KELLEY: Bruins back on top in East

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Jim Kelley

AROUND THE BOARDS: Kelley's look at the NHL

still dominating East

In the spirit of the just completed holiday, it's time we give thanks and just due to the Boston , a team we felt has so many internal problems in the off-season that they just might miss the playoffs. Given that they are dominating the East, it's almost a drop-dead certainty that they won't miss the postseason. We'll let defenseman tell you why the are off to their best start (14-3-3-1) since 1979-80 and how they were overlooked. "I was a little bit surprised," O'Donnell said of some projections that had them dead last in the East. "I'm not going to lie: I've also been a little bit surprised by the amount of success point-wise that we've had. But I was surprised that a lot of publications had us not even making the playoffs. I never understood that. We had a pretty good defense and any team with and and Samsonov and Rollie (Brian Rolston) and Marty Lapointe — I don't know too many teams that can put that kind of forwards out there. So I didn't really understand why we were picked so low. Obviously our playoffs last year (out in the first round) hurt us. But I think we've surprised a lot of people. "Still, until we get to the playoffs and have success, it's still going to be, 'Yeah, okay, but let's wait and see who they do in the playoffs.' I think that's maybe what some of the fan are saying. That's certainly what I hear on the radio. The team is playing well but they're like, 'Well, they were playing well last year, too, and look what happened.' So until we have success in the playoffs there will still be doubters." Not here. Not anymore. The have been dominant despite a slew of serious injuries. They've lost 52 manpower games through their first 21 starts. Still, they've got the aforementioned offensive talent. The power play recently has been sizzling (14 points in their last nine games) and they should be getting two of their more seriously-injured players — Lapointe (broken foot) and (knee sprain) back Friday. (wrist sprain) may also make it back soon, but it's still a haze surrounding . The high-scoring forward has missed 17 straight games with a wrist sprain. There's talk he'll try to come back soon, perhaps this weekend, but if it doesn't hold up he's looking at surgery that could keep him out of the lineup for up to three months.

One more note

Sources are telling FOXSports.com that the Boston-Colorado deal that would have sent and Kyle McLaren to The Avs for , and one other player is on hold for now. The Avs are said to have wanted to throw tough guy in on the deal, but the are said to be holding out for , a player Colorado does not want to give up. This is likely now in an eyeball-to-eyeball stare down, but it's not likely the Avs will blink. If they don't, Boston is likely to look elsewhere. The Avs are finally getting the injured (he came over in the deal with Calgary) back in the lineup. It's one of the reasons Tanguay is said to be available. There's some talk that McAmmond (coming off a back problem) will play on the No.1 line with and , further displacing Tanguay.

It ain't the cheese steaks pal

The Philadelphia are 1-4-4 recently and it's not just because isn't producing and just got hurt again. Going into Friday's game, the had been smoked 6-0 and 7-2 in their last two outings. They haven't been fully buying into coach Ken Hitchcock's demand for defensive commitment and they certainly haven't been getting the goaltending they need to keep them in games they don't feel like working in. The always up-and-down is in one of his down modes in goal right now and the power play and the penalty killing — the latter being something that demands little more than hard work — is awful. Not helping things is the fact that Cechmanek's backup, hasn't been sharp either. There's nothing odd about general manger Bobby Clarke's team having problems in goal. The only odd thing is that Clarke lets it go on year after year after year. This may seem strange given that the have killed five coaches in the last six seasons. Hitchcock likes to have his players coming back to help defensively. The like to play the big, bad role where they beat you down low and behind the net. The two systems do not compliment one another and it shows. The power play hovers around the bottom quarter of the league. The penalty killing is often in the next-to-last position.

While still with the

Here's the lowdown on LeClair's shoulder injury. If it's not too badly damaged he could be gone for six weeks. If it's the rotator cuff (and there's come concern there could be some damage there) it could be months. There's also some concern that Gagne has suffered the dreaded abdominal pull. He'll be reevaluated over the weekend, but even before he was hurt he was having a difficult season.

