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Jose Theodore has Wild in playoff race

by John Kreiser
For a guy who was picked up almost as an afterthought by the Minnesota Wild, Theodore has turned out to be invaluable.

Theodore started the season seeing only occasional playing time behind Niklas Backstrom. But with Backstrom troubled by hip problems, Theodore has been seeing more playing time – and has been making the most of his opportunities.

The 2002 Hart Trophy winner was at his best last week, going 3-0-0 for the Wild which allowing just two goals on 84 shots against. He capped his week with a 26-save shutout at Pittsburgh on Saturday.

In all, Theodore has won his last four starts and is 8-5-2 with a 2.46 goals-against average and .921 save percentage.

Five up -- Five players who've been hot:

Sergei Kostitsyn -- The Montreal Canadiens' decision to break up the Kostitsyn brothers has been a boon for the Nashville Predators. Sergei Kostitsyn has goals in each of Nashville's last five games – all victories. He had 3 goals, 6 points and was plus-4 last week as the Predators completed a sweep of their three-game swing through California.

After a slow start, Kostitsyn has 20 points in Nashville's 19 games, and his 23 points are tied for the team lead.

Ryan Kesler -- Kesler had his second hat trick in less than a month during Vancouver's 6-1 win against Edmonton and finished the week with 4 goals and 6 points as the Canucks went 3-0-1. He has 23 goals and 40 points in 41 games.

Nikolai Kulemin –- It was a good offensive week for a lot of Leafs – Toronto scored 14 non-shootout goals in back-to-back wins against St. Louis and Atlanta --- and Kulemin was among the biggest producers with 2 goals and 5 points in those two games.

Henrik Lundqvist -– Lundqvist has given the Rangers the kind of goaltending that playoff teams have to have. He allowed just three goals on 6-2 shots while winning both starts last week, is 4-0-2 in his last six decisions and has brought his goals-against average down from 2.90 at Thanksgiving to 2.33.

Ryan Smyth –- Smyth is doing the same thing at age 34 that he did at age 24 – go to the net and make life miserable for goaltenders. He had 3 goals and 5 points in Los Angeles' three games last week and has scored six times in the Kings' last six games.

Five down -- Five players who are struggling:

Brandon Sutter –- After a 20-goal season for Carolina in 2009-10, Sutter's offensive game has vanished. He's gone nine games without a point and hasn't scored a goal since Dec. 16.

Teddy Purcell -– Purcell had 24 points in Tampa Bay's first 34 games, but has gone cold since then with no points and a minus-4 rating in his last eight games.

Mikael Samuelsson -– Samuelsson had a career-best 30 goals last season, but while Vancouver has been on a rampage, he's been in a slump. The 34-year-old hasn't had a point in his last seven games and is on pace for just 16 goals.

Wojtek Wolski –- Phoenix has had trouble scoring all season, and one reason is that Wolski has struggled. He hasn't had a point in his last seven games and has seen his ice time cut sharply in the last three.

Wayne Simmonds –- The Kings have also been in a slump, and Simmonds' struggles are a contributing factor. The 20-year-old hasn't had a point in L.A.'s last seven games and is minus-7 during that time.

Injuries, news and notes -- What will like be like without Sidney Crosby? The Pittsburgh Penguins are finding out after Crosby went down with a concussion last week. The Pens said he'll miss "about a week," but you can be sure they'll make sure he's completely healthy before he returns.

Out -- The New York Islanders' injury woes continue. Goaltender Rick DiPietro went down with a groin injury on Monday and had to be sent home for evaluation. The Isles also lost defenseman Mark Eaton with a hip injury that will require surgery, and center Frans Nielsen injured a groin on Monday and hasn't played since. ... Columbus put forward Ethan Moreau on IR after he injured his ribs on Tuesday. ... Toronto center John Mitchell is expected to miss 4-6 weeks after injuring his knee at practice. ... Nashville center Cal O'Reilly will probably require surgery to repair a broken fibula and is out indefinitely. ... Dallas put forward Toby Petersen on IR with a badly bruised leg after he blocked a shot in practice. ... Detroit goaltender Chris Osgood missed Saturday's game with a groin injury and will see a specialist this week. Defenseman Brad Stuart will miss 6-8 weeks with a broken jaw suffered Friday night. ... Boston forward Nathan Horton missed Saturday's game with an undisclosed injury. ...

Returning -- Kings forward Alexei Ponikarovsky (ankle) returned Saturday after missing six games. Defenseman Willie Mitchell (lower body) also played Saturday for the first time since being injured on Dec. 16. ... Atlanta forward Ben Eager returned Friday after missing four games with a lower-body injury -- and was in the penalty box for five goals in his first game back, a 9-3 loss to Toronto. He was suspended for four games for taking a match penalty that resulted in four power-play goals. ... Tampa Bay defenseman Randy Jones returned Saturday after missing three games with an upper-body injury.

Still out -- Montreal defenseman Josh Gorges, who hurt his knee on New Year's Eve, will need surgery and won't be back until next season. ... Anaheim captain Ryan Getzlaf will miss 4-6 weeks with facial fractures. ... Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger (foot surgery) is skating again but not yet ready to return. Neither is forward Matt Walker, who's skating in non-contact drills after hip surgery. ... Edmonton forward Jordan Eberle, already sidelined with an ankle injury, had an emergency appendectomy on Jan. 5. ... Ottawa goaltender Pascal Leclaire is still sidelined with a lower-body injury; the Senators had to call up Swedish rookie Robin Lehner to back up Brian Elliott. ... Rangers forward Vaclav Prospal, who has yet to play this season after undergoing knee surgery, may be able to skate this week. ...

The week ahead -- There's lots of hockey ahead, with 11 of the NHL's 30 teams facing a four-game week.

Games to watch:

Boston at Pittsburgh (Jan. 10) -- Crosby won't be on the ice at the Consol Energy Center, but Versus will be on hand as the Bruins come to Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh at Montreal (Jan. 12) -- The Penguins visit the Bell Centre for the second time in a week; they lost 2-1 in a shootout last Thursday in their first game without Crosby.

Washington at Tampa Bay (Jan. 12) -- You can bet the Caps will be amped up for this game after being shut out 1-0 in overtime at home by the Bolts last Tuesday in Dwayne Roloson's first game with Tampa Bay.

Chicago at Nashville (Jan. 15) -- The Hawks come to Nashville for the first of a home-and-home series that's vital to both teams. The rematch is Sunday night in Chicago.

Philadelphia at New York Rangers (Jan. 16) -- The Flyers conclude a busy week with their first visit of the season to Madison Square Garden, where they've won just once in their last five trips.

Tough week ahead:

Edmonton Oilers -- At least the Oilers get away from winter in Edmonton for a week -- they visit Dallas before making a swing through the three California teams.

Philadelphia Flyers -- The Flyers made a pit stop at home on Saturday after a five-game trip and head right back on the road for games in Buffalo, Boston, Atlanta and New York.

Vancouver Canucks -- The Canucks, on track for the best season in franchise history, get a tough test this week with four road games in six days. They start with a stop on Long Island on Tuesday, followed by visits to New York, Washington and Minnesota.

Easy week ahead:

Dallas Stars -- The Stars get a breather this week, with only a pair of home games against Edmonton and Atlanta on the schedule.

Los Angeles Kings -- The Kings wrap up an eight-game homestand with games against Toronto, St. Louis and Edmonton. They're hoping for better results than they had in the early stages of the homestand; L.A. dropped the first four games.

San Jose Sharks -- The Sharks hope to shake off their home struggles as Toronto, Edmonton and St. Louis come to HP Pavilion.
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