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Ovechkin shows why he's the M.V.P.

by Brian Compton
A few thoughts while Americans stock up on Pepto-Bismol:

Alex the great -- Ladies and gentlemen, that's why Alexander Ovechkin is the NHL's reigning Hart Trophy winner.

Despite missing 7 of his teammates on Wednesday night, Ovechkin put his injury-depleted team on his back by scoring 3 times and adding an assist in the Washington Capitals' 5-3 win against the Atlanta Thrashers at the Verizon Center.

"It was a great start for us, especially the hat trick and then the winning," said Ovechkin, who may as well start painting his face like William Wallace. "We lost three in a row, and we just had to come back to our building and win the game."

Washington's Chris Clark (stress fracture of forearm), Jeff Schultz (broken finger), Boyd Gordon (back) and John Erskine (undisclosed) were hurt Monday night in a loss to Minnesota. They joined Alexander Semin (back), Mike Green (shoulder), Sergei Federov (ankle), each of whom have been out with injuries.

It didn't matter. The Caps could have also been missing Jose Theodore and Brent Johnson, and Ovechkin would have found a way to get his team 2 points. He was that good on Wednesday.

"When he gets one early, he gets energized," Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said. "When he's on, it sure makes it difficult to stop."

Actually, Coach, it makes it impossible.

No place like home -- Will the San Jose Sharks ever lose another regulation game on home ice?

It sure doesn't seem that way.

The Chicago Blackhawks gave the Sharks a scare on Wednesday night, when captain Jonathan Toews gave his club a 2-1 lead just 23 seconds into the third period. But Sharks captain Patrick Marleau responded with a goal of his own just under 8 minutes later, and Joe Thornton scored 45 seconds into overtime to lift San Jose to a pulsating 3-2 victory at HP Pavilion.

With the victory, the Sharks improved to 12-0-1 on home ice. Their dominance at the Shark Tank is one of many reasons why they sit atop the NHL standings with 37 points.

"We have to realize that nobody is going to give it to us," said Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov, who returned from a 7-game absence and made 26 saves. "We have to take it from other teams. We can't take it for granted that we're going to score because we take lots of shots."

They did it again -- What is it about a 3-goal lead that forces the New York Islanders to shrivel up like prunes?

The Isles came out on Wednesday night determined to get back to the .500 mark, as Doug Weight and Trent Hunter scored in the first period to build a 2-0 lead. Once Bill Guerin made it 3-0 in the second, it seemed as if the Isles were on cruise control.

But then ...

Brooks Orpik scored in the final seconds of the second period to make it 3-1, before Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin had New York running faster than Jesse Owens in the third. Crosby scored to make it 3-2 at 6:18, and Malkin followed with a natural hat trick as the Pens rallied for a 5-3 victory at Nassau Coliseum.

The Islanders have certainly become masters at blowing late leads this season. The first wasted lead to the Penguins that turned into a 4-3 shootout loss on Nov. 8, marked the fourth time in five games that they've squandered a third-period advantage.

"We've definitely learned our lesson this year," said defenseman Andy Sutton. "There is a lot of talent in this League, and if you sit back just the littlest bit — it might not even be noticeable to the eye — teams are going to take advantage of it."

Back on track -- The Buffalo Sabres got some breaks on Wednesday. Those breaks just happened to coincide with the end of a 5-game losing streak.

After outshooting their previous two opponents -- Philadelphia and the Islanders -- by a 77-51 margin, Buffalo still found itself on the losing end. But on Wednesday, the Sabres were able to convert on their chances to win against the Northeast-leading Boston Bruins in a 3-2 victory at HSBA Arena. It was just their second win in the last nine games.



"It was a just a matter of getting the bounces," said Sabres forward Derek Roy, who had a pair of first-period goals. "We were desperate for a win, and when you're desperate guys are making plays, blocking shots, and not being too fancy. Everyone was on the same page, and played hard."

Anybody else excited about the Northeast Division race this season? Between Boston, Montreal and Buffalo, it should be a fight to the end. And not one of those Don King fights, either.

