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Malkin finds his scoring touch

by John Kreiser /
Sidney Crosby has been carrying the Pittsburgh Penguins all season. But now he’s getting some help.

Since returning from a knee injury that cost him four games earlier this month, Evgeni Malkin has been putting up points the way he did in 2008-09, when he led the NHL in scoring. In the five games since his return, Malkin has 5 goals and 10 points – including a five-point performance in Monday’s 6-3 victory against Phoenix.

After a slow start, Malkin now has 32 points in 31 games. The Penguins soared toward the top of the NHL while Malkin was recovering. Having his back and productive could help put them over the top.

Five up — Five players who've been hot:

Henrik and Daniel Sedin – The most prolific twins in NHL history are on a roll. Henrik, Vancouver’s captain, finished the pre-Christmas portion of the schedule with a four-point night at Columbus, while Daniel had three points. The twins each have 43 points in 33 games, helping the Canucks to the top of the Northwest Division.

Loui Eriksson – Like his team, the Dallas Stars, Eriksson tends to be effective while flying under the radar. He has 9 points during a five-game scoring streak to help the Stars grab the Pacific Division lead and is on pace to blow past his career high of 71 points.

Marc-Andre Fleury – Fleury continues to excel in goal for the Penguins. He won both of his starts this past week and allowed just 4 goals on 77 shots. Fleury is 15-1-1 in his last 17 decisions, a big reason the Penguins have been on a hot streak.

Niklas Backstrom – After a slump that lasted the better part of a month, Backstrom has found the touch again for Minnesota. The Wild went 3-0-0 in its last three starts before the break, all with Backstrom in goal. He allowed just 3 goals in the three wins, stopping 98 of 101 shots to lower his goals-against average from 2.75 to 2.52.

Brian Rafalski – He still hasn’t put the puck in the net this season, but Rafalski is a big reason the Detroit Red Wings are generating goals. Rafalski had 5 assists in Detroit’s last two games before the Christmas break and has 8 assists during a five-game points streak in which he’s averaged nearly 22 minutes of ice time a game.

Five down — Five players who are struggling:

Martin Brodeur – New Jersey has struggled all season, and its future Hall of Fame goaltender hasn’t helped stop the bleeding. He’s lost five of six since returning from an elbow injury and stopped just nine of 14 shots in Thursday’s loss to the Islanders.

Ales Kotalik – After missing the first two months of the season with a knee injury, Kotalik returned to Calgary’s lineup earlier this month – but his scoring touch hasn’t shown up yet. The four-time 20-goal scorer has yet to produce a point for the Flames in nine games since his return.

Scottie Upshall – Upshall scored twice on Dec. 1 in the Phoenix Coyotes’ victory against Minnesota – but since then, he’s gone cold. Upshall has gone eight games without a point and has seen his ice time reduced as his offense has disappeared.

J-P Dumont – Like many of his Nashville teammates, Dumont is having a tough time putting the puck in the net. Dumont has gone eight games without a point and has just 1 point (a goal) in his last 18 games, He is just 4-5-9 in 34 games.

Ryan Miller – Last season’s Vezina Trophy has had his ups and downs with Buffalo this season, and he ended the pre-Christmas portion of the schedule on a downer. Miller lost three of his last four starts before the break, allowing 12 goals on just 98 shots. 

Out – Detroit took a major hit on Wednesday when star center Pavel Datsyuk broke his right hand. He’s expected to miss at least four weeks. … Buffalo’s playoff hopes took a big hit in the last game before the Christmas break when center Derek Roy tore a quad tendon. He will undergo surgery and is expected to miss the rest of the season. … Islanders forward Matt Moulson left early in Thursday’s game with a head injury after being rocked by a check from New Jersey’s Anton Volchenkov. … Phoenix placed forward Taylor Pyatt on injured reserve after he sustained an upper-body injury on Dec. 20. … Washington forward Matt Bradley broke a finger this week and will miss 2-4 weeks. … Pittsburgh goaltender Brent Johnson left Wednesday’s game with a groin injury and didn’t dress Thursday. Arron Asham also missed Thursday’s game with an undisclosed injury. … Nashville forwards Steve Sullivan (lower body) and Martin Erat (upper body) both left Thursday’s game with injuries. … Tampa Bay goaltender Mike Smith will miss at least another week with a sprained knee ligament. … Atlanta center Nik Antropov missed Thursday’s game with an undisclosed injury. … Rangers forward Marian Gaborik sat out Thursday with a groin injury, a problem that has plagued him for much of his career.

