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In The Crease

One reason the surging Avalanche (20-17-5-1 through Sunday) is on
top in the Northwest Division is the play of Chris Drury. He has
been outstanding centering Milan Hejduk and Alex Tanguay, giving
Colorado an imposing second line and allowing coach Bob Hartley
to play All-Stars Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg and talented Adam
Deadmarsh on the first unit....

Look for the league to crack down on players crashing the crease
and interfering with goaltenders. Referees will be told to call
more penalties because offensive players have shown little
regard for netminders in the so-called protected area....

A brutally ineffective power play (11.2% efficiency, 27th in the
league) and injuries at center have the Mighty Ducks reeling
(0-5-1 in their last six games). Expect Anaheim general manager
Pierre Gauthier to deal for a center. The likely candidates? The
Devils' Brendan Morrison, Denis Pederson or Sergei Brylin....

The top fourth line in the NHL is the Blues' energetic trio of
Mike Eastwood, Tyson Nash and Jamal Mayers. With 14 goals,
Eastwood is on his way to his best offensive season; the
abrasive Nash is the number 1 pest in the league; and Mayers,
who has excellent size (6'2", 212 pounds) and speed, complements
his linemates and often fights Nash's battles....

The two most improved players this season are 27-year-old Maple
Leafs wing Jonas Hoglund, who had already tied his career best
of 19 goals, and 23-year-old Coyotes wing Shane Doan, who had
14. Doan's progress may hasten the departure of veteran wing
Rick Tocchet, who will be an unrestricted free agent after this