Sharp named NHL's First Star of the Week
FIRST STAR – PATRICK SHARP, LW, CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS
Sharp led the NHL with six goals and tied for second with seven points as the Blackhawks (27-7-7, 61 points) earned five out of a possible six points to maintain first place in the Central Division. He began the week by scoring two goals in a 5-2 victory over the New Jersey Devils Dec. 23. Celebrating his 32nd birthday, Sharp (3-1—4) recorded his third career hat trick, including the game-winning goal, in a 7-2 triumph over the Colorado Avalanche Dec. 27 to become the first player in Blackhawks history – and second NHLer in the last 22 seasons (Pavol Demitra: Nov. 29, 2002) – to post three goals on his birthday. He capped the week by scoring his 22nd goal of the season, tied for fourth in the League, in a 6-5 shootout loss to the St. Louis Blues Dec. 28. Sharp ranks second on the Blackhawks and tied for eighth in the NHL with 22-19—41 in 41 games this season, including 11-6—17 in his past 10 outings.
SECOND STAR – RYAN MILLER, G, BUFFALO SABRES
Miller posted a 2-0-1 record with a 1.55 goals-against average and .961 save percentage to help the Sabres (11-24-4, 26 points) gain five out of a possible six points. He opened the week with 36 saves in a 2-1 overtime victory against the Phoenix Coyotes Dec. 23. He then recorded 39 saves, plus another two in the shootout, in a 4-3 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs Dec. 27. Miller finished the week with a career-high 49 saves and stopped all six shootout attempts in a 2-1 win over the Washington Capitals Dec. 29, improving to 3-0-0 all-time in games in which he has faced 50 or more shots (also Jan. 8, 2010: 48 saves on 50 shots; Nov. 5, 2013: 47 saves on 51 shots). The 33-year-old East Lansing, Mich., native has played in 28 games this season, posting a 10-17-1 record with a 2.69 goals-against average and .927 save percentage.
THIRD STAR – JAMES NEAL, LW, PITTSBURGH PENGUINS
Neal (4-4—8) led the League with eight points as the Penguins (29-11-1, 59 points) won two of three games to remain in first place in the Eastern Conference. He was held off the scoresheet in a 5-0 loss to the Ottawa Senators Dec. 23, but broke out with 1-2—3, including the overtime winner, in a 4-3 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes Dec. 27. Neal (3-2—5) then recorded his fourth career hat trick and first five-point game in a 5-3 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets Dec. 29. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he also became the first Penguins player to register at least five points in a game in which he factored all of his team's goals since Jan. 19, 2010, when Sidney Crosby posted 2-4—6 in a 6-4 triumph over the New York Islanders. The 26-year-old Whitby, Ont., native has played in 21 games this season, totaling 14 16—30, including 13-14—27 in his past 15 outings.