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Malkin's heroics keeping depleted Pens afloat

by John Kreiser
Evgeni Malkin is doing his best to make sure the Pittsburgh Penguins can survive a rash of injuries that has claimed Sidney Crosby among its victims.

With Crosby and top defenseman Kris Letang among the Penguins watching instead of playing, Malkin had his biggest night of the season on Saturday, scoring three times and adding a pair of assists in Pittsburgh's 8-3 win against Buffalo. The big night capped a week in which he scored five times and added three assists for eight points in three games.

Evgeni Malkin
Center - PIT
GOALS: 15 | ASST: 21 | PTS: 36
SOG: 124 | +/-: 4
Malkin now has 12 points during a five-game scoring streak, and his 36 points in just 26 games are fourth in the NHL and just one less than he scored in 43 games a year ago before going down with a season-ending knee injury. He's healthy now and doing his utmost to keep the Penguins afloat.

Five up -- Five players who are playing well:

Steven Stamkos -- Tampa Bay's top gun became the first player to reach the 20-goal mark this season when he scored against Columbus on Saturday, capping a week that saw him finish with four goals (two of them game-winners), and seven points in three games.

Jason Spezza -- Ottawa's No. 1 center is among the NHL's scoring leaders after a week that saw him score three goals and add five assists for eight points in three games. He has 11 points during a five-game streak.

Pekka Rinne -- It's hard to play much better than Nashville's starting goaltender is playing right now. He's won five in a row and allowed just five goals on 116 shots last week as the Predators swept three games at home.

Zach Parise -- It looks like Parise's knee is healthy and his confidence is back. New Jersey's captain had a goal and three assists on Friday for his first four-point night of the season, highlighting a week that saw his score three goals and add five assists for eight points in four games.

Tim Thomas -- The reigning Vezina Trophy winner is making a good case for a repeat. Thomas won both of his starts last week, stopping 78 of 80 shots, to improve to 14-5-0 with a 1.93 goals-against average and a save percentage of .940 -- better than his record-setting mark of last season.

Five down — Five players who are struggling:

Manny Malhotra -- Malhotra's defense and faceoff abilities are still good, but his offensive game has vanished. He's gone three weeks and nine games without a point despite playing more than 14 minutes a night in that span.

Marco Sturm -- Florida brought back Sturm in the deal that sent David Booth to Vancouver early this season, but he hasn't given them much offense. The 33-year-old has just two goals and three points in 31 games this season and has gone six games without a point.

Zach Parise
Left Wing - NJD
GOALS: 11 | ASST: 16 | PTS: 27
SOG: 121 | +/-: -3
Ales Hemsky -- The Edmonton Oilers continue to stumble after their fast start, and one problem has been a lack of secondary scoring, Part of that falls on Hemsky, who hasn't had a point in five games.

Craig Anderson -- His won-lost record is over .500 (13-11-2), but Anderson's been giving up a lot of goals on not a lot of shots. He's lost three of his last four starts, allowing 15 goals, to raise his goals-against average to 3.42 and drop his save percentage to .894.

James Reimer -- Toronto coach Ron Wilson gave his second-year goaltender a seat on Saturday, hoping that a night off will help him get out of his slump. Since coming back from a head/neck injury two weeks ago, Reimer is 1-3-1 and has allowed 17 goals on just 129 shots.

Injuries, news and notes -- Concussions continue to take a toll on the NHL. Philadelphia announced last week that captain Chris Pronger won't be back this season because of post-concussion syndrome. NHL scoring leader Claude Giroux of the Flyers, Calder Trophy winner Jeff Skinner of Carolina and Penguins captain Sidney Crosby are among a number of other players who are off the ice with concussions or concussion-related problems.

Out -- Philadelphia's run of head injuries continued Saturday when rookie Sean Couturier had to leave after being hit in the head with a slap shot. He was taken to the hospital for evaluation and won't make the trip to Denver for Tuesday's game. … Ottawa's Milan Michalek has also been sidelined by a concussion after a collision with a teammate on Tuesday. … Another concussion victim is Islanders forward Brian Rolston, who left in the first period on Thursday and hasn't played since. … Wild captain Mikko Koivu sustained a leg injury on Wednesday and sat out Saturday's game. Guillaume Latendresse returned from a concussion Wednesday but played only one period before leaving again with concussion-related problems. He didn't dress Saturday. … Rangers defenseman Steve Eminger left Saturday's game with a shoulder injury. … Pittsburgh defenseman Paul Martin left Friday's game with a lower-body injury and didn't play Saturday. … Florida forward Jack Skille is out indefinitely after suffering a shoulder injury on Friday. … Colorado defenseman Kyle Quincey sat out Saturday with a groin injury; joining David Jones and Brandon Yip, who are batting the same problem. … Tampa Bay defenseman Matt Gilroy left Thursday's game with a lower-body injury and didn't play Saturday. … Boston forward Gregory Campbell missed all three of the Bruins' games last week with a broken foot. … Anaheim center Saku Koivu is out with a groin injury. … Buffalo's injury parade continued when Ville Leino went down with a lower-body injury on Tuesday; he's expected to miss a few weeks. … Dallas lost forward Thomas Vincour with a knee injury on Thursday and saw defenseman Philip Larsson leave Friday's game with a lower-body injury. … St. Louis says forward Vladimir Sobotka is "week-to-week" with a foot injury. Center Jason Arnott sat out Saturday with the flu. … Winnipeg center Bryan Little left Saturday's game with an undisclosed injury after blocking a shot.

