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Top Line: Sochi inspiring Alex Ovechkin; shootouts no problem; more links

Alex OvechkinAlex Ovechkin has been back to his best recently. (G Fiume/Getty Image)

By Allan Muir

An annotated guide to this morning's must-read hockey stories:

• It's not the pressure to guide Russia to Olympic gold that's inspiring Alex Ovechkin's spectacular play--it's the opportunity. There'll be no athlete under greater scrutiny in Sochi than OV, but he looks like he's up to the challenge, doesn't he?

• Here's Ovechkin winning the race to be the first to 20 goals. What a rocket:

• Adrian Dater says that shootouts aren't the problem the NHL needs to address -- it's those boring third periods where one team dumbs it down to hold on to at least one point. The trick, as he points out, is that no matter what the GMs think up to combat the problem would be countered by the coaches in no time.

• Here's why Patrick Roy doesn't impose game-day skates on the Avalanche, and other tales of Colorado's surprising early success.

• The Bruins have been easy pickings in the shootout since trading away Tyler Seguin. Here's what coach Claude Julien is doing to ensure games don't get to that point.

Thomas Vanek might say no to Austria if he's not feeling 100 percent before Sochi. There's something to be said for his commitment to his employers, but he has an obligation to his country as well. If he's not in a full body cast, Vanek has to be in uniform for the first-time qualifiers.

• Don Cherry talks Clarke MacArthur, big rebounds and praying on the bench on Coach's Corner.

• The Hot Stove boys explain why this year's Winter Classic will be the most successful ever, and palaver about the Dion Phaneuf contract, Calgary Flames trade rumors and Buffalo Sabres GM possibilities.

• The Wings will be without a key player for this afternoon's clash in Buffalo. Hard to believe the refs this one.

• Bruce Garrioch has some thoughts on Buffalo's situation, as well as Claude Giroux's Olympic hopes in his Sunday column.

• Larry Brooks details a quirk of the NHL's new playoff format that's going to hurt one of the best teams in each conference, then throws a little wood into the trade rumors hot stove.

Jaromir Jagr had plenty to say about Sharks' rookie Tomas Hertl ahead of their first NHL meeting last night in San Jose.

• Turns out Buffalo goalie coach Jim Corsi is more than just a guy who creates his own fancystats. He's also a pretty good sounding board for struggling players.

• A solid Sunday column from John Vogl touches on the lack of contract talks for San Jose's top stars, guns drawn by Canada's coaches and the latest on ex-Sabres coach Ron Rolston, but it is the very last line that really resonates. It seems almost silly that it even has to be said, but Lee Stempniak is exactly right.

• The Philadelphia Flyers are a .500 hockey team (sort of). Who would have believed that was possible a month ago?

• Now that a little time has passed, Mikhail Grabovski regrets his parting words as he left Toronto.

• Minnesota third-stringer Darcy Kuemper was supposed to be on a plane to the Twin Cities. This happened instead.

• Steve Conroy reveals a surprising contributor to St. Louis' record-setting start and ponders Tim Thomas' Team USA chances.

• The Oilers need a top defenseman. What do they have to entice another team into shipping one their way? Not much. They have some great assets, but they aren't the type that's going to get the deal they need done.

• With the shine fading from Vancouver's top stars , the Canucks are looking more like a team of no real significance. Most disturbing to Canadian fans is the recent play of Luongo, who fell apart in the clutch last night. Not exactly reassuring with Sochi hard on the horizon.

• As if the guys who'll be representing Russia in Sochi aren't already feeling the pressure, now they have this hanging over their heads.
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