NHL: Pluses and minuses around the league

Times columnist Helene Elliott rates the pluses and minuses in the NHL from the previous week:

+ Edmonton forward Sam Gagner joined some elite company — think Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky — with a four-goal, eight-point performance last Thursday in an 8-4 rout of the Chicago Blackhawks. He followed that by scoring twice and assisting once on the Oilers' first three goals Saturday against Detroit and added a shootout goal in their 5-4 triumph. Those trade rumors involving Gagner can probably stop now.

+ Tampa Bay winger Martin St. Louis celebrated his 900th NHL game by recording a hat trick in the Lightning's 6-3 victory over the Florida Panthers on Saturday. At a listed 5 feet 8 and 175 pounds, how many times was he told he was too small to play in the NHL? He's a class act who has proved his doubters wrong.

+ Winger Ilya Kovalchuk has had three consecutive three-point games, a prime reason the New Jersey Devils have a four-game winning streak and have won seven of their last 10. He has 50 points in 47 games. That's still not worth the 15-year, $100-million contract he got in 2010, but he should outpace last season's 60-point performance.

- Scoring is down again. Through 761 games, teams combined to average 5.5 goals per game — down from 5.6 after the same number of games last season and 5.7 at this stage in 2009-10. The final average could be lower because teams usually clamp down defensively late in the season. "You can see that the intensity is picking up, whereas at the start of the season there's always a lot of scoring because it's a little looser," Ducks Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "When you get into the last half, after the All-Star game, most people are fighting for spots, whether it's jobs or positioning. They're willing to pay the price to make sure their team wins."

- The Blackhawks lost the first three games of their nine-game trip and have lost five straight overall. They've been outscored, 22-10, during that span. The big question is whether they want — and can afford — to upgrade their goaltending.

- Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard suffered a broken right index finger last week, leaving Ty Conklin to take over. Conklin didn't have a great beginning, yielding three goals on nine shots to Edmonton on Saturday before being replaced by Joey MacDonald. The Red Wings must hope Howard, the NHL's wins leader with 32, isn't out long.


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