Returning -- Los Angeles forward Marco Sturm played his first game of the season Tuesday night after being acquired from Boston earlier this month. He had been out since tearing up a knee during last spring's playoffs and undergoing surgery. … Islanders defenseman Mark Eaton returned Wednesday after missing three games with a groin injury. … Nashville got forward Patric Hornqvist came back on Wednesday after sitting out three games with an upper-body injury. Goaltender Pekka Rinne came off injured reserve after being sidelined for much of December with a knee injury and played on Thursday. … Kings defenseman Matt Greene, out since a collision with Detroit’s Niklas Kronwall on Dec. 13, is expected to return Sunday. … San Jose defenseman Douglas Murray returned Thursday after missing 12 days with a lower-body injury.

Still out -- Islanders defenseman Mike Mottau, sidelined for more than a month after taking a puck in the eye, will miss the rest of the season due to a torn labrum in his hips that will require surgery. The Isles also put goaltender Rick DiPietro on IR with a swollen knee. … Devils forward Zach Parise, recovering from knee surgery, reportedly has been advised to stay off skates until March and could miss the rest of the season. Defenseman Bryce Salvador, who has yet to play this season due to a concussion, reportedly is nowhere close to being ready to skate again. Another defenseman, Mark Fraser, has gotten the OK to resume practicing. He's been out since Oct. 13 with a fracture in his right hand. … Coyotes goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov has missed four games with an upper-body injury, though he hopes to be able to return this week. … Nashville center David Legwand is still out with a lower-body injury. … Buffalo center Tim Connolly had surgery to repair a badly broken nose. … Colorado forward Chris Stewart (broken hand) is expected to be back on the ice after the Christmas break. … Rangers forward Derek Boogaard (concussion) is expected to be re-evaluated this week. …

The week ahead -- Hockey fans can start their new year with the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on Jan. 1, when the Pittsburgh Penguins host the Washington Capitals.

Other games to watch (Dec. 27 -- Jan. 2):

Los Angeles at San Jose (Dec. 27) -- The Pacific Division rivals get together for the first of two meetings this week; the Sharks will be at the Staples Center on New Year's Night.

Anaheim at Phoenix (Dec. 28) -- The Coyotes play their first home game since Dec. 11, following a six-game road trip. Don't expect any sympathy from the Ducks, who are finishing up a seven-game trip that's kept them away from the Honda Center since Dec. 12.

Philadelphia at Vancouver (Dec. 28) -- The Flyers their annual holiday road trip with a stop in Vancouver -- their first game in eight days. Philadelphia is 10-0-4 in Vancouver since 1989 and has never lost at the building now known as Rogers Arena. It's also the eighth time in their last 10 visits that the Flyers are coming to Vancouver in the last week of the calendar year.

Colorado at Calgary (Dec. 31) -- The Avalanche and Flames meet in a game that starts at 9 p.m. ET, making it  the last one to be played in calendar year 2010.

Atlanta at Montreal (Jan. 2) -- The Canadiens are back home for a Sunday afternoon meeting with the Thrashers; it's their first game at the Bell Centre since Dec. 16.

Tough week ahead:

Boston Bruins -- Santa Claus gave the Bruins a tough week after Christmas. Boston has back-to-back games against the two Florida teams on Monday and Tuesday, travels to Atlanta for a game on Thursday and visits Buffalo on New Year's Night.

Montreal Canadiens -- The Canadiens played their last home game of 2010 on Dec. 16, and they're still on the road for most of the week. After a Boxing Day visit to Long Island, they visit Washington, Tampa Bay and Florida in a four-day span before hosting Atlanta in an afternoon game on Jan. 2. That's a lot of hockey in a lot of places.

Philadelphia Flyers -- The Flyers had eight days off after a home game on Dec. 21; the payback comes this week, with one of the toughest seven-day stretches of the season. They visit Vancouver on Tuesday, the two Southern California teams Thursday and Friday, and end with a 5 p.m. game at Detroit on Sunday.

Easy week ahead:

Edmonton Oilers -- The Oilers spent Boxing Day in Vancouver, but get to enjoy the rest of 2010 and the start of 2011 at home with games against Buffalo and Colorado before renewing the Battle of Alberta against Calgary on New Year's Night.

Florida Panthers -- The Panthers spend the holiday week at home hosting Original Six teams -- Boston on Monday, Montreal on New Year's Eve and the Rangers on Sunday.

Tampa Bay Lightning --The Bolts, who've spent more time on the road than just about anyone this season, are also home and spend the week exchanging opponents with the Panthers -- they host Boston on Tuesday, Montreal on Thursday and the Rangers on Saturday.
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