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Thornton powering Sharks to the top of the standings

by John Kreiser
Joe Thornton is playing like a man on a mission.

Thornton is the kind of center who makes anyone playing with him a threat to score. He set up linemate Dany Heatley for three easy goals during a four-assist night in San Jose's 6-3 win against Philadelphia on Friday -- a performance that was sandwiched around a pair of goal-and-assist games against Nashville and Anaheim.

That effort earned him recognition as NHL First Star of the Week.

More interesting was the way Thornton earned some of his points. He set up two of Heatley's goals with the kind of patience only great players have -- waiting beyond what seemed possible before rifling passes that Heatley simply had to tap into open nets. He reversed his role Saturday, taking a feed from his linemate and rocketing the game-winner past goaltender Jonas Hiller.

For the week, Thornton finished with 2 goals and 6 assists for 8 points, giving him 7 goals and a League-leading 25 assists for 32 points in 25 games -- a pace that would give him his first 100-point season since 2006-07. Not coincidentally, the Sharks are on top of the overall standings again with 36 points and on track to repeat as Presidents' Trophy winners.        

Montreal's Carey Price was Second Star of the Week, and Ottawa's Mike Fisher was Third Star of the Week.

Carey Price -- The Canadiens goalie allowed just 6 goals on 100 shots in going 2-0-1. He stopped 30 of 32 in an overtime win against Carolina on Tuesday, and Friday he stopped 32 of 34 shots to beat the Capitals in Washington. Coming back Saturday in Detroit, he again was strong, stopping 32 of 34 shots to help the Canadiens earn a point in an overtime loss.

Mike Fisher -- The Senators' center had just 13 goals last season; after last week, he already has 9 in 20 games. Fisher had his first two-goal game since March 2008, including the game-winner in a 3-2 defeat of the Maple Leafs, and he had 4 assists in wins against Pittsburgh and Buffalo.
Five up -- Five other players who have been hot:

Dany Heatley -- Playing with Thornton can do good things for your offensive totals. Just ask Heatley, who had a hat trick Friday, a goal and an assist Saturday and now leads the NHL with 18 goals.

Claude Giroux -- The rookie forward has fit right in with the Philadelphia Flyers, who picked him in the first round in 2006. Giroux had 2 goals and 7 points in the Flyers' four games last week, including the first two-goal game of his career at San Jose.

Kristian Huselius -- Huselius has been on fire since returning from am upper-body injury that cost him four games. He has 3 goals and 7 points in the four games since his return, and now has 16 points in 17 games.

Mike Green -- He's not piling up goals the way he did last season, but Green still is averaging better than a point a game. He has a six-game points streak and had 5 assists in three games last week.

Pekka Rinne -- The second-year netminder appears to have grabbed the No. 1 job in Nashville. He went 3-0-0 last week, including a pair of shootout wins, and has won his last five decisions while allowing nine goals.
Five down -- Five players who are struggling:

Rod Brind'Amour -- Brind'Amour struggled for much of 2008-09, and 2009-10 hasn't been much better. He's gone without a point in his last five games for Carolina, and he hasn't scored a goal since connecting in back-to-back games on Oct. 9-10.

Brenden Morrow --
Dallas' captain had 7 goals and 14 points through the Stars' first 16 games, but has gone cold since then. He hasn't had a point in his last six games, despite averaging more than 19 minutes of ice time a night.

Guillaume Latendresse -- The Montreal Canadiens were counting on Latendresse to step up this season. Instead, he's taken a step backward. The 22-year-old forward has no points in his last eight games and is just 2-1-3 in 23 games this season.

Wade Redden -- The offensive skills that persuaded New York Rangers GM Glen Sather to sign Redden to a long-term contract 16 months ago still are nowhere in evidence. Redden has no points and is minus-4 in his last eight games; he has just 2 assists in his last 15 games, and 3 of his 5 points came in one game -- Oct. 12.

Jason Chimera -- Columbus is looking for scoring from somewhere other than its first line, but Chimera isn't helping -- he's gone scoreless in his last six games.
Injuries, news and notes -- Though they're dealing with injuries like everyone else, the Columbus Blue Jackets still were willing to let 2008 first-round pick Nikita Filatov go home to Russia for the rest of the season. The Jackets loaned him to CSKA; they expect him at training camp next fall.

Out -- Ottawa forward Shean Donovan may miss the rest of the season after tearing a knee ligament in a knee-on-knee collision Thursday against Pittsburgh. Senators goaltender Pascal Leclaire left Saturday's game with a lower-body injury. ... Los Angeles center Jarrett Stoll sustained an upper-body injury Saturday. ... Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall will miss at least four weeks with a sprained ligament in his left knee after a collision in Montreal on Saturday. ... Edmonton goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin has been battling a bad back; he sat out Thursday and didn't dress Saturday. ... Philadelphia forwards Darroll Powe and Blair Betts both are out with shoulder injuries and forward Arron Asham isn't expected back until early December after injuring an oblique muscle last week. ... Montreal center Scott Gomez left Friday's game at Washington with an upper-body injury and didn't play Saturday. Washington defenseman Tom Poti left the same game with the same problem -- an upper-body injury that kept him out Saturday. Caps forward Quintin Laing will miss at least a month with a broken jaw sustained while blocking a shot Tuesday. ... New Jersey center Dainius Zubrus will miss at least four weeks with a fracture in his kneecap sustained while blocking a shot at Nashville on Thursday. ... Calgary forward Rene Bourque left Thursday's game against Chicago with an undisclosed injury and didn't make the Flames' trip to Southern California. ... Carolina lost another goaltender when Michael Leighton went down with a groin injury Tuesday. Starter Cam Ward already is out. ... Florida center Cory Stillman left Friday's game in Detroit with a knee injury and didn't play Saturday. ... Buffalo forward Drew Stafford missed Saturday's game with a lower-body injury. ... San Jose forward Devin Setoguchi is on IR after re-injuring his leg. ... Minnesota forward Martin Havlat didn't play Friday due to a hamstring injury.