Not good enough -- Carolina Hurricanes coach Peter Laviolette was steaming after his team's latest loss, and rightfully so.

While they were only trailing 1-0 after the first period, the Hurricanes came out slower a Datsun going uphill as they recorded only 1 shot on goal in a 3-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers.

One shot in 20 minutes?

"We played the first period like a game of pond hockey," Laviolette said.

While Laviolette can show his team more videos than Blockbuster, it won't add up to much until the effort is there. The Hurricanes responded with 16 shots on goal in the second period, but Antero Niittymaki stopped 15 of them.

"You can throw film out the window -- I think execution and energy and heart and downright gritty work (are) where you're going to get it done," Carolina forward Chad LaRose said. "Sometimes there (are) lulls during the game, and sometimes that costs you games."

Even Niittymaki was disappointed with the Hurricanes' start. It was so poor that the Flyers' goalie could have played the first 20 minutes without equipment. LaRose got Carolina going with a goal at 1:52 of the second period.

"It's not good that they scored, but it is good that something happened," Niittymaki said. "I needed to wake up my body a little bit. I felt good, even though they scored right away. I started feeling better."

Go figure -- Phoenix Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky was perplexed on Wednesday night.

Trying to rid themselves of a 6-game losing streak, the Coyotes put forth a sluggish effort and gave up 40 shots to the host Columbus Blue Jackets. When the final horn sounded, though, they had a 3-2 victory.

"How do you figure this game?" said Gretzky, who probably hadn't been so confused since watching the series finale of The Sopranos. "Sometimes it can be crazy."

Perhaps it was the efforts of Mikael Tellqvist that had Phoenix leave Columbus with 2 points. The Coyotes' backup goalie stopped 38 shots on Wednesday night, with 25 of them coming in the first 2 periods.

"They usually score goals and stuff for me. I want to steal a game for these guys, too," Tellqvist said. "We probably didn't have our best game this year, but we battled hard and blocked a lot of shots. If it wasn't for my defensemen, there probably would have been 80 shots."

Can we play them again? -- The only disappointment for the New York Rangers on Wednesday night was the fact that they're done playing the Tampa Bay Lightning this season.

Markus Naslund scored twice and Henrik Lundqvist made 27 saves, as the Blueshirts swept their season series with the Lightning with a 3-2 shootout victory at the St. Pete Times Forum.

Naslund also scored in the shootout for the Rangers, who allowed just 6 goals in their 4 games against Tampa Bay. The first 2 contests between the teams took place at the NHL Premiere Series in Prague.

"I guess we like the challenge to play this team," Lundqvist said. "We had a good start of the year in Prague when we played this team."

Unfortunately for the Rangers, it's the last they'll see of the Lightning until the 2009-10 campaign. That is, unless, Tampa Bay can somehow turn things around and make the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"It's disappointing, obviously, not getting the two points, but it's not a lack of effort," Lightning forward Martin St. Louis said. "If we play like that and battle like that game in and game out, I like our chances of coming out on top."

Looking for a spark -- It was only 2-0 after the first period, but Florida Panthers coach Pete DeBoer believed his team needed a change in a game against the New Jersey Devils at the BankAtlantic Center.

So with that, he yanked All-Star goaltender Tomas Vokoun and replaced him with Craig Anderson. Vokoun allowed 2 goals on 12 shots, as Brian Gionta and Travis Zajac found the back of the net in the opening period.

"I thought it was a pretty easy decision," DeBoer said. "I didn't like either of the first 2 goals. I didn't like the way the team was playing, either. I was hoping that it would be a shot of life there for our guys."

That's exactly what it was. The Devils didn't score for the remainder of regulation, and David Booth sent the game to overtime when he beat Scott Clemmensen with just 7.2 seconds remaining. New Jersey escaped, though, as Johnny Oduya scored with 55.5 seconds left in overtime.

Still, DeBoer was happy to see the way his team responded after the goalie switch.