Outta' here

Remember when we told you about Jeff Danton, the player who had so many issues with the New Jersey and in his home life that he changed his name to Danton so people would give him a fresh start? That start is coming to an end in New Jersey. Sources tell FOXSports.com that the have agreed to actively shop the forward to other teams and if there are no takers they will place him in someone else's minor-league operations. Danton had two goals in 17 games with the this season and he got his spot on the fourth line because of new coach Pat Burns, but he's since fallen out of favor and has been assigned to the minors. He's likely played his last game as a Devil.

One final thought

We don't for a moment believe that any statement issues by the NHL's screening committee of general managers is ever going to come about via a unanimous decision, not at least without some serious arm twisting behind closes doors to make it so. That said, we can't imagine the committee issuing anything but a unanimous backing of he enforcement of the crackdown on obstruction fouls. To do anything but would undercut what the NHL is attempting to do in this regard and open the door to even more debate, an issue already moving to the forefront among players. No officiating standard is perfect, especially in a game as fast as hockey, but the players truly don't have a real case on this one. The game is better because of the crackdown and while the standards may be suffering from a lack of uniformity in regards the consistency of the calls, the effort is not "ruining the game" as Detroit defenseman would have you believe. The view from here is that solid enforcement may well have just the opposite effect. It may well save a game that has become decidedly dull in the eyes of even its most ardent fans. Kudos to the NHL for moving forward on this, now if they would just initiate a crackdown on diving. Jim Kelley can be reached at his e-mail address: jkelley@foxsports.com.
Who's he?
Nashville General Manager David Poile has taken a lot of heat this season because of his team's ragged start, but Poile doesn't work with a big-time budget and if you examine his efforts rather than his payroll, the man does have a knack for turning up talent. Case in point is , a free-agent find that Poile found in the off-season. There was a lot of "who's he?" talk around the league when that signing was announced, but Johansson has been a red-light special for the . Earlier this week he scored the franchise's fourth hat trick, a three goal outing against the San Jose during which he put a franchise-record nine shots on goal. Through Thursday's games he's scored 12 of the Preds 43 goals while making just $650,000 for the season. It helps that Johansson plays on the team's first line with play-making center and the recently healthy . Walker missed 17 games with torn rib cartilage and a broken collarbone and likely will now start getting more of Legwand's passes, but Johansson is a savvy player around the net and it's likely his goal-scoring exploits will not go away anytime soon. Asked where the NHL's lowest scoring offense might be without Johansson stepping up, head coach Barry Trotz said "I can't imagine." Another escapee from the New York prospect list, Johansson was drafted in the seventh round of the 1991 entry draft, the 136th player taken overall. He was a part of a deal that sent to the Pittsburgh during the 1996-97 season. In 1998 he signed with Ottawa as a free agent and was later traded to Tampa Bay for and future considerations. He lasted 12 games there before being traded to Calgary. The let him go in the waiver draft, the picked him up after that and then the .
Five things you should know
1. When Minnesota's scored a hat trick earlier this month he became the youngest player (20 years, 266 days) to record three-career hat tricks since (20 years, 24 days) picked up his third during the 1993-94 season. Later in the month Gaborik became the first player in the NHL to get two hat tricks this season, giving him four for his career. is likely to run away with the scoring crown, but this kid might well be the best player in the NHL who doesn't own his own team. 2. The Nashville snapped a six-game winless streak -- their third winless streak of at least five this season -- in Wednesday's 4-2 triumph vs. the San Jose . The win was just the third of the season for the Preds, who hadn't won since downing Colorado on Nov. 10. Injuries have been a problem since the start of the season, but the team is starting to get healthier. 