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Crosby answering all questions

by John Kreiser
Washington's Alexander Semin made headlines a few weeks ago when he asked what was so special about Sidney Crosby. Crosby's play since then -- and especially in the Pittsburgh Penguins' last three games -- has answered that question emphatically.

Pittsburgh's captain is making a mad dash up the scoring ladder. He put up 6 goals and 3 assists in a four-day stretch last week, capped by a hat trick and an assist in Saturday's 4-1 victory against New Jersey.

Crosby had just 3 goals in Pittsburgh's first 14 games, perhaps inspiring Semin, then the NHL scoring leader, to make his comments. But Crosby has lit the light 10 times in his last nine games.

Crosby has had multi-point performances in four of Pittsburgh's last five games. He's now second in the NHL scoring race with 34 points, trailing only teammate (and sometime linemate) Evgeni Malkin, who has 39. And for anyone who thinks that he's not so special -- well, maybe it's time to think again.
Five up -- Five players who've been hot:

Evgeni Malkin -- Crosby's teammate had a pretty good week of his own. He had a natural hat trick and an assist Wednesday and a pair of assists in each of Pittsburgh's next two games to take a five-point lead in the scoring race.

Mikko Koivu --
The younger Koivu brother is well on the way to his best offensive season since joining the NHL in 2005. Koivu had 3 goals and 3 assists in Minnesota's four games last week and is 8-16-24 in the Wild's first 22 games.

Alex Ovechkin -- Despite being blanked in Washington's 3-0 loss to Columbus on Saturday, Ovechkin remains on a tear. He has 5 goals in his last four games -- including three Wednesday in Atlanta -- had 22 points in 10 games before the loss to the Blue Jackets, and is up to 30 points despite missing two games while visiting his ailing grandfather in Russia.

Rob Blake -- The 38-year-old defenseman is showing there's still plenty of life in his game. He has 3 goals and 4 assists in San Jose's last four games, all victories. He now has 5 goals and 20 points in 24 games.

Jonas Hiller -- Anaheim's No. 2 goaltender is playing better than most No. 1s. He's allowed just two goals while winning his last three starts and is 6-1-1 this season, with a 1.94 goals-against average.

Five down -- Five players who are struggling:

Sam Gagner -- Gagner's second season has been a lot tougher than his first. The son of former NHL forward Dave Gagner has just 1 goal and 4 assists in the Oilers' first 22 games after going 13-36-49 as a rookie.

Fabian Brunnstrom -- Brunnstrom had a hat trick in his NHL debut, but has gone cold over the past few weeks. He has no points in his last nine games and has taken just 11 shots on goal in that span.

Todd Bertuzzi -- The former All-Star's early-season scoring touch (5 goals in his first five games) has vanished. Bertuzzi has gone 12 games without a goal and has just 2 assists in Calgary's last seven games.

Erik Christensen -- The Thrashers hoped they were getting a productive second- or third-line center when they acquired Christensen from Pittsburgh last February, but so far this season, he's done little. The 24-year-old has 1 goal and 7 assists in 20 games; he's pointless in his last four and was a healthy scratch Friday and Sunday.

Wade Redden -- The Rangers' big free-agent blue line acquisition isn't producing offensively the way he was expected. Redden has no points and is a minus-3 in New York's last four games and was 0-6-6 with a minus-6 rating in November.

Injuries, news and notes -- He never was a big offensive force, but Luke Richardson gave an honest night's work in every one of the 1,417 NHL games he played over 21 seasons with six teams, ending with his hometown Ottawa Senators. He cleared waivers and retired Sunday, but hopes to remain in the organization in some capacity.

Out -- Phoenix center Olli Jokinen's consecutive games-played streak ended at 397 when he didn't play Friday against Colorado. Jokinen will miss the next 2-4 weeks with a shoulder injury. … Colorado is listing captain Joe Sakic as out indefinitely with a nagging back injury. He was able to skate for just 28 seconds in Friday's loss to the Phoenix Coyotes and didn't play Saturday. He won't accompany the team on this week's three-game road trip. … Toronto forward Jason Blake left Tuesday's game with a concussion and didn’t play Thursday or Saturday. The Leafs hope he'll be able to play during this week's West Coast trip. … Montreal center Alex Tanguay injured his neck Wednesday and missed the Canadiens' last two games. … San Jose forward Jonathan Cheechoo missed Saturday's game at Phoenix after aggravating an upper-body injury during Wednesday's win at Dallas. … Washington defenseman John Erskine left last Monday's game with a slight concussion and hasn't played since. He could be back by Tuesday. Another defenseman, Tom Poti, hasn’t played since leaving Wednesday's game with a groin injury, and rookie defenseman Karl Alzner left Saturday's game with an undisclosed injury. … Tampa Bay forward David Koci broke his hand during Wednesday's game against the Rangers and will be out for 2-4 weeks. … Chicago goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin left Wednesday's game at San Jose with a lower-body injury and hasn't played since. Corey Crawford dressed as Cristobal Huet's backup Saturday. … Columbus forward Derek Dorsett will miss 3-4 weeks after breaking his hand Wednesday night. The injury required surgery. … Florida forward Richard Zednik will miss several weeks with an elbow injury sustained Nov. 24. The only good news for the Panthers is that he's not going to need surgery. Panthers forward David Booth left Sunday's game after the second period Sunday due to a shoulder injury. … Vancouver will be without center Ryan Johnson for at least another three weeks; he broke his right finger and left foot blocking shots. … Carolina goalie Cam Ward left after the first period of Sunday's game because of a lower-body injury. … Dallas defenseman Sergei Zubov missed Sunday's game with an undisclosed injury.

