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This week’s three stars: Rick Nash, John-Michael Liles and Brian Rafalski

The NHL named its three stars for the week ending on November 21, with Rick Nash, John-Michael Liles and Brian Rafalski earning all of those spots for the Western Conference. Let’s take a look at the weeks enjoyed by each player.

1. Rick Nash

If you can credit one player for the Blue Jackets’ surprising three game sweep through a California road trip, it would be Nash. He began the week scoring two goals against the Los Angeles Kings, scored another against the Anaheim Ducks before the highlight of that run: a hat trick as he accounted for every goal in the team’s 3-0 win over the San Jose Sharks.

Maybe this shouldn’t come as a surprise from a player with more career goals (239) than assists (199), but the most amusing part is that he has a 3:1 ratio in goals and assists this season (12 goals and 4 assists for 16 points in 17 games). His first star of the week performance is even more stark of a contrast, with six goals (including two game winners) and zero assists.

2. John-Michael Liles

There are quite a few defenseman off to hot offensive starts so far this season. Some aren’t very surprising (Nicklas Lidstrom) while some are slightly unexpected (Kris Letang and Dustin Byfuglien). Liles is one of the biggest and most pleasant surprises so far this season, as he is tied with Lidstrom for the league lead in points among defenseman.

Check out a recent post about why his hot streak should get more attention. The league provided some interesting facts about his great week in a press release.

Liles tallied seven points (two goals, five assists) and a +5 rating last week, helping the Avalanche (12-7-1) post four consecutive victories and take the Northwest Division lead. Liles tallied two goals and one assist in a 6-3 win over the St. Louis Blues Nov. 15, his first multi-goal game since Oct. 18, 2006 at Toronto. He notched two assists in a 4-3 overtime victory over the San Jose Sharks Nov. 17 and closed the week with two more assists in a 4-3 shootout win over the Dallas Stars on Nov. 20.

3. Brian Rafalski

While Nash seems all about scoring goals, Rafalski has been a regular source of helpers so far this season.

He hasn’t added a tally yet in 2010-11, but the gifted offensive blueliner has 10 assists in a knee surgery shortened eight game campaign so far.

Most of those points came in a week that earned Rafalski third star of the week honors. Here are the tidbits from his seven assist run of five games, via that press release from the league.

Rafalski began the week by matching a career high with three assists in a 7-3 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Nov. 17. He recorded one assist in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Minnesota Wild Nov. 19 and collected three more, including the 400th of his NHL career, in a 5-4 overtime win over the Calgary Flames Nov. 21.

Report: Forsling signs with Blackhawks

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A report out of Sweden says that defenseman Gustav Forsling has signed an entry-level contract with the Chicago Blackhawks.

For the past two seasons, Forsling has been with Linkopings HC of the Swedish Hockey League. In 2015-16, the 19-year-old had six goals and 15 assists in 48 games.

A fifth-round pick of the Canucks in 2014, Forsling was a star at the 2015 World Juniors, where he had eight points (3G, 5A) in seven games for Sweden. He was traded to Chicago in return for Adam Clendening.

“He’s an offensive defenseman that plays very well on the power play and has a big shot,” said Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman upon Forsling’s acquisition.

Assuming the report is accurate, Forsling can probably count on starting his North American career in the AHL.

The Blackhawks are hoping to graduate Rockford d-man Ville Pokka to the NHL next season.

Related: Three major challenges facing the Chicago Blackhawks

Hendricks to captain U.S. at Worlds for second straight year

OSTRAVA, CZECH REPUBLIC - MAY 01:  Matt Hendricks of USA celebrates goal of his team-mates during the IIHF World Championship group B match between USA and Finland at CEZ Arena on May 1, 2015 in Ostrava, Czech Republic.  (Photo by Matej Divizna/Getty Images)
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Last year, Matt Hendricks captained Team USA to bronze at the World Hockey Championships, marking just the second time in the last 11 years the U.S. had medaled.

