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Associated Press
Jan 5, 2007, 5:30 PM EST

The NHL is halfway home.

Friday marked the midway point in the hockey season, with some newcomers at the top of the standings and the list of scoring leaders.

The Buffalo Sabres proved last season that they were good, falling one win short of the Stanley Cup finals when they were eliminated by the eventual champion Carolina Hurricanes. Now they are the class of the East, winning 29 of their first 40 games and opening a seven-point lead over their closest pursuers - the surprising Atlanta Thrashers.

Out West, the Anaheim Ducks no longer call themselves mighty but are having the best of their 13 NHL regular seasons. The Ducks have reached the postseason only four times but could be in line for their second trip to the finals.

The addition of Chris Pronger to a defensive unit that already had another former Norris Trophy winner, Scott Niedermayer, has done all the Ducks hoped. But Pronger, the NHL's top-scoring defenseman, is now nursing a broken left foot that could curtail Anaheim's surge.

The help up front has been key to goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere finding the form that carried him to the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2003 when the Ducks got within a win of the Stanley Cup. Giguere also missed games this week because of a strained groin.

The fact that Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin are in the top three in scoring is only a surprise in how quickly they have become stars. In their second NHL seasons, the players who were chosen No. 1 in the draft in consecutive seasons have taken over.

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