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Backstrom, Weiss, Duchene named '3 Stars of Week'

by John Kreiser
Nicklas Backstrom tends to be overshadowed by Alex Ovechkin and some of the bigger names on the Washington Capitals. But as he showed during Ovechkin's absence last week, he can do plenty of damage on his own.

Backstrom, not Ovechkin, now is the Capitals' leading scorer after a week in which he totaled 4 goals and 5 assists in three games. That includes a 5-point night (1 goal, 4 assists) in Washington's 8-2 demolition of Philadelphia Saturday.

His strong work earned him NHL First Star of the Week honors.

The Swedish center is tied for fourth in the NHL with 25 assists, and he's on pace for a career-best 93 points -- even though Ovechkin, his linemate, has missed eight of Washington's first 29 games. The Caps have lost just one of those games, showing Backstrom is more than just the guy who gets Ovi the puck.

Second star, Stephen Weiss --
Weiss may have had the best week of his NHL career. He scored 6 goals in four games for Florida, including a hat trick in a 6-5 shootout win against Colorado, and added an assist for 7 points. He's on pace for a career-best 36 goal-season.

Third star, Matt Duchene -- The No. 3 pick in the 2009 Entry Draft took a while to find his scoring touch, but he seems to have figured out how to beat NHL goaltenders. Duchene had 4 goals and 2 assists in four games for Colorado, giving him 8 goals and 18 points in his first 31 NHL games.

Three up --
Three more players who've been hot:

Miikka Kiprusoff -- "Kipper" is the biggest reason the Flames have turned into terrors on the road. He was 2-1-0 in three starts last week, but allowed only three goals. His goals-against average for the season is down to 2.21, while his save percentage is up to .927.

Ilya Bryzgalov --
Speaking of hot goaltenders, there's Bryzgalov. He's won his last four starts, including both last week (one of them a 2-1 win over Kiprusoff and the Flames). Bryzgalov's 2.07 GAA is third in the League, and his save percentage has improved to .922.

Andrew Brunette -- Minnesota has climbed back over the .500 mark after a 3-9-0 start, and Brunette is a big reason why. He scored a goal and set up six others as the Wild won all three of their games last week.

Five down -- Five players who are struggling:

Ray Emery -- After a hot start as Philadelphia’s No. 1 goaltender, Emery has hit the skids. He's dropped his last four decisions, allowed five goals in 31 minutes in Saturday's loss to Washington, and hasn't won a game since Nov. 16.

Daniel Paille -- Boston didn't get Paille from Buffalo to be a 50-goal scorer. But after seasons of 19 and 12 goals, they expected more than what he's done recently -- no points and a minus-3 rating in his last nine games.

Andrew Ladd -- After a decent start, Ladd's lack of production has been noticeable on a Chicago team that's been surging. The big power forward has no points in the Blackhawks' last seven games and is minus-4 in the last three.

Andrew Cogliano -- Like many of Edmonton's young guns, Cogliano has struggled this season. He has gone nine games without a point and is just 3-5-8 in 29 games this season after scoring 18 goals in each of his first two.

Shea Weber -- Nashville doesn't generate a lot of offense up front, so the Predators count on Weber to produce goals and points from the back line. But after going 6-9-15 in Nashville's first 21 games, Weber hasn't had a point in his last six -- not coincidentally, the Predators won just two of those games.

Injuries, news and notes -- Bad news for opposing goaltenders: Alex Ovechkin will play Monday. Ovi sat out a two-game suspension last week -- and saw his Washington teammates score 14 goals in back-to-back wins.

Out -- Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby missed Saturday's game with a sore groin, and he's questionable for Monday night's game against Carolina. ... Anaheim forward Teemu Selanne will miss at least a month after breaking a bone in his left hand Thursday. He had surgery the following day. ... Boston defenseman Dennis Wideman left Saturday's game with an upper-body injury. ... Tampa Bay center Paul Szczechura missed Saturday's game with an upper-body injury sustained Friday. ... Colorado goaltender Craig Anderson sat out the Avs' last two games with a neck injury. ... Columbus defenseman Rostislav Klesla had surgery Friday to repair a torn stomach muscle. He's expected to miss at least six weeks. ... Buffalo defenseman Chris Butler sprained his ankle Thursday and sat out Saturday's 2-1 loss to the Rangers. ... Dallas defenseman Karlis Skrastins suffered a lacerated finger in the Stars' 3-1 win against Anaheim on Thursday and didn't play Saturday. ... Carolina defenseman Joe Corvo is expected to miss at least two months after sustaining a lacerated right leg last Monday.

