|In his third season, Alex Ovechkin is well on his way to surpassing his 52 goal rookie year.
As good as Alex Ovechkin
has been in his first two NHL seasons, he’s taking his play to a whole new level the third time around.
Ovechkin had 52 goals as a rookie and 46 in his second season, but is well on his way to blowing past both those marks. His four-goal night in Washington’s 8-6 victory in Ottawa Saturday was the biggest of his career, and he’s rung up nine points in the Caps’ first four games after Christmas, a big reason that Washington has gone 3-0-1 coming out of the holiday break.
The only thing that slowed Ovechkin at all last week was a cut in his thigh that kept him out of the third period Thursday against Pittsburgh. He needed stitches, but went out and had a career night against the Senators in Ottawa, then added two assists against the Senators at home Tuesday.
At the pace he’s on, Ovechkin would surpass 60 goals for the season and break the 100-point mark for the second time. And here’s the scariest thought for opposing goaltenders: He’s still just 22, so he’s going to get better.
Five up -- Five players who’ve been hot:
Evgeni Nabokov -- San Jose’s ironman goalie had a terrific week between Christmas and New Year’s, winning all four of his starts while allowing just six goals and shutting out St. Louis. Nabokov is the only goalie to start every one of his team’s games, and he’s been terrific almost every night.
Jaromir Jagr -- The Rangers’ captain is looking more and more like the offensive force he has to be for the Blueshirts to win consistently. Jagr had seven points in the Rangers’ first three games after Christmas, including a four-point night in Toronto, and has at least one point in seven-straight games.
Ty Conklin -- Conklin got the call from the Penguins when Marc-Andre Fleury went down with an ankle sprain last month, and he’s making the most of his chance. Conklin allowed just one goal as the Penguins swept their home-and-home series with Buffalo, shutting out the Sabres Saturday and making 36 saves in Pittsburgh’s 2-1 “shootout in the snow” victory at the AMP Energy NHL Winter Classic on Tuesday.
Mike Fisher -- Ottawa’s No. 2 center has been carrying more than his share of the scoring load. Fisher is 6-1-7 in his last five games, including a third-period hat trick against Washington on Dec. 29.
Richard Park -- Park will never put up big offensive numbers, but the New York Islanders’ forward’s hard work has earned him more ice time, and he’s delivering. Park is 1-6-7 in his last five games, including an overtime-winner Dec. 22 and a steal that set up Mike Comrie’s OT winner four nights later.
Five down -- Five players who’ve been struggling:
Kyle Wellwood -- It’s been a tough season for Wellwood, who’s dealt with injury problems and is now in Toronto coach Paul Maurice’s doghouse due to a lack of production. He had one assist and was minus-5 in the Leafs’ first three games after the Christmas break, earning him a seat in the press box for Tuesday night’s game against Tampa Bay.
Shawn Horcoff -- Edmonton’s No. 1 center has been held without a point in the Oilers’ last five games, a big reason the Oilers have hit the skids after working their way back to the .500 mark.
John-Michael Liles -- With injuries taking their toll, the Avalanche need more production from players like Liles. He has only two goals in nearly half a season after hitting double digits in each of the past three seasons, including 14 in 2006-07. Liles has just one assist in his last six games.
Andrew Raycroft -- Raycroft got a chance to play when Toronto starter Vesa Toskala tweaked his groin on Boxing Day, but was unable to capitalize. He allowed four goals each in road losses to the Islanders and Flyers, then lasted just 30:31 before being hooked after allowing five goals to the Rangers on Saturday. That earned him a seat on the bench when Tampa Bay came to the Air Canada Centre on New Year’s Night.
Martin Gerber -- Gerber’s goaltending has been a key to Ottawa’s rise to the top of the Eastern Conference. But he’s had back-to-back nightmares, allowing seven goals on 29 shots to Washington on Saturday and three in eight shots before being pulled from Tuesday’s return match with the Caps.
Injuries, news and notes -- Of all the people who got to watch the AMP Energy NHL Winter Classic, the most disappointed had to be Gary Roberts. The Pittsburgh forward was reduced to a spectator when he broke his left leg Saturday against Buffalo at Mellon Arena. It’s not known how much time he’ll miss.
