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Pavelec's play in goal has keyed Thrashers' surge

by John Kreiser
The only thing a lot of fans remember about Atlanta goaltender Ondrej Pavelec is that he's the player who fainted on the ice on opening night. Pavelec was hospitalized with a concussion after collapsing Oct. 8. He spent some time in a hospital recuperating -- but since returning after missing seven games, he's been among the NHL's best.

The 23-year-old native of the Czech Republic is the biggest reason the Thrashers have been among the NHL's hottest teams during the past couple of weeks. He's been in goal for five games in the past 10 days and allowed just three goals as the Thrashers beat Washington, the Islanders, Detroit, Montreal and Boston -- shutting out the division-leading Caps and Canadiens and limiting the Red Wings, the top team in the West, to one goal in a 5-1 rout. He was solid again on Sunday, allowing just one goal on 41 shots as the Thrashers beat the Bruins 4-1.

By stopping 154 of 157 shots, Pavelec has lowered his goals-against average to 1.62 and improved his save percentage to .949 -- giving the Thrashers the kind of goaltending they'll need to make the playoffs for only the second time in club history.

Five up -- Five players who've been hot:

Sidney Crosby -- It was a quiet week for Crosby -- if quiet means 4 goals, 7 points and a hat trick while leading your team to a perfect 4-0-0 record. Sid's second of three goals in Saturday's 4-1 victory against Calgary was the 200th of his career, and his points streak is now 12 games.

Marc-Andre Fleury --
Crosby isn't the only reason the Penguins have been hot. Fleury, who struggled for the first month of the season, has found his game in the last three weeks, winning his last five starts while allowing just eight goals.

Johan Hedberg -- Devils GM Lou Lamoriello spent a lot to bring in Hedberg as a backup to Martin Brodeur. Hedberg showed why last week, allowing just four goals in four games while leading New Jersey to a 3-1-0 week, its best of the season.

Dany Heatley -- Heatley looks like he's starting to find his scoring touch. He scored in each of San Jose's three games this past week and had 2 goals and an assist in Saturday's win at Edmonton.

Greg Mauldin --
Mauldin, a seventh-round pick by Columbus in 2002 who has banged around the minors for several years, never may have a night like he did Saturday for Colorado. In his 16th NHL game, he had 2 goals and 2 assists -- the 4 points were more than he'd managed in his first 15 games, including eight this season with the Avs.
Five down -- Five players who are struggling:

Ilya Kovalchuk -- Very little has gone right for Kovalchuk so far this season -- he's got just 4 goals and 10 points in 23 games while going minus-11. He's struggled even more recently, going without a point in his last five games and without a goal in his last seven, a big reason New Jersey has struggled to score.

Alex Frolov -- The New York Rangers were counting on Frolov for an offensive boost when they signed him as a free agent last summer, but it hasn't happened yet. Frolov went without a point in four games last week, has just one (a goal) in his last seven and only 5 goals and 11 points in 25 games

J-P Dumont -- Nashville's lack of scoring is undermining the team's solid defense and goaltending. The Predators need more offense from Dumont, who hasn't had a point in six games and has just 3 goals and 8 points this season.

Alexander Steen -- Like several other teams, St. Louis is struggling to put the puck in the net. The Blues can't afford a lack of production from Steen, who has gone six games without a point despite averaging nearly 19 minutes of ice time during that span.

Niklas Backstrom -- Minnesota's No. 1 goaltender got the hook Saturday, but not before he'd given up a career-high seven goals in a loss at Colorado. Backstrom is in one of the worst stretches of his career -- he's given up 18 goals in his last three games

Injuries, news and notes -- The Detroit Red Wings brought Michigan native Mike Modano home after 20 seasons with the North Stars/Stars franchise, but he'll be out indefinitely after undergoing surgery Saturday to repair a severed tendon in his right wrist. He was clipped by a skate in Friday's game at Columbus.

