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Krejci a very pleasant surprise for Bruins

by John Kreiser
Everyone who thought Boston's David Krejci would be one of the NHL's top players, raise your hand.

Don't feel bad. We didn't either.

Krejci, Boston's second-round pick in 2004, was a kind-of-useful player who chipped in 6 goals and 21 points in 56 games as a rookie last season. He wasn't expected to do much more than be a good checker who could chip in 10-15 goals this season.

Those estimates are going to have to be revised, because the 22-year-old Czech forward is putting up some pretty good numbers, despite not getting a ton of ice time.

Krejci started his week by getting the first hat trick of his NHL career. He added another goal in Saturday's 4-2 win against Carolina, then had his second three-assist game in nine days as the Bruins won 6-3 at St. Louis on Sunday. 

Krejci has 12 points (4 goals, 8 assists), in Boston's last five games — despite getting an average of less than 17 minutes of ice time in those games. For the season, he's 12-24-36 in 33 games — and is also among the League leaders at plus-18. That's a lot more than anyone is Boston had a right to expect.

Five up — Five players who've been hot:

Loui Eriksson
Not much has gone right for the Dallas Stars this season, but Eriksson has been a beacon of hope. He has 6 goals in the Stars' last three games, including his first career hat trick, leads all players with 16 goals at even strength, and his 18 goals are four more than he had all last season.

Evgeni Malkin Malkin is threatening to turn the scoring race into a runaway. He is 3-3-6 in his last two games, has 16 points in his last eight games, has 55 points in 32 games and is on pace for 140.

Pavel DatsyukDatsyuk came up big when Detroit needed him most, scoring twice and adding two assists in the Wings' 6-0 rout of San Jose. For the week, he had 3 goals and 4 assists in three games.

Jeff CarterThe NHL's goal-scoring leader became the first player to get to 25 by scoring against New Jersey on Sunday. Carter is 3-3-6 in his last two games, has 10 points in his last five and has 9 goals in 10 games this month.

Scott ClemmensenAs good as New Jersey's offense has been recently, Clemmensen's play in the absence of Martin Brodeur is the biggest reason the Devils are one of the NHL's hottest teams. Clemmensen allowed 8 goals while going 3-0-1 last week and is 7-0-1 this month.

Five down — Five players who are struggling:

Robert Nilsson
The son of former NHL star Kent Nilsson isn't coming close to last season's production, when he had 41 points in 71 games. He was benched for the third period on Friday and has just 4 goals and 6 assists this season.

Tomas Plekanec With 29 goals and 69 points last season, Plekanec was a big reason the Montreal Canadiens finished first in the East. But little has gone right for Plekanec this season — he's just 6-7-13 in 33 games and hasn't had a point in his last nine.

Vaclav Prospal -- Tampa Bay spent a lot to bring Prospal back after dealing him to Philadelphia last February, but so far he hasn't looked much like the player who had 33 goals and 71 points last season. Prospal has no points and is minus-4 in his last six games and has just 6 goals and 17 points all season.

Sean Bergenheim The Islanders aren't getting much offense from anyone, but they had expected more from their top pick in the 2002 draft. Bergenheim has no points and is minus-4 in his last five games, and has gone 14 games without a goal.

Jason Arnott Nashville's captain has lost his scoring touch over the last couple of weeks. Arnott hasn't scored a goal in eight games and has just a pair of assists during that span.

Injuries, news and notes — Now that Mats Sundin has decided to be a Canuck, fans in Vancouver are waiting to see how long it will be before he actually dons the blue, green and white. He's due to report to the team on Saturday; GM Mike Gillis said the 37-year-old center is in terrific shape and will play as soon as he tells the team he's ready.

