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Luongo's hot hand carries Canucks, tops Hot List

by John Kreiser

Roberto Luongo's play has reverted to the form that made him the Vezina Trophy runner-up last season.
Roberto Luongo’s slow start is a distant memory. It’s fading quickly now that his play has reverted to the form that made him the Vezina Trophy runner-up last season.

Luongo and the Vancouver Canucks struggled for much of October, especially at home. On Nov. 1, he was 4-8-0 and the Canucks were exploring the depths of the Northwest Division.

But the Canucks are 9-2-2 since starting November with a 3-0 home loss to Nashville and Luongo is the main reason why. He’s 8-2-2 since then, with four shutouts, including three in a row, to close November. Luongo allowed two goals in a 2-1 loss at Minnesota Sunday, but still has surrendered just two goals on 109 shots in the last four games he’s played. His goals-against average has dropped to 2.18, and his save percentage is up to .922.

Five up -- Five players who have been hot:

Ilya Kovalchuk -- He has a goal in each of his last three games and a League-leading 22 this season. Kovalchuk has been the main reason for the Atlanta Thrashers’ revival after an 0-6-0 start.

Alexander Ovechkin -- Washington’s star forward doesn’t get a lot of help from his teammates on most nights, yet opponents still can’t stop him. He has six goals in his last five games and 20 of Washington’s 63 in 27 games, a pace that would give Ovechkin his first 60-goal season.

Zach Parise -- The Devils are on a roll, and Parise is a big reason why. The son of former NHL star J.P. Parise has eight points in his last four games, including a natural hat trick and an assist in last Friday’s 4-0 victory over Montreal. With 28 points, he’s almost halfway to his career best of 62, set last season.

Marc-Andre Fleury -- Pittsburgh’s No. 1 goaltender has had a roller-coaster season, but he’s been heading up for the last week or so. Fleury is 3-0-0 in his last three decisions, allowing only two goals and posting a shutout.

Dustin Byfuglien -- Like Parise, Chicago’s 22-year-old defenseman had a natural hat trick last Friday, but he did it in a 5:29 span of the first period. The three-goal burst matched Byfuglien’s entire output in his first 12 games of the season.

Five down -- Five players who have been struggling:

Trent Hunter -- Few players work harder (or hit harder) than Hunter, but the New York Islanders’ struggling offense can’t afford his 13-game goal-scoring drought. He’s had just four assists since his last goal on Nov. 6.

Andy McDonald -- Anaheim’s No. 1 center last season had a couple shootout goals, but he hasn’t beaten a goaltender in regulation play since Nov. 9. After scoring at a point-a-game for the past two seasons, McDonald is averaging half that – 14 points, including just three goals – through the Ducks’ first 28 games.

Mike Fisher -- A big part of Ottawa’s struggles has been the lack of production from anyone not named Alfredsson, Spezza or Heatley. That includes Fisher, who hasn’t had a point in nine games and hasn’t scored a goal since getting two against Boston on Nov. 3.

Patrick Marleau -- San Jose has been on the upswing, but not thanks to its captain’s offensive play. Marleau has no points in the Sharks’ last five games and hasn’t scored a goal in six. After a 78-point season in 2006-07, he’s on pace to finish with just 36.


John-Michael Liles -- After scoring 14 goals in each of the past two seasons, Liles has had trouble finding the net. He’s pointless in five games and hasn’t scored a goal in nine. He has just two goals and eight points in 25 games and has yet to score a goal at even strength.

Injuries and notes -- The happiest player in the NHL these days may well be Edmonton forward Fernando Pisani, who played his first game of the season Sunday in Anaheim after missing training camp and the first two months of the season with ulcerative colitis. At one point, Pisani says, he was fearful he wouldn’t play this season. He didn’t score, but was able to take a regular shift, averaging more than 13 minutes in back-to-back road wins over the Ducks and Los Angeles Kings. … Pisani’s return was good news for a team that lost forward Geoff Sanderson to a back injury Friday. The Oilers also hope to get defenseman Sheldon Souray (shoulder) back in a couple weeks.

