Thursday's matchup between the Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars in Denver will be an interesting one. Colorado is playing very well right now, having won seven of its last eight, and finally has everyone healthy. Peter Forsberg looks great again while Alex Tanguay is scoring consistently. The Avs also have the highest-scoring group of defensemen in the league.
Dallas, on the other hand, is at a key point in the season right now. The Stars have just two wins in their last eight games, are currently occupying the final playoff spot in the Western Conference and captain Mike Modano has not played since Jan. 2. A win at Colorado would be a huge boost, though, and might be just what Dallas needs to get back on track for the second half of the season.
And a word on Roenick...
I'm a big fan of Philadelphia Flyers center Jeremy Roenick and I love the passion he plays with, but he should have gotten more than a one-game suspension for throwing a water bottle at an official during a 6-2 loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday. The NHL has to protect it's officials and a player getting just a one-game penalty for that kind of infraction sends the wrong message to the rest of the league. Roenick deserved a three- or four-game suspension, which would have said loud and clear that the officials are off limits. I'm surprised Roenick got off so easy.
This week's starting lineup
Brian Boucher, Phoenix Coyotes: Is there any other choice? Boucher set an NHL record with five straight shutouts from Dec. 31-Jan. 9, and the one goal he allowed in a tie the following game was on a deflection. His shutout streak lasted 322 minutes, 1 second. An unbelievable job.
Rob Blake, Colorado Avalanche: He's been tower of strength both offensively and defensively for an Avs team that has won eight of its last 10. Blake is second among NHL defensemen in both goals (11) and points (34).
Chris Pronger, St. Louis Blues: He scored two goals Monday in a win over division-rival Chicago and is playing his best hockey in a long time. Most of all, he's going it without Al MacInnis or Barret Jackman in the lineup.
Marian Hossa, Ottawa Senators: Hossa has four goals in his last two games -- three on the power play -- and is the leader in points (47) and goals (22) for the team that is the best in the Eastern Conference by a country mile.
Plus: Overall goaltending
It seems like every team in the NHL is getting solid goaltending right now. Boucher amazed everyone with his streak, Jose Theodore is getting back to form in Montreal, Tomas Vokoun has Nashville in the playoff hunt and Dwayne Roloson has done the same in Minnesota. And don't forget Curtis Joseph, who has been in a tough spot in Detroit but has filled in extremely well for the injured Dominik Hasek. There's also been good play recently from Kevin Weekes in Carolina. It seems every team in the league has a hot goalie.
Minus: Serious injuries
There has been a number of great players on the shelf for extended periods of time this season and it's hurting the game as a whole as well as individual teams. Detroit's Derian Hatcher is out for the season with a knee injury. St. Louis, which has been without MacInnis all season, has lost Jackman for the year, too. Now Zigmund Palffy has gone down for the year in Los Angeles. Add to that a season-ending injury to Ottawa's Vaclav Varada, extended absences for Adam Deadmarsh and Jason Allison in L.A. and Sandis Ozolinsh in Anaheim and the injured reserve list looks like an All-Star team. Injuries have been one of the big negatives in the league all season.
There was a crackdown on hooking, holding and other kinds of interference in the NHL a couple of years ago, but it seems like that stuff has returned, particularly with defensemen running interference on forecheckers for their partners. I play defense and can understand the mentality, but I think it takes away from the game by creating more play in the neutral zone and less one-on-one battles for the puck. What are your thoughts on this?
-- Chris Jackson, Allagash, Maine
I agree totally, Chris. I have never been a proponent of defensive, trapping hockey. Players should be able to forecheck from one end of the ice to the other without being hooked or held, but that's not what's happening. Interference is back because the officials have gotten lax in calling it and the league has to do a better job of policing that kind of play. More room on the ice makes for better hockey and the league has to realize that. The NHL must make it clear to the referees that interference is the No. 1 thing to look for and when officials slack in that area they have to be reprimanded. In turn, the league must also back the refs when they do crack down.
I know this may be the Blues' final year in their latest push to win the Stanley Cup. They need a couple of things to win the Cup this year: another sniper to complement Doug Weight and a righthanded, offensive defenseman to replace MacInnis on the power play. My question is who you think Larry Pleau could get for those positions to make St. Louis stronger going into the playoffs this year?
-- Joe Badalamenti, St. Louis
Melrose -- Well, no one is going to replace MacInnis or Barrett Jackman. MacInnis moves the puck so well and is a huge part of the power play, while Jackman is a tower of strength from a physical standpoint. And yes, with the age of the rest of the roster, the window of opportunity is definitely closing. The Blues started the year on a tear and were the best team in the NHL in terms of winning percentage before the injuries hit. The forward group in St. Louis is as good as any in the NHL so the Blues are all right there, but they have to get some help on D. Every team in the league will be looking for help on the blue line, though, so it's going to be tough to get a quality player at the trade deadline. Who they might go after is anyone's guess and will have a lot to do with the players other teams are looking at.
Barry Melrose, a former NHL defenseman and coach, is a hockey analyst for ESPN. He'll answer selected questions submitted to his e-mail bag each week. Also, click here to send Barry a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.