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by Staff Writer / Los Angeles Kings
Patrick Marleau wears the same No. 12 and captain's "C" as last season. Those might be the only things that haven't changed for him.

To call Marleau's 2007-08 season a disappointment would be charitable. He had just 19 goals and 48 points while going minus-19 on a team that rolled to the Pacific Division title. But a coaching change -- Ron Wilson was replaced by former Detroit assistant Todd McLellan -- appears to be the best thing that's ever happened to Marleau.

For one thing, McLellan didn't know Marleau other than as an occasional opponent. That meant he had no preconceived notions -- and a willingness to think outside the box. In Marleau's case, that has meant moving him from center to left wing on a line with Joe Thornton and Devin Setoguchi, creating one of the NHL's most dominant lines this season.

Marleau has 16 goals and 19 assists in the Sharks' first 30 games, putting him on a pace to shatter last season's totals and finish well ahead of his career bests of 34 goals and 86 points, set in 2005-06.

So what's the difference?

"I wasn't here last year. I know Patty only from training camp on," McLellan said after Marleau scored the game-winner in a come-from-behind 5-4 win against St. Louis on Dec. 13. "I know that he's enjoying the game. He's playing a different position and he's playing with some good players."

McLellan's system, in which the Sharks are more aggressive than they were under Wilson, also appears to be a better fit for Marleau.

"He's getting the puck to the net a lot more than in the past," McLellan said.

When asked about the biggest difference between last season and this season, McLellan said: "Probably just the confidence. It's amazing what confidence can do for a person, never mind a player."

Marleau's leadership skills also have come to the fore as the Sharks continue to dominate the Pacific Division.

"He's the captain of our team, and he's going to lead our team," Setoguchi said of his linemate.

"He's played great for us. He's taken charge and he's playing great."

A look at the future --
Few teams will get a better look at some of their key prospects than the Los Angeles Kings at the 2009 World Junior Championships in Ottawa.

Defenseman Thomas Hickey, the Kings' first-round pick in 2007, will serve as captain for Team Canada, and will be joined on the blue line by Colton Teubert, L.A.'s second first-rounder (No. 13) last June.

The Kings also are allowing Oscar Moller, a second-rounder in 2007 who has been with the team all season, to play for Team Sweden. Moller has 6 goals and 13 points in 29 games while averaging more than 13 minutes of ice time.

General Manager Dean Lombardi told the Los Angeles Times he had his reasons for granting Moller permission.

"It is a special opportunity for young kids to play in that tournament," he said. "The pressure in that tournament for a young player is pretty significant, and it's a big thing for their growth to play in that tournament. It's a great thing for his continued development, especially because they told us he was going to be one of their captains.

"The other thing is that some of our kids in the minor leagues are showing that they deserve a chance, whether that's (Trevor) Lewis or bringing (Brian) Boyle back. It was balancing things between a good opportunity for him and making sure our team is in good shape."

Moller should return to the Kings during the first week of January. The World Juniors runs Dec. 26-Jan. 5.

Power-less play -- Among the problems the Dallas Stars have had this season is a puzzling lack of success on the power play, especially away from American Airlines Center.

Dallas entered Tuesday tied for 28th in the 30-team League with a 13.0-percent success rate, ahead only of Columbus (10.1). Most of the problems have come on the road, where the Stars are last at 8.7 percent, with just 6 goals on 69 tries.

It's a huge drop from last season, when the Stars were fourth in the NHL in road power-play success, at 20.0 percent.

The power play's lack of success was a key in the Stars' 3-0 loss at Nashville on Saturday. Despite playing well, the Stars misfired on all four of their power-play opportunities and are 0-for-21 in their last five road games. Overall, the Stars are just 3 for their last 51 in their last 11 games.

"Some nights we are not on the same page, and you can pick a lot of negatives since the power play isn't clicking," center Brad Richards said. "I've never been through a drought like this on the power play."

The power-play problems on the road are one reason the Stars find themselves in the unusual position of looking up at the other 14 teams in the West after making the conference finals last spring.

"We have never been in this position before in the standings," coach Dave Tippett said. "We feel that things should have gone more smoothly so far this year, but this is what we have done and we need to get better. We need to play as a group if we are going to move forward. If we do not play together as a group on the ice we are not going to get out of this. We have shown signs of that lately and if we continue that we can find some wins."

A little more power from the power play certainly would help.

Unexpected boost -- The deal that brought Joakim Lindstrom to Phoenix from Anaheim is the kind of move that usually shows up only in the transactions column. But Lindstrom, who's gone from Columbus to Anaheim to Phoenix in less than six months, is making a case for a permanent home.

