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Colorado’s Matt Duchene, Tomas Fleischmann join Eric Staal as last week’s three stars

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Late last night, I discussed the fact that the Colorado Avalanche might just be the most underrated team in the NHL. Well, the league’s brass recognizes how hot the team is in at least one way: it named two of their players among last week’s three stars.

The NHL named two Avalanche forwards (Matt Duchene and Tomas Fleischmann) along with Carolina Hurricanes forward Eric Staal as the league’s three stars for the week of December 13-19th. Here are some summaries of each player’s week, with comments of our own combined with tidbits from the NHL’s press release.

First star: Duchene

The league chose Colorado’s leading scorer as its top star of the week and it’s tough to argue with that point. The second year player already scored 34 points in 33 games, which ties him for 11th place in the league. Tyler Myers might have won the Calder Trophy for the 2009-10 season, but Duchene might be the biggest success story from that rookie group in year two.

Duchene notched a League-leading seven points (four goals, three assists) last week, highlighted by a pair of dramatic game-winning goals, as the Avalanche (19-10-4) extended their winning streak to six games and reclaimed first place in the Northwest Division.

Second star: Fleischmann

It’s way, way too early to say that Colorado “won” the Fleischmann-for-Scott Hannan trade. Especially when you consider the fact that the Washington Capitals essentially only really care about the rugged defenseman’s impact during the playoffs.

Still, it certainly seems like Fleischmann is experiencing a Peter Mueller-like liberation with the Avs.

Just check out this split. In 23 games with Washington, Fleischmann scored four goals and six assists for 10 points and a +3 rating and a little more than 14 minutes of ice time per game. He’s already scored more points in Colorado, as he has five goals and six assists for 11 points and a +2 rating in only nine games. Perhaps it’s simply a case of opportunity, though, as his time on ice average with the Avs is more than 18 minutes per game.

Fleischmann joined new linemate Duchene atop the League scoring list, notching four goals and three assists in four Avalanche victories.

Third star: E. Staal

I hate to say it, but it’s hard to imagine the eldest Staal reaching the 100-point mark again. He burst onto the NHL scene in the first post-lockout season, scoring 19 goals on the power play alone and notching exactly 100 points during the 2005-06 season.

All those power play opportunities probably inflated his numbers a bit, as his second best total is 82 points (07-08). While another century mark is out of reach, a few extra weeks like this could give Staal a chance to approach 90 points. He has 33 in 31 games so far, his best start since the 05-06 season.

Staal tallied five points (four goals, one assist) in three games, helping the Hurricanes (15-12-4) post three consecutive victories and close within four points of the eighth playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.

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Staal’s career hat trick total is tied with that of New York Rangers’ Marian Gaborik and Ottawa’s Alex Kovalev for second place among active NHL players, trailing only Teemu Selanne of Anaheim (21).

Blue Jackets defeat Coyotes in shootout, but only after Mike Smith made franchise-record 58 saves

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 07:  Goaltender Mike Smith #41 of the Arizona Coyotes during the preseason NHL game against San Jose Sharks at Gila River Arena on October 7, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Sharks 3-1  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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PHOENIX (AP) Columbus pummeled Mike Smith with a franchise-record 60 shots, Alexander Wennberg scored with 2:16 left in the third period and the Blue Jackets beat the Arizona Coyotes 3-2 in a shootout Saturday night.

Smith set a franchise record with 58 saves, but the Coyotes still lost their third straight.

Cam Atkinson and Sam Gagner scored on Smith in the shootout while Curtis McElhinney stopped both Arizona shooters. Boone Jenner also scored for Columbus, which has won three straight.

Shane Doan got his 399th career goal and Radim Vrbata also scored for Arizona, which was playing its eighth overtime game in 23 contests.

Doan put Arizona ahead 2-1 at 11:04 of the second when he redirected Michael Stone‘s lobbed shot from just inside the blue line along the right boards.

Wennberg tied it at 2 by backhanding the puck between Smith’s pads off a pass from Brandon Saad.

The Blue Jackets needed only 13 seconds to take the lead in the first period. Jenner took a pass from Jack Johnson between the hashes and fired over Smith’s glove.

Smith made 47 saves between the two Columbus goals and 21 in the third period alone.