Out -- Blues center Andy McDonald has missed three games with a pulled chest muscle, and forward Martin Rucinsky left Saturday’s game in Dallas with a shoulder injury. He didn’t dress for Monday’s 2-0 win in Detroit. The Blues did get defenseman Bryce Salvador back Monday after he missed three games with a hip flexor injury. … Carolina center Matt Cullen returned Monday after missing two games following an open-ice hit that left him with a broken nose, but lasted only six shifts before leaving. He’s had concussion-like symptoms, but hasn’t been diagnosed with a concussion. … Colorado forward Ryan Smyth had to be helped off the ice in Phoenix Monday with what was diagnosed as a sprained ankle. He’s out indefinitely. … Anaheim center Samuel Pahlsson has missed the Ducks’ last three games with an inflamed abdomen. … Philadelphia captain Jason Smith saw his consecutive games-played streak ended at 141 when he sat out Sunday with a sore leg. … The Islanders lost starting goalie Rick DiPietro Dec. 26 with a sore knee. They hope he’ll be ready later in the week. … Dallas center Jussi Jokinen left Saturday’s win against St. Louis with a knee injury and didn’t play Monday against Nashville. … Toronto goaltender Vesa Toskala has missed four games with a groin injury; he tweaked the groin Dec. 26. … Montreal lost rookie defenseman Ryan O’Byrne with a broken thumb on Friday; he’s likely to miss 4-6 weeks. … Carolina defenseman Bret Hedican injured his right knee Friday and will miss at least another week. … Washington lost backup goalie Brent Johnson for at least a week when he sprained a ligament in his left knee Thursday.
Returning -- Edmonton captain Ethan Moreau finally played his first game of the season Saturday. He hadn’t played in 14 months due to wrist and ankle injuries. … Dallas defenseman Mattias Norstrom returned Monday after being sidelined with a knee injury. He’s expected to wear a brace for the rest of the season. … Florida forward David Booth got back in the lineup Sunday after missing eight games with a bruised knee. … Columbus center Manny Malholtra (knee) hopes to play this week. … Chicago could get forward Martin Havlat (groin) back by the end of the week, much faster than expected when he left the ice in Ottawa on Dec. 22. … Ottawa should get shot-blocking defenseman Anton Volchenkov back by the weekend. … Pittsburgh got forward Ryan Malone back Saturday after he missed five games with a leg infection.
Still out -- Tampa Bay defenseman Dan Boyle is skating again following wrist surgery, but is unlikely to return before the All-Star break. … Simon Gagne is getting closer to returning to the Philadelphia Flyers’ lineup. He’s expected to practice harder this week as he aims to return after a concussion that has cost him most of the past two months. … Minnesota center Mikko Koivu (broken leg) may be able to resume practicing with the team by the end of this week. He’s been out since mid-November. … Detroit is winning despite the absence of two-thirds of its top line, center Henrik Zetterberg (back) and left wing Tomas Holmstrom (knee). Both practiced Monday and hope to be back soon. … Buffalo defenseman Teppo Numminen had to watch the AMP Energy NHL Winter Classic from the sidelines; he’s still some time away from returning to the lineup after preseason heart surgery. … Pittsburgh forward Maxime Talbot (high-ankle sprain) is skating again, but is likely to need at least another 10 days before he can play again.
The week ahead -- There are lots of late nights ahead for hockey fans during the next week, as most of the teams in the Mountain and Pacific time zones settle in for a batch of home games, including visits by two of the New York-area teams to Western Canada.
Games to watch:
Dallas at Detroit (Jan. 2) -- Two of the top teams in the Western Conference square off. They’ll meet again Saturday in Dallas.
Toronto at Pittsburgh (Jan. 3) -- Sidney Crosby returns home after winning the AMP Energy Winter Classic with his shootout goal. The struggling Leafs won their only other visit to Mellon Arena.
New York Rangers at Edmonton (Jan. 5) -- The Rangers complete their first trip to Western Canada in four years with a visit to Rexall Place, their third game in four nights.
Detroit at Chicago (Jan. 6) -- The Red Wings have dominated the rest of the NHL, but they haven’t figured out the Hawks, who’ve won all four previous meetings.
Chicago at Montreal (Jan. 8) -- The Blackhawks make their first visit to Montreal since Feb. 1, 2004, when the Canadiens skated off with a 6-4 victory.
Tough week ahead:
New York Islanders -- The Isles host Florida Thursday before heading West for games in Colorado, Edmonton and Vancouver in a four-night stretch.
Chicago Blackhawks -- The Hawks finish a Western swing with games in Phoenix on Thursday and Anaheim on Friday, fly home for a Sunday game with Detroit and head out again to play at Montreal on Tuesday.
Columbus Blue Jackets -- The Jackets spent most of December at home. Now comes the payback, beginning with three games in four nights in California, followed by a visit to St. Louis on Tuesday.
Easy week ahead:
San Jose Sharks -- The Sharks get a breather, with only two games — both at home — in the next week. The bad part: The NHL’s best road team is 6-9-3 at home.
Vancouver Canucks -- Like the Sharks, the Canucks catch a break in the schedule, with just home games against the two New York teams in the next week.
Boston Bruins -- While many of their Eastern Conference rivals hit the road, the B’s stay home for the middle three games of a five-game homestand.