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by Staff Writer / Los Angeles Kings
Fast starts are a must for Stanley Cup hopefuls, and the San Jose Sharks are off to the best start in franchise history.

The Sharks had their best October since entering the NHL in 1991 by winning 9 of their 11 games. They kept the good times rolling by winning at Colorado, 5-3, in their first game of November.

"It's important to win early just so you don’t have to make up much ground later," Sharks center Joe Thornton said.

Even better for San Jose fans, who have filled every available seat in the Shark Tank -- aka, HP Pavilion at San Jose -- this season: The team shows no signs that it will do anything but continue to improve.

"Realistically, we're playing good hockey, but it's only going to get better," Thornton said.

The fast start also gives the Sharks points in the bank to help them cope with the inevitable slumps that come during a long season.

Kyle Turris will be the odd man out for the first game of the Phoenix Coyotes' two-game swing through Western Canada. The third pick of the 2007 Entry Draft will have a seat in the Pengrowth Saddledome press box when the Coyotes visit Calgary on Tuesday.

Coach Wayne Gretzky said it would be a 1-game rest for Turris, and that he will be back in the lineup Thursday night at Vancouver.

"I told (Turris) this morning not to read into it," Gretzky said. "He’s only 19, and we were in a similar situation last year with Peter (Mueller). … It’s a big step from college to the NHL, and as I told him, this will be a real positive for him. In fairness to him, he’s a guy that’s used to playing 20, 21 minutes a game, and with Olli (Jokinen) in the middle taking up so many minutes, it's been a little difficult for me to get him as much playing time as he’s comfortable with.

"But in saying that, he’s played well when he has played in the minutes he’s gotten. ... He’s got a long career ahead of him (and) he’s going to have a great career. Right now, we just think this might be the best move for him as a kid and as a person. … It’ll be good for him."

The Coyotes recalled 26-year-old center Garth Murray to take Turris' place in the lineup against Calgary. Murray has 8 goals and 10 points in 106 NHL games with 3 teams.

"Garth had a really good training camp, and he gives us a little more grit and maybe he’s a guy we can lean on to win a little more faceoffs," Gretzky said. quot;Any time you can bank points it is great," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "It's essential to get them early in the year. Everyone has down time. It happens to every team."

One of the October wins especially was noteworthy -- Oct. 30, when the Sharks conquered the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings in their first visit to the Tank. The 4-2 final score and 33-27 shot margin understated San Jose's dominance of a team that had been their stumbling block for the last two seasons.

It also gave McLellan a win in his first game against his former team and his old boss. McLellan was an assistant under Detroit coach Mike Babcock for the past 3 seasons.

While the Sharks players talked about winning one for McLellan, the coach downplayed any significance about facing his former team.

"Everybody is making this about me," he said. "It's not about me, it's about the players. It's nice to know that they wanted to play hard for the coaching staff. People come to watch them play; they don't come to watch us coach."

Troubles in their own zone -- There's precious little "D" being played in Dallas these days, and coach Dave Tippett isn't happy about it. Allowing 5 goals each in back-to-back weekend losses at Chicago and Boston didn't have him smiling as the Stars went home to try to put things back together before Anaheim arrived at the American Airlines Center Friday night.

"Everybody is frustrated with losing, but I've always been a person that, you look at a situation and you find solutions," Tippett said. "You're trying to improve, you're trying to do whatever it takes to give your team the best chance to win, and that's what we're trying to do. We have a lot of areas that we can be better at, and that's what we'll strive to do."

The Stars have been one of the NHL's top defensive teams under Tippett, but you'd never know it by looking at this season's numbers. They're 4-6-2 and have allowed fewer than 3 goals just twice in those 12 games.

Tippett and the Stars will work at resolving issues such as inconsistent efforts, defensive breakdowns or bad penalties before the Ducks come to town.

"We'll find a way to pound away at those things, whether it's discipline, whether it's finding ways to help each other out with support," Tippett said. "All those things are factors that we look at every day. I would say that there're certain plays in games that become very big in the overall scheme of things. If you try to do as many right things as possible and when those things go against you, it feels like you’re going uphill."

One thing that could give the Stars a boost is the return of All-Star defenseman Sergei Zubov, who may be able to play against the Ducks.

"He's a common factor, with his body language and just having him around," captain Brenden Morrow said. "He kind of settles things down, the pace -- just everything he does is patient and calming, and that's probably something with a young group, when things go bad, you start to get excited and antsy, and it will probably be good to have that experience, especially defensively, and poise, when things go bad, just to settle things down."

Scoring is Duck soup -- While the Stars can't keep the puck out of their net, the Ducks have with some of the hottest scorers in the NHL. The trio of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Teemu Selanne combined for 28 points in 4 games last week and combined to win the NHL's First Star award.

"The puck is going in the net for everybody," Getzlaf said after Sunday's 3-2 victory that capped a 3-0-1 week. Getzlaf had a goal and an assist in the win, which ended Calgary's 6-game winning streak. "It's not like we're doing a whole lot different. It's just the way things go. When you're struggling a little bit, you're hitting posts, you're hitting this and that. I thought we worked through it well as a group and rebounded tremendously. That's the big thing that we’re doing right now, is everybody is rolling and contributing. We're a confident team right now, so we're playing like it."