Out: Colorado has been without center Joe Sakic for three games and forward Marek Svatos for two, both with groin injuries. … Groin problems have sidelined Pittsburgh defenseman Sergei Gonchar for the past three games and Montreal goaltender Cristobal Huet since Saturday. The Canadiens recalled Jaroslav Halak to back up rookie Carey Price. … Rangers defenseman Paul Mara has missed two games with a shoulder injury and is “not close” to returning. Marek Malik, who missed a month with back and shoulder problems, took his spot. … Columbus center Manny Malhotra (knee) could miss two weeks. … Los Angeles forward put forward Alexander Frolov (groin) on IR; he’s missed four games. The Kings also lost goalie Jason LaBarbera on Saturday with what appeared to be a rib injury from a crease collision. … Dallas placed forward Jere Lehtinen (sports hernia surgery) on IR; he’s expected to miss 8-10 weeks. … St. Louis placed forward Martin Rucinsky on IR with a hand injury. … Islanders forward Shawn Bates, who has battled groin problems for much of his career, played his first game of the season on Wednesday, then sustained a hip injury on Thursday and is out again. … Phoenix forward Radim Vrbata, off to a good start, has missed two games with a groin problem. The Coyotes hope to have him back this week.

Returnees: Columbus goaltender Pascal Leclaire, the NHL shutout leader with six, returned Monday after missing a week with a groin problem. Columbus hopes to get defenseman Duvie Westcott (concussion) back this week, but still has no return date for forward Fredrik Modin (back spasms, out since Nov. 1). … Calgary forward Marcus Nilson came back last Saturday after missing two weeks with a concussion. … Pittsburgh forward Maxime Talbot returned Monday after missing time with a high ankle sprain, and had a goal against Phoenix in his first game back. … Toronto hopes to get defenseman Pavel Kubina (sprained knee ligament) back this week. … Boston rookie Milan Lucic was back in the lineup Monday after missing 10 games with a concussion. … Atlanta goaltender Kari Lehtonen came back Saturday after missing 16 games with a groin injury and had a 33-save shutout in his return. … St. Louis got David Backes (knee) back on Nov. 30 after he missed 10 games.


Leaving: Minnesota center Wes Walz, 37, announced his retirement last week. … Anaheim assigned forward Mark Mowers to SC Bern in Switzerland.

The week ahead -- There are lots of three-in-four and four-in-six stretches as the games pile up. Several teams make their first visits to inter-division rivals since 2003-04.

Games to watch

Pittsburgh at Edmonton (Dec. 5) -- Oilers fans get their first in-person look at Sidney Crosby as Pittsburgh makes its first visit to Rexall Place since Dec. 6, 2003.

Carolina at Tampa Bay (Dec. 6) -- The Hurricanes rallied for a 4-3 victory over Tampa Bay in their last meeting, Nov. 23, after two decisive Lightning victories.

Pittsburgh at Vancouver (Dec. 8) -- The Canucks come home after a road trip for their first visit from Crosby before heading on a California trip.

New Jersey at New York Rangers (Dec. 9) -- The red-hot Devils come to Madison Square Garden with revenge on their minds: The Rangers have won the first three meetings this season.

Detroit at Nashville (Dec. 10) -- The Wings don’t have fond memories of their last visit to Sommet Center; they wasted two one-goal leads and dropped a 3-2 decision on Thanksgiving night.

Tough week ahead

Vancouver Canucks -- The Canucks finish a three-game trip with stops in Chicago Wednesday and Nashville Thursday, make a pit stop at home to host Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins, then begin a four-game trip in Los Angeles on Monday.

Buffalo Sabres -- Buffalo makes its first trip to California since 2003-04, playing three games in four nights. After finishing in San Jose on Saturday, the Sabres fly cross-country to host Boston Monday.

Boston Bruins -- The Bruins finish a six-game trip in New Jersey Wednesday, play Montreal at home Thursday, then go back on the road for games Saturday in Toronto and Monday in Buffalo.

Easy week ahead

Florida Panthers -- They have home games on Wednesday and Friday nights, then get the weekend off before another home game on Tuesday.

Nashville Predators -- Nashville has home games Thursday, Saturday and Monday; no traveling this week.

Columbus Blue Jackets -- The Jackets play the middle three games of a five-game homestand on Wednesday, Saturday and Monday. Columbus is in a stretch in which it plays 11 of 13 at home.

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