Out — The Canucks may have gained Sundin, but they've lost defenseman Sami Salo for 2-4 weeks. Salo broke a rib in Wednesday's 4-2 win against Edmonton. … Anaheim's Teemu Selanne suffered a deep cut to his lower left thigh cut in Friday's 3-2 win at Edmonton and will miss 4-6 weeks. … St. Louis' parade of injuries continues. Captain Eric Brewer is out indefinitely after undergoing back surgery on Friday. He had been complaining of back pain during a mid-December trip to California, and doctors finally had to operate to repair a herniated disc. Coach Andy Murray hopes Brewer will be back before the end of the season. Another defenseman, Jay McKee, will be out indefinitely with a fractured left ring finger sustained Tuesday. … Boston forward Patrice Bergeron, who missed most of last season with a concussion, left Saturday's game against Carolina with a concussion after he collided with defenseman Dennis Seidenberg and fell face-first to the ice. He was hospitalized overnight but released Sunday and is out indefinitely. Another Boston forward, Marco Sturm, returned Thursday after missing a month with concussion-like symptoms and scored a goal in the game's first minute — but played just four shifts before leaving with a knee injury. He's on long-term IR, meaning he'll miss at least 30 days. … Columbus center Derek Brassard, one of the League's top rookies, will miss at least three weeks with a separated shoulder sustained Thursday. The Blue Jackets also placed forward Jason Chimera on IR after he injured his groin on Wednesday. … Toronto defenseman Mike Van Ryn, who missed several weeks with a concussion before returning earlier this month, sustained another Thursday in Boston. … Los Angeles goaltender Erik Ersberg will miss at least another week after sustaining a groin injury on Dec. 15. … The Islanders lost defenseman Andy Sutton to a broken foot on Friday and had center Doug Weight leave Saturday's game with a groin injury. Forward Trent Hunter missed both games, also because of a groin problem. … New Jersey defenseman Bryce Salvador missed the Devils' last two games with an undisclosed upper-body injury. Center John Madden also missed both games with the flu, but the Devils expect him to be ready when Boston comes to town Tuesday. … Florida defenseman Jassen Cullimore left Sunday's game with a hand/wrist injury and didn't return.

Returning — Minnesota forward Marian Gaborik made it back into the lineup Dec. 17 after missing 27 games with a lower-body injury. He had a goal and an assist in his return. … Tampa Bay's Jeff Halpern also scored a goal in his return. He played his first game of the season Thursday night following a knee injury last May that required reconstructive surgery. Tampa Bay forward Ryan Malone, who missed two weeks with an upper body injury, also returned Thursday. … The Islanders got a boost on Friday when center Mike Comrie (hip) and forward Kyle Okposo (wrist) both returned after lengthy absences. … Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury beat Atlanta on Thursday in his first game back since injuring his groin on Nov. 15. Forward Maxime Talbot, who signed a two-year extension during the week, returned to the lineup Saturday after missing two games with a foot injury. The Penguins also hope defenseman Ryan Whitney will be ready to make his season debut Tuesday. He hasn't played due to offseason foot surgery. … Dallas forwards Steve Ott (broken hand) and Joel Lundqvist (shoulder) both returned Thursday — though Lundqvist sat out Saturday with a shoulder problem. Lundqvist missed 21 games; Ott was sidelined for 11. Another forward, Jere Lehtinen, returned Saturday from a groin injury. He's played just three games this season. … Florida got three players back Thursday: Forward Richard Zednik returned after missing more than three weeks with an elbow injury, center Nathan Horton also returned after missing eight games with an elbow laceration, and winger David Booth was back after missing seven games with a shoulder injury. … Carolina activated defenseman Frantisek Kaberle on Thursday after he missed most of the season with a broken leg. … San Jose's Jonathan Cheechoo was back in the lineup Thursday after an upper-body injury cost him nine games. … Montreal defenseman Mike Komisarek rejoined the Canadiens on Thursday after missing 16 games with a shoulder injury. Goalie Carey Price played Sunday after missing two weeks with the flu and a lower-body injury.  …  Colorado forward Ben Guite was back Thursday after missing nearly six weeks with a rib injury, and Darcy Tucker returned after missing 11 games with a knee injury. … Columbus forward Derek Dorsett was back in the Blue Jackets' lineup Wednesday after missing nine games with a broken finger that required surgery. … Buffalo forward Patrick Kaleta returned Tuesday after missing seven games with a neck injury. ... Goaltender Manny Legace returned to the St. Louis Blues lineup on Saturday after suffering a concussion last week and beat Minnesota in his first game back. … Atlanta goaltender Kari Lehtonen also won his return Saturday; he had been out since Oct. 30 with a back injury. Defenseman Mathieu Schneider also returned after missing eight games with a shoulder injury. … New Jersey defenseman Andy Greene (hand injury) played Friday for the first time since Oct. 29. … Philadelphia defenseman Randy Jones played his first NHL game of the season Sunday after offseason hip surgery and a conditioning stint in the AHL.