So, why not go back to Hendricks again?

That’s what USA Hockey opted to do on Wednesday, announcing the Edmonton forward would reprise his role as team captain for the 2016 tournament, to be held in Moscow and Saint Petersburg.

Columbus’ Nick Foligno and Arizona’s Connor Murphy were named alternate captains.

Hendricks had a pretty solid tournament for the U.S. last year, scoring two goals and three points in 10 games — an effort made more impressive by the fact it was his first time representing the U.S. internationally.

The U.S. gets its ’16 Worlds campaign underway on Friday, with a game against Canada at 11:30 a.m. ET. The game will be broadcast live on NBCSN, and a live stream will be available on NBC Sports’ Live Extra.

Prized Flyers prospect Provorov says he’s NHL-ready

Ivan Provorov
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Philly had one rookie defenseman burst onto the scene this year, as Shayne Gostisbehere‘s stellar play earned him a Calder Trophy nomination.

Next year, another freshman blueliner will look to make his own mark.

Ivan Provorov, the club’s first-round pick (seventh overall) at the 2015 draft, says he’s primed to make the Flyers’ roster for 2016-17 — despite the fact he’ll be just 19 years old when the campaign begins.

“I think I’m ready,” he said, per the Inquirer. “But we’ll see what happens. I think I’m going to have another good summer and come ready in September.”

The Flyers have been high on Provorov from the minute they drafted him. He signed his entry-level deal a week after being selected, and impressed onlookers during his time at prospect and training camps.

“He showed us his play is efficient in all areas with and without the puck,” head coach Dave Hakstol said, per CSN Philly. “I thought his competitiveness was very good throughout the two days.

“He was focused and relaxed. He is a composed young man with maturity and confidence. Those are very good traits in a young player.”

This year, Provorov — who’s still playing with Brandon in the WHL playoffs — racked up a whopping 21 goals and 73 points in just 62 games. The potential of adding Provorov’s offensive abilities to a blueline that already features a pretty skilled guy in Gostisbehere is tantalizing.

But, as Flyers GM Ron Hextall points out, Provorov is going to have to beat out an incumbent, and won’t just be gifted a spot on the Philadelphia roster.

“They have to come in and be better than someone else that’s here,” Hextall said of young players looking to crack the lineup. “If that happens, we proved last year that we’ll make room in our roster for a young player that proves to us that he’s ready to play at this level and make our team better.”

The Caps say they’ve ‘matured’ and have ‘good poise’ now — we’ll see tonight

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The Washington Capitals — desperate for a win tonight in Pittsburgh — are vowing to stick to the plan, keep their composure, and not let a certain 21-year-old netminder get into their heads.

“I think that’s where this team has matured,” said coach Barry Trotz, per CSN Washington. “We have good poise. You’ve seen that all year with our team. We don’t get rattled often. We do get, I would say, very determined at times and we’ve shown a lot of resiliency all year. That’s why we were able to have the record we did. We didn’t let things bother us too much. And we’ve got a good leadership group that when things maybe aren’t going the way you want, they seem to be able to put it back on the rails for us. I think that’s the growth of our team the last two years.”

In Game 3, the Caps had every reason to feel like the hockey gods were out to get them. They put 49 shots on Penguins goalie Matt Murray, but were only able to beat him twice. They lost, 3-2, and now must win tonight in order to avoid falling into a 3-1 series hole.

In Game 4, the Capitals will have a major advantage, as their opponents will be without two of their top defensemen, Kris Letang (suspended) and Olli Maatta (injured).

So not only is it a game the Caps need to win, it’s a game they’ll be expected to win.

That means pressure.

And pressure, sometimes, can lead to panic.

According to Trotz, the Caps used to be guilty of exactly that. They’d change the plan when things didn’t go their way. They’d play too much as individuals. They’d play right into the opposition’s hands.

But not anymore.

“I think what this group has learned is that you stay to the plan, you execute and do the job well,” said Trotz.

“If you do that, it will turn your way.”