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Alex Ovechkin embraces leadership role in Washington

When Alex Ovechkin was named captain of the Washington Capitals last season, there were many around the league that wondered aloud about whether or not the young Russian phenom was ready for such an important leadership role with the Capitals. After all, the team had just traded then captain Chris Clark to Columbus and Ovechkin was in the middle of a season that would see him ultimately score 50 goals. Ovechkin helped lead the Caps to the Presidents Trophy and the top seed in the East.

When the Caps dreams of making the Stanley Cup finals were dashed in the first round of the playoffs against Montreal, those doubts grew in number and the doubters voices would grow louder. This season, the Capitals rough start to the year, their slump just before the Winter Classic that saw them lose eight straight games, and the seeming lack of offensive production from Ovechkin helped compound the problems.

A funny thing happened though. The Capitals started to get what coach Bruce Boudreau had been stressing all season about defensive responsibility. Washington’s defense tightened up and now that comfort level has been reached there, Ovechkin’s game has shaken off the frets and worries to the point the Caps are on fire now with a seven game win streak of their own. The catalyst behind that streak has been none other than Ovechkin himself.

Since the Winter Classic, Ovechkin has scored 14 goals and added 17 assists. Those 31 points over 29 games may not seem like the Ovechkin numbers of old we’re used to seeing, but with how seemingly lethargic the Caps offense has been this season, Ovechkin has continued to be the best they have.

Over the last seven games alone, Ovechkin has four goals and seven assists good for 11 points. On the season, Ovechkin’s goal numbers are down as he’s got just 28 headed into Sunday’s game. His 45 assists, however, are best on the team and he’s the Caps leading scorer by 18 points ahead of Nicklas Backstrom. Those 73 points also put him in a tie for fifth best in the NHL with Corey Perry of Anaheim. His 45 assists tie him for fifth best in the NHL there and his 28 goals has him in the top 15 in that category.

Those who have stressed out about Ovechkin’s lack of production may have been playing the role of Chicken Little in that regard. While his numbers are astronomically high like we’ve seen in the past, his ability to help set up his teammates and help make the Caps a more well-rounded team have flown under the radar. Only now that Ovechkin is scoring the clutch goals or making the key plays to set his linemates up are people taking notice. Fact is, Ovechkin has been there all along.

With that sort of blue collar work coming from Ovechkin it’s not likely to earn him much favor as far as the major individual awards go. After winning three straight Hart Trophies before giving way to Vancouver’s Henrik Sedin last year, people wondered what Ovechkin could do to find a way to get back into the spotlight. If the Capitals are able to continue building off what they’ve done of late and Ovechkin keeps finding ways to score, perhaps captaining a Stanley Cup champion will be his ultimate feat of strength.

Flames keep showing life, Stars stumble once again

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If you think the Dallas Stars are struggling because of defense more than anything else, then you’ll make sure to keep the video above “on file.”

There Kari Lehtonen was, helpless on a 2-on-0 rush for the Calgary Flames, which Johnny Gaudreau finished with calm and ease. For some, that goal is the symbol of the Stars’ season.

Either way, it was a painful goal in the Flames’ 2-1 win against the Stars. Calgary won despite Dallas firing 30 shots on goal versus the Flames’ 20.

One team climbing, the other stumbling

With that, the Flames are now on a four-game winning streak. Since falling to 5-10-1 on Nov. 12, the Flames have gone 9-3-1 in their last 13 games, pushing them to 14-13-2 overall. Gaudreau coming back is the icing on the cake after Chad Johnson really took charge of the Flames’ top job.

During a similar span, the Stars can’t seem to get it together. Dallas stood at 6-6-3 after beating the Oilers 3-2 on Nov. 11. They’re now 10-11-6, essentially standing in place as a .500 team.

Dallas can’t seem to get momentum going, a thought that might have left them envious of the team on the other end of the ice on Tuesday.

Canadiens are facing some turbulence (and mostly passing the test)

ST. LOUIS, MO - DECEMBER 6: Patrik Berglund #21 of the St. Louis Blues checks Tomas Plekanec #14 of the Montreal Canadiens at the Scottrade Center on December 6, 2016 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/ Getty Images)
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The Montreal Canadiens aren’t in crisis mode, but as far as this so-far outstanding 2016-17 season goes, they are finally facing some adversity.

Alex Galchenyuk, one of their most promising young players, is out indefinitely. There are murmurs that captain Max Pacioretty isn’t getting along with head coach Michel Therrien.* Tuesday presented a body blow or two to boot.

For one thing, the Canadiens gave up a 2-0 lead to lose 3-2 to the St. Louis Blues in overtime. Jaden Schwartz grabbed an assist and scored the game’s last two goals, including the OT-winner:

Losing to a contender like the Blues, especially while still grabbing a “charity point,” isn’t that big of a deal. A possible David Desharnais injury makes things a little dicey, however:

Really, though, it’s not all that bad for Montreal. They managed a 2-2-1 mark during a five-game road trip heavy on quality opponents.

Also: six of their next seven games come at home, where they’re 12-1-1. So things will look brighter soon enough.

Still, with some injuries and a big road trip to end 2016 and start 2017, there may be some moments where Montreal looks vulnerable.

Ultimately, fighting through stretches like these could very well benefit the Habs later on.

* – Ah, the old standby: “Player X isn’t seeing eye-to-eye with Therrien.”

From the Blues’ side:

Ristolainen, Kane, O’Reilly push Sabres past McDavid and the Oilers

EDMONTON, AB - OCTOBER 16:  Rasmus Ristolainen #55, Matt Moulson #26, Sam Reinhart #23, Kyle Okposo #21 and Ryan OÕReilly #90 of the Buffalo Sabres celebrate a goal against the Edmonton Oilers on October 16, 2016 at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)
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On Tuesday, it wasn’t just about Jack Eichel vs. Connor McDavid. Instead, it was a clash between a fleet of young scorers who were in their prime, with the Buffalo Sabres coming up on top against the Edmonton Oilers.

In particular, high-scoring defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen, power forward Evander Kane and two-way center Ryan O'Reilly made the difference in Buffalo’s 4-3 overtime win.

Ristolainen’s first goal of 2016-17 was a big one, as it clinched the contest in OT:

Evander Kane scored two goals of his own, including one in the dying seconds of regulation to allow Buffalo to get a standings point (and then a second) in the first place.

Kane finished with two goals, O’Reilly generated two assists and Ristolainen managed a one-goal, two-assist performance.

It would be wrong to say that the marquee names didn’t show up at all. McDavid generated two assists and Eichel also nabbed a helper.

You’d be correct in saying that other young players stole the show, though, and the Sabres were the biggest beneficiaries.

Video: Brent Seabrook shaken up after awkward fall

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It wasn’t nearly as scary as the falls suffered by Travis Zajac or Philip Larsen, but the Chicago Blackhawks are still holding their breath when it comes to defenseman Brent Seabrook.

As you can see from the video above, Seabrook was tripped up by Jordan Martinook of the Arizona Coyotes during a simple puck battle. Seabrook was shaken up after falling awkwardly on that play.

At the moment, it’s unclear if this will be an ongoing issue or if the Blackhawks avoided a costly injury.

Martinook was not penalized.

CSN Chicago’s Tracey Myers notes that Seabrook wasn’t out to begin the third period. So far, not so good.

The Blackhawks beat the Arizona Coyotes 4-0, so the silver lining for Chicago is that they won.