Still out — Minnesota put forward Owen Nolan on IR with a leg injury that has sidelined him since Dec. 5. …  Dallas defenseman Sergei Zubov will have hip surgery next month and is out indefinitely — likely for the rest of the season. He hasn't played since Nov. 28. … Buffalo put rookie forward Nathan Gerbe on IR with an upper body injury that is expected to keep him out until after the new year. … Los Angeles put forward Brad Richardson on the injured list. He's been out since Dec. 3 with a cut on his foot. … The Islanders put center Mike Sillinger on IR with a groin strain; he's missed their last four games. … Florida forward Rostislav Olesz is still nowhere near returning from a groin injury that's kept him out for six games. …

The week ahead —
The NHL takes its annual two-day Christmas break on Wednesday and Thursday, making for an erratic week in which six teams still play four times, but eight play only twice and one (Montreal) has just one game. Twenty-six of the 30 teams play Tuesday night, the busiest non-weekend day of the season — but because of the break, no one has three games in four nights.

Games to watch:

Tampa Bay at Pittsburgh (Dec. 23) —
Pittsburgh native Ryan Malone, who signed with the Lightning after helping the Penguins make the Stanley Cup Final last spring, plays his first game at Mellon Arena as a visiting player.
Ottawa at Philadelphia (Dec. 23) — The Senators start an eight-game trip by visiting the Flyers, who will be playing their last home game until Jan. 8 — they start a six-game trip after Christmas.

Detroit at Nashville (Dec. 26) — Though the season is coming up on the halfway mark, this is the first meeting between the two Central Division rivals — who don't see each other again until Feb. 19.

New Jersey at New York Rangers (Dec. 27) — There will be few good feelings among these local rivals as the Rangers seek to avenge an embarrassing 8-5 loss at New Jersey on Dec. 12.

Montreal at Washington (Dec. 28) — Before the game, the Caps will retire the No. 11 worn by Mike Gartner, the most prolific goal-scorer in franchise history.

Tough week ahead: 

Anaheim Ducks The Ducks and their fans must think the Grinch made up their schedule. Anaheim visits Vancouver and Calgary before the break, then goes to Dallas and St. Louis on consecutive nights over the weekend.

Ottawa Senators With the World Junior Championship coming to Scotiabank Place, the Senators are hitting the road. They begin an eight-game trip in Philadelphia on Tuesday, then head West after Christmas for stops in Calgary and Vancouver.

Toronto Maple LeafsHoliday or not, it's a busy week for the Leafs, who play Monday at Atlanta, fly home Tuesday to host Dallas, then fly to Long Island on Friday for a game that night and visit Washington two days later. Oddly, they have Saturday off for the second time in three weeks — an oddity for a team that seemingly always plays on Saturday night.

Easy week ahead:

Columbus Blue Jackets The Jackets are home for the holidays and get some time to enjoy them. They host Los Angeles on Tuesday and don't play again until hosting Philadelphia on Saturday.

Montreal Canadiens The Habs get the NHL's longest Christmas break. They played this past Saturday and Sunday and don't lace 'em up again until Saturday, when they visit Pittsburgh.

New York Rangers
Like the Blue Jackets, the Rangers will enjoy the holidays at home without having to worry about going back to work on Boxing Day. They host Washington on Tuesday and don't play again until New Jersey comes to Madison Square Garden on Saturday night.
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