Out -- Islanders forward Trent Hunter tore a ligament in his left knee Wednesday and is out indefinitely. Defenseman Mike Mottau took a shot in the face last Sunday and will miss at least a month with an eye injury -- meaning the Isles are without five of the seven defensemen they started the season with. … Edmonton forward Ales Hemsky missed games Thursday and Saturday with a groin problem. … Dallas placed defenseman Mark Fistric on injured reserve with a groin injury that knocked him out of Wednesday's game. … Colorado goaltender Craig Anderson left Wednesday's game at Vancouver with a groin injury and hasn't played since. Captain Adam Foote left with a leg injury and also has yet to return. Forward Chris Stewart broke his left hand in Saturday's win against Minnesota, while Daniel Winnik limped off after being hit in the leg with a teammate's shot. … Florida defenseman Bryan Allen is expected to miss a couple of weeks with a broken bone in his foot, sustained Monday. … Rangers forward Marian Gaborik missed Saturday's game with the flu, and Derek Boogaard is out with a shoulder injury. … Chicago's Fernando Pisani missed Saturday's game with an upper-body injury. … San Jose forward Scott Nichol missed games Friday and Saturday after taking a puck in the eye during Friday's morning skate. Another forward, Devin Setoguchi, left Friday's game after the first period with an undisclosed injury and didn't play Saturday. The Sharks also lost two defensemen, Kent Huskins and Niclas Wallin, with injuries Saturday. Wallin had to be helped off the ice after a first-period collision. … Teemu Selanne has missed Anaheim's last three games with a groin injury. Defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky sat out Saturday with back spasms.

Returning --
Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller was back in the net Friday after missing two games with a lower-body injury. He missed five games with the same injury earlier in the season. … Washington forward Mike Knuble played Friday after missing three games with a broken jaw. … Detroit goaltender Chris Osgood is taking part in practices and could be ready to dress by Tuesday. He's missed almost a month with a groin injury. Center Kris Draper, who's recovering from abdominal surgery, also hopes to be back during this week's trip to California. … Rangers defenseman Michal Rozsival returned Saturday after missing nine games with a shoulder problem.

Still out -- Islanders captain Doug Weight missed all of last week with back spasms that have kept him out of the lineup for four games. … New Jersey captain Jamie Langenbrunner hasn't played since Nov. 10 due to a neck injury, though he's skating again. … Pittsburgh center Jordan Staal can practice without a glove on the right hand he broke last month. He hopes to return by mid-December. … Boston center Marc Savard, still recovering from a concussion suffered last season, has been cleared for contact, though there is no timetable for his return. … Florida placed forwards Steve Bernier (broken orbital bone) and Rostislav Olesz (broken finger) on IR. … Minnesota forward Guillaume Latendresse is slated to have surgery to fix a torn labrum in his left hip and an operation to repair a sports hernia. … Nashville placed center David Legwand on IR with a lower-body injury that kept him out all week. … Tampa Bay forward Simon Gagne (neck) still isn't ready to play; he's missed the last 18 games.

The week ahead -- The schedule gets a little more normal after Thanksgiving week -- but no less active, as 10 of 30 teams play four games and just two (Buffalo and New Jersey) have two games.

Games to watch:

Los Angeles at Anaheim (Nov. 29) -- The Kings head to Orange County for this season's first installment of the Freeway Faceoff.

St. Louis at Chicago (Nov. 30, 8 p.m. ET, VERSUS, TSN2) -- Blackhawks fans welcome their team home to the United Center after the six-game "Circus Trip" sent them on the road for more than two weeks.

Detroit at San Jose (Nov. 30, 10:30 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, NHLN-CA) -- The Wings start a swing through California with a visit to San Jose, the team that knocked them out of the playoffs last spring.

New York Rangers at New York Islanders (Dec. 2) --
The Rangers head to Long Island for the start of a home-and-home series. The Isles won the only previous game between the teams, on Columbus Day.

Pittsburgh at Columbus (Dec. 4) -- The NHL's closest East-West rivalry matches two of the League's hottest teams. It's only the 12th time the Penguins and Blue Jackets have met since Columbus joined the NHL in 2000.

Tough week ahead:

Detroit Red Wings --
It's off to California for the Wings, who spent most of the first quarter of the season at home. They visit San Jose, Anaheim and Los Angeles this week.

Edmonton Oilers -- The Oilers have a hectic week, with a three-game trip through Eastern Canada, and then they come back to Rexall Place to host St. Louis. That's a lot of travel.

Florida Panthers --
The Panthers, who started the season in Western Canada, go West again. This time, they start in Anaheim before making stops in Los Angeles and Phoenix.

Easy week ahead:

Chicago Blackhawks --
After spending two weeks on their annual "Circus Trip," the Hawks are happy to be home, where they'll host St. Louis, Vancouver and Calgary this week.

New Jersey Devils -- The Devils play just twice this week, one of two teams with a light schedule. They are home to Montreal before taking a bus down the Jersey Turnpike for a game at Philadelphia.

Toronto Maple Leafs -- It's a week at home for the Leafs, who will welcome Tampa Bay, Edmonton and Boston to the Air Canada Centre.
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