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Parise powers Devils to top of division

by John Kreiser
The New Jersey Devils have never had anyone score 50 goals or put up 100 points in a season. Zach Parise could change all that.

The son of former NHL star J.P. Parise is the hottest scorer on one of the NHL's hottest teams. Parise put up 4 goals and 4 assists last week as the Devils swept four games -- including consecutive victories over the Eastern Conference-leading Boston Bruins and Western Conference-leading San Jose Sharks.

Parise is the leader of an offense that has enabled the Devils to take control of the Atlantic Division race despite the absence of future Hall of Famer goaltender Martin Brodeur. New Jersey is eight points ahead of second-place Philadelphia in the division -- and tied with Washington for second in the Eastern Conference.

Parise already has set career bests for goals and points in a season. He's tied for second in the NHL with 34 goals and he's on a pace to break Brian Gionta's team single-season record of 48 as well as take a run at hitting 50. Parise's 69 points are fifth in the League and would give him a chance to become the first Devil to break 100 (Patrik Elias holds the team record with 96).

Five up
— Five players who've been producing:

Ilya Kovalchuk -- Atlanta's captain is getting hot. He's scored goals in each of the Thrashers' last four games and had three in less than seven minutes on Sunday in a stunning 8-4 victory at Anaheim.

Patrick Marleau -- The San Jose Sharks had a tough week, going 1-1-2 in he last four games of their Eastern swing. But Marleau continued to produce offensively, scoring 4 goals and setting up three more during the week.

Eric Fehr -- On a team with Alex Ovechkin and Mike Green, it's easy to overlook Fehr, a third-liner who's also been putting the puck into the net. Fehr's goal Sunday gave him a four-game goal-scoring streak, and he's connected in five of his last six games.

Daniel Alfredsson
-- One reason the Ottawa Senators are playing their best hockey of the season is the performance of Alfredsson, who had 2 goals and 4 assists as the Senators won all three games last week. He had the game-winner in Saturday's come-from-behind 5-3 win at Minnesota.

Scott Clemmensen
-- Clemmensen began the week with no shutouts and ended it with two after blanking the Rangers and Bruins. He won all three of his starts last week and now has 25 wins, the most by any New Jersey goaltender not named Martin Brodeur.

Five down — Five players who've struggled:

Carey Price -- Price's game has fallen apart since he returned from groin and lower body injuries just before the All-Star Game. He's lost seven of his nine decisions since then, seen his GAA jump nearly half a goal in that span, and was pounded for seven goals at Edmonton on Wednesday. Jaroslav Halak has started Montreal's last two games.

Henrik Lundqvist -- It's hard to say whether Lundqvist's struggles are the cause of the Rangers' problems or the other way around. But he's 1-4-2 since appearing in the All-Star Game and was driven to the bench during the second period of Sunday's game after allowing four goals on 14 shots.

Darcy Tucker -- Tucker's offensive game has disappeared in his first season with the Colorado Avalanche. He hasn't had a point in his last nine games, hasn't scored a goal since Jan. 2, and is on pace to drop from 18 goals to 7 this season.

Erik Cole -- Cole's offensive game also has disappeared. The former 30-goal scorer has gone pointless in Edmonton's last nine games, and he has just 1 goal and 1 assist since scoring three times at Washington on Jan. 13.

Phil Kessel -- Kessel was one of the NHL's hottest scorers until mid-January, when he missed six games with mononucleosis. He hasn't been the same since his return, with no goals and only 3 assists in nine games. He has no points in Boston's last four games -- all losses.

Injuries, news and notes -- Sean Avery's hockey hiatus came to an end over the weekend when he played for Hartford, the New York Rangers' AHL affiliate. The Dallas Stars, who still own his rights, don't have their own minor-league team. Avery hasn't played a game since Nov. 30 -- two days before he was suspended by the NHL after making inappropriate comments.

Out — The Islanders' parade of injuries marches on. Center Doug Weight is expected to miss six weeks with a sprained knee ligament sustained on Wednesday. Forward Trent Hunter missed all three games last week with a hip flexor injury. … Edmonton took a pair of big hits on the blue line. Lubomir Visnovsky will miss the rest of the season with an injured right shoulder that required surgery, while Denis Grebeshkov will be out for at least two weeks, and maybe a lot longer, with a high ankle sprain sustained Wednesday. … Washington forward Viktor Kozlov has missed the Caps' last five games due to a groin injury. … Columbus put defenseman Rostislav Klesla on IR with a slightly separated left shoulder that's expected to keep him out at least another two weeks. He was injured in last Tuesday's win over Colorado. … San Jose placed forward Marcel Goc on IR with a lower-body injury sustained on Tuesday. … Rangers defenseman Paul Mara left Sunday's game with an injured shoulder. … Chicago forward Patrick Sharp left Saturday's game in the first period with a lower body injury after being checked into the boards.

