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Focus falls on goalies in Thursday's NHL action

by Adam Schwartz

The Senators take on the Trashers in one of nine games scheduled for tonight.
There are nine games on Thursday night’s NHL schedule.

A trio of 7 p.m. starts feature the Pittsburgh Penguins facing the Boston Bruins, the Montreal Canadiens visiting the Washington Capitals and the Ottawa Senators squaring off against the Atlanta Thrashers.

Later, the Toronto Maple Leafs face off against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Carolina Hurricanes play the Florida Panthers, the New York Rangers face the Minnesota Wild and the Detroit Red Wings travel to St. Louis to take on the Blues.

The Dallas Stars play Vancouver at 10 p.m. Thirty minutes later, the San Jose Sharks host to the Phoenix Coyotes.

Here’s what to watch:

* Pittsburgh goalie Dany Sabourin is not making the most of his opportunity to become the Penguins’ No. 1 goalie after Marc-Andre Fleury was sidelined with an ankle injury Dec. 12. Pittsburgh is 1-2 in its last three games with Sabourin in goal. He has given up nine goals on 85 shots during that span.

* After winning his first three games in a Bruins uniform, goalie Alex Auld has discovered how tough it can be to play goal in Boston. Auld has lost two of his last three games playing for a club that gives up the fifth-most shots per game in the League.

* Tonight’s game is the first of a six-game road swing for the Canadiens that includes stops in Washington, Atlanta, Dallas, Tampa Bay, Florida and Manhattan. Montreal won’t return to the Bell Centre until 2008.


* Washington rookie defenseman Mike Green is tied for the most goals among League defenseman, with Montreal’s Andrei Markov and Chicago’s Dustin Byfuglien. Each has eight goals this season.

* Ottawa defenseman Luke Richardson has been around the block during his 20-year NHL career. Playing for Toronto in 1990-91, one of Richardson’s teammates was Mike Foligno. Today with the Senators, Richardson’s teammate is Mike’s son, Lee Foligno.

* Atlanta goalie Kari Lehtonen has only won three games this season, in 11 appearances. Even though goalie Johan Hedberg hasn’t been the model of consistency, the Swedish stopper has won more than two games in a row – Hedberg won six straight earlier this season – a claim his Finish counterpart can’t match.

* The Maple Leafs are experiencing just how tight the Eastern Conference playoff picture is. Toronto is in a three-way tie with the Buffalo Sabres and the Philadelphia Flyers for seventh place. However, the Leafs have the misfortune of playing in the same division as the Ottawa Senators, who are running away with the Northeast title. If the Leafs played in either of the other Eastern Conference divisions, they would only be four points behind the second-place team in that division.

* Perhaps Tampa Bay defenseman Brad Lukowich was better suited to play for the New Jersey Devils, where he was plus-1 last season. In his second stint with the Lightning, Lukowich is minus-15, which only is better in the League than teammate Brad Richards and Steve McCarthy of the Thrashers, both minus-16.

* Carolina center Matt Cullen has 34 points in 35 games this season, which puts him on pace for an 80-point season. If Cullen stays on pace, he would shatter his career-high of 49 points in one season.

* Florida captain Olli Jokinen has points in eight of his last nine contests and has recorded 10 points during that span.


* Rangers defenseman Michal Rozsival is relied upon heavily by coach Tom Renney. Rozsival has played 23 minutes in each of his last six games, highlighted by a 25:05 performance Dec. 12 against the Capitals in a 5-4 overtime loss.

* The defense-oriented Wild are tied with the Canucks and the Colorado Avalanche for the Northwest Division lead, and the Calgary Flames, who have won their last six games, trail the leaders by one point.

* The Red Wings are superb at Joe Louis Arena. Detroit has more wins at home (16) than eight other clubs have accomplished for the season, regardless of locale.

* St. Louis forward Brad Boyes has seven points in his last five games and leads the Blues in goals with 19.

* The Stars and Canucks meet for the first time since Vancouver ousted Dallas in a seven-game, first-round playoff series last season, which was highlighted by a Canucks quadruple-overtime victory in Game 1.

* After dropping two straight games without goalie Roberto Luongo, who was out of the lineup with a rib contusion, the Canucks got back on track when Luongo returned Tuesday and shut out the Devils, 5-0, at General Motors Place for Luongo’s fifth shutout of the season.

* San Jose goalie Evgeni Nabokov, who leads the League with 18 wins, is one of the busiest goalies in the NHL. Nabokov has started all 33 Sharks games this season, and backup Dimitri Patzold has played just 43 minutes all season.

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