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A Friday six-pack of action

by Adam Schwartz
The Los Angeles Kings take on the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Six games are scheduled in what promises to be an exciting Friday night in the NHL.

In three early games, the Los Angeles Kings take on the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Philadelphia Flyers face off against the Buffalo Sabres and the New York Islanders visit the Pittsburgh Penguins in an Atlantic Division showdown.

A pair of 9 p.m. starts features the New York Rangers against the Colorado Avalanche and the New Jersey Devils visiting Edmonton to play the Oilers.

The late game pits the surging Calgary Flames against the Dallas Stars.

Here’s what to watch:

* The Kings are reeling; they have lost their last five games and are 2-7-1 in their last 10. Los Angeles is nine points out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference.

* As Columbus forward Rick Nash goes, so go the Blue Jackets. Nash is pointless in his last five games and the Blue Jackets only have one win during that span.

* The Flyers yield an average of 32.7 shots against per game, which is tied with the Florida Panthers for the highest average in the League. Surprisingly, both teams are in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race.

* Buffalo forward Maxim Afinogenov has six points in his last six games, but the Sabres sharp shooter is having a disappointing season. After scoring 61 points last season Afinogenov is on pace to record 41 points.

* The Islanders have scored a League-low 72 goals. The Rangers (79 goals) and the Devils (84 goals) are the only other Eastern Conference clubs who have not scored 90 goals.

* With stars players Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Sergei Gonchar, who would have thought the Penguins go-to sniper in the shootout would be rookie defenseman Kris Letang? The 20-year-old is 3-for-3 and has two game-deciding tallies in the one-on-one showdown.

* After scoring 29 goals as a rookie last season, Pittsburgh forward Jordan Staal has gone into a sophomore slump. The 19-year-old center scored twice this season and has not scored in his past 11 games. His last goal was Nov. 24 against the Atlanta Thrashers

* The Rangers have surrendered 11 goals in their past three games. Sunday they suffered a 5-1 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes, but then bounced back Tuesday shutting out the Penguins, 4-0. But Thursday night they were single-handedly dismantled by the Minnesota Wild’s star forward, Marian Gaborik, who scored five goals and added an assist in Minnesota’s 6-3 victory.

* Colorado goalie Peter Budaj, who has the character Ned Flanders from the hit TV show The Simpson’s painted on the back of his mask, has helped the Avalanche record a point in his last four starts (3-0-1). Budaj’s 12-6-1 record is superior to Jose Theodore’s record of 7-7-1 and should earn him the bulk of Colorado’s starts.

* The Devils are in the midst of a three-game, Western Canadian road trip that includes stops in Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary followed by a four-day layoff. New Jersey opened the trip Tuesday when they were defeated 5-0 by the Vancouver Canucks.

* The Oilers haven’t beaten the Devils in Edmonton since Oct. 31, 1995 when the Oilers recorded a 2-1 victory.

* Edmonton forwards Ales Hemsky and rookie Sam Gagner are major reasons for the Oilers’ NHL-best 10-2 record in the shootout. The duo has three game-winning shootout goals, which is more than any player in the League.                            

* Dallas defenseman Sergei Zubov, who leads NHL defensemen with 32 points, has played 26 minutes or more in seven of his last eight contests, including a 28:35 performance Dec. 7 in a 4-2 loss to the Ottawa Senators
* Stars captain Brenden Morrow is Montreal Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau’s son-in-law. 

* The Flames are coming back to the Pengrowth Saddledome in a much better position than when they left. After a Dec. 3 loss to the Penguins, 3-2 in a shootout, the Flames were flirting with last place in the Northwest Division. They proceeded to go a perfect 6-0 during their road trip – a new franchise record for consecutive road victories. Now, Calgary is three points out of first place in the division.

* After going back-to-back games without a point, Jarome Iginla has 12 points in his last four games, including five-point outbursts Dec. 13 against the Tampa Bay Lightning and Dec. 16 against the St. Louis Blues.

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