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Pacific Division Notes (Oct. 29)

by Staff Writer / Los Angeles Kings
Anze Kopitar week on continues...

This is the Anze Kopitar the Los Angeles Kings have been waiting for. He has been a major reason for the Kings' hot start, and his performance was recognized when he was named the NHL's First Star for the week of Oct. 19-25.

In a three-day span, Kopitar had his first NHL hat trick in a 5-4 OT win against Dallas Thursday, three assists in a 5-3 win at Phoenix two nights later and two more goals in the Kings' 6-2 home win against Columbus on Sunday. He entered the week leading the NHL with 21 points.

The line of Kopitar, Ryan Smyth and Justin Williams (who's been out for a week with an injury, with Wayne Simmonds filling in) has been among the NHL's best all season.

"It's a special feeling that you almost can't describe," he said of his line's play. "You know, when you go on the ice, that things are going to happen, instead of just hoping that things are going to happen. We're making plays, and that's part of the growth that (GM) Dean (Lombardi) is always talking about and (coach) Terry (Murray) is always talking about, when you know you're going to come out and outplay the guy across from you. That's a huge part of growing, a huge part of being a playoff team and right now, we're showing it and playing with a lot of confidence."

Simmonds, a second-year player, has stepped in for Williams on the top line without a drop in performance.

"Simmer got the chance and so far he's proving that he wants to play with me and Smitty," Kopitar said. "That's what Terry, and everyone else, were looking for, for somebody to step up like that, and Simmer's doing a fantastic job."

No 'C,' no problem -- Having the captain's "C" removed from his jersey doesn't seem to be bothering Patrick Marleau at all. In fact, the former San Jose Sharks' captain is scoring at a pace that would surpass last season's career-best 38 goals.

Through 12 games, Marleau had 9 goals, one off the NHL lead, and was among the League's top scorers with 16 points. More impressively, he did all that without the benefit of playing on the same line as Joe Thornton, as he did last season.

"He can really do it all," newcomer Dany Heatley told the Sharks' Web site. "On the ice, (his play) speaks for itself."

Even without the "C" on his uniform (Rob Blake has it now), Marleau is still a force in the locker room.

"He's one of our leaders," defenseman Dan Boyle said.

Added coach Todd McLellan, "He's not a bold speaker and he doesn't display a lot of emotion, but his actions do most of his talking for him. Patty is respectful of our decisions as a staff because he's confident, whether it's playing center or left wing or being in a checking role or an offensive role. That's how he is wired. He's a go-to player and the more of them you have on your team, the better chance you have of winning. You feel really confident calling his number."

Red-light shortage -- The Phoenix Coyotes have been an early surprise, with a 6-4-0 record after 10 games. What's more impressive is that they've done it despite a lack of goal-scoring.

"We're 6-4 without getting the kind of offensive production that we need out of a number of our players," GM Don Maloney told the team's Web site. "As a group, I just believe there's more production in that group than what we're seeing today, which is exciting to me because I know we are playing well without the puck and as soon as we start getting a little more consistent goal scoring, we'll be that much better."

Through 10 games, Shane Doan was tops with 10 points (3-7), while forward Radim Vrbata and defenseman Ed Jovanovski led the Coyotes with 4 goals.

Jovanovski has played superbly in all three zones.

"He's bounced back this year and in the first 10 games has played like an All-Star," Maloney said. "I think he's played like a guy who wants to be on the (Canadian) Olympic team and he's showing it."

The team's MVP in the early going has been goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, but Maloney said his No. 1 goaltender will get more rest after allowing four goals to the Kings and four more to the Rangers before being benched in the second period. The Coyotes lost both of those games.

"I think we'll see Jason (LaBarbera) play a little bit more," he said. "Obviously, we have a busy schedule coming up and Jason was terrific in Buffalo. ... I think (Ilya Bryzgalov) just mentally gets a little fatigued, and I think (the game in New York) was a good example. Four goals against on (11) shots, that's tough for a team like us to overcome."

Goodbye for now -- Anaheim has high hopes for 19-year-old defenseman Luca Sbisa, part of the bounty they received from Philadelphia in the Chris Pronger trade on Draft Night last June. But for now, they're willing to be patient with the Swiss blueliner.

Anaheim sent Sbisa to Lethbridge of the WHL this week -- and because of his age, Sbisa can't return to the Ducks this season.