G-A-P: 56-54-110
+/-: 8 | PIM: 72 | PP: 19

Returning -- Washington got superstar Alex Ovechkin back Tuesday after he missed six games with an upper-body injury. Not surprisingly, he scored in his first game back. ... Chicago could have forward Marian Hossa in the lineup for the first time Wednesday night. He hasn't played while recovering from shoulder surgery. ... Pittsburgh defenseman Sergei Gonchar returned Thursday after missing 12 games with a broken wrist. Center Max Talbot made his season debut the same night following offseason shoulder surgery, and defenseman Brooks Orpik returned Saturday after missing four games with a knee injury -- but the Penguins lost defensemen Jay McKee to an infected finger and Alex Goligoski to an undisclosed injury. ... Vancouver's Daniel Sedin returned Sunday for the first time since breaking his left foot Oct. 7. ... Montreal defenseman Ryan O'Byrne (knee) and forward Georges Laraque (back) returned Friday. O'Byrne hadn't played since Oct. 3; Gorges had been out since Oct. 20. ... Boston forward Milan Lucic (broken finger) returned Thursday after missing a month. The Bruins expect to get No. 1 center Marc Savard (broken foot) back Monday after missing five weeks. They also hope goaltender Tim Thomas, who has sat out the last three games with a nagging injury, can play Monday. ... San Jose's Rob Blake (upper body) skated Thursday for the first time since going down with an injury Nov. 4. He hopes to be back this week. ... Buffalo defenseman Toni Lydman (groin) played Friday for the first time since Oct. 21. ... Columbus center Samuel Pahlsson returned Saturday after missing three games with an elbow infection and back spasms. ... Anaheim center Saku Koivu returned Saturday after missing five games with a groin injury.

Still out --
Edmonton's Mike Comrie, who had been out of the lineup for much of the last month with what was being called a virus or the flu, was diagnosed with mononucleosis. There's no timetable for his return. ... Vancouver center Pavol Demitra, who has yet to play due to a shoulder injury that needed surgery, has started skating again. There's no date set for his return. ... Philadelphia forward Simon Gagne, who had hernia surgery Nov. 3, is skating again and is on target to be back by mid- to late-December. ...Rangers captain Chris Drury (concussion) likely will travel with the team on this week's road trip, but won't play at home Monday. ... Anaheim center Ryan Carter will miss another four weeks with what now has been diagnosed as a broken, not bruised, right foot. ... Los Angeles forward Ryan Smyth will miss a month with an upper-body injury. ... Buffalo forward Mike Grier has missed four games with a groin problem, and the Sabres aren't saying when he'll return.

The week ahead -- Each team plays at least three times during the holiday week, with extremely busy schedules Monday (10 games), Wednesday (14 games), Friday (12) and Saturday (13).

Games to watch:
Detroit at Nashville (Nov. 23, 7 p.m. ET, VERSUS, TSN2) --
This will mark the Red Wings' first visit this season to Nashville, where the Predators have been one of the NHL's hottest teams.

Chicago at San Jose (Nov. 25) -- The Sharks will be looking to avenge an OT loss at Chicago 10 days earlier -- the Hawks' last home game before starting their six-game "Circus Trip."

Pittsburgh at N.Y. Islanders (Nov. 27) -- The Isles spend the afternoon hosting Sidney Crosby & Co. in the second game of a short homestand that followed a seven-game trip -- then go right back on the road for five more.

Philadelphia at Atlanta (Nov. 28) -- Pardon the Flyers if they have a lot of confidence going into this one: Philadelphia has won its last 14 games against the Thrashers, the longest current winning streak by one team against another.

N.Y. Rangers at Pittsburgh (Nov. 28) -- The Penguins come home to play the Rangers in the first of a home-and-home series that concludes Monday night in New York.

Tough week ahead:
Carolina Hurricanes ­-
The Hurricanes play three of their four games this week on the road, and have one stretch of three games in four nights -- in Anaheim on Wednesday, home for Atlanta on Friday, and in Buffalo on Saturday.

Chicago Blackhawks --
The second week of the "Circus Trip" finds the Blackhawks in California, playing three games in four days against San Jose, Anaheim and Los Angeles.

Columbus Blue Jackets -- It's a hectic week for the Jackets, who start with three road games in four nights (including Thanksgiving in Ottawa -- where it's just another Thursday) before coming home to face Calgary.

Easy week ahead:

Anaheim Ducks --
"Easy" might be a relative term when you're playing four games in a week, but at least the Ducks get to play them all at home and have no back-to-backs.

Minnesota Wild -- Like most teams, the Wild has three games in four nights sandwiched around Thanksgiving. But Minnesota has four days off before Boston comes to town Wednesday, then plays a home-and-home with Colorado. Given the volume of games this week, that's about as easy at it gets.

Vancouver Canucks --
The Canucks get to spend the week at home, though they have three games in four nights against Los Angeles, Edmonton and San Jose following a couple of days off.
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