After failing to take advantage of a two-man advantage late in the first, the Coyotes evened the score on Vrbata’s rising shot off McElhinney’s blocker from the left faceoff circle for a power-play goal 63 seconds into the second period.

Smith helped preserve the lead with 5:30 left in the second, stopping Saad’s breakaway attempt with a sprawling pad save.

McElhinney finished with 32 saves.

Related:

Why the Blue Jackets are the NHL’s biggest surprise

Panthers lament slow start versus Sens, as debate over controversial Gallant firing continues

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 20:  Keith Yandle #3 of the Florida Panthers skates against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on November 20, 2016 in New York City. The Panthers defeated the Rangers 3-2 in the shootout.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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It’s been one week since the shocking and controversial firing of Gerard Gallant. The decision made by the Florida Panthers continues to be a hot topic of debate.

Don Cherry weighed in on it Saturday. As you might expect, he wasn’t in favor of the decision. Meanwhile, the Panthers lost 2-0 to the Ottawa Senators in a game that completely swung in favor of the hosts in the span of just 19 seconds.

Erik Karlsson and Derick Brassard scored early in the first period, giving Ottawa a two-goal lead and that was the only scoring of the evening.

On taking over from Gallant, interim coach Tom Rowe said, per the Sun Sentinel: “This isn’t a knock on Gerard, because he did a great job.

“I just thought some guys weren’t bringing it the way they’re capable of bringing it every single night. A little too much inconsistency. They’d come out one period and play great. Another period they just sit back a little bit too tentative.”

That second paragraph is interesting.

Against the Senators, the Panthers had a slow start, illustrated by their 19-second lapse leading to the Ottawa goals. The Panthers found their game in the second period but tested Mike Condon with only 24 shots on goal by the end of the night.

They also couldn’t capitalize on a five-on-three power play in the second period.

“It’s a tough one to swallow,” said Keith Yandle, per the Miami Herald. “They had a good start, and sometimes you have to weather the storm throughout courses of games, and they did a good job in the first 10 or 12 minutes. If you look at the second period we were better.”

There were anxious moments for the Panthers, as defenseman Aaron Ekblad took a puck to the face in the second period. He missed about two minutes of game time, but did require stitches, according to Rowe.

Avs’ D-man Johnson suffers broken fibula, out six to eight weeks

DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 11:  Erik Johnson #6 of the Colorado Avalanche in action against the Winnipeg Jets at Pepsi Center on November 11, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
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Another loss for the Colorado Avalanche, but the news following this latest defeat is much worse.

Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson has suffered a broken fibula and is out six to eight weeks, the team announced following Saturday’s 3-0 loss to the Dallas Stars.

Johnson left the game because of the injury and didn’t return.

This development occurred later in the same day the team’s captain Gabriel Landeskog skated briefly with his teammates, leading to the possibility that he may travel with the Avs on their upcoming road trip.

It’s obviously devastating news for Colorado, which recently had its effort ripped by coach Jared Bednar. Issues with consistency and work ethic have been around since Patrick Roy was in charge.

The Avalanche have struggled since the beginning of the season after a late-summer coaching change, but they now occupy last place in the Western Conference with five straight losses.

Johnson has 11 points, which ties him with Tyson Barrie for the team lead among defenseman in that category.

In addition to playing 22 minutes a night, which is a substantial loss because he plays on both the penalty kill and power play, he’s also one of only two blue liners with the Avalanche to have even-strength puck possession numbers greater than 50 per cent.

The difficult times for the Avalanche continue.

Video: Caggiula (finally) scores his first NHL goal

EDMONTON, AB - SEPTEMBER 26:  Drake Caggiula #36 of the Edmonton Oilers skates against the Calgary Flames on September 26, 2016 at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)
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Drake Caggiula had to wait to make his NHL debut because of a hip injury suffered in pre-season. He had to wait even longer for his first NHL goal.

On Saturday, the wait for the latter ended.

Playing in just his eighth career NHL game, the North Dakota product and NCAA Frozen Four MOP — pursued by at least half a dozen teams as a college free agent — ripped home a wrist shot from the slot on the power play for career goal No. 1 in the big league.

That goal gave Edmonton a 1-0 lead over the visiting Anaheim Ducks.