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Canadiens again eyeing top spot in East

by Adam Schwartz
Saku Koivu leads the Montreal Caandiens into Boston tonight to battle Glen Metropolit and the Bruins. The Habs have won all six meetings.
Six of the eight games Thursday night are intraconference matches, which undoubtedly will affect the playoff picture.

A four-pack of early games sees the Montreal Canadiens play the Boston Bruins, the St. Louis Blues visit Ottawa, the Tampa Bay Lightning travel to Pittsburgh and the red-hot Florida Panthers battle the Southeast Division-leading Carolina Hurricanes.

Later, the Detroit Red Wings begin a three-game road trip in Nashville, the Calgary Flames host the Colorado Avalanche, the Vancouver Canucks travel to Edmonton and the Los Angeles Kings square off with the Phoenix Coyotes.

Here’s what to watch:

* The Canadiens, who have scored the second-most goals in the League with 233, have four players with at least 20 goals – Alexei Kovalev, Tomas Plekanec, Christopher Higgins and Andrei Kostitsyn. Montreal, which is just one point behind the New Jersey Devils for first place in the Eastern Conference, has the best power play in the League, with a 24.4-percent success rate.

* Boston left wing Marco Sturm, who leads the team with 24 goals, has scored just one goal in his last eight games. Sturm, who was dealt to the Bruins in a package for Joe Thornton, has a career-high 51 points this season.

* After suffering an eight-game goal drought, Blues right wing Brad Boyes has scored six goals in his last six games, giving him a team-best 38. Boyes, selected No. 24 overall in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft by the Toronto Maple Leafs, is second on the team with 184 shots on goal.

* After recording just 24 points in 64 games with the Stars, center Jeff Halpern was dealt to Tampa Bay in a package for Brad Richards. Halpern has six goals and six assists for 12 points in 11 games with the Lightning.

* The Penguins, who are two points behind the Devils in the Atlantic Division with 89 points, have scored 16 goals in their last three games. Pittsburgh, which is one of just three Eastern Conference teams to have allowed fewer than 202 goals, has scored the most third-period goals in the division with 74.

* Carolina, which has a 16-8-1 divisional record, is first in the Southeast Division with 85 points – five ahead of the second-place Washington Capitals.

* Florida center Olli Jokinen, who is tied for second in the League with 16 power-play goals, has two goals and six assists for eight points in his last seven games – all Panthers victories.

* Nashville defenseman Greg Zanon leads the Central Division and is second in the Western Conference with 163 blocked shots.

* Red Wings left wing Henrik Zetterberg snapped a seven-game goal drought Wednesday night with a third-period hat trick to lead Detroit to a 3-1 victory against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

* Andrej Meszaros, who leads Ottawa defensemen with nine goals, has just one goal in his last 22 games. Meszaros, who had a minus-15 rating last season, has a plus-9 rating this season.

* Colorado center Joe Sakic, who has been with the Colorado franchise since it was the Quebec Nordiques, has two goals and four assists for six points and a minus-3 rating in his last four games.

* Calgary, which is in a three-way tie for second place in the Northwest Division with 84 points, has scored just one more goal than it has allowed. The Flames, who have an 18-10-9 record at the Pengrowth Saddledome, have allowed the fourth-fewest third-period goals in the Western Conference with 60.

* Vancouver left wing Matt Pettinger, who has been playing alongside Brendan Morrison and Markus Naslund, had a goal and two assists for three points Saturday in a 4-3 victory against the Dallas Stars.

* Oilers right wing Ales Hemsky, who has scored a career-high 20 goals this season, has five goals and seven assists for 12 points in his last 10 games – eight of which Edmonton won.

* Los Angeles defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky, who owns a horse named Tamino, has a minus-6 rating in six games against the Coyotes this season. Visnovsky, who leads the team with an average of 22:53 of ice time per game, has played at least 23 minutes in 11 of his last 13 games.

* The Coyotes, who are vying for the final playoff position in the Western Conference, have dropped their last three games and have fallen seven points out of a postseason berth and appear destined to miss the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season – the longest stretch in franchise history.

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