This is the week in which Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock will find his ability to multitask put to the ultimate test. Babcock's slumping Wings visit GM Place in Vancouver tomorrow, his only visit before the 2010 Olympics in February, where he will coach Canadian national men's hockey team.
Naturally, everybody's going to be quizzing Babcock about all things pertaining to the Olympics this week; his primary focus will be getting the Red Wings back on the winning track after two tough losses in Phoenix and Colorado.
With high-scoring winger Johan Franzen injured and out until the Olympic break, Babcock recently placed all his scoring eggs in one familiar basket - Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Tomas Holmstrom - with mixed results. Holmstrom leads the team with five goals, but no one else has more than two and perennial top-10 scorers Zetterberg and Datsyuk have just one between them.
"It will come eventually," predicted Zetterberg, "if we keep playing hard and working."
Number of times the Toronto Maple Leafs have scored the first goal in a game this year. The Leafs get a chance to erase the goose egg tonight against a grumpy flock of Anaheim Ducks, who have lost three in a row.
Career goals by the Ottawa Senators' Alexei Kovalev, leaving him within range of the coveted 400-goal milestone, as his team makes a quick early-season swing through Florida and Tampa this week.
Career games for the Boston Bruins' Mark Recchi, 13th on the all-time games-played list. Next up for Recchi in 12th spot is former Red Wings' star Steve Yzerman at 1,514. Recchi is currently the active games-played leader, with both Chris Chelios and Brendan Shanahan in minor-league limbo.
The NHL's newest overnight sensation, Colorado Avalanche goaltender Craig Anderson, gets to test out his magic in Alberta this week, facing the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames in back-to-back games. Ten years after the Flames took him 77th overall in the 1999 entry draft but failed to sign him to a pro contract, Anderson is making the most of his first real opportunity to win a No. 1 goaltending job. At the age of 29, or roughly when Dominik Hasek began to win his Vezina Trophies with startling regularity, Anderson's ability to stabilize that oh-so-young Avalanche team, with two teenage forwards (Matt Duchene and Ryan O'Reilly playing meaningful minutes) is the primary reason Colorado tops the charts in the Western Conference. Anderson's record on nights when he faces 40 or more shots is extraordinary; and Saturday's game - in which he nudged Patrick Roy out of the team record book with his eighth victory in October - was typical of how the year has unfolded for him. Detroit out-shot Colorado 49-23; and managed 20 shots on the power play alone, all of which Anderson turned aside. Anderson's strong early play also gives U.S. Olympic general manager Brian Burke another option in goal beyond Ryan Miller (Buffalo Sabres) and Tim Thomas (Boston Bruins). No tournament demands a hot hand more than the Olympics (see Hasek, Czech Republic, Nagano 1998, for details).
Anze Kopitar is King
It may not last beyond Alexander Ovechkin's next offensive explosion, but the NHL's scoring leader at the start of the week was a 22-year-old Slovene, who found chemistry with Captain Canada in Los Angeles, Calif. That would be Anze Kopitar, the Los Angeles Kings' centre who along with the redoubtable Ryan Smyth has his NHL team relevant again for maybe the first time since the Wayne Gretzky era. That the turnaround would eventually be driven by Kopitar was something general manager Dean Lombardi foresaw on in an interview last summer, where he predicted the team would only start to win regularly if it received meaningful contributions from its primary building blocks - Kopitar and defenceman Drew Dougthy. A demonstrably fitter Kopitar responded with 19 points through 11 games, two ahead of Ovechkin. L.A. will be idle after last night's date with Columbus until they journey up to San Jose Wednesday, a chance for the Kings (and Kopitar) to flex their growing muscles against last year's NHL overall champs.
Oilers breakaway pace
"I felt like sky rockets in flight - if you ever saw Anchorman."
No, but we appreciate left winger Dustin Penner's reference to the underrated and greatly missed Starland Vocal Band. Penner and the rest of Edmonton Oilers will try to maintain their early-season pace in a busy week that continues with a home date against another early-season high flyer - the Colorado Avalanche - Tuesday at Rexall Place. With 15 points already this season, a number he didn't achieve until mid-December last year, Penner is making the most of his second chance under coach Pat Quinn, after butting heads with his predecessor Craig MacTavish for most of the past two years. Penner also clearly has an appreciation for pop history, given that Afternoon Delight topped the charts in the summer of 1976, or six years before Penner was born.