No. 1 star: Thomas Vanek, Buffalo Sabres
The 24-year-old native of Vienna, Austria, is making Sabres fans forget all about his slow start last season when he had only four goals in his first 19 games. With two more Wednesday night during a 4-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning – hold your laughter – Vanek increased his season and league-leading total to 22 goals in 28 games. Down by two early, Vanek capped a Buffalo comeback by tying the game 11:52 into the second period, and putting the hosts ahead to stay with what amounted to a game-winner at 19:45 of the middle period on the power play. Vanek has scored goals in 16 of Buffalo's 28 games, and Wednesday's output marked his sixth multigoal effort of the season.
No. 2 star: Brent Johnson, Washington Capitals
Not only has Johnson stepped up where Jose Theodore has stumbled, but the veteran goalie in addition managed to beat the hottest team in the Eastern Conference. Johnson stopped all but one of 34 shots as the Capitals defended home ice with a 3-1 victory that snapped Boston's five-game winning streak. Johnson has won three straight and is 8-4-2 with a 2.47 goals-against average and .918 save percentage, numbers that better Theodore's production.
No. 3 star: Cristobal Huet, Chicago Blackhawks
Speaking of goalies stepping up of late, the former and short-time Capital Huet did just that during a 2-0 win over the Ottawa Senators. Huet turned away all 23 shots for his first shutout in a Chicago uniform and the 18th of his career. Huet was particularly sharp against the Ottawa power play, which went 0-for-6 and failed to dent Huet during 1:04 of a two-man advantage in the opening period.
Honorable mention: Continuing the goalie theme, Scott Clemmensen stopped 26 of 27 shots to move to 7-1 in his last eight as the Devils frustrated the high-scoring Penguins. … Phil Kessel tied the league-best this season by extending his point streak to 13 games in Boston's loss. … Olli Jokinen and Martin Hanzal scored two goals each as the Coyotes went into frail Dallas and won. … The Rangers have allowed two or fewer goals in 20 of their 31 games. … Brendan Morrison scored a late tie-breaking goal and Chris Kunitz bagged a pair for the winning Ducks. … Detroit improved to 13-1-4 in one-goal games.
Dishonorable mention: Hey, how about the spark the Lightning received from that coaching change? Tampa Bay is 1-7-4 since replacing the fired Barry Melrose with Rick Tocchet. … If you're going to fight, then just fight. Instead, shortly after Scott Gomez of the Rangers and Ilya Kovalchuk of the Thrashers exited the box for a double roughing minor they went right back in for exchanging slashes.