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It should be an action-packed night on the ice

by Adam Schwartz

Goaltender Andrew Raycroft fills in for the injured Vesa Toskala tonight when the Toronto Maple Leafs take on Stefan Ruzicka and the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia.
Twenty of the NHL’s 30 teams are in action Thursday night in what promises to be a busy night of hockey.

A trio of 7 p.m. starts see the Toronto Maple Leafs play the Philadelphia Flyers, the Florida Panthers face off against the Atlanta Thrashers and the Tampa Bay Lightning host the Montreal Canadiens.

Later, the New York Islanders play the Ottawa Senators, the Pittsburgh Penguins host the Washington Capitals at Mellon Arena and the Columbus Blue Jackets face the Nashville Predators in a Central Division showdown.

Three 9 p.m. starts feature the Detroit Red Wings traveling to Colorado to face the Avalanche, the Anaheim Ducks playing the Edmonton Oilers and the Minnesota Wild against the Phoenix Coyotes.

The late game pits the Calgary Flames against the Vancouver Canucks in a Northwest Division battle.

Here’s what to watch for tonight:

* Toronto captain Mats Sundin has not done a lot with the plethora of ice time he has seen in recent games. Sundin has just two points in his past five games, despite playing more than 18 minutes in each of those contests.

* After suffering through an injury-plagued sophomore season in 2006-07, Philadelphia forward Mike Richards is back on track this year. After recording 32 points in 59 games last season, he already has 42 points in 34 games this season.

* The Panthers are tied with the Flyers at 32.6 for the highest average of shots against in the League.

* After being signed as a free agent to help the Thrashers in their own end, center Todd White has a minus-7 rating in his last 10 games.

* The Canadiens have only posted a Dec. 20 victory against the Capitals during the first three games of a six-game road trip. The remainder of the trip includes games against the Lightning, Panthers and New York Rangers.

* The Lightning finally may have the No. 1 goalie they desperately have been seeking. Even though rookie Karri Ramo has only led the Lightning to victory once in three starts – his Dec. 20 debut – the 21-year-old Finn has allowed just six goals and has a lofty .939 save percentage during that span.

* After not recording a point in his first 19 games of the season, Islanders forward Andy Hilbert has found his touch recently, and has three points in his last three games.

Daniel Alfredsson

* Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson has points in 12 of his last 13 games and has 17 points during that span while playing on the Senators’ “Pizza Line,” which includes Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley.

* Washington center David Steckel leads rookies with 266 faceoff wins. Chicago’s Jonathan Toews and the Rangers’ Brandon Dubinsky are the only other rookies that have won 200 faceoffs.

* Pittsburgh defenseman Ryan Whitney has played at least 20 minutes in eight of his last nine games, highlighted by a 27:32 performance Dec. 20 against the Boston Bruins.

* Columbus goaltender Pascal Leclaire stopped all 21 Atlanta shots he faced Wednesday night, and leads the League with seven shutouts.

* Predators forward J.P. Dumont has five points in his last five games, including three goals on 14 shots during that span.

* The Red Wings, who have a stifling 17-point stranglehold on the Central Division lead, have suffered seven of their 10 losses on the road this season.

* Colorado forward Paul Stastny leads the club with 43 points, which is 13 ahead of second-place Milan Hejduk – who is averaging almost a point per game.

* Anaheim defenseman Scott Niedermayer has helped vault the Ducks into the thick of the Western Conference playoff race. Anaheim has only lost once in four games since Niedermayer’s return.

* Edmonton defenseman Steve Staios may be seeing too much ice time. Staios has played 20 minutes in six of his last seven games and has a minus-6 rating during that span.

* The usually defensive-minded Wild have given up 12 goals in their last two games, including eight to the Stars Wednesday. It’s safe to say coach and defensive mastermind Jacques Lemaire isn’t pleased.

* Phoenix forward Radim Vrbata, who leads the team with 13 goals, has played 19 minutes in six of his last seven contests, including a season-high 23:58 Saturday in a 2-1 loss to the Canucks.

* The Flames have struggled at the Pengrowth Saddledome, losing two overtime games in a row at home. Calgary is 7-7-6 at home, but its 10-6-1 road record is keeping the team afloat in the Northwest Division title race.

* Canucks coach Alain Vigneault is giving more responsibility to Vancouver rookie defenseman Alexander Edler. Edler, who leads the team with a plus-15 rating, has played 20 minutes in nine of his last 10 games.

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