MANY HAPPY RETURNS
Many of the NHL's marquee players were absent in January because of injury, but are closing in on a post All-Star return, including the Anaheim Ducks' captain Ryan Getzlaf, who has been out with multiple sinus fractures, after he took a puck in the face. Getzlaf had a CT scan Wednesday that the fractures healing well and starting to stabilize. It means he can begin practicing with the team Monday, but will likely be held out of game action for another week. If all goes according to plan, his return is schedule for Feb. 9, when the Ducks begin a Western Canada swing in Vancouver.
COMING DOWN TO EARTH
The Atlanta Thrashers' 1-0 win over the Washington Capitals helped stem a steady slide down the Eastern Conference standings. If the playoffs were to open this weekend, they'd be in - but just barely, ahead of the all-star hosts (and surging) Carolina Hurricanes. One of the reasons for Atlanta's recent struggles is that defenceman Dustin Byfuglien has come down to earth after an astonishingly productive first three months. Byfuglien is still tied for fourth in defensive scoring, even though he's gone 10 games with a point.
Of all the statistical anomalies at the all-star break, probably the most surprising is how difficult it has become for the Washington Capitals to score goals. Last year, the Caps ran away with the overall scoring crown - and it wasn't even close. They scored 318 goals - eight NHL teams finished 100 or more goals behind them? This year, they are strictly middle of the pack - and most surprisingly, fourth out of five teams in the Southeast in terms of scoring, after obliterating the division offensively last year. Defenceman Mike Green is one of handful of players in the midst of slow years. Green had 76 points in 75 games last year; this year, he had 22 in 44. As for coach Bruce Boudreau, he sounded as if he was running out of answers following the shutout loss to the Thrashers, saying: "If you can't score, you can't score. It wasn't for lack of effort. We just can't score goals right now. We're trying so hard, but we can't score goals."
FIRST OF A CAREER
His father, Basil McRae, was one of the toughest players of his generation - and made a mark with a cameo appearance alongside Mike Modano in the first Mighty Ducks movie. On Thursday, in his seventh NHL game, McRae's son Phillip scored his first NHL goal against the Calgary Flames. McRae has spent most of his first professional season in Peoria, where the former second-round draft choice had 22 points in 37 games. St. Louis has been shuttling its young players in and out all season, thanks to injuries that knocked David Perron, T.J. Oshie and Andy McDonald out for long periods of time. Oshie is back and McDonald is close, but Perron is still a ways away from playing. St. Louis dropped to 14th with the loss to Calgary; the only good news is that two years ago, they were 15th at the All-Star break but made a surge all the way to sixth by season's end.
- Turnout in Uniondale, for the New York Islanders final game before the All-Star break, a 4-2 loss to the all-star hosts Carolina. Yep, a hockey market for sure.
- Victories for the Philadelphia Flyers' franchise, one the Second Six and the only team apart from the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first wave of NHL expansion to have multiple Stanley Cups on their resumes.
"The player made the decision not to report. We did everything the right way. It's out of our hands," New York Islanders' general manager Garth Snow defends his perfectly defensible decision to claim goaltender Evgeni Nabokov on waivers and subsequently suspend him for not showing up for work.
"Five years ago, it was a pipe dream that I'd ever be in an NHL All-Star Game. I understand it's hard for some guys who need a break. But I, for one, am excited," Boston Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas, who will be making his third all-star appearance overall and second in a row.