"It was a great comeback," DeBoer said. "We showed resiliency and character. It wasn't an easy night out there. Nothing seemed to be going right early, but we found a way to hang around and keep chipping away. The nice thing is we didn't quit."

Don't let them in -- Montreal Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau had the perfect game plan entering Wednesday night's showdown with the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena.

Don't let them in our zone. At all.

OK, so the Habs couldn't do that against the reigning Stanley Cup champions, but they did clog up the neutral zone enough to skate away with an impressive 3-1 victory. Carey Price had a shutout going for more than 53 minutes until Johan Franzen solved the Canadiens' No. 1 goalie.

"They're a team that likes to control the puck," Carbonneau said. "We just tried to play as tough as we can in the neutral zone and make them dump it in."

It left Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom impressed.

"I thought they played their system real well," the Detroit captain said. "I think we saw their first play was right at the red line and they were backing off and not giving us any speed through the neutral zone. Once we got the puck in we lost a lot of 1-on-1 battles in the corners, couldn't sustain that pressure that we wanted to."

Reversal of fortune? -- The Dallas Stars sure hope that what transpired at the Xcel Energy Center on Wednesday night is the start of something special.

Loui Eriksson had a goal and 2 assists, as Dave Tippett's club erased a 2-goal deficit and earned a gritty 4-3 victory against the Minnesota Wild.

"Maybe this is a tide-turner," Tippett said after his team won for the first time this season when trailing after two periods. "We're still a work in progress, but we got rewarded tonight for a little bit of hard work."

Speaking of rewards, any press conference with Wild coach Jacques Lemaire is just that. Lemaire was asked about a lengthy video replay in the second period that would have given his team a 3-goal lead.

"It takes 10 minutes to decide a goal is not in, which we knew a long time before that, it wasn't in, but we waited and waited," the always-colorful Lemaire said. "You have the momentum, you want to play. When you have the momentum, you don't want to go for coffee."

Memo to the University of Minnesota: Ask Lemaire to be your commencement speaker for 2009. Right now.

A family affair -- It was a special night at the Pepsi Center on Wednesday night, when two brothers faced-off against each other.

Colorado's Paul Stastny shared the ice with Yan Stastny of the St. Louis Blues. In the end, it was Paul who earned the bragging rights as the Avalanche notched a 3-1 victory.

"It was good until he hit me in the face, so I hit him right back," Paul joked. "He was all ticked off, but after that the emotions let loose a little bit. It was just a scrum in front on the power play. We were just jabbing away at it. Hockey is hockey."

"I got him right in the chops," Yan said. "He was giving a few whacks at Manny (Legace). That's what you have to do … you have to clear the net a little bit. I should have gotten him earlier, but I got him later. If I see him in the lineup, I’m a little more focused on trying to knock him over or something or give him a shot."

The proudest Stastny of them all on Wednesday night? Easy. Peter Stastny, who played in the NHL from 1980-1994.

"He's pumped," Paul said. "I think he's so proud of us. I'm sure he sat back — it's 4:00 in the morning in Slovakia — and probably had a glass of wine or something."

Home, bitter home -- After spending the majority of the first month of the season on the road, the Edmonton Oilers were certainly looking forward to getting some games in at Rexall Place.

But after their sixth straight home loss on Wednesday night -- a 2-1 defeat at the hands of the Los Angeles Kings -- the Oilers probably can't wait to get away again.

"We need to be better at home," Edmonton forward Andrew Cogliano said. "Since we had all those road games, we have to make up the games we lost on the road here at home. We can't use the excuse that our record is because of all those road games because we are losing our home games now."

If you ask Oilers coach Craig MacTavish, though, his team is simply snakebitten. MacTavish was pleased with the effort his team gave on Wednesday night.

"It's clear the will was there," MacTavish said. "We're a tight group right now, in particular at home. The will and the try and all of those things based on effort are there. It's just a lack of execution in some pretty critical areas of the game offensively."

Contact Brian Compton at:

Material from wire services and team media was used in this report.


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