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Malkin taking control as League's offensive leader

by John Kreiser
Sidney Crosby may be the face of the NHL these days, but oft-times linemate Evgeni Malkin is putting up bigger numbers this season.

Malkin came into his own last season when Crosby was sidelined with a high ankle sprain. He's turned into the NHL's most prolific playmaker, leading the League with 23 assists and adding 7 goals for a League-high 30 points in 17 games -- eight more than Crosby, who's no slouch with 22.

The 22-year-old Malkin has had at least one assist in each of Pittsburgh's last 13 games, and had a goal in each of the Pens' three games last week, giving him 8 points as the Penguins swept all three to extend their winning streak to six games.

Malkin finished second to fellow Russian Alex Ovechkin last season with 106 points. At the rate he's going, he'll shatter that mark by mid-February and would finish with more than 140 points.
Five up -- Five players who've been hot:

Dan Ellis --
Few goaltenders ever have worked harder to go 3-0 in a week than Ellis, who led Nashville to a sweep in California. Ellis stopped 119 of 126 shots in the three games, including a 54-save performance to hand San Jose its first home loss this season.

Nicklas Backstrom -- Washington's second-year center sometimes gets lost amid the plaudits for Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin, but he put up 11 points in the Caps' four games last week, including five in Saturday's 6-5 shootout loss to New Jersey.

Jordan Staal -- The Penguins had been waiting for Staal to put the puck in the net, and now he's doing just that. The second pick in the 2006 Entry Draft has six goals in his last four games, including a hat trick (plus the game-winning assist) in the Pens' instant-classic 7-6 overtime win at Detroit.

Roberto Luongo -- Luongo is human -- he gave up three goals last week and actually lost a game (in a shootout) while going 2-0-1. But Vancouver's All-Star still leads the NHL with five shutouts, and in Martin Brodeur's absence is staking his claim as the League's best goaltender.

Peter Budaj -- Budaj actually outplayed Luongo in Colorado's 2-1 shootout win against Vancouver and has been playing the best hockey of his career, allowing just three goals while going 3-0-0 last week.

Five down -- Five players who are struggling:

Brian Gionta -- New Jersey is wondering what happened to Gionta's scoring touch. He's gone from 48 goals in 2005-06, to 25, 22 and now just 3 goals (one Saturday) so far this season. With Martin Brodeur sidelined, the Devils need all the offense they can get, and they're not getting it from Gionta.

Daymond Langkow -- It was a rough week for Langkow, who managed just one assist in four games and was minus-4 -- not what the Calgary Flames need from their No. 1 center.

Patrick O'Sullivan -- O'Sullivan didn't sign a contract with Los Angeles until just before the season started, and maybe the lack of training camp hurt. He's just 3-4-7 in 16 games and had no points in his last five.

Radim Vrbata -- The Lightning still are waiting for a payoff on its offseason investment in Vrbata, whose assist against Carolina on Sunday was only his third point (no goals) this season. Overall, he's gone 33 games without scoring a goal.

Antoine Vermette -- Vermette's season-long struggles have been a key reason for Ottawa's slow start, which currently includes a four-game losing streak. He's 2-2-4 in 17 games and hasn't had a point in six games.

Injuries, news and notes -- It's not even Thanksgiving and two coaches already have been fired. The Lightning hope Rick Tocchet will give them the same boost Joel Quenneville gave Chicago when he took over after Denis Savard was let go four games into the season.

Out -- NHL scoring leader Alexander Semin left in the third period of the Washington Capitals' game against New Jersey on Friday and didn't play in Saturday's rematch. … Anaheim lost top-four defenseman Francois Beauchemin with a torn ACL in his left knee, sustained in the third period of Friday's home game against Nashville. He's expected to miss six months, meaning he might be able to get back for the playoffs. … Boston lost defenseman Andrew Ference for up to eight weeks with a broken right tibia sustained in Thursday night's victory against Montreal. He was scheduled for surgery Monday. … Islanders center Mike Comrie missed three games last week and was placed on the injured list. He's still feeling the effects of offseason hip surgery. … Vancouver lost defenseman Kevin Bieksa for at least another week with a fractured left foot. He was originally injured Nov. 4, but played three more games before the injury was diagnosed. … Tampa Bay forward Ryan Malone hasn't played since leaving last Monday's game in Washington with a foot injury. … Philadelphia center Daniel Briere scored two goals in two games after returning early from abdominal surgery, but left last Tuesday's game against the Islanders due to a groin pull and hasn't played since. … Calgary defenseman Jim Vandermeer will miss 6-8 weeks with a broken ankle. He was injured Nov. 6 when he was hit by a teammate's shot during warmups. Vandermeer tried to play through it but had to leave the Flames' Nov. 10 game at Chicago; an examination revealed the break. … Buffalo forward Ales Kotalik left Friday's game with a hamstring injury and didn't play Saturday against Pittsburgh. Center Tim Connolly also sat out Saturday with a bruised chest suffered earlier in the week. … Rangers center Scott Gomez missed games Wednesday and Saturday with an ankle injury, though he may be ready to go for Monday's home game against Ottawa. … Montreal defenseman Mike Komisarek sat out Saturday with an upper-body injury sustained Thursday in Boston. He didn't make the trip when the Canadiens left for a three-game road swing beginning Sunday in St. Louis. … Blues center Andy McDonald left Sunday's game late in the first period with what coach Andy Murray described as a fractured left leg. He's out indefinitely. … Sharks forward Mike Grier sat out Sunday's game at Chicago with a lower-body injury sustained Thursday.