Returning — Pittsburgh edged closer to having its regular lineup intact when defenseman Sergei Gonchar made his debut Saturday night. Gonchar hasn't played due to a shoulder injury that required offseason surgery. Forward Ruslan Fedotenko also returned Saturday after missing 15 games with a broken right hand. ... St. Louis activated center Andy McDonald on Tuesday after he missed 36 games with a broken ankle, and he had a goal and an assist in his return. He also signed a four-year contract extension with the Blues. … Carolina activated defenseman Dennis Seidenberg off IR after he missed six games with the flu. … Los Angeles rookie Oscar Moller played Tuesday after missing more than a month with a broken collarbone sustained during the World Junior Championships. … Flyers center Mike Richards and forward Scottie Upshall both returned Thursday after missing three games with the flu. … Nashville forward Wade Belak was back in the lineup Thursday after missing five games due to a shoulder injury. … Buffalo defenseman Andrej Sekera returned Friday; he had missed 12 games with an ankle injury. The Sabres could get center Paul Gaustad, out since Feb. 6 with a separated shoulder, back as soon as Thursday. … Columbus activated defenseman Jiri Novotny from IR after he missed six weeks with a back injury. The Jackets also got rookie goaltender Steve Mason back on Friday after he missed three games and spent time on IR battling mononucleosis. … Carolina captain Rod Brind'Amour returned Thursday after missing two games with a groin injury. … Detroit forward Johan Franzen, who injured his right hand on Feb. 7, hopes to be back by midweek. … Ottawa got forward Shean Donovan back on Thursday after he missed eight games with a knee injury. … Fernando Pisani, out since breaking his ankle on Nov. 17, could return to the lineup this week during Edmonton's road trip. … Phoenix activated center Peter Mueller from IR on Friday after he missed seven games with a concussion. The Coyotes were 1-6-0 in those seven games. … Nashville forward Jordin Tootoo returned Saturday after missing seven games with a cut on his hand that required stitches.

Still out — Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur returned to practice on Saturday and is on target to return on Feb. 26 -- nearly four months after sustaining a bicep injury that required surgery. … Philadelphia center Daniel Briere, who's missed most of the season with groin and hernia problems that required surgery, hopes to be back on Feb. 25. … Minnesota forward Craig Weller was able to practice last week; he's been out since Jan. 15 with a head injury. … Detroit defenseman Brad Stuart (back injury) is skating again but is expected to miss at least another week. He's been out since Jan. 20. Forward Tomas Holmstrom had successful sports hernia surgery last week and hopes to be back sometime in March. Another forward, Darren McCarty, is skating again after undergoing hernia surgery in November and is expected to be sent to the minors soon for conditioning. … Colorado center Paul Stastny hopes to get medical clearance to practice this week. He's been out since breaking his right arm on Dec. 23. … Pittsburgh defenseman Philippe Boucher had successful surgery on his left foot Friday; he was injured in late December and is out indefinitely. … Dallas captain Brenden Morrow, out since tearing up his knee on Nov. 20 and undergoing surgery two weeks later, says he hopes to make it back for the playoffs.

The week ahead — If you like to watch hockey, this is the week for you. Thirteen teams cram four games into the next seven days; of the remainder, 16 play three times; only the Philadelphia Flyers have a two-game week.

Games to watch:
New York Rangers at St. Louis (Feb. 16) — A national TV audience (on Versus) will see the slumping Rangers pay their first visit to the Gateway City since Dec. 10, 2005. It's their first visit since their former TV analyst, John Davidson, took over as Blues' president.

Boston at Carolina (Feb. 17) -- Before the game, the Hurricanes will retire No. 2 in honor of longtime defenseman Glen Wesley, who began his career with the Bruins, but spent most of it with the Whalers/Hurricanes franchise before retiring after last season.

Vancouver at Toronto (Feb. 21) — It's sure to be an emotional night in Toronto as longtime Leafs captain Mats Sundin makes his return to the Air Canada Centre in a Vancouver uniform.

Pittsburgh at Washington (Feb. 22) — NBC will be at the Verizon Center for the latest chapter in the Ovechkin vs. Crosby/Malkin saga. The Capitals have won the first two meetings this season.

Toronto at New York Rangers (Feb. 22) -- The Rangers, who retired Adam Graves jersey earlier this month, will raise No. 9 to the rafters again in honor of Hall of Famer Andy Bathgate -- who they traded to Toronto in 1964. They're also retiring No. 3 in honor of Harry Howell, another Hall of Famer who played more games as a Ranger than anyone else.

Tough week ahead:
Chicago Blackhawks — The weary Hawks played just one game at home after an eight-game trip before heading out on a three-game tour of Florida and Dallas. They finish the week with a home game against Minnesota.

Atlanta Thrashers — Maybe a week out West will help the Thrashers, who've been playing better on the road than at Philips Arena. They began with a win Sunday at Anaheim and sandwich visits to the other two California teams around a stop in Phoenix.

Edmonton Oilers — The Oilers, who began a four-game trip Saturday at Los Angeles, continue with stops in Phoenix, San Jose and Dallas before coming home to host their archrivals from Calgary, all in a six-day span.

Easy week ahead:

Philadelphia Flyers -- Not only are the Flyers the only team that's scheduled to play just twice this week, both games are at home. Buffalo and Pittsburgh come to the Wachovia Center.

San Jose Sharks -- After a nasty five-game Eastern trip, the Western Conference leaders are home this week -- and play three teams (Edmonton, Los Angeles and Atlanta) well below them in the overall standings.

Washington Capitals -- The Caps, one of the NHL's best home teams, spend the week in the nation's capital, hosting Montreal and Colorado before Sunday's showdown with the Penguins.

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