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Southeast lead up for grabs; Niedermayer returns to N.J.

by Adam Schwartz

After victories over the Islanders and Rangers, the New Jersey Devils will try to prevent the defending champion Anaheim Ducks from completing the tri-state sweep tonight in Newark.
There only are four games in the NHL Friday night, but there are some key matchups that undoubtedly will affect the standings.

Three early games feature the Anaheim Ducks facing the New Jersey Devils, the Carolina Hurricanes playing the Washington Capitals in a pivotal Southeast Division contest, and the Buffalo Sabres hosting the Boston Bruins.

The lone late game of the night starts at 10:30 p.m., when the Columbus Blue Jackets visit the San Jose Sharks.

Here’s what to keep an eye out for:

* Friday will be Anaheim defenseman Scott Niedermayer’s first game in New Jersey since leaving the Devils to sign with the Ducks in 2005. The 34-year-old defenseman is one of just five players – Martin Brodeur, Scott Stevens, Ken Daneyko and Sergei Brylin are the others – to play on all three of New Jersey’s Stanley Cup championship teams.

* Ducks right wing Teemu Selanne, who was drafted No. 10 overall by the Winnipeg Jets in the 1988 NHL Entry Draft, has inspired Anaheim upon his return. The 37-year-old has two assists in his first two games – both Ducks victories.

* Anaheim is in the midst of a nine-game road trip and the Ducks can’t wait to get back to the Honda Center. The Ducks have just two wins in the first six games of the trip, and have an unsightly 13-15-3 record away from home.


* New Jersey defenseman Johnny Oduya, who leads the team with a plus-14 rating, has eight points in his last eight games, highlighted by a four-point effort against the Philadelphia Flyers on Jan. 22 in a 7-3 New Jersey victory.

* Devils right wing Brian Gionta, who holds the club record with 48 goals in a season, has not scored in his past 11 games and is averaging 18:34 of ice time per game.

* New Jersey defenseman Andy Greene hasn’t played often – he’s been a healthy scratch in seven of the team’s last eight games – but when he does play, he’s on the ice often. Greene, who has played 44 of the Devils’ 54 games, has the second-highest average ice time for the Devils, with 19:58 per game.

* Devils center John Madden, who would like to coach college hockey after his playing days, is third in the NHL with 60 takeaways.

* Carolina defenseman Bret Hedican, who has played for the United States in three World Cups and two Olympic tournaments, leads the team with a plus-10 rating.

* The four Hurricanes who average the most ice time are forwards Rod Brind’Amour, Eric Staal, Cory Stillman and Justin Williams.


* Capitals defenseman Tom Poti, who has scored at least 10 goals three times in his career, scored his first goal of the season Tuesday when the Capitals beat the Blue Jackets 4-3 in overtime.

* Washington left wing Alexander Ovechkin, who is scoring at a 69-goal pace, leads the League with 133 missed shots – 49 more than any other player.

* The Capitals are in first place in the Southeast Division, which would guarantee them a playoff spot, but they have two fewer points than the Boston Bruins, who hold the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

* Boston left wing Milan Lucic, who was the Canadian Hockey League’s Memorial Cup MVP for the Vancouver Giants last season, has the second-most hits among rookies with 111.

* Bruins right wing Chuck Kobasew, who was drafted No. 14 overall by the Calgary Flames in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, leads the team with 19 goals.

* Buffalo defenseman Henrik Tallinder, who lists seeing Iron Maiden as the best concert he’s been to, scored a goal in a shootout Wednesday night in Buffalo’s 3-2 victory against the Devils. The 6-foot-3, 214-pound defenseman has not scored a goal in regulation this season.

* Sabres right wing Jason Pominville has scored three goals and added five assists for eight points in his last five games.


* Blue Jackets defenseman Adam Foote, whose hockey idol growing up was Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Borje Salming, has the second-most blocked shots in the Central Division with 110.

* Columbus center Derick Brassard, who was selected No. 6 overall in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, has just one goal and one assist in 12 games with the Blue Jackets, but the 20-year-old has seen more than 12 minutes of ice time just twice.

* Columbus center Sergei Fedorov, who was selected in the fourth round of the 1989 NHL Entry Draft, has two goals and seven assists for nine points in his last seven games.

* San Jose center Joe Thornton, who has the highest average ice time among Sharks forwards with 21:30 per game, is sixth in the League with 62 giveaways.

* San Jose goalie Evgeni Nabokov, who originally wore No. 35 as opposed to his current No. 20, has started every game except one for the Sharks this season.

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