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Northwest lead on the line in Minnesota

by Adam Schwartz
The Vancouver Canucks and the Minnesota Wild battle for first place in the Northwest Division in one of eight games on the slate Thursday night.

Three early games feature the New Jersey Devils looking for their second consecutive win when they face the Florida Panthers; the Penguins playing the Atlanta Thrashers; and the Ottawa Senators looking to stop a five-game losing streak when they play their Northeast Division-rival, the Montreal Canadiens (7:30 p.m. ET, RDS).

Later, the Chicago Blackhawks look to gain ground in the Central Division when they take on the Dallas Stars; the Colorado Avalanche host the Calgary Flames; the Edmonton Oilers play just their sixth home game of the season when they face the Detroit Red Wings; and the Washington Capitals play their second California team in two nights when they face the Los Angeles Kings.

Here's what to keep an eye on:

* Florida right wing Nathan Horton leads the team with 11 points in 17 games, but has been held pointless in three of his last five games. Horton, who had 62 points and a plus-15 rating in each of his past two seasons, has a minus-4 rating in 17 games this season.

* Kings right wing Dustin Brown, who had 45 more hits than anyone in the League last season, leads the Western Conference with 61 hits this season. Brown, who is tied for the team lead with 6 goals this season, averages the second-most ice time among Kings forwards with 20:21.

* Pittsburgh defensemen Kris Letang, who averaged 18:09 of ice time per game last season, is averaging 22:22 this season. Letang, who had 5 goals in eight shootout attempts last season, has no goals in three opportunities this season.

* Oilers goalie Dwayne Roloson, who has yielded a power-play goal in seven of eight games this season, has played three games in a row for the first time this season. Edmonton goaltenders Jeff Drouin-Deslauries has played three games in a row once this season, while Mathieu Garon has only played two in a row.

* Montreal, which has six players with at least 10 points, has scored more than one goal just once in their last four games. The Habs, who are in second place in the Northeast Division with 22 points, have lost three of their last four games.

* Canucks left wing Alexandre Burrows, who is playing alongside Jannik Hansen and Ryan Kesler, had 2 goals Wednesday in Vancouver's 6-3 win against the New York Rangers. Burrows, who averages 15:59 of ice time per game, has a plus-9 rating, second on the team.

* Chicago center Patrick Kane, who is second in the Central Division with 22 points, has four three-point games this season. Kane, who won the Calder Trophy as the League's best rookie last season, has 10 assists and 13 points in his last eight games.

* Devils left wing Zach Parise, who has seven more points and five more goals than any teammate, has played at least 20 minutes in six of his last seven games. Parise, who plays with Jamie Langenbrunner and Travis Zajac, is on pace to record 96 points, which would obliterate his career high of 65 points, which he set last season.

* Calgary right wing Todd Bertuzzi, who is second on the team with 7 goals this season, has been held goalless in his last seven games. Bertuzzi, who scored at least 25 goals five times, played more than 20 minutes for the first time since Nov. 2 on Tuesday, when he played 22:38 in the Flames' 4-1 victory against the Avalanche.

* Thrashers defenseman Ron Hainsey, who was signed as a free agent this summer, has six more points than any other Atlanta defenseman. Hainsey, who has assists in each of his last four games, has just taken just one minor penalty this season.

* Ottawa defenseman Anton Volchenkov, who led the League in blocked shots in 2006-07 with 273 and was second last season with 209, is tied for the second-most blocks in the Eastern Conference this season with 50. Volchenkov, who long has been partnered with Chris Phillips, has a career plus-65 rating, but is a minus-4 through 18 games this season.

* Wild right wing Cal Clutterbuck, who had 97 penalty minutes in 73 games last season with the Houston Aeros, Minnesota's American Hockey League affiliate, leads the Northwest Division with 51 hits. Clutterbuck, who averages just 10:05 of ice time per game, has played more than 10 minutes just once in his last five games.

* Detroit center Pavel Datsyuk, who had 58 more takeaways than anyone in the League last season with 144, has the second-most takeaways in the Central Division this season with 18. Datsyuk, who had a five-game point streak come to a halt in the Wings' last game, has a plus-109 rating in his last 253 games, dating back to the start of the 2005-06 season.

Contact Adam Schwartz at
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