Duchene has had four multi-point games in a row. He, Couture and the Stars’ Jamie Benn (whose numbers have also been just okay in December) are among the young players under consideration for Canada’s Olympic team. If only one of the three makes it, Duchene has to be the current leader for that spot.
Hertl had 25 points in 35 games, although the pace of his scoring had tailed off after October, he was still the NHL’s leading rookie scorer by five points over the Avalanche’s Nathan MacKinnon, who has worked his way up to Colorado’s top line with Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly. The hottest position player among rookies has to be the Stars’ Valeri Nichuskin, who had a slow start, but is up to 18 points and playing regularly on the top line with Benn and Tyler Seguin.
THIS AND THAT: Rinne’s absence certainly puts his place in the Olympic pecking order for Finland in question. At the start of the year, Rinne was the favorite for the starting role in what could be a crowded crease – lots of good Finnish goalies dot NHL lineups. Right now, the Boston Bruins Tuukka Rask has moved to the front of the line, though the Finns will likely place Rinne on the roster just because teams can name three goalies and can change their rosters if needed up to 24 hours before their opening games ... Sweden is likely still going to start Lundqvist in goal, but he is struggling through one of the toughest seasons of his NHL career, with only 10 victories in 27 decisions and not playing with nearly the same consistency that saw him win 30 games or more in his first seven NHL seasons and lead the league last year with 24 wins in the shortened 48-game season ... Of late, the New Jersey Devils, behind a series of record-setting performances by Jaromir Jagr, have vaulted back into playoff contention, something goaltender Martin Brodeur will acknowledge has a lot to do with the NHL’s new divisional alignment. “We feel that we’re playing some decent hockey and we have the luxury of being in the weakest division,” said Brodeur, in giving the woeful Metropolitan Division a little love. “We have to take advantage of it. We can’t just say, ’We’re in the weakest.’ We’re got to start putting points on the board, and the last four games we just dropped one point. If we continue to do that, good things will happen for us.” The ageless Jagr had three points in Saturday’s comeback win over Washington, including the 694th goal of his career, tying him with Mark Messier for seventh on the all-time NHL’s scoring list. Jagr has 11 points in his last seven games ... Even though he’s just been with them since the start of the season, Vincent Lecavalier has become an important dressing room voice for the Philadelphia Flyers and his absence on a couple of separate occasions because of injury have really set them back. After missing nine games with a non-displaced fracture in his back, Lecavalier returned to the Flyers’ lineup in a 6-3 loss to Columbus Saturday night, about a week ahead of schedule. Lecavalier was pressed into service when Steve Downie went down. Columbus also had an important figure return – Marian Gaborik – who’d missed 17 games with a knee injury. He lasted less than a period when he broke his collarbone on a hit by Zac Rinaldo and was placed back on injured reserve ... Also back on IR: Calgary’s Curtis Glencross, injured in Saturday’s loss to the Penguins, after only recently returning to the Flames’ line-up earlier on the team’s five-game (1-2-2) road trip.