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Northwest logjam could get cleared

by Adam Schwartz

Goaltender Niklas Backstrom will try to backstop the Minnesota
Wild to a division win over Andrew Brunette and the Colorado Avalanche tonight. The Wild have won three of five meetings.
After a busy weekend, the NHL has just two games scheduled Monday night, with three of the four teams taking the ice hailing from the Northwest Division.

At 7 p.m. the Colorado Avalanche face the Minnesota Wild, and at 10 p.m. the Vancouver Canucks host the Phoenix Coyotes.

Here’s what to watch:

* It doesn’t get much closer than the top four teams in the Northwest Division. Colorado, Minnesota and the Calgary Flames are in a three-way tie for the division lead with 84 points, and the Vancouver Canucks are just two points behind the trio. Minnesota, Vancouver and Calgary have played 72 games while the Avalanche have played 73.

* Minnesota left wing Marian Gaborik, who has the all-time franchise lead in goals (200), assists (202) and points (402), scored goal No. 200 Saturday in the Wild’s 2-0 victory against the Los Angeles Kings. After going pointless in four consecutive games, Gaborik has three goals and five assists for eight points in his last eight games and has failed to record a point in just one game during that span.


* Wild center Pierre-Marc Bouchard, whose team-leading 47 assists is a career, has nine assists in his last nine games. He is just one assist shy of Andrew Brunette’s single-season franchise record of 48 assists, set in the 2001-02 season.

* Minnesota, which has a 20-11-5 home record, has allowed the fourth-fewest power-play goals at home, with 19. The Wild also have the fifth-best home penalty kill in the NHL, with an 85.5-percent success rate.

* Colorado right wing Marek Svatos, who leads the team with 26 goals, was sidelined March 1 with a torn left ACL and will miss the rest of the regular season. But the Avalanche have a 5-2 record without Svatos.

* Avalanche defenseman Jeff Finger, who at 28 is not Calder Trophy-eligible despite playing in his first full NHL season, averages more ice time (19:50) than all but five rookies.


* Colorado goalie Jose Theodore, who is enjoying a resurgent season, has managed to wrestle the starting goalie role away from Peter Budaj. Budaj has played in just four games since Feb. 4, while Theodore has played in more games this season than he has in the past two seasons.

* Coyotes defenseman Zbynek Michalek leads the team with a plus-11 rating. Michalek, who averages the third-most ice time on the club at 21:37 per game, has played at least 20 minutes in 15 of his last 17 games.

* Phoenix center Martin Hanzal, selected No. 17 overall in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, has three assists and a plus-2 rating in three games against the Canucks this season.

* Despite the Coyotes’ 17-7 record against Pacific Division opponents, Phoenix has a 14-19-5 record against the rest of the Western Conference. The Coyotes currently are five points out of a playoff spot.


* Vancouver defenseman Kevin Bieksa, selected in the fifth round of the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, had a minus-4 rating in his first seven games after returning from a calf laceration, which sidelined him for 47 games. Since then, however, Bieksa, who averages 22:48 of ice time per game, has a plus-2 in the five games.

* The Canucks, who have allowed the fewest goals in the Northwest Division with 183, concluded their four-game road trip Saturday with a 4-3 win in Dallas. After jumping to a 3-0 lead in the first period, the Stars battled back to tie the game, but Vancouver center Brendan Morrison scored the game-winning goal in the third period.

* Vancouver center Ryan Kesler, who is third for Vancouver with a career-high 20 goals, has three goals and two assists for five points in his last five games. Kesler, who has never scored more than 10 goals prior to this season, has two goals and four assists for six points and a plus-1 rating in nine career games against the Coyotes.

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