3. The New York are slowly climbing back into contention in the East and the Atlantic Division. The spark has been a 5-2-2 run since ending their six-game losing streak. They are currently undefeated in five at 3-0-2 and are five points out of the final playoff spot in the East (with three games in hand). They are seven points behind the suddenly struggling Philadelphia for the top spot in the division. 4. The Ottawa are on a 6-0-2 streak since they were smoked, 7-1 by the Boston in the FleetCenter Nov. 9. That was the worst defeat ever under coach Jacques Martin. Martin happened to be coaching his 700th game that night and he's put the spurs to his club ever since. They've responded. 5. The San Jose went 3-3-1-1 in their monster eight-game road trip. Too bad the Pittsburgh were on the sked for that one or it might have been better. has 47 points in 13 career games vs. the . He has 15 goals and 32 assists vs. the and once scored seven points in one game against them.
Thug Watch
He hasn't hit that many people on the ice this season, but Edmonton enforcer tagged two people in that city this week and it could have been tragic. Laraque's sport utility vehicle was involved a crash with a Jeep at an intersection in the west-end of the city Thursday. The car he hit had a mother and daughter inside and it rolled over twice before coming to rest upright in a ditch. Sources say Laraque might have gone through a stop sign and charges could come from the incident. The mother and daughter were not seriously injured, but the accident was serious and police maintain had the two not been wearing seat belts they could well have been killed as a great many items including a sink were thrown from the vehicle and smashed along the road during the roll over. Both Laraque and the driver of the other vehicle were shaken and said to have suffered minor neck injuries.
In the next 48 hours
  • Look for the Ottawa to make a decision on sending former No.1 draft pick back to the minors. He's played reasonably well on offense, but has a minus-7, a sign of a player not yet in tune with the defensive side of the game.
  • We told you earlier in the week that the were concerned regarding seven straight back-to-back weekend encounters. Sure enough, they've scratched from the lineup Friday night in Buffalo. It was a late scratch, one that is sure to upset the thousands who bought tickets just to see the league's scoring leader, but Buffalo is so bad right now that the no doubt felt they could win without him. The play the Conference leading Saturday in Pittsburgh.
  • Look for St. Louis goaltender Brad Johnson to report to the AHL for a conditioning stint (he's trying to recover from a serious high-ankle sprain). He should be in Worcester by Monday or Tuesday.
  • F.Y.I.
    He may have a bias because he's on the NHL's select committee of general managers regards obstruction enforcement, but Edmonton general manager Kevin Lowe was not pleased with Detroit defenseman 's statements that the NHL had slipped in its standards in recent weeks. In a no punches pulled quote Lowe said: "I don't agree with him when he says the league stinks," Lowe said. "If he thinks that way, maybe he can retire." It was a tough week for Detroit in the quotes department. After the New Jersey lost a game in Joe Louis Arena in overtime after they appeared to score the game- winning goal coach Pat Burns said: "Strange things happen in hockey town." Burns was being careful to avoid a fine, but he was strongly implying that the video-replay judge just might have been looking for a reason to disallow his team's apparent game-winning goal in the extra session (he claimed it was kicked into the Detroit net.). Lots of clubs complain privately about certain things in certain arenas. In Detroit, it's video replay. In Boston, it's the shot-count. The NHL tries to have a supervisor at each game, but when it doesn't, certain roles are staffed by home-town officials.
    Tagged: Andreas Johansson, Bruins, Flames, Red Wings, Oilers, Devils, Islanders, Rangers, Senators, Flyers, Penguins, Avalanche, Sharks, Predators, Wild, P.J. Axelsson, Sergei Samsonov, Kyle McLaren, Martin Lapointe, Sean O'Donnell, Joe Thornton, Derek Morris, Chris Chelios, Georges Laraque, John LeClair, Simon Gagne, Joe Sakic, Scott Parker, Alex Tanguay, Milan Hejduk, Martin Skoula, Robert Esche, Scott Walker, David Legwand, Marian Gaborik, Radim Vrbata

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