The Ducks are 6-0-1 after a 1-5-0 start, largely because their offense showed up. After 15 goals in their first 7 games (2.1 per game), the Ducks have scored 27 goals in their last 6 games (4.5 per game).

Each of the big three had a memorable moment last week. Getzlaf had 5 assists and Selanne recorded his 21st hat trick in a 5-4 overtime win against Detroit on Oct. 29. Two nights later, Perry had a 5-point game of his own, including a sixth-attacker goal that forced overtime, in a 7-6 shootout loss to Vancouver.

Getzlaf and Perry became the first pair of teammates in more than 10 years to record back-to-back 5-point games -- Brian Savage and Vincent Damphousse were the last, with the 1997-98 Montreal Canadiens.

Perry takes a 7-game scoring streak into the new week, while Getzlaf and Selanne have at least 1 point in their last 6 games.
"They are getting inside and creating chances," Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said. "When you have the amount of skill that they have, those things will eventually turn the tide in their direction. As long as they continue to work hard to get inside and control that puck, they can be an effective group."

Put me in, coach -- Erik Ersberg was impressive after being called up late last season, including a 39-save effort in a 2-1 shootout loss to Anaheim. He'll get a chance to avenge that loss Tuesday when he gets his first start of the season as the Ducks come to town.

Ersberg made a pair of appearances in relief of Jason LaBarbera, stopping 14 of 16 shots and being charged with a loss against Nashville on Oct. 25.

"It is his first opportunity and it is a good opportunity to play against one of the premier teams in the League," coach Terry Murray said. "They have been playing great over the past half-dozen games or so and we are going to give him his opportunity and I know he is going to take advantage of it. He has practiced extremely hard and has had a great attitude right out of training camp."

Another player who's getting a chance is defenseman/forward Peter Harrold, who got time at both positions in a 3-2 loss to the Flames on Saturday and will fill the same role against the Ducks.

Murray said Harrold is a perfect fit for the hybrid position, in which he plays defense on the power play and spends most of his even-strength time up front.

"He sees the ice well and skates well, he is smart and intelligent," Murray said. "We are looking for someone that just gives us some pop on that line. On the other side of it, if we have a defenseman who might not be going as well as we would like, then he moves back as a defenseman."

Around the Pacific -- Anaheim's 3-2 win against Calgary extended the Ducks' home winning streak against the Flames to 8, the second-longest against a team in franchise history. The record is 10 against Phoenix (Nov. 9, 2003 to March 7, 2007). … Teemu Selanne's assist against the Flames tied him for 45th place on the NHL's all-time points list with Bobby Hull at 1,170. … The 13-round shootout against Vancouver was the longest in Ducks' history and tied them for the second-longest in the League since the NHL adopted the shootout in 2005. … Kings defenseman Dennis Gauthier is in line to play his 500th NHL game when L.A. hosts Anaheim. His career line is 15-58-73, with 668 penalty minutes in 499 games. "Hopefully there are a few hundred (games) ahead of me," he said. … Kings rookie Oscar Moller, the club's second-round pick in 2007, is staying put. He celebrated his 10th NHL game with both goals in a 3-2 loss to Calgary. Reaching 10 games means the Kings have opted to keep the 19-year-old and not send him back to juniors. "It's a little bit of relief, but I can't get too confident or too comfortable," Moller said. "I can't slack off or anything. I've got to make sure that I stick around here all year." … Through Monday, San Jose was tied for the NHL lead with 5 shorthanded goals; the Sharks' penalty killers have allowed only 6 goals in that span. … San Jose is unbeaten (6-0) at home, but the Sharks also are 4-2 on the road, including Sunday's win at Colorado. "You could win every home game, but 41 wins doesn't get you in the playoffs a lot of times," coach Todd McLellan said. "You'd better be able to respond on the road. This was a good learning experience for us early in the year." … Phoenix dealt defenseman Drew Fata to Ottawa for 23-year-old Russian forward Alexander Nikulin, who had 14 goals and 50 points with Binghamton of the American Hockey League last season and 2 goals with the Baby Sens this season. Before coming to North America, he spent 3 seasons in the Russian Super League. … The Coyotes did an excellent defensive job against the big guns of the Eastern Conference. Phoenix allowed just 2 goals in beating Washington, 2-1, and Pittsburgh, 4-1, on a just-completed homestand. Neither Alex Ovechkin nor Sidney Crosby had a point. … Phoenix captain Olli Jokinen will face his former team for the first time when the Florida Panthers come to Arena on Saturday. Jokinen was the Panthers' captain and No. 1 center before the June trade that brought him to the desert. … Not all of Dallas' problems have come on defense. The Stars' power play went 0-for-11 in losses at Chicago and Boston and is 8-for-58 for the season. … Marty Turco's 5 goals allowed against Boston represented his worst night ever against Boston. He had been 4-1-0 with a 0.79 goals-against average against them.

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

Author: John Kreiser | Columnist

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