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Lidstrom isn?t getting older, he?s getting better

by John Kreiser /
If at age 40, Nicklas Lidstrom decides to hang up his skates next spring, it won't be because his play is slipping.

The Detroit Red Wings' captain is making a good case for a seventh Norris Trophy as the NHL's top defenseman. Lidstrom, who will turn 41 during the Stanley Cup Playoffs this April, is averaging nearly a point a game as the Wings approach the halfway mark this season – a tremendous accomplishment for a defenseman of any age, but almost unthinkable for one who's 40.

Lidstrom had his second four-point night in less than two weeks when he scored a goal and added 3 assists in Monday's game at Colorado. He ended 2010 with a six-game scoring streak in which he generated 10 points, giving him 36 in 38 games. His 11 goals are already more than he had all last year, and he’s on pace for his best offensive season since putting up 80 points in 2005-06.

He's not getting older. He's getting better.

Five up — Five players who've been hot:

Shane Doan – Doan reached Christmas with just four goals, then scored five in a three-game stretch from Dec. 28-31. He has 8 points during a five-game scoring streak, including back-to-back two-goal games on Dec. 29 and 31.

Steven Stamkos – The NHL's No. 2 scorer closed out December on a roll, putting up 4 goals and 8 points in Tampa Bay's first three games after the Christmas break. His best night was a four-point performance against Montreal that included one of the season’s best moves on a penalty shot.

Jason Pominville – With Derek Roy gone for the season, the Buffalo Sabres need Pominville to step up, and he's been meeting the challenge. Pominville had 2 goals and 4 points in Saturday’s 7-6 win against Boston, and is 3-5-8 in his last four games.

Semyon Varlamov – The hockey world saw Varlamov at his best during the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, when he made 32 saves in Washington’s victory against Pittsburgh. It was his third win in as many games since Christmas, a stretch in which he allowed just three goals on 93 shots.

Chris Osgood – Ozzie became the 10th member of the NHL's 400-win club for goalies by matching a career best with 46 saves in a 4-3 overtime win at Colorado on Monday. With 400 (and counting) victories, three Stanley Cup rings and 50 shutouts, it's going to be hard to keep him out of the Hall of Fame after he hangs up his skates.

Five down — Five players who are struggling:

Martin Brodeur – This is, without question, the worst season in the career of the NHL's winningest goaltender. He was yanked on Saturday after allowing three goals in eight minutes in New Jersey’s loss at Carolina, and has seen his goals-against average soar to 3.15 and his save percentage plummet to .882 after allowing 13 goals on the last 60 shots he’s faced.

Lee Stempniak - The Coyotes have struggled to score, and Stempniak is a big reason why. After scoring 14 goals in just over a month following his Deadline Day acquisition, Stempniak has struggled to score this season. He has just 8 goals and 15 points this season and hasn’t had a point in nine games.

Carey Price – Price was a big reason the Montreal Canadiens got off to a fast start. But like his team, Price has struggled in recent weeks. He allowed 10 goals on just 74 shots in losing all three decisions last week and has lost seven of his last nine decisions.

Milan Lucic – Lucic's season was going along fine until mid-December, when his scoring touch disappeared. He had 16 goals and 27 points in 30 games with Boston, but now has gone without a point in seven games.

Cal O’Reilly – A lot of Nashville Predators are struggling to score, but none more than O’Reilly, who had 18 points in his first 27 games but hasn’t any in his last 10. He’s had just nine shots on goal during the 10 games and has seen his ice time pared.

Injuries, news and notesCedrick Desjardins mush be wondering what he has to do to stay in the NHL. Desjardins allowed one goal in leading Tampa Bay to back-to-back wins against Montreal and the Rangers, only to be returned to Norfolk of the AHL after beating New York when the Lightning acquired 41-year-old Dwayne Roloson from the Islanders.

Out – Chicago and Anaheim both lost their captains to injury on Tuesday night. The Hawks' Jonathan Toews will miss at least another week with an upper-body injury, while the Ducks' Ryan Getzlaf is out indefinitely with facial fractures after taking a puck in the forehead. ... Ottawa's first-line center, Jason Spezza, injured his shoulder in the Senators’ first game after Christmas and Washington defenseman Tom Poti missed the Winter Classic with a concussion. ... Rangers center Eric Christensen is out 4-6 weeks after spraining a knee ligament on Wednesday. Defenseman Michael Del Zotto has missed four games with a groin injury. ... Minnesota says defenseman Marek Zidlicky will be out "long term" after injuring his shoulder on Friday. He's out indefinitely. ... Carolina's Jussi Jokinen and Joni Pitkanen both sat out Saturday with lower-body injuries. ... Detroit forward Patrick Eaves missed Friday's game with an elbow injury and won’t play Sunday. ... Atlanta put center Nik Antropov on IR with a hip injury. ... Buffalo forward Patrick Kaleta missed Saturday's game with a lower-body injury. ... Edmonton's defense took a big hit when Ryan Whitney went down with an ankle injury on Wednesday and was placed on injured reserve. ... Montreal placed defenseman Josh Gorges on IR with a sore right knee. ...

