaheim on Saturday after missing four games with a groin problem that’s bothered him for more than a month. … Colorado forward TJ Galiardi returned Friday after missing 17 games with a broken wrist. … Nashville says starting goaltender Pekka Rinne (knee) will be back in the lineup Wednesday, though coach Barry Trotz won't say if he'll start or back up Anders Lindback. … Toronto defenseman Mike Komisarek returned Saturday after missing two weeks with a hand injury. … Columbus forward Kristian Huselius returned Wednesday from a high ankle sprain and hat a hat trick in his first game back. … Vancouver defenseman Christian Ehrhoff scored a goal Saturday in his return after missing three games. He was sidelined after taking a puck in the ear.

Still out –
New Jersey defenseman Matt Taormina suffered a setback while recuperating from a high ankle sprain and has stopped skating. … Chicago coach Joel Quenneville says forwards Patrick Kane (left ankle) and Marian Hossa (lower body) will not play Sunday. … Islanders defenseman Mike Mottau has been cleared to resume physical activity but still isn't skating as he works to recover from an eye injury sustained last month.

The week ahead -- The two-day Christmas break cuts into this week's schedule. All teams are off Dec. 24-25, and anyone playing a road game on Dec. 26 has to travel on the day of the game. There's a wide variance this week, with five teams playing four games despite the two-day intermission -- but two others scheduled to play just once.

Games to watch (Dec. 20-26):

New Jersey at Washington (Dec. 21)  -- Versus will be on hand for the Devils' first trip to Washington since they were demolished 7-2 on the first Saturday of the season.

Nashville at Chicago (Dec. 22) -- The red-hot Predators come to Chicago for the first time since Oct. 9. The Blackhawks, who beat Nashville in the opening round last spring on the way to the Stanley Cup, have dropped both meetings with the Preds this season.

Pittsburgh at Washington (Dec. 23) -- Bet that "24/7" will have plenty of cameras at the Verizon Center when the Penguins and Capitals warm up for the Bridgestone Winter Classic on Jan. 1. It's the first meeting of the season between the two rivals.

Atlanta at Boston (Dec. 23) -- Talk about déjà vu: For the second year in a row, the Thrashers are at TD Garden on Dec. 23. They'll try to do better than last year's 6-4 loss -- their fifth of six consecutive defeats in Boston.

Anaheim at Los Angeles (Dec. 26) -- The Ducks have the shortest trip of any team that has to travel for a Dec. 26 game -- they take a bus from Orange County into L.A. for the latest renewal of the Freeway Faceoff.

Tough week ahead:

Montreal Canadiens -- Montreal fans have seen the last of the Canadiens for 2010. The Habs began a long trip at Colorado on Sunday and spend the week touring North America, hitting Dallas and Carolina before the holiday and flying to Long Island on Boxing Day.

Phoenix Coyotes -- After spending a week in the New York area, the Coyotes visit Pittsburgh on Monday before heading West for a pre-Christmas visit to San Jose and a Dec. 26 game at Dallas.

Tampa Bay Lightning -- The Bolts, who've spent more time on the road than anyone else this season, have to pack their bags again. After a home game against Carolina on Monday, they visit the Islanders and Rangers on consecutive nights before the holiday and fly to Atlanta on the 26th.

Easy week ahead:

Boston Bruins -- The Bruins are home for the holidays, with home games against Anaheim and Atlanta on the pre-Christmas schedule and no game on the 26th.
New York Rangers --
The Rangers have plenty of time to see the tree in Rockefeller Center and do their shopping -- from Dec. 19 through the 26th, their only game is at Madison Square Garden on the 23rd, when the Tampa Bay Lightning comes in for the second of a back-to-back.

Philadelphia Flyers --
Like the Rangers, the Flyers have plenty of time for holiday shopping. Their only game this week is a Monday night visit from Florida -- after that, they don't play until they visit Vancouver on Dec. 28.

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