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Eastern showdowns fill light schedule

by Adam Schwartz

The Devils face the Buffalo Sabres tonight.
Friday won’t be a very active night in the NHL with only four games on the docket, but there are a couple of key matches.

Three Eastern Conference contests feature the New Jersey Devils against the Buffalo Sabres, the Carolina Hurricanes hosting the Boston Bruins and the Montreal Canadiens facing off with the Florida Panthers.

The San Jose Sharks travel to St. Louis to play the Blues in the lone Western Conference match.

Here’s what to keep an eye out for:

* The Sabres had their season-high six-game win streak, which saw them climb back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture, snapped Wednesday night in a 5-3 loss to the Ottawa Senators.

* Buffalo defenseman Brian Campbell has been logging major minutes for coach Lindy Ruff. The Strathroy, Ontario native played 25 minutes in each of his last seven games, including when he was on the ice for 29:32 Saturday in the Sabres’ 3-2 victory against the Philadelphia Flyers.

* The Devils are returning to the Prudential Center after a successful three-game Western Canadian swing. After getting mauled last Tuesday by the Vancouver Canucks, 5-0, New Jersey was able to rebound. The Devils only managed to score three goals in one regulation period during the entire three-game trip, but they defeated the Edmonton Oilers (3-1 last Friday) and the Calgary Flames (1-0 in overtime Sunday).


* New Jersey has been winning without some of its key contributors lately. Ever since premier defensive forward Jay Pandolfo was sidelined Nov. 30 with a groin injury, the team is 7-3-1. Sunday night Zach Parise, who leads the team in goals (15), assists (20), points (35) and plus-minus rating (plus-9), couldn’t play because he had flu-like symptoms and New Jersey was able to escape Calgary with a 1-0 overtime victory.

* After a promising start to the season Boston is starting to slip a little. The Bruins have lost four games in a row and goalie Tim Thomas has not won since returning from a lower-body injury Dec. 20. After winning his first three starts in a Bruins uniform, goalie Alex Auld only has won one of his last four games.

* Boston star center Marc Savard, who is fourth in the NHL with 31 assists, only has assisted on two goals in his last seven games.

* Carolina center Rod Brind’Amour, last season’s Selke Trophy winner for best defensive forward, has a minus rating in six of his last seven games and is a minus-6 during that span. However, Brind’Amour is the only player in the League who has won 500 faceoffs this season.

* After seeing upwards of 20 minutes of ice time per game earlier in the season, Hurricanes center Jeff Hamilton has seen his playing time drastically reduced by coach Peter Laviolette since Hamilton has stopped producing. The 30-year-old only has played at least 10 minutes in two of his last 13 games and has not recorded a point during that span.


* Montreal goalie Cristobal Huet may be reclaiming his No. 1 status in the Canadiens’ crease. Since returning from a groin injury Dec. 20, Huet has not lost a game in regulation and has allowed six goals while facing 95 shots. Carey Price, Huet’s competition, has lost his last two decisions and let in seven goals while facing 51 shots during that span.

* Canadiens defenseman Andrei Markov, who has the second-most power-play goals among defensemen in the League, has five points in his last five games.

* Florida defenseman Bryan Allen, who is the sole player the Panthers have left from the Roberto Luongo deal with Vancouver, is playing a big role for coach/GM Jacques Martin. Allen has played at least 22 minutes in nine of his last 10 games, including a 25:16 performance Saturday against the Toronto Maple Leafs, which marked the third time the 6-foot-4, 220-pound defenseman played 25 minutes in a contest this season.

* San Jose center Patrick Marleau has scored just one goal in his last six games and is minus-5 during that span.

* Forward Andy McDonald is off to a fast start in St. Louis after being traded for Doug Weight by the Anaheim Ducks. McDonald is averaging a point per game after five games with his new club.

* Blues rookie forward David Perron quietly is having a productive season maturing in the NHL. The 19-year-old is tied for fifth in rookie goal-scoring with six goals, and his plus-4 rating proves that he is responsible in his own end.


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