Returning – Pittsburgh center Jordan Staal made his season debut in the Winter Classic. He hadn't played due to a broken foot and then a broken hand. ... Goaltender Michael Leighton, who led the Flyers to the Stanley Cup Final last spring, made his season debut on Thursday. He had back surgery in October and hadn't played since Game 6 of the Final last June. ... Nashville center David Legwand returned Friday from a lower-body injury that's plagued him since mid-November. ... Buffalo center Tim Connolly returned Saturday after missing time with a broken nose that required surgery and kept him out for four games. ... Florida activated forwards Rostislav Olesz (broken finger) and Cory Stillman (back). ...

Still out – Toronto goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere is still sidelined with a groin injury but hopes to practice this week. ... Tampa Bay goaltender Mike Smith (knee) is still a week or so away from returning. ... Los Angeles says defenseman Willie Mitchell is progressing as he works to return from a lower-body injury, but isn't ready to return yet. Forward Alex Ponikarovsky is skating but has missed four games with a lower-body injury. ... Colorado defenseman Kyle Quincey, already sidelined by a shoulder injury, will have surgery and miss the rest of the season. ... Vancouver defenseman Sami Salo, out since tearing an Achilles tendon during the offseason, took part in his first practice last week. ... The Islanders placed defenseman Radek Martinek on IR, retroactive to Dec. 22. He's out with a wrist injury suffered while blocking a shot. ... Pittsburgh center Mike Comrie had hip surgery last week and is expected to miss the rest of the regular season. He's played just 16 games this season. ... Ottawa goaltender Pascal Leclaire still isn't ready to return from the lower-body injury that's kept him out of the lineup since mod-December. ... San Jose placed forward John McCarthy (upper body) on IR. He's been out since mid-December. ... Nashville put forward Steve Sullivan (lower body) on IR.

The week ahead -- The holidays are over, and the schedule gets busy for a lot of teams -- 10 are looking at four games in the next seven days.

Games to watch (Jan. 3-9):

Chicago at Los Angeles (Jan. 3) -- Versus will be on hand at the Staples Center as the Hawks begin a two-game swing through Southern California against one of the NHL's best home teams.

Tampa Bay at Washington (Jan. 4) -- The Caps had better not have a Winter Classic hangover -- not with the Lightning coming to Verizon Center in a battle for the top spot in the Southeast Division.

Tampa Bay at Pittsburgh (Jan. 5) -- The Bolts get the dubious honor of facing the Caps and Penguins on back-to-back nights -- and they're getting both teams in their first games after the Classic.

New York Rangers at Dallas (Jan. 7) -- You can bet at least some of the Rangers will be pumped up for this one. The last time the Blueshirts came to American Airlines Center, they were blown out 10-2 on Feb. 9, 2009.

Detroit at Vancouver (Jan. 8) -- The Red Wings wrap up a week in Western Canada with a Saturday night visit to Vancouver for a meeting of two of the Western Conference's three division leaders.

Tough week ahead:

Buffalo Sabres -- Several teams head West this week, but the Sabres are doing it for the second week in a row -- they visit Colorado, San Jose and Phoenix after spending the previous week playing both Alberta teams before making a pit stop at home on Saturday night for a game against Boston.

New York Islanders -- The improved Islanders started a five-game trip with an OT win in Detroit on Friday; they'll get a real test this week as they play both Alberta teams before visiting Colorado and Chicago over the weekend.

Tampa Bay Lightning -- The Bolts spent Christmas week at home, but it's back on the road this week, with stops at Washington, Pittsburgh, Ottawa and New Jersey.

Easy week ahead:

Montreal Canadiens -- After seven games on the road, the Habs are glad to be back at the Bell Centre. They can catch their breath this week, with only home games against Pittsburgh and Boston on the schedule.

Philadelphia Flyers -- After one of the toughest weeks of any team this season, the Flyers have just games this week -- a home-and-home with last-place New Jersey after a three-day break.

Washington Capitals -- The Caps get a break after all the hoopla that accompanied the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic -- they spend the week at home and have just two games, hosting Florida and Tampa Bay.
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