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All eyes on the East

by Adam Schwartz

Martin Brodeur, Dainius Zubrus and the New Jersey Devils host Antoine Vermette and the Ottawa Senators tonight in Newark. 
Wednesday is a busy night in the NHL’s Eastern Conference, with 10 of the 15 teams playing, but only two Western Conference clubs will join in the action.

A trio of 7 p.m. starts feature the Ottawa Senators visiting the New Jersey Devils, the Washington Capitals traveling to Atlanta to face the Thrashers and the Columbus Blue Jackets hosting the Chicago Blackhawks in the lone Western Conference game.

A half-hour later, the Buffalo Sabres host the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Boston Bruins play the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Montreal Canadiens take on the Florida Panthers.

Here’s what to keep an eye out for:

* After recording a combined 15 points Saturday in a 6-1 victory against the Canadiens, the Senators’ Jason Spezza-Dany Heatley-Daniel Alfredsson line failed to get a single point and were a combined minus-4 Tuesday night in a 5-1 loss to the surging Sabres.

* After watching their Northeast Division lead slip to just one point over the Canadiens, the Senators have pulled out of their slump and now have a five-point lead over the Habs.

* New Jersey defenseman Paul Martin, who leads the Devils with an average of 23:17 of ice time, scored two goals Saturday in the Devils’ 6-1 triumph against the Carolina Hurricanes.


* Washington center Nicklas Backstrom, who is second in the League in rookie scoring with 45 points, has one goal and four assists in five games against the Thrashers, but also has a minus-3 rating against Atlanta.

* Capitals defenseman Mike Green, who has the most goals among NHL defensemen with 15, snapped a 10-game goal-less drought Sunday when he scored the game-winner in overtime as Washington beat the New York Rangers, 3-2.

* Atlanta defenseman Niclas Havelid, who has the second-highest average ice time among Thrashers defensemen with 20:31, leads the team with a plus-7 rating.

* The Blackhawks, who are just three points ahead of the last-place Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference, have scored the fewest second-period goals of any team in the NHL with 40.

* Columbus left wing Rick Nash, who used to play the drums, has 16 goals and 16 assists for 32 points in 28 career games against the Blackhawks.

* If the Blue Jackets improve their 10-15-3 road record, they will have a good chance of making the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. Columbus currently sits 10th in the Western Conference with 61 points, just four points out of a playoff spot.


* The Maple Leafs, who held an outdoor practice Monday, are just one point better than the last-place Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference.

* Buffalo is 7-1-2 in its last 10 contests and has jumped into the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

* Sabres defenseman Brian Campbell, who was a sixth-round pick in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft, is third among defensemen with 37 assists.

* Boston center Marc Savard, who is second in the League with 49 assists, has 15 assists in his last 14 contests. Savard also has nine goals and 27 assists for 36 points and a minus-5 rating in 26 career games against the Penguins.

* It’s no wonder Boston goalie Tim Thomas sees an average of 31.89 shots per game. Bruins defenseman Aaron Ward leads the team – but is No. 58 in the League – with 79 blocked shots.

* Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin, who set a record last season as the first rookie in the NHL’s modern era to score in his first six games, has picked up the slack since Sidney Crosby was sidelined with a high ankle sprain. The 6-foot-3, 195-pound Russian has eight goals and 13 assists for 21 points in 10 games since Crosby was injured Jan. 18.


* Montreal defenseman Andrei Markov, who was drafted in the sixth round of the 1998 NHL Entry Draft, leads the team and is third in the Northeast Division with 58 giveaways.

* Pittsburgh has won its last three games to jump into the Atlantic Division lead by three points over the second-place Devils. Despite an 8-11-2 divisional record, the Penguins have a 16-7-3 record against the rest of the Eastern Conference.

* Canadiens center Tomas Plekanec has four goals and two assists for six points in his last four games while playing at least 19 minutes in three of those games.

* The Panthers, who trail the division-leading Hurricanes by just three points, have allowed 166 goals – 10 fewer than any team in the Southeast Division.

* Florida defenseman Ruslan Salei, who idolized Russian defenseman Viacheslav Fetisov growing up, leads the team with 94 blocked shots and 106 hits.

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