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Ovechkin, Mason, Latendresse are Three Stars

by John Kreiser
So Alex Ovechkin can set up goals too. Who knew?

Sure, Ovechkin can score -- he reached the 30-goal mark for the fifth time in as many seasons with his first NHL penalty-shot goal in Washington's 5-3 win over Philadelphia Sunday. But only three of Ovi's 10 points in the Capitals' four games last week came on goals. The rest were assists, including a career-best four during a five-point night against Toronto on Friday. He now has more assists (34) than goals – something that he hasn't done since his rookie season of 2005-06.

At least as impressive as his 3-7-10 scoring line was the fact that Ovechkin was plus-5 in the Caps' last two games (both victories) and is now plus-28 for the season, tops in the NHL – and a big jump from his plus-8 finish last season.

Here's a scary thought for the rest of the NHL: Not only can Ovechkin put the puck in the net, but by all indications he's showing that's not all he can do.

Chris Mason – St. Louis enjoyed its best week of the season, and Mason was a big reason why. He won all three of his starts, allowing just two goals and shutting out Minnesota 1-0 while stopping 66 of 68 shots.

Guillaume Latendresse – The 22-year-old has thrived since being dealt to Minnesota by Montreal just before Thanksgiving. He started his week with a four-point performance in the Wild's win over Pittsburgh and capped it with a hat trick Saturday night in Phoenix.

Worth noting — Three players who've been hot:

Ilya Kovalchuk – Atlanta's captain had goals in all three of the Thrashers' games, including the game-winner at Carolina on Saturday, and added three assists for six points while going plus-5 to help his team to a 2-0-1 week.

Evgeni Nabokov – "Nabby" just keeps on stopping pucks and putting up wins for San Jose. He was 2-0-1 last week, allowing one goal in each game and turning aside 95 of 98 shots as the Sharks stayed atop the Pacific Division standings and battled for the lead in the overall standings.

Mike Green – Ovechkin and the rest of the high-scoring Washington forwards are getting plenty of help from Green on the blue line. He had 2 goals and 6 points in four games last week, giving him 12 goals and 49 points in 47 games.

Five down — Five players who are struggling:

Colby Armstrong – Atlanta needs secondary scoring, and Armstrong hasn't been helping much. He's pointless in his last six games and has seen his ice time reduced somewhat over the past couple of weeks.

Sean Avery – Before Sunday's six-goal breakout, the Rangers had scored just once in three games last week, so they're not exactly filling the net. But they need more from Avery than no points and just 13 shots in his last six games since a four-point night against Dallas on Jan. 6.

Niklas Hagman – Toronto needs all the offense it can find, so having one of its better scorers go cold doesn't help. Hagman has gone six games without a point and has no goals and a lone assist in his last 11.

Ryan Whitney – Anaheim dealt Chris Pronger last June with the expectation that Whitney would help pick up some of the missing offense on the blue line. But Whitney has gone 11 games without so much as a point; he's also minus-8 in that span.

Jarome Iginla – Calgary's captain had an assist on Sunday for his first point in seven games. But he's gone eight in a row without scoring a goal, something the offense-challenged Flames can't afford.

Injuries, news and notes -- It's one thing to get hurt in games, but quite another to have the kind of bad luck Ottawa goaltender Pascal Leclaire has had this season. Leclaire sustained his second serious injury of the season last week when he was hit in the head with a shot during the morning skate on Thursday, leaving him with a concussion. He missed a month earlier this season after being hit by an errant puck while sitting on the bench.

Out -- Anaheim forward Teemu Selanne's Olympic hopes may have disappeared when he went down with a broken jaw on Wednesday. He had surgery the next day, and the team says he'll miss 2-6 weeks. He'll have to hurry back to play for Finland in the Games. … Another prominent Olympian-to-be, New Jersey's Patrik Elias, captain of the Czech Republic's team, was taken off the ice Saturday after a big check by Colorado's Ryan Wilson. He was able to fly home after the game and will be re-evaluated this week. … Dallas captain Brenden Morrow left Saturday's game with an upper-body injury. … Defenseman Brooks Orpik missed the last three games of Pittsburgh's road trip with an undisclosed injury. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury sat out Saturday's game with a broken finger on his left hand and could miss another week. … Anaheim center Saku Koivu will miss another week or so with a sprained right knee. … Tampa Bay defenseman Matt Smaby suffered a concussion on Thursday and didn't play on Saturday. … Washington defenseman John Erskine missed all four of his team's games last week with an upper-body injury, and Brian Pothier missed games Friday and Sunday with an undisclosed injury. … Chicago defenseman Brent Sopel left Sunday's game with an upper-body injury. … Marco Sturm missed Boston's game on Saturday due to a leg injury.