Lindstrom made his Phoenix debut Dec. 10, scored his first goal as a Coyote the next night and added a goal and an assist Dec. 13 in a 5-4 shootout loss to Detroit.

"I'm just trying to play hard and stay in the lineup," said Lindstrom, a 2002 second-round pick by the Blue Jackets who had 4 goals in 37 career games, all with Columbus, before he joined the Coyotes.

Coach Wayne Gretzky has been pleased with the 25-year-old's play -- enough to give him 15:43 of ice time against the Wings.

"He has been a pleasant surprise," Gretzky said. "No question, we are happy with him. It's only three games in and we have a lot to go, but he's done everything we have asked of him. He has fit in nicely with our team and has done a real nice job."

Lindstrom skated with rookie Kyle Turris and Todd Fedoruk against the Wings, and his arrival appeared to spark Turris, the third pick in the 2007 Entry Draft who has struggled with the speed and size he faces in the NHL every night.

"I thought him and Kyle had good chemistry," Gretzky said. "Turris played his best game of the year the other night. Lindstrom played really well. I hope to be able to give them both a little more ice time."

Ice chips -- Dallas gave rookie goaltender Tobias Stephan a start against Nashville on Dec. 13, ending a run of 17 consecutive starts by Marty Turco. Stephan played well, stopping 35 of 37 shots in a 3-0 loss at Nashville, and likely showed coach Dave Tippett enough to earn more work. ... The loss to the Predators came one night after Dallas' 3-1 victory against Detroit and dropped the Stars to 1-6-0 in the second of back-to-back games. The Stars don't play on consecutive nights again until Jan. 3-4, but have five sets of back-to-backs from Feb. 28 through the end of the season. ... Turco, who played at the University of Michigan, enjoyed a rare victory against Detroit when the Wings came to town Dec. 12. He made 37 saves in a 3-1 win that improved his career record against Detroit to 3-10-5. ... The Coyotes' 5-4 shootout loss to Detroit was their ninth consecutive loss to the Red Wings, and maybe the most painful. Phoenix had rallied from a 3-2 lead to go ahead 4-3 and missed two shots at an empty net before Johan Franzen got the tying goal with 19.9 seconds left. The Coyotes then scored first in the shootout, only to have Henrik Zetterberg and Jiri Hudler beat Ilya Bryzgalov. "I'm not at all happy with the result," Coyotes captain Shane Doan said. "We have a lead with (19.9) seconds to go, we've got to have that one." ... Phoenix is better when games are decided in the regulation 60 minutes. The Coyotes are over .500 in regulation (14-13), but 0-1 in overtime and 0-2 in shootouts. ... Anaheim's Brendan Morrison and the Rangers' Markus Naslund were two-thirds of Vancouver's top line (along with Todd Bertuzzi), one of the NHL's best trios in the early part of the decade. Both left the Canucks this summer, and they'll oppose each other for the first time when the Rangers come to the Honda Center on Tuesday. "We were there for eight years together and had a lot of good times," Morrison said. "He's a good friend of mine and we're rooting for one another." ... Ducks forward George Parros is having a career season offensively. He had an assist in Sunday's 4-2 win against Minnesota, giving him 3 goals and 8 points in 27 games -- big numbers for someone who was just 4-7-11 in his first 158 NHL games, including 2-4-6 in 101 games with Anaheim. ... Los Angeles has spent most of the first 10 weeks of the season enjoying a steady diet of home cooking -- the game against the Rangers on Wednesday will be their 22nd at home against just nine on the road. But life is about to get a lot harder, as L.A. plays 32 of its last 51 games on the road, beginning Friday in Buffalo. The Kings have two five-game trips and one six-gamer in the second half of the season. ... San Jose rookie Jamie McGinn, who had 2 goals in a five-game call-up earlier this season, will get another chance to impress the Sharks. McGinn got the call a couple of days after Jeremy Roenick sustained a shoulder injury against Anaheim on Dec. 11. Roenick had shoulder surgery and will miss more than the originally projected three weeks. ... San Jose's Evgeni Nabokov played in his 450th NHL game Dec. 13, all with the Sharks. He's fourth on the all-time list for most games by a goaltender with one team. New Jersey's Martin Brodeur is No. 1 with 978, followed by retired Rangers legend Mike Richter (666) and Maple Leafs Hall of Famer Turk Broda (629). ... The Sharks improved to 25-3-2 with a 3-2 shootout win at Los Angeles on Dec. 15. Their 52 points are the most ever after 30 games, surpassing the 1929-30 Boston Bruins, who were 25-4-1 for 51 points in the pre-shootout era.

Material from wire services and team Web sites was used in this report.

Author: John Kreiser | Columnist

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