Returning -- Carolina goaltender Cam Ward expects to play Wednesday. He's missed nearly a month with a lacerated leg. Forward Scott Walker, out since Nov. 15 with an upper-body injury, returned Saturday, as did forward Chad LaRose, who went down with a lower-body injury before Thanksgiving. ... New Jersey defenseman Johnny Oduya, who missed a month with groin injury, and forward Jay Pandolfo, out 17 games with a shoulder injury, both returned Saturday. ... Toronto goaltender Vesa Toskala, who went down with a groin injury Nov. 23, returned in a relief role Saturday. ... Phoenix defenseman Ed Jovanovski returned Saturday from a lower-body injury that cost him eight of the Coyotes' 13 previous games. ... Washington defenseman Tom Poti was back in the lineup Saturday after missing six games with a chest injury. ... Columbus forward Mark Methot returned Saturday after missing a week with an upper-body injury. The Blue Jackets also activated center Andrew Murray, who has missed most of the season with a shoulder injury. ... Montreal defenseman Hal Gill returned Friday after missing 14 games with a broken foot. ... Los Angeles defenseman Rob Scuderi, who has missed nine games with a lower-body injury, could be back this week -- perhaps as early as Monday.

Still out -- Islanders goaltender Rick DiPietro played for the first time in more than 11 months when he began a minor-league rehab assignment Saturday. He's been sidelined with a knee injury that required surgery. ... Columbus forward Derek Dorsett (concussion) expects to start skating Monday. ... Ottawa forward Chris Neil's recovery from a knee injury will take longer than expected -- he'll need at least a couple more weeks of rehab. ... Rangers center Brandon Dubinsky, who has missed four weeks with a broken hand, is skating again. He could be back in a week or so. ... St. Louis captain Eric Brewer will miss another 2-4 weeks with a back injury that has kept him out since he was hurt Nov. 25. ... Minnesota forward Petr Sykora, out four weeks with a concussion, is scheduled to begin light workouts Monday. Wild defenseman Brent Burns, out since Nov. 20 with a concussion, had a setback and likely won't be back until after the New Year. ... Pittsburgh forward Chris Kunitz, who has missed 11 games with a lower-body injury, still isn't skating. ... Montreal defenseman Andrei Markov, who severed an ankle tendon opening night, skated briefly Friday and is on pace to return next month. ... Toronto goaltender Jonas Gustavsson has been seeing heart specialists and will miss another week or so. ... Washington's Shaone Morrisonn has missed eight games with a concussion.

The week ahead -- Only two teams (Boston and the Rangers) play two games; a half-dozen will be spending the week away from home.

Games to watch

Philadelphia at Montreal (Dec. 7, 7:30 p.m. ET, RDS) --
  After watching his team get routed by Washington in his debut behind Philadelphia's bench Saturday, new coach Peter Laviolette brings the Flyers to Montreal, where they've lost four of their last five.

Washington at Tampa Bay (Dec. 7) -- Alex Ovechkin makes his return to the Capitals after sitting out a two-game suspension for a knee-on-knee hit. Not that the Caps missed him -- they won both games and scored 14 goals.

New York Islanders at Toronto (Dec. 9, 7 p.m. ET, TSN, RIS) -- Dwayne Roloson returns to the scene of the crime: He's back at the Air Canada Centre, where he made 58 saves in a 4-3 OT win for the Isles on Nov. 23. The game also caps a stretch in which the Islanders played 12 of 14 away from home; they don't leave the New York area again until Dec. 31.

Atlanta at Calgary (Dec. 9) -- Atlanta's current and former teams meet for only the 11th time since the Thrashers brought NHL hockey back to Atlanta 10 years ago. The Thrashers never have won in their four visits to the Pengrowth Saddledome, but are 5-0-1 against the Flames at Philips Arena.

Detroit at Nashville (Dec. 12) -- It's a rare season in which the Wings are looking up at the Predators in the standings, but that's been the case recently. The Wings' struggles include a 3-1 loss in their last visit to Nashville, on Nov. 23.

Tough week ahead

Atlanta Thrashers --
The Thrashers will see a lot of Canada this week, going from Toronto to Calgary to Vancouver in a five-day stretch. They finish the week at home against Montreal.

Carolina Hurricanes -- The Hurricanes have yet to win a game on the road this season, so spending the week visiting Pittsburgh, New Jersey, Washington and Ottawa doesn't figure to be much fun.

Minnesota Wild --
The Wild, who also have had trouble away from home, start their week in Phoenix and work their way north to Colorado, Calgary and Vancouver.

Easy week ahead

Boston Bruins --
The B's have four days off between visits from the Maple Leafs, who were at the TD Garden on Saturday and return Thursday, then they go to Long Island for a game Saturday.

Nashville Predators -- The Preds, who have been hot at home, spend the week in Music City as Vancouver, Columbus and Detroit come to town.

New York Rangers --
The Rangers have a light schedule for the second week in a row, visiting Chicago on Wednesday before coming home to host Buffalo on Saturday night.
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