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First week of new season was packed with highlights

by John Kreiser
If the first week of the new NHL season is any indication, hockey fans are in for a great winter.

Consider what we've seen in the just first seven days of the new season:

* Alex Ovechkin, who led the NHL in goals last season with 56 despite scoring only twice in the first month, has 5 goals in the Washington Capitals' first three games. Ovechkin scored twice on opening night, once in Washington's home-opening 6-4 win over Toronto on Saturday, and twice more in a 6-5 overtime loss at Philadelphia on Tuesday -- a game that became an instant classic.

Ovechkin had three points in each of Washington's first three games -- joining Hall of Famers Guy Lafleur and Peter Stastny as the only players to start their seasons with back-to-back-to-back three-point games. It also was the first time in his career that Ovechkin has scored three points in three consecutive games.

Ovechkin has had plenty of help. Teammate Nicklas Backstrom is second in the NHL with eight points -- all assists -- and Alexander Semin is third with seven, including 4 goals.

* Mike Richards upstaged Ovechkin in Tuesday night's game at the Wachovia Center, scoring the season's first hat trick by connecting three times in the second period. Richards shares the goal-scoring lead with Ovechkin -- both have scored five times in three games.

* Richards isn't the only reason the Flyers are off to a 3-0-0 start. Goaltender Ray Emery, signed this summer after a season in Russia, opened the season by shutting out the Hurricanes in Carolina and followed up by outplaying Martin Brodeur in New Jersey.

* If his NHL debut is any indication, John Tavares will have a long and successful career. Tavares, the No, 1 pick in last June's Entry Draft, scored a goal and added an assist in his NHL debut for the New York Islanders, becoming only the fifth No. 1 pick to get two points in his first NHL game. Among the others: Mario Lemieux, Mike Modano and Ovechkin.

* Tavares wasn't the only teen whose NHL career is off to a good start. No. 2 pick Victor Hedman is already a regular on Tampa Bay's first defensive pairing, No. 3 pick Matt Duchene had an assist in his debut and has helped Colorado start with back-to-back wins, and No. 4 pick Evander Kane earned an assist in his debut with Atlanta. In addition, 19-year-old Michael Del Zotto became the second-youngest New York Ranger (and youngest Ranger defenseman) to score a goal when he connected against Ottawa on Saturday night.

* The Phoenix Coyotes, who spent the summer in bankruptcy court and saw coach Wayne Gretzky resign during training camp, have come out on fire. The Coyotes opened their season with a win in Los Angeles, then went into Pittsburgh on Wednesday night and shut out the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins 3-0. New coach Dave Tippett has the Coyotes playing with a newfound determination that should keep them in the playoff race.

* With hockey like this, it's no wonder than fans have been filling arenas from coast to coast. Every home opener played so far has been sold out, as has every game played in Canada thus far this season. In addition, more than 52,000 attended the four 2009 Compuware NHL Premiere games in Helsinki and Stockholm.

* Those who haven't come to the games are watching. Versus drew its biggest regular-season audience ever for the telecast of the Washington-Boston game on opening night, opening-night ratings for CBC and RDS were up sharply and some local broadcast rights-holders have been doing record numbers.

And to think -- the season is just one week old! There's six more months of great hockey to look forwards to ... and then we get to the playoffs.

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