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Numbers: Ovi, Vokoun, Kessel all under microscope

by John Kreiser

After the worst five-game start of his NHL career, maybe all Alex Ovechkin needed was a trip to Philadelphia.

While the Washington Capitals are off to the best start in franchise history, winning their first six games for the first time since entering the NHL in 1974, the Caps won the first five without much help from their captain. Ovechkin had just one goal and three points in five games, his poorest start since entering the NHL in 2005.

But Ovechkin has always enjoyed success against the Flyers, and Thursday was no different. He had a pair of goals as the Caps kept rolling with a 5-2 victory, giving him 22 goals and 37 points in 23 games against Philadelphia -- his best figures in both categories against any Atlantic Division team.

The one concern the Caps might have about their captain is his lack of shots on goal. He has had just 20 shots in Washington's first six games (3.3 per game), the fewest he's ever had in the first six games of a season. His previous low was 26 in 2010-11; he's had as many as 42. At his current rate, Ovi would finish with 271, nearly 100 below his single-season low of 367, set in 2010-11, and more than two shots per game fewer than his career average of 5.4.

Paging Mr. October -- Ovi's big night in Philadelphia kept him on top among all October goal-scorers since the start of the 2009-10 season. Ovechkin now has scored 24 times in the last two-plus Octobers. That's two more goals that runner-up Steven Stamkos of Tampa Bay (who scored once on Thursday) and four more than Pittsburgh's James Neal, who had his seventh of the season in the Penguins' 3-1 win against Montreal.

Neal's seven goals this month are already two more than he's scored in 50 post-All Star break games since 2009.

Tomas Vokoun
Goalie - WSH
RECORD: 5-0-0
GAA: 1.95 | SVP: 0.939
Light night -- Tomas Vokoun's first shutout as a member of the Capitals came earlier this week at the expense of his former team, the Florida Panthers -- and it was easier than any of the 23 shutouts he posted during his four seasons in Florida.

Vokoun faced only 20 shots in the 3-0 victory at the Verizon Center. He had to stop at least 23 shots in each of his shutouts in Florida, and saw 25 or fewer shots only four times among the shutouts with the Panthers. He faced 30 or more shots in 12 of the 23 games.

After spending his career with under-powered teams in Nashville and Florida, Vokoun is enjoying his first stint with a powerhouse team. He's a perfect 5-0-0 in his five starts with Washington, and after a shaky start (a 6-5 shootout win against Tampa Bay) in his debut, he has stopped 137 of the last 142 shots he's faced.

Millennium men -- The NHL has the unusual occurrence of having players reach the 1,000-game mark on back-to-back days this week. But while both Montreal's Hal Gill and San Jose's Joe Thornton began their careers with the Boston Bruins in 1997-98, you'd be hard-pressed to find more different types of players.

Though they started their careers in the same year, Gill, at 36, is four years older -- the Bruins took him in the eighth round (No. 207) in the 1993 Entry Draft, four years before they made Thornton the first pick in 1997. Gill also scored his first NHL goal before Thornton -- he got his on Nov. 13, 1997, 20 days before Thornton.

Of course, that's about the only way Gill has beaten Thornton offensively -- though his first-year total of six points was just one short of Thornton's. Since then, Thornton has exceeded Gill's career total of 35 goals twice in a single season, and Thornton's offensive production from 2008-10 (175 points) alone is more than Gill's entire career output (171). In fact, Thornton is the NHL's leading point producer since entering the NHL 14 years ago, with 1,002.

Thornton owns two of the NHL's most coveted individual awards -- the Art Ross and Hart Trophies, both won in 2005-06 when he led the NHL in scoring. But while defensive defensemen like Gill aren't the kind of players who win individual honors, Gill did win a Stanley Cup ring with Pittsburgh in 2009.

Sharks captain Joe Thornton will reach the 1000 games played mark this week. (Jeff Vinnick/NHLI)
There will be another longevity milestone reached on Saturday: Detroit captain Nicklas Lidstrom will become the 14th player to reach 1,500 games when he steps onto the ice against Washington. He'll become only the third player to play all 1,500 with one team -- and all three are Red Wings. The others are Hall of Famers Alex Delvecchio and Steve Yzerman. The only other player to play 1,500 games with one team was Gordie Howe, with -- you guessed it -- the Wings. Mr. Hockey played 1,687 games with the Wings and 80 in his final NHL season with the Hartford Whalers.
Déjà vu -- Phil Kessel's fast start is a big reason the Maple Leafs are 4-1-1 through their first six games, giving Toronto fans hope that a playoff drought that stretches to 2004 could end in the spring.

But while Kessel is tops in the NHL with seven goals and 12 points through six games, he'll have to prove that he can keep it up -- something he's failed to do after getting off to fast starts in his first two seasons with Toronto after arriving in a deal from Boston.

Kessel began his Leafs career with a bang, scoring 10 times in his first 15 games -- only to get just five goals in his next 28. He had the same problem last season, scoring seven times in Toronto's first eight games before netting just three in the next 20.

Luckily for Kessel, he doesn't see his former team too often. The Bruins kept him off the score sheet and limited him to one shot in Thursday's 6-2 win, leaving Kessel with just two goals and six points in 13 games against Boston since the trade.
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