Defending champs HV 71 are in a familiar spot as the Elitserien heads into the final weeks of the regular season.
by Chipp Reid
As the Elitserien heads in to the final month of the regular season, defending league champions HV 71 and Skellefteå AIK are locked in a duel for the top spot.
HV 71 bulled its way into first place by winning 12 of the last 16 games and tops the standings with 74 points. The Jönköping team was 26-14 after a rare loss on Jan. 20. Former league leaders Luleå knocked off the Blue Bulls 5-4 at the COOP Arena. Kris Beech had two goals and two assists to lead Luela to the victory.
Skellefteå is in second place, two points behind HV 71 with a 25-14 record. SAIK won on Jan 21, knocking off third-place Luleå 2-0 behind a 29-save performance from Andreas Hädelöv. Mikko Lehtonen and Joakim Lindström scored for Skellefteå. The duo remain the top two scorers in the league. Lindström leads all scorers with 41 points from 18 goals and 23 assists. Lehtonen has 39 points from 21 goals and 18 assists.
After leading the league for much of the fall, Luleå is now in third place on 68 points, one point ahead of fourth-place Linköping.
Färjestads, currently in fifth, continues its free fall as its losing streak hit six Jan. 22 after a 3-1 loss at the Löfbergs Lila Arena to Södertälje. Linus Videll scored a goal for SSK to run his goal-scoring streak to three games. Södertälje is third from the bottom in the standings, two points better than Timrå which sits in one of the two relegation spots. Last-place AIK continues to sag after a promising start to the season. The Gnaget have just 39 points and 12 wins and looked destined to return to the Allsvenskan.
The tightest race is for the eighth and final playoff spot. Modo and Brynäs are currently seventh and eighth in the standings with 58 points while Fölunda is in ninth with 57. Modo helped its cause Jan. 22 with a 5-2 win over Timrå. Ladislav Nagy had a hat trick to lead Modo to the win.
Brynäs also scored a big win Jan. 22, defeating sixth-place Djurgården 2-1 at the Hovet. Mattias Tjärnqvist scored the game winner at 12:53 of the third period.
Frölunda kept pace, beating Linköping 5-1 as goalie Johan Holmqvist stopped 25 of 26 shots he faced. Christian Bäckman had a goal and two assists for the Indians.