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Ovechkin and Caps both off to hot start

by John Kreiser
Alex Ovechkin let the goal-scoring lead and the scoring championship escape him last season. He's playing like he wants to make sure that doesn't happen again.

Ovechkin came up short in both areas last season, but he's already got 4 goals and 8 points in the Washington Capitals' first five games, with at least one point in each. Two of his goals have been game-winners, and he took two other shots that wound up deflecting off teammates and into the net for winning goals. One of those came Saturday, when Ovechkin drew the penalty that gave Washington a power play in overtime, then hammered a shot that clipped teammate Brooks Laich and went into the net to give Washington a 3-2 victory.

If the first week of the season is any indication, Ovechkin wants his hardware -- the Art Ross, Rocket Richard and Hart Trophies -- back.

Five up -- Five players who've been hot in the early going:

Marian Hossa -- Hossa has been the defending Stanley Cup champs' best player in the first 10 days of the season. He shares the goal-scoring lead with 9 and is tied with Dallas' Brad Richards for the points lead with 9.

Clarke MacArthur -- The Leafs have surprised a lot of people with a 4-0-0 start, and MacArthur is a big reason for their early success. He has 5 goals in Toronto's first four games -- not bad for a guy who signed as a free agent after Atlanta walked away from his arbitration award.

Brent Johnson -- While Pittsburgh starter Marc-Andre Fleury has struggled in the early going, Johnson has been sensational. He won back-to-back games against the Islanders and Flyers Friday and Saturday and has allowed just four goals while going 3-0-0.

Tomas Vokoun -- Florida's veteran goaltender has been perfect in his last two games. He stopped all 27 shots to give the Panthers a 3-0 win at Calgary, then made 29 stops on Saturday in a 6-0 victory against Tampa Bay in Florida's home opener.

Josh Bailey -- The New York Islanders' rash of injuries have given Bailey the chance to step up, and so far he's met the challenge. The No. 9 pick in the 2008 Entry Draft has 3 goals and 7 points in New York's first five games and has been the Isles' best forward in a surprising 2-1-2 start.

Five down -- Five players who are struggling:


RECORD: 1-4-1
SV%: .887 | GAA: 3.18 | SO: 1

Martin Brodeur -- Brodeur recorded his 111th shutout against Buffalo on Wednesday, but hasn't played well otherwise. He surrendered four goals on opening night and has allowed four or more three times in New Jersey's first six games.

Jason Blake -- Anaheim has struggled in the opening stages of the season, and a lack of production from Blake -- a former 40-goal scorer -- hasn't helped. He has yet to put up a point in five games.

Alex Kovalev -- Ottawa has struggled at the start of the season partly because Kovalev isn't contributing offensively. Through five games, he has no goals, no points, is minus-2 and has taken only eight shots.

Scott Hartnell -- Hartnell was a playoff hero during the Flyers' run to the Stanley Cup Final, but he hasn't been the same so far this season. Hartnell has yet to get a goal or an assist and is minus-3 in the Flyers' first five games.

Ryan Kesler -- Vancouver is getting offense from the Sedin twins, but the rest of the team has struggled to turn on the red light -- no one more than Kesler, the Canucks' No. 2 center. He has yet to record a goal or a point despite getting 12 shots on goal.

Injuries, news and notes -- The New York Rangers can't afford many more nights like Friday, when they lost to Toronto in overtime -- and lost both Marian Gaborik (separated left shoulder) and Chris Drury (re-broken left index finger) with injuries.

Pascal Leclaire

Pascal Leclaire (Click image to enlarge)

Out -- Ottawa goaltender Pascal Leclaire left Thursday's game with a groin injury that's expected to keep him out at least another week. … Nashville center Matthew Lombardi missed Saturday's game with a lower-body injury, and Martin Erat sat with back spasms. … Columbus defenseman Mike Commodore sustained a chip fracture of his left hand Friday night. Another Jackets defenseman, Anton Strahlman, also left that game with an upper-body injury and didn't play Saturday. … Detroit's Justin Abdelkader missed Saturday's game with a rib injury. The Wings also lost Johan Franzen earlier in the week with a concussion, though they are hoping he'll be back by Thursday, and saw defenseman Brian Rafalski undergo knee surgery that will keep him out for 3-4 weeks. … Washington defensemen Tom Poti (lower body) and Mike Green (upper body) didn't make the trip to Nashville on Saturday, nor did forward Matt Bradley (lower body). … Buffalo forward Jason Pominville (concussion) is out indefinitely, and defenseman Shaone Morrisonn sat out Friday and Saturday with a groin problem. … Pittsburgh defenseman Brooks Orpik has missed the Penguins' last four games with a groin injury, and fellow blueliner Zbynek Michalek is expected to miss at least another week with an upper-body injury that appeared to be a shoulder problem when he was hurt on Monday at New Jersey. … Islanders forward Trent Hunter sat out Saturday with a foot injury.

