HAT TRICK: What to Watch in Week 9 of the NHL

Matt SitkoffCorrespondent INovember 29, 2009

RALEIGH, NC - JANUARY 02:  Ilya Kovalchuck #17 of the Atlanta Thrashers reacts after scoring a goal against the Carolina Hurricanes during their game at the RBC Center on January 2, 2008 in Raleigh, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

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As the shoppers' dust settles on another Black Friday, the dust is settling for injuries around the league.

We have already seen big names missing time, and it seems every day we check the headlines as another NHL player is out for an extended period of time. 

In this, an Olympic year, you start to wonder if people are starting to just coast to make it to their respective countries' rosters and wait until after the Olympic break to really start playing. 

Now on to the Pucking Awesome Hat Trick or the top three stories I am watching this week.

Will The Real Steve Mason Show Up?

Talk about your sophomore slumps, as last year’s Calder Trophy winner Steve Mason has fallen off the map.  The 21-year-old Blue Jackets net minder is now ranked 44th in save percentage (.890) and 45th in goals against (3.46). 

The NHL goalie is a crazy character; very few stay relevant for an extended period; that is a reason to marvel at Martin Brodeur and Roberto Luongo right now. 

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Mason's coach, Ken Hitchcock, had the best quote about the second-year player this week, "Just because a guy's a second-year player, it doesn't mean he's a better player yet."

The Blue Jackets are still in the thick of things and a good team but will not make an impact without the services of their franchise goalie. 

We all have to remember that this kid is only 21 years young and made the rare move right from juniors to the NHL before we put him in the Jim Carey category.

With four games this week, I will be watching to see which Steve Mason will show up.

Kovalchuk Conundrum:  

The Thrashers keep winning, and Ilya Kovalchuk keeps scoring.  The trade deadline is far away right now, and first comes his Olympic run for the Russian squad, but I have to keep my eye on this situation. 

Similar to the Marian Hossa problem of not signing a contract extension, the Thrashers were forced to trade their franchise player in February 2008.  The Penguins were the benefactor of that move and went on to the Stanley Cup Finals. 

The problem this year is the Thrashers are a winning team and it’s evident they depend heavily on Kovalchuk’s offensive prowess. 

Atlanta this season is 10-4-3 with the winger in the lineup; his stats are a staggering 14 goals and 24 points in those 17 games.

I will be keeping my eye on this situation all of December, as in those 15 games ahead could be a deciding factor on not only the Thrashers' playoff hopes but the Stanley Cup run of another team.   

Games Of The Week:  

With two big returns this week, I had to highlight both of them in the Games of the Week. The first day of December matches up Dany Heatley against the Senators. 

Although the game is in San Jose so he won’t feel the same wrath of Ottawa, it will be interesting to see how the team he refused to play for will treat the talented scoring winger. 

The move has seemed to work for both teams so far, as Heatley (18 goals) has teamed up with Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau for a dominant line. 

Milan Michalek, the main piece coming back to the Senators, leads the team with 13 goals, while Jonathan Cheechoo has chipped in filling the checking line. 

The other return is Marian Hossa back to Pittsburgh on Saturday.  You don’t think the Penguins organization will have Hossa walk down a hallway of them hoisting the cup, maybe even a picture of him sitting watching it.

Before Hossa became the $62.8 million man, he jumped the Crosby ship and spurned the Penguins for a “greater” chance to win a cup with the team that beat them in the 2008 Stanley Cup Finals.

You heard the reaction he got throughout last year’s finals; expect the same on Saturday.          

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