"I know it's a difficult decision for a player to take -- he's going from the NHL to possibly having to play back in junior hockey -- but we want him to play in the League for 15 years, not for 5 years. If we can do anything to alleviate the pressure of this year, have him play in major junior hockey and continue his development, I think the next step will be a lot easier. He has some assets that are highly sought after, but he's still only 19 years old."
-- Randy Carlyle

Sbisa averaged about 12 minutes a game while going scoreless through the Ducks' first eight contests. Management wants him to get more ice time in a less-pressurized situation.

"A lot of it has to do with the way we're playing right now," coach Randy Carlyle said. "We think that he's come in and played fairly well, but in the situation we're in right now, we think it could be a detriment to have him in the pressure situation that we're in.

"I know it's a difficult decision for a player to take -- he's going from the NHL to possibly having to play back in junior hockey -- but we want him to play in the League for 15 years, not for 5 years. If we can do anything to alleviate the pressure of this year, have him play in major junior hockey and continue his development, I think the next step will be a lot easier. He has some assets that are highly sought after, but he's still only 19 years old."

Carlyle also said the team's struggles played a role in the decision. Anaheim is 3-6-1 after Monday's 6-3 home loss to Toronto.

"We felt if we couldn't continually keep him with 10 to 12 minutes of ice time a night; it wouldn't be beneficial," he said. "And the way our team is playing, we felt he wouldn't garner those minutes in the next while. We made a decision based upon what's best for the player in the long term."

Skrastins a Scorer -- Karlis Skrastins isn't the kind of guy who gets a lot of attention -- except from the goaltenders whose lives are a little easier when he's on the ice.

While the Dallas Stars have adopted a more offensive style of play under coach Marc Crawford, Skrastins has provided some much-needed defensive support for netminders Marty Turco and Alex Auld, leading the team with 21 blocked shots through 10 games.

"It's just my style of the game," he said. "If I can help my goalie by blocking a shot, I will do it. It's not like I am trying to block every shot, but you just make those plays by instinct. For me, it's not a problem to go and block a puck."

He's also taken to his new home after signing a two-year deal with the Stars this summer.

"I like Dallas, it's a nice city," he told the Stars' Web site. "When I was playing in Colorado, Dallas was one of my favorite places to go and play. I feel good [with the Stars]. From the first day, I felt like everyone tried to help me get used to things as quickly as possible. It came from everybody; from the guys and the people in the office. From almost the first day, it felt like home."

Around the Pacific -- The Los Angeles Kings will honor new Hall of Famer Luc Robitaille at the Staples Center as part of their game against St. Louis on Dec. 5. Fans who attend the game will get a bobblehead of the highest-scoring left wing in NHL history. ... L.A.'s 8-4-0 start is its best since 2005-06 -- and a big improvement from its 4-6-2 record through 12 games last season. ... San Jose head athletic trainer Ray Tufts and equipment manager Mike Aldrich will reach the 1,000-game milestone during the Sharks' next road trip. Game No. 1,000 for Tufts will be Nov. 4 at Columbus; for Aldrich, it's Nov. 5 at Detroit. ... On Tuesday, the Sharks presented a $17,000 check to the Valley Medical Center's Pediatric Unit on behalf of their wives and girlfriends, who hosted the "Favorite Things" Basket Fundraiser with support from the Sharks Foundation, during the playoffs last spring." ... Dallas is 4-0-3 after its first seven road games this season, a big improvement from its 2-5-0 start away from the American Airlines Center in '08-09. They finished a stretch of seven games in 11 nights with a 4-1 win at St. Louis on Saturday. ... Dallas coach Marc Crawford will be behind the bench for his 1,000th game when the Stars host the Florida Panthers on Friday night. He coached Colorado, Vancouver and Los Angeles before signing with the Stars this past summer. ... Phoenix started 6-2-0, marking only the third time in franchise history the Coyotes won six times in their first eight games. They were 6-1-1 in 2000-01 and in 1982-83 (when the franchise was based in Winnipeg). ... The Coyotes had lost 11 of 12 games to Detroit since 2005 before a 3-2 overtime win at home on Oct. 22. ... Anaheim set a dubious team record by allowing five power-play goals in a 6-3 home loss to Toronto, The loss capped a 1-4-0 homestand for the Ducks.

Author: John Kreiser | Columnist

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