Returning -- Philadelphia defenseman Ossi Vaananen returned Thursday after missing a week due to a surgically repaired index finger, but re-injured the finger in that game and didn't play Saturday at Montreal. … Minnesota's Brent Burns came back Thursday after missing four games with an upper-body injury. Minnesota also activated forward Owen Nolan for Thursday's game; he had 2 assists against Phoenix. Nolan had been out for two weeks with a lower-body injury. … Islanders defenseman Radek Martinek was back in the lineup Saturday. He had been out since Oct. 11 with an injured right shoulder. … Columbus defenseman Rostislav Klesla returned Wednesday after missing four games with a wrist injury. Goaltender Pascal Leclaire was back in the lineup Friday after dressing as the backup to Steve Mason on Wednesday. Leclaire missed two weeks with a bruised ankle. … New Jersey got defenseman Paul Martin back Friday after he missed five games with an upper-body injury. …  Vancouver center Pavol Demitra returned Saturday after missing nearly a month with a rib injury. … Carolina center Matt Cullen returned Wednesday after missing five games with a groin pull. Another center, Brandon Sutter, came off IR after missing more than two weeks due to a concussion…. Nashville forward Martin Erat returned Saturday after missing three games with an upper-body injury. … San Jose forward Jonathan Cheechoo returned Sunday after missing four games with a back injury.

Still out -- Edmonton put defenseman Ladislav Smid on the injured list. He hasn't played since sustaining a concussion Nov. 5. … Anaheim forward Brad Larsen is practicing again. He hasn't played this season after undergoing hernia surgery Oct. 4. … Atlanta defenseman Mathieu Schneider skated before practice Saturday, the first time he has done so since he injured his hip 16 days earlier. He still has to take part in a couple of practices before he can return. … Islanders defenseman Brendan Witt is skating again and hopes to be back by Friday, when the Isles visit New Jersey. … Devils forward Brian Rolston had to stop skating, a setback in his effort to return from the high ankle sprain that has sidelined him since mid-October. … San Jose goaltender Evgeni Nabokov has now missed five consecutive games with a lower-body injury. … St. Louis had hoped to have forward Paul Kariya back this weekend, but he didn't play Friday at Chicago or Sunday against Montreal and now has missed five games with a lower-body injury.

The week ahead -- It's a busy week, though only two teams play four times and seven have just two games on the schedule. Eight teams have three games in four nights.

Games to watch:

Minnesota at Pittsburgh (Nov. 18, 7 p.m. ET, VERSUS, TSN2) -- A national TV audience will be in for a treat if these two teams match the intensity of last season's meeting, a 4-2 Pittsburgh win at Minnesota.

Florida at Tampa Bay (Nov. 18) -- The Lightning play their first home game under Rick Tocchet following last Friday's coaching change that saw Barry Melrose fired after 16 games.

Detroit at Edmonton (Nov. 20) -- The Wings begin a swing through Western Canada with a stop in Edmonton, just three days after the Oilers visit Joe Louis Arena.

Boston at Montreal (Nov. 22, 7:30 p.m. ET, CBC, RDS) -- The Bruins are the opposition as the Canadiens add to their collection of retired numbers by hoisting Patrick Roy's No. 33 to the rafters of the Bell Centre.

Washington at San Jose (Nov. 22) -- The Caps will try to break a 10-game losing streak against the Sharks in their first visit to San Jose since Dec. 16, 2005.

Tough week ahead:
Chicago Blackhawks -- The Blackhawks play the first half of a six-game trip, starting in Phoenix and working their way East to Dallas and Toronto before heading to California next week.

Vancouver Canucks -- Vancouver begins an Eastern swing Monday night on Long Island and plays four games in six days, including stops in New York, Minnesota and Pittsburgh.

Washington Capitals --
The Caps began a five-game trip in New Jersey on Saturday; they head west this week for three games in four nights against the California teams.

Easy week ahead:

Los Angeles Kings -- It's a quiet week for the Kings, who have spent most of the season in Southern California. L.A. has three days off before hosting Washington on Thursday and Colorado two nights later.

Toronto Maple Leafs -- The Leafs get a little breather after their swing through Western Canada. They play just two games, both at home -- Boston comes to the Air Canada Centre on Monday and Chicago visits Saturday.
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