Returning -- The New York Islanders got some reinforcements Saturday, with forward Nino Niederreiter (concussion), defenseman Andrew MacDonald (leg) and goaltender Evgeni Nabokov (groin) all returning to the lineup. … Boston captain Zdeno Chara returned Saturday after missing a week with a leg injury and promptly recorded a Gordie Howe hat trick. … New Jersey center Travis Zajac made his season debut on Friday after missing the first 2 1/2 months of the season following surgery to repair a torn Achilles' tendon. Defenseman Anton Volchenkov also returned Friday after missing three games with a hand injury. … Anaheim defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky returned Wednesday after missing 11 games with a broken finger; the Ducks were 2-9-2 without him. … Edmonton also got a boost from a returnee -- Taylor Hall scored twice on Thursday in his first game back after missing seven with a shoulder injury. Defenseman Corey Potter (knee) returned in the same game. … Columbus forward Derek Dorsett returned Saturday after missing a week with a leg injury. … Rangers forward Mike Rupp played Saturday for the first time since Oct. 24; he missed seven weeks with a knee injury that required surgery. … Winnipeg got a boost Saturday with the return of forwards Alexander Burmistrov (lower body) and Nik Antropov (foot), as well as defenseman Tobias Enstrom, who had missed 20 games with a broken collarbone.

Mattias Ohlund
Defense - TBL
Goals: - | Assists: - | Pts: -
Shots: - | +/-: -
Still out -- Rangers forward Wojtek Wolski, who had hernia surgery last month, is skating again and could return after Christmas. The Rangers also moved defenseman Michael Sauer (concussion) to IR. … San Jose defenseman Jim Vandermeer is practicing but says he's not ready to return from a hand injury. … Flyers defenseman Andreas Lilja, out since late November with a high ankle sprain, was sent to AHL Adirondack on Friday for conditioning. … Tampa Bay defenseman Mattias Ohlund, who had early-season knee surgery, has yet to resume skating. Coach Guy Boucher hinted that the 35-year-old might not play this season. … Los Angeles center Mike Richards is skating again but still not ready to return from a concussion.

The week ahead -- The Christmas break cuts the week to five game nights before teams get Saturday and Sunday off.

Games to watch:

Minnesota at Vancouver (Dec. 19) -- The Canucks don't get a cupcake in their return after a five-game trip: Not only do the Wild lead the Northwest Division, but they've been on top of the overall standings for much of December.

Chicago at Pittsburgh (Dec. 20; Versus/TSN2) -- The 2010 Stanley Cup winners visit the team they supplanted as champs. Don't be surprised if they're even after regulation -- the last four meetings between the clubs have been decided on OT or a shootout.

New York Rangers at New Jersey (Dec. 20) -- In a season that began nearly 11 weeks earlier, the NHL's two closest teams (by geography) face off for the first time in 2011-12.

Philadelphia at New York Rangers (Dec. 23; NHL Network-US) -- Don’t expect a lot of Christmas cheer at Madison Square Garden when these Atlantic Division rivals meet in a tune-up for the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on Jan. 2.

Los Angeles at San Jose (Dec. 23) -- It's somehow appropriate that the last game before the Christmas break involves these two teams. The last NHL game ever played on Christmas came 40 years ago when the Kings met the California Golden Seals, the Sharks' predecessor in the Bay Area.

Tough week ahead:

Detroit Red Wings -- The Wings won't have much time to do their Christmas shopping -- they play three games in four nights on a swing through Western Canada, beginning Monday in Edmonton.

Minnesota Wild -- Don't be surprised if the Wild and Wings pass each other in an airport this week. Minnesota has the same three-in-four trip through Western Canada, though the Wild begin in Vancouver.

Montreal Canadiens -- The Canadiens play the first half of a six-game trip as they make stops in Boston and Chicago before finishing the week in Winnipeg.

Easy week ahead:

Boston Bruins -- The B's get to spend the week before the holiday at home, with only a pair of games against Montreal and Florida to mar their holiday preparations.

Carolina Hurricanes -- The 'Canes also get to spend the pre-holiday week at home; they'll try to get healthy by beating Phoenix and Ottawa.

San Jose Sharks -- The Sharks will spend the rest of calendar year 2011 in the Bay Area during a six-game homestand that began Thursday. They'll have plenty of time for practice and shopping this week, with only a pair of games -- against non-top eight teams Tampa Bay and Los Angeles -- before Christmas.
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