Snipers take aim
Two of the NHL’s most electrifying players face off Tuesday when Alex Ovechkin’s Washington Capitals travel to Atlanta to take on Ilya Kovalchuk’s Thrashers.
Kovalchuk has been on fire recently, tying Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg for the league’s goal-scoring lead with 12 in 14 games, including back-to-back hat tricks against Ottawa (in a 6-4 loss on Thursday) and Tampa Bay (in a 6-4 win on Saturday); Kovalchuk’s hot streak has seen him put up nine goals and 14 points in his past seven games.
Ovechkin has just one point – a goal, of course – in his past three games, but has nine goals and 16 points in 14 games.
The Russian snipers and No. 1 overall draft picks – Kovalchuk in 2001 and Ovechkin in ’04 – each scored 52 goals in 2005-06; last season, Ovechkin had 46, Kovalchuk 42.
The bad news is, they’re not getting a lot of help in the early going of 2007-08: Atlanta and Washington are tied for last place in the Eastern Conference at 5-9-0. And another Southeast team, Tampa, is 13th at 5-8-1.
When Mats Sundin was a 22-year-old in his third NHL campaign with the Quebec Nordiques in 1992-93, he racked up 114 points. In his third full season with Toronto, as a 26-year-old in 1996-97, he collected 94 points. And Sundin has twice managed 83 points, most recently in 1998-99.
But the 36-year-old Maple Leafs captain is off to a career-best start in 2007-08; with 21 points in 15 games, he’s on pace for 115 points. And with the Leafs expecting reinforcements – forwards Kyle Wellwood, Darcy Tucker and Mark Bell are slated to return to the lineup – the trick for Sundin won’t be whether he has enough scoring support, it’ll be whether he can avoid the nagging injuries that have sidelined him in recent seasons.
November playoff race
If the playoffs started today, there’d be four new teams in the Western Conference (that didn’t make the post-season last year) and five in the East.
Anaheim, Dallas and Vancouver in the West, as well as Buffalo, New Jersey and Tampa in the East, are among the teams that would be on the outside looking in.
If the playoffs started today. Which they don’t. They start in five months.
Penguins backup goalie Dany Sabourin is 3-1-1 with a 1.86 goals-against average and .929 save percentage. Pittsburgh starter Marc-Andre Fleury, meanwhile, is 4-5-0 with a 3.45 GAA and .896 save percentage.
In his past three starts, Fleury has surrendered 11 goals on 70 shots over seven periods; he was yanked after allowing three goals in the first period against Montreal Oct. 27. In 10 starts this season, Fleury has given up at least three goals seven times.
Remember this, though: He’s still only 22; Fleury turns 23 on Nov. 28.
Tampa Bay has lost six in a row (0-5-1) and has allowed 27 goals in that span. The Bolts aren’t happy with their goaltending tandem of Johan Holmqvist and Marc Denis; the team’s .866 save percentage is the worst in the league, behind Atlanta (.878) and, surprisingly, Buffalo (.879).