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Max Pacioretty, Montreal Canadiens: My colleague Pierre LeBrun talked with Habs captain Brian Gionta this week about the team’s bounce-back efforts after a soft January. One of the players making a big impact is call-up Max Pacioretty, who has three goals and three assists in his past six games. The 22nd overall pick in 2007 will make life a little difficult for management when Mike Cammalleri returns from injury, but Pacioretty has impressed. He has been playing mostly with Gionta and Tomas Plekanec on the Habs’ top line, as Montreal continues to battle Boston for the top spot in the Northeast Division.
Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Minnesota Wild: We have done a lot of talking about headshots and concussions and will continue to do so for the rest of the season and beyond. But it’s always nice to write about a player coming back after such a trauma. One of the reasons the Minnesota Wild woke up in seventh place in the Western Conference on Friday is because of Pierre-Marc Bouchard. He has returned to form after missing 104 straight games recovering from concussion issues and has eight points in his past seven games, including a two-point effort in a big win against Colorado on Thursday. The Wild, meanwhile, have won six of seven.
Dustin Byfuglien, Atlanta Thrashers: If you’re wondering why all of the Norris Trophy talk has died down for former Chicago power forward Dustin Byfuglien, it may have something to do with the fact the big man has failed to deliver one single point in his past 12 outings. After looking like some crazy hybrid of Larry Robinson and Bobby Orr for the first half of the season, Byfuglien has had zero impact, at least in a positive way, in recent games. Yes, he misses defense partner Tobias Enstrom (broken finger), but the Thrashers need Byfuglien to return to form or they can kiss the playoffs goodbye (again).
Kari Lehtonen, Dallas Stars: Speaking of the Thrashers, former Atlanta franchise netminder Kari Lehtonen has been a rock for the surprising Stars this season, but the rock is showing some signs of cracking of late. Lehtonen has lost three of his past four starts and allowed 14 goals in those three losses, including a 6-3 loss against Boston on Thursday night in which Lehtonen came on in relief of Andrew Raycroft and gave up three goals. The Stars still lead the Pacific Division, but the issue with Lehtonen has always been one of durability and consistency. Can he continue to be the rock the Stars need him to be? Looks like we’re starting to find out.