The Metropolitan Division is well represented in the NHL’s Three Stars of the Week, as the league announced that the Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin and the Blue Jackets’ Elvis Merzlikins have been named the first and second stars, respectively. Ovechkin is no stranger to the honor, but was certainly deserving of recognition once again with a whopping eight goals in three games, including back-to-back hat tricks. The 34-year-old trails only David Pastrnak in the NHL goals race right now and is eight goals away from cracking 700 in his career. Meanwhile, Merzlikins is brand new to both the NHL and any sort of league recognition. The young goaltender, who dominated the Swiss ranks for many years, got off to a rocky start this season after signing with Columbus last spring. However, he has performed admirably in the place of injured All-Star Joonas Korpisalo, including winning each of his past four start with three shutouts mixed in. In 20 appearances on the year, Merzlikins is now up to a .928 save percentage and 2.36 GAA in an impressive rookie campaign. The third star of the week belong to another familiar name, Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews. Toews shook off a cold spell, recording three goals and nine points in four games this week, extending his point streak to six games. As Toews goes, so do the Blackhawks, who have been surging of late back into the postseason conversation.
- The Pittsburgh Penguins are among the top-five NHL teams in man-games lost this season and first in lost production due to injury. However, they have weathered the storm, not just maintaining through their losses, but actually improving. Now, they are getting healthy once again, with Sidney Crosby now back (and red-hot) and defenseman Justin Schultz getting close, per a team report. Schultz was cleared for full participation in practice today and appears ready to go, but stated that he and the team will be “smart” with the decision, especially with the All-Star break approaching and the opportunity for even more rest if they opt not to rush him back this week. Meanwhile, after leaving Sunday’s game, Dominik Simon has avoided any lasting injury, the Penguins The same can’t be said for Dominik Kahun, who suffered a head injury and has entered the concussion protocol. That just seems to be how things have gone for Pittsburgh this year though – for every player back to full strength, there’s another player sidelined.
- One of the Penguins’ biggest rivals for the Eastern Conference title could be getting a somewhat forgotten player back in the mix. The Boston Bruins, after not having an update on defenseman Kevan Miller for some time, surprised the media by stating that he returned to the ice with the team yesterday. Miller has not played a single game this season, nor has he even been part of the active roster. The veteran defenseman has suffered multiple setback in his return to health after a litany of injuries last season. Should he reach the point that he is fully able to return to action, the Bruins would welcome him back, despite their logjam on the blue line, as Miller would bring the physicality and checking ability that the team has been missing too often this year. Of course, his return could pose some cap problems in addition to roster questions, but given Miller’s inability to get healthy this season, that is a bridge that the team will cross if and when they come to it.