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Benn on pace for a career season in Dallas

by John Kreiser
The best season of Jamie Benn's young career keeps getting better.

Jamie Benn
Left Wing - DAL
GOALS: 13 | ASST: 28 | PTS: 41
SOG: 114 | +/-: 10
The Dallas Stars are one of the surprises of the first half of the season, and Benn's recent hot streak is a big reason they enter the week in the top eight in the West after missing the playoffs for the past three seasons.

Benn, a third-year center, had a pair of goals on Saturday as the Stars beat Edmonton 4-1. He scored three times and added four assists as the Stars won two of three games last week, and has four goals and nine points in Dallas' last four games.

Benn's 41 points in 40 games match the entire output of his rookie season two years ago, and his 82-point pace would shatter his career high of 57, set last season.

Five up -- Five players who had a week to remember:

Jarome Iginla -- Calgary's captain became the 42nd member of the NHL's 500-goal club with one of the least artistic goals of his career -- an attempted pass that pinballed off two Minnesota players and into the net. Iginla is the 15th player to score 500 goals with one team, and the eighth who has scored all of his goals with the same franchise.

Shane Doan -- After 38 two-goal games, Doan finally owns an NHL hat trick. Not that he didn't have to sweat for it: Phoenix's captain scored two early goals Saturday against the Islanders, but needed every bit of the game's 60 minutes to get the third -- he completed his first three-goal game by scoring with :00.1 left in a 5-1 win.

Lars Eller -- The third-year Danish forward became the second player this season to score four times in a game when he filled the Winnipeg Jets' net on Thursday. -- capping his outburst with one of the most spectacular penalty-shot goals in years.

Joffrey Lupul -- Linemate Phil Kessel gets more attention, but Lupul is on his way to a career year. He had two goals and seven points in Toronto's three games last week, and with 19 goals and 47 points in 41 games, he's on pace to shatter his career highs in both categories.

Semyon Varlamov -- The 23-year-old goaltender is one of the big reasons the Colorado Avalanche enter the week in the top eight in the West. He allowed just one goal in winning both starts last week and is 4-0-0 while allowing just seven goals since the Christmas break.

Five down — Five players who are struggling:

Marc-Andre Fleury -- Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang are still out with injuries, Pittsburgh has been hampered just as much by Fleury's recent struggles. He's lost his last four starts, allowing 11 goals on just 90 shots -- including six on 48 shots in weekend losses to the Rangers and Devils.

Michael Frolik -- Chicago was counting on offense from Frolik when they landed the two-time 20-goal scorer late last season. The Hawks are still waiting for him to deliver. Frolik has gone 10 games without a point and has just five goals and 10 points in 39 games this season.

Eric Fehr
Right Wing - WPG
GOALS: 0 | ASST: 1 | PTS: 1
SOG: 21 | +/-: -4
Eric Fehr -- The Manitoba native came home last summer when he signed with the Winnipeg Jets. But little has gone right for him since then. The former 20-goal scorer has been limited to 17 games due to injuries, and has just one assist all season -- with no points in his last 12 games.

Eric Belanger -- Belanger's lack of production continues to be a concern in Edmonton, which has struggled to get secondary scoring all season long. Belanger has no points and is minus-6 in his last eight games and reached the halfway mark with one goal and 10 points.

Brooks Laich -- Laich doesn't lack for ice time, but production is another matter. He's gone without a point in Washington's six games since the Christmas break despite averaging 19 minutes a game during that span.

Injuries, news and notes: It took nearly half a season, but two-time Cup winner John Madden has found a home with Florida. He made his debut with his new team on Friday as the Panthers look for some experienced help to keep them in first place.

Out -- Jaromir Jagr didn't make it through the Winter Classic. The 39-year-old left with a groin injury and didn't play in Philadelphia's games on Thursday and Saturday. … Washington defenseman Mike Green, who's missed much of the season with a groin injury, left Saturday's game when his groin tightened up. The Caps were also without center Nicklas Backstrom after he took an elbow to the head on Tuesday. … Tampa Bay lost forwards JT Wyman and Adam Hall to upper-body injuries on Thursday; Wyman may not miss much time but Hall's injury could be serious. … Los Angeles defenseman Slava Voynov has missed the Kings' last three games with an upper-body injury. Dustin Penner missed Saturday's game with a back injury. … Islanders defenseman Mike Mottau suffered a concussion and was placed on IR. Center Marty Reasoner broke his right hand blocking a shot in Friday's game and is  … Edmonton defenseman Tom Gilbert hasn't played since suffering a knee injury on Monday night, and prized rookie Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was sent home after he went down with a shoulder injury in the same game. The Oilers also lost their top scorer, Jordan Eberle, with a knee injury on Saturday. … Pittsburgh took another hit when center Jordan Staal injured his knee late in Friday's game and didn't play Saturday. … Buffalo center Derek Roy will miss "more than days" according to coach Lindy Ruff, after suffering an arm/shoulder injury during a faceoff Friday night. … Vancouver defenseman Sami Salo left Saturday's game in Boston with an upper-body injury, and forward Andrew Ebbett is out indefinitely after breaking his collarbone in the same game. … Anaheim's George Parros sat out Friday with a groin injury and left Saturday's practice early. Goalie Dan Ellis also injured his groin during that practice and had to be helped off the ice. … Pierre-Marc Bouchard sat out Minnesota's game on Saturday with a lower-body injury. … Phoenix defenseman Adrian Aucoin left Thursday's game with an eye injury after being hit in the face by a puck. He didn't play Saturday. … Detroit forwards Darren Helm and Tomas Holmstrom missed the week with groin injuries.