Returning -- Ottawa got a boost Saturday from the return of captain Daniel Alfredsson, who missed only 25 days with a separated left shoulder that was expected to keep him out for a week or two longer. … Toronto defenseman Mike Komisarek is hoping to be back in the lineup for the Leafs' game at Florida on Saturday. If he does, he'll have missed 10 games with an upper-body injury. Another defenseman, Carl Gunnarsson (elbow) returned to the lineup on Thursday for the first time since Nov. 30. …  Vancouver forward Pavol Demitra made his season debut on Saturday. He hadn't played due to a shoulder injury. … San Jose center Manny Malhotra returned Thursday after missing five games with a lower-body injury. … Chicago defenseman Cam Barker returned Saturday after missing five games with an upper-body injury. … Buffalo forward Patrick Kaleta, out for six games with a leg injury, returned Thursday and scored the Sabres' only goal in regulation. … Philadelphia goaltender Ray Emery played Sunday for the first time since undergoing abdominal surgery in early December. … Chad LaRose (lower body) and Sergei Samsonov (upper body) may return to the lineup for Carolina on Monday. … Captain Jason Arnott (upper body) is expected to return to Nashville's lineup on Monday after missing four games. … Boston defenseman Mark Stuart played Saturday after missing 13 games with a broken sternum.

Still out -- New Jersey expects center Dainius Zubrus to begin practicing this week. He's been out since Nov. 19 with a fractured kneecap. Forward David Clarkson is another couple of weeks away from skating as he recovers from a fractured right leg, and defenseman Paul Martin (broken arm) won't be able to skate for two more weeks. . … Atlanta goaltender Kari Lehtonen is working out with the Thrashers, but there's still no timetable for him to return from back surgery that has kept him out all season. … Anaheim forward Joffrey Lupul, out since undergoing back surgery in mid-December, has an infection in his back and will be out indefinitely. … Colorado forward Milan Hejduk will miss another 2-4 weeks after undergoing an arthroscopic knee procedure. He's already missed six games with the injury. … Ottawa center Jason Spezza practiced with the team Sunday for the first time since injuring his knee Dec. 14.

The week ahead -- The schedule ramps up as the number of days before the Olympic break counts down. In all, 13 of 30 teams have four games this week; only the Calgary Flames have a light (two-game) week.

Games to watch

Detroit at Washington (Jan. 19) -- The Red Wings make a rare visit to the Verizon Center, where the Capitals have lost just three times in regulation all season.

San Jose at Los Angeles (Jan. 19) -- The Sharks are back at the Staples Center for their second game in eight days. It's the final meeting of the season between the Pacific Division rivals.

Washington at Pittsburgh (Jan. 21) -- Amazingly, it's the first meeting of the season between Alex Ovechkin and the Caps and Sidney Crosby and the Penguins. The Pens have dominated the rivalry since the two stars came into the NHL in 2005, though the Capitals went 3-0-1 last season.

Chicago at Vancouver (Jan. 23) -- The Blackhawks reach the halfway point of their eight-game marathon trip with a stop at GM Place for a nationally televised (in Canada) game with the Canucks.

Pittsburgh at Philadelphia (Jan. 24) -- NBC will be on hand at the Wachovia Center for a battle between two teams that share the state of Pennsylvania but don't like each other very much. The Penguins won their first two visits to Philadelphia this season, but the Flyers whipped them 7-4 in Pittsburgh 17 days earlier.

Tough week ahead  

Buffalo Sabres -- After starting a seven-game trip with visits to Atlanta and the Islanders, the Sabres get away from the winter weather in the Northeast for a week with four games in six nights on the West Coast, starting in Phoenix on Monday and ending six days later in San Jose.

Chicago Blackhawks -- The Hawks began an eight-game slog with a win at Columbus on Saturday. They'll spend this week working their westward way across Canada, going from Ottawa to Calgary to Vancouver.

Toronto Maple Leafs -- The schedule-makers gave the Leafs a rare weekend off. The payback begins Monday, when they begin a four-game sojourn through the Southeast. They start in Nashville before visiting Atlanta and both Florida teams to complete a five-game trip.

Easy week ahead

Colorado Avalanche -- The Avs will enjoy a week at home. They start by hosting the slumping Edmonton Oilers before hosting Nashville and Dallas.

Phoenix Coyotes -- The 'Yotes spend another winter week in the desert, hosting Buffalo and Nashville before the Washington Capitals come to Arena.

Philadelphia Flyers -- The Flyers have a busy week with four games, but they play all of them at home -- and two (Columbus and Carolina) are against teams currently outside the top eight in their conferences.

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