Returning -- San Jose's No. 1 goaltender, Evgeni Nabokov, returned Wednesday after missing nearly three weeks with a lower-body injury. He's gone since his return. … Philadelphia hopes to have center Daniel Briere, who's missed nine games with a groin injury, back in the lineup this week, possibly as early as Tuesday. … St. Louis forward Patrik Berglund returned Saturday after missing four games with a groin injury. … Detroit forward Dan Cleary came back Friday after missing nearly three weeks with a scratched cornea. … Florida defenseman Nick Boynton returned Friday against the New York Rangers after missing a couple of games with a concussion. … Washington hopes to get its best offensive defenseman, Mike Green, back on the ice for Tuesday's game. He's missed almost two weeks with a shoulder injury. … Islanders center Nate Thompson returned Friday after missing nine games with a groin injury. The Islanders also hope to get center Mike Sillinger back as early as Thursday; he has played three American Hockey League games in a rehab stint but hasn't played in the NHL since undergoing hip surgery last February. … Ottawa center Mike Fisher returned from a knee injury Thursday and scored a goal in his first game back.

Still out -- Toronto defenseman Jonas Frogren is skating again, but is nowhere near returning from a pair of muscle tears in his arm. …  Boston's Marco Sturm has missed six games due to an upper-body injury. … Detroit forward Tomas Holmstrom hasn't played in six games because of a back injury. ... Chicago defenseman Aaron Johnson, injured against San Jose on Wednesday, was placed on the long-term injured list with an upper-body injury. He'll miss at least four weeks. … Colorado placed defenseman Adam Foote on IR with injuries to his lower back and knee sustained Nov. 22. He hasn't played since. … Philadelphia hoped to have forward Riley Cote back Saturday, but he still hasn't played since Nov. 2 due to a torn abdominal muscle. … Atlanta rookie defenseman Zach Bogosian has been skating on his own as he continues to recover from a broken left leg. He hopes to return by the middle of the month. … Washington center Sergei Fedorov hasn't played since re-injuring his ankle Nov. 22. There's no date set for his return. Alexander Semin (lower-body injury) has missed eight consecutive games and there's no timetable for his return. He was leading the NHL in scoring when he was injured Nov. 14. … Detroit defenseman Chris Chelios was able to practice last week, the first time that had happened since he broke his leg before the start of the season. He hopes to be back in a couple of weeks. … Nashville forward Steve Sullivan took part in an optional skate Saturday; it was his first participation in organized drills of any kind since suffering a back injury in February 2007.

The week ahead -- December starts with another busy week. Eight teams have four games; only Boston, New Jersey, the Islanders and Ottawa play just two. Montreal plays games 2, 3 and 4 of a seven-game homestand, the longest in franchise history.

Games to watch:

Toronto at San Jose (Dec. 2) -- Former San Jose coach Ron Wilson makes his return to the Shark Tank as the bench boss of the Maple Leafs. Winning there won't be easy -- the Sharks are 12-0-1 at home under Todd McLellan, who replaced Wilson.

New York Rangers at Montreal (Dec. 4, 7 p.m. ET, CBC, RDS) -- On the night of the Canadiens' 99th anniversary, they continue the celebration of their centennial season with the debut of Centennial Plaza and Centennial Jersey Night (1915-16), while meeting the Rangers for the first time this season.

Vancouver at Detroit (Dec. 4) -- The Canucks and Red Wings meet for the fourth and final time this season. Vancouver has won two of first the three games, both in overtime, including a 4-3 win in its previous visit to Detroit on Oct. 16.

Pittsburgh at Ottawa (Dec. 6, 2 p.m. ET, CBC) -- The Penguins and Senators meet for the first time since they opened the season with a pair of games in Stockholm.

Washington at Carolina (Dec. 7) -- The Caps make their second visit of the season to RBC Center. Washington has dominated its Southeast Division rival, beating the Hurricanes in their last four meetings, including two this season.

Tough week ahead:
Atlanta Thrashers -- There's no home cooking for the Thrashers, who visit Montreal, Ottawa and Long Island in a five-day stretch that begins Tuesday at Bell Centre.

Toronto Maple Leafs -- It's time for a little California Dreamin' for the Leafs, who visit Los Angeles on Monday, San Jose on Tuesday and then head for Phoenix on Thursday.  Then they return home to face the Capitals on Saturday.

Vancouver Canucks -- Vancouver continues a seven-game trip by heading east for four games, including a three-in-four swing through Detroit, Minnesota and Colorado beginning Thursday night.

Easy week ahead:

New York Islanders -- After six games in nine nights, the Isles get to catch their breath with a four-day break before playing at Washington on Thursday and home against Atlanta two nights later.

Ottawa Senators -- The Senators continue a stretch in which they have a lot of down time. They get three days off before hosting Atlanta on Wednesday, and then have a two-day break before Pittsburgh comes to town Saturday.   
San Jose Sharks -- The NHL's best home team (12-0-1) gets to spend the week at the Shark Tank against three teams (Toronto, Columbus, Edmonton) that are light years behind them in the standings.
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