Returning -- Nashville captain Shea Weber (concussion) was back in the lineup Thursday. … Rangers defenseman Marc Staal made his season debut in the Winter Classic after missing three months while recovering from a concussion. … Montreal captain Brian Gionta returned Saturday after missing a month with a groin injury. … Minnesota activated forward Clayton Stoner (groin) from IR on Friday night; he hadn't played since Dec. 22. … Toronto defenseman Mike Komisarek was back in the lineup Saturday after missing six weeks with a broken arm. Forward Mike Brown (back) also returned after missing more than seven weeks. … Winnipeg center Bryan Little played Saturday after missing three weeks with a foot injury after blocking a shot on Dec. 17. … Buffalo defenseman Tyler Myers returned Friday after missing 19 games with a broken right wrist … Anaheim forward Jason Blake was back in the lineup Wednesday; he hadn't played since suffering cut tendons in his wrist on Oct. 14. … Pittsburgh got center Richard Park back on Friday after he missed nearly five weeks with a broken foot.

Still out -- Dallas defenseman Sheldon Souray may start skating again this week. He hasn't played since before Christmas due to a high ankle sprain. … Toronto's Colby Armstrong (concussion) had hoped to be back this coming week, but his return has been delayed. … Vancouver forward David Booth (knee) is skating again but likely won't be ready to play when the Canucks visit his former team, the Florida Panthers, on Monday. … Forward Peter Mueller continues to practice with Colorado but has not been cleared to play. He's missed all but a handful of games since the start of last season due to a concussion. … Penguins forward Dustin Jeffrey (knee) is skating again and expects to take part in practices this week. He hasn't played since Nov. 3. … The Islanders activated forward Jay Pandolfo for Saturday's game. He had been out since Nov. 26 with a broken foot. … Blues defenseman Kent Huskins skated again last week, the first time he's been on the ice in two months. He suffered a cracked bone in his ankle on Oct. 28. … Los Angeles forward Simon Gagne is not close to returning from a concussion that may be bad enough to keep him out for the rest of the season. He's missed L.A.'s last six games. … Columbus put forward Kristian Huselius on IR with a groin problem that has kept him out for the past month.

The week ahead -- Hard as it is to believe, the 2011-12 season reaches its midpoint on Monday.

Games to watch:

Pittsburgh at Washington (Jan. 11; NBCSN/TSN2) -- Sidney Crosby may be sidelined, but that doesn't mean the animosity between these two teams is any less than it's been through the past few years.

Montreal at Boston (Jan. 12; NHLN/TSN/RDS) -- The Habs pay their final visit of the season to TD Garden; Montreal swept the Bruins in a home-and-home series in late October -- and Boston has lost just three times in regulation since then.

Chicago at Detroit (Jan. 14; NBC/TSN2) -- NBC's Game of the Week returns with a rematch of Sunday's meeting between the top two teams in the Central Division.

New York Rangers at Toronto (Jan. 14; NHLN-US/CBC) -- The Rangers visit Toronto for the first time this season after losing a pair of home games to the Leafs before Thanksgiving.

New York Rangers at Montreal (Jan. 15; NBCSN/RDS) -- For only the fifth time in 304 visits, the Rangers are coming to Montreal for a Sunday game during the regular season.

Tough week ahead:

New Jersey Devils -- What could be better than spending the second week of January in Western Canada? That's what awaits the Devils, who start a stretch of three games in five nights with a game in Calgary on Tuesday.

Pittsburgh Penguins -- The Pens will be playing a lot of hockey in not a lot of time. After a Tuesday home game against Ottawa, the Penguins are in Washington on Wednesday, at Florida on Friday and at Tampa Bay on Sunday afternoon.

San Jose Sharks -- It's a week in the Midwest for the Sharks, who play four times in six days, including a weekend back-to-back at Columbus and Chicago.

Easy week ahead:

Calgary Flames and Edmonton -- With their seven-game trip in the books, the Flames and Oilers both can look forward to a week at home, with New Jersey, Anaheim and Los Angeles visiting both Alberta teams.

Florida Panthers -- The Panthers have their second two-game week in a row, but this time, they're spending the week in South Florida, with visits from Vancouver and Pittsburgh.

New York Islanders -- The opposition (Detroit, Philadelphia and Buffalo) will be tough, but after a weekend out West, at least the Islanders get to spend the week at home.
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