Returning -- The Islanders got center John Tavares back Saturday after he missed a week with a concussion. …  Defenseman Toni Lydman made his debut with Anaheim on Friday after missing camp and the first week of the season with double vision. … Rangers center Erik Christensen is expected to return Monday after missing a week with a groin injury.

Still out -- Pittsburgh is eagerly awaiting the return of center Jordan Staal, who's skating but not expected to return anytime soon from a foot injury. … Columbus put forward Jared Boll on IR with an undisclosed injury that's likely a back problem. … Nashville's starting goaltender, Pekka Rinne, hasn't played since going down with a lower-body injury on opening night. … Rangers forward Vaclav Prospal, who has yet to play this season, won't be on the ice for a while. He's scheduled to have surgery on his right knee Monday. … Vancouver forward Alexandre Bolduc is likely to miss another 6-8 weeks with a high ankle sprain suffered on opening night. … Philadelphia says forward Matt Walker might need hip surgery, which would sideline him indefinitely.  The Flyers are also without goaltender Michael Leighton (back surgery). … Chicago defenseman Brian Campbell (knee) hopes to skate this week but isn't likely to return until next month. … Montreal is still without defenseman Andrei Markov, who hasn't played since undergoing knee surgery last spring. … New Jersey is without defensemen Marc Fraser (broken hand), Anton Volchenkov (broken nose), Bryce Salvador (concussion) and Anssi Salmela (knee), as well as forward Brian Rolston (sports hernia surgery). … Anaheim defenseman Andy Sutton won't be back for at least another month after breaking his thumb on opening night in Detroit.  … Atlanta goaltender Ondrej Pavelec hasn't played since collapsing on the ice on opening night and sustaining a concussion.

The week ahead -- With the six participants in the Compuware NHL Premiere series all re-acclimated to North America, the schedule fills out this week, with all but six teams playing at least three games.

Games to watch:

Vancouver at Chicago (Oct. 20) -- The Canucks come to the United Center for the first time since last May, when the Blackhawks bounced them out of the playoffs for the second year in a row.

Washington at Boston (Oct. 21) -- After two games in Prague and one each at New Jersey and Washington, the Bruins finally come home to the TD Garden for the back end of a home-and-home series.

Pittsburgh at Nashville (Oct. 21) -- Sidney Crosby visits Music City for only the third time in his career. The Penguins haven't won at Bridgestone Arena since Oct. 8, 2000 -- the Preds are 5-0 since then.

Anaheim at Detroit (Oct. 23) -- Talk about a scheduling quirk: The Ducks are at Joe Louis Arena for the second (and last) time in the season's first 15 days. The Wings routed Anaheim 4-0 on opening night.

New Jersey at New York Rangers (Oct. 24) -- The Devils make the trek through the Lincoln Tunnel for their first visit to Madison Square Garden.

Tough week ahead:

Carolina Hurricanes -- The 'Canes spent the season's opening weekend in Europe, the next week in Canada, and they're spending this one out West with visits to San Jose, Los Angeles and Phoenix. They finally get to go home next week.

New York Islanders -- The Isles, in the midst of playing 12 in 15 on the road, start the week in Toronto on Monday before heading south for games at Tampa Bay and Florida.

San Jose Sharks -- After playing only three times in the first 10 days of the season, the Sharks play four times in six days, beginning with a home game against Carolina on Tuesday before hitting the road for three in four nights at Colorado, Edmonton and Calgary.

Easy week ahead:

Detroit Red Wings -- The Wings catch their breath this week with only two games, both at home. They get a four-day break before hosting Calgary on Thursday and Anaheim two nights later.

Edmonton Oilers -- Just what the young Oilers need -- a week at home with only games against Minnesota and San Jose on the docket. Look for coach Tom Renney to get in some practice time.

Florida Panthers -- After opening the season with a three-game trip to Western Canada before playing their home opener on Saturday, the Panthers get some time to regroup with only two games, both at home -- against Dallas on Thursday and the Islanders on Saturday.
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