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Pacific Notes: Kopi, Willy, Smytty a perfect fit

by Staff Writer / Los Angeles Kings
Anze Kopitar, Ryan Smyth and Justin Williams have given the Los Angeles Kings its first legitimate No. 1 line in a long time.

Anze Kopitar, Justin Williams and Ryan Smyth had never played together until they came together at the Los Angeles Kings' training camp last month. A few weeks later, they're the biggest reason the Kings are off to their best start since 1992-93.

"I'm sure they feel good about it," coach Terry Murray said after Smyth and Williams set up Kopitar for the game's first goal in a 2-1 victory at Long Island Monday. "They worked hard at it throughout the training camp and through the practices, to figure out where each other is going to be and how to play with each other. As they get through the games here, it's nice to get some results. They're spending more time together and trying to get to the next level."

Kopitar is a career King. Williams came at the trading deadline last March and Smyth came from Colorado in an offseason deal.

Smyth, one of the NHL's grittiest players, has added an edge that the Kings didn't have last season. His willingness to go right to the net has meshed well with the skills of Kopitar and Williams.

"I'm not going to change," Smyth said of his style of play. "That's why they brought me here. It wasn't hard for me to get used to their style."

The goal was Kopitar's fourth of the season -- and the ninth by the threesome (along with 14 assists) in five games. Kopitar had points in each of the Kings' first five games, and Murray said the Slovenian center is being asked to provide more offense this season.

"Last year he was asked to sacrifice a lot of his (offensive) game to buy into the system," Murray said. "It took away from his offense. Now we're pushing the offensive part."

Home cooking -- After road four games in six days, the Anaheim Ducks were more than happy to spend a little time at home.

Not that the Ducks did all that badly away from the Honda Center. Thanks to a pair of two-goal games by Teemu Selanne, they won in Boston and Philadelphia, sandwiched around an overtime loss in Minnesota and a 3-0 shutout loss in New York.

A lot of the Ducks felt they should have done better. The OT loss in Minnesota came after the Ducks led 3-0 well into the third period. Anaheim exacted some revenge Wednesday night with a 3-2 home win over the Wild.

"It should have been a 3-1 trip," defenseman Ryan Whitney said. "We blew that game in Minnesota, so we have some payback for them. Overall, I think it was a good trip with a bad last game and a great 40 minutes in Minnesota. It's just about getting going now. Now that we're at home, it's important to start getting points."

The win over the Wild started a six-game homestand for the Ducks and begins a stretch in which they'll play 16 of the next 21 (through Dec. 1) at the Honda Center.

One thing coach Randy Carlyle will be stressing is the need to get off to better starts. Through five games, the Ducks have been outscored 5-0 and outshot 68-33 in the first period. The word is getting through as the Ducks took a 2-0 first-period lead over the Wild Wednesday.

"I don't know if it's a focus thing or something about not being ready," Whitney said. "We have to start having better first periods. You really get behind the eight ball there. It's forced us to come back in a couple of games. We have to be more prepared mentally."

Surprise shooter -- Phoenix Coyotes General Manager Don Maloney knew Lauri Korpikoski from their days with the New York Rangers, so it's not surprising that he made a deal to bring the former first-round pick to the desert during the summer. But seeing Korpikoski get the nod from coach Dave Tippett in the third round of a shootout at San Jose on Monday had to be a surprise to everyone.

Korpikoski had been a healthy scratch two nights earlier against Columbus and played just 6:20 against the Sharks. But Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said he chose Korpikoski, him because he noticed his shootout skills in recent practices.

Tippett must have known something. Korpikoski beat Evgeni Nabokov to win the shootout, giving the Coyotes a 1-0 victory and ending a two-game losing streak.

"I watch that stuff pretty close in practice and he's a guy that caught my eye the first day and I continued to watch him and he's been very good in the shootout," Tippett said of his reasons for using Korpikoski. "It was one of those things you just play a hunch and it turned out good for us."

Korpikoski was happy to get the chance to contribute.

"It was great that he showed some trust in me and that I got the goal," the Finnish center said. "It's been a while since the last goal I scored. Even though it was in a shootout and doesn't count in the stats, it still felt good."

Sharks hit the road--

After going 2-0-1 on their first homestand, the San Jose Sharks are hitting the road. They begin a six-game road trip Thursday night in Washington, followed by visits to Long Island, New York, Tampa Bay, Atlanta and Philadelphia. When they return after the Oct. 25 game at the Wachovia Center, the Sharks will have played nine of their first 12 games away from the Shark Tank.

"You've got to go on the road," said defenseman Dan Boyle, who will be visiting his former home when the Sharks hit Tampa Bay. "It will be a little tough being away, but we need to come together as a team and be a little more consistent. We've had some good minutes, but not start to finish. I'd like to see us play some complete games."

With a number of new Sharks, the long trip East will provide a good chance for the players to get to know each other -- and to get a bunch of road games out of the way while everyone is still relatively fresh.

"I think it's a good thing for our club to be going out there right now," coach Todd McLellan said. "It's one of our longest trips of the year. I'm glad it's early October instead of late March. It will give us a chance to find our game. There are some players still struggling. We're going to continue to try and play them through it and hopefully being on the road will help them a little bit."

The Sharks will be playing teams that they rarely see, meaning that the coaches will have a little extra homework.

"Going to the East Coast, we don't know a lot about their teams," McLellan said. "The) Ovechkins, (Jeff) Carters and (Mike) Richards jump out at you, but we've got some homework to do as coaches. We'll get out there, get acclimated to the time change and play some good games."

One for the family -- Dallas rookie Jamie Benn gave the 100 or so family and friends who showed up to see the Stars play at Vancouver on Oct. 11 something to remember.

The Victoria, B.C., native scored his first NHL goal with 1:33 left in regulation by beating Alex Burrows down the ice and converting Mike Ribeiro's pass to tie the game at 3-3. The goal earned the Stars a point, though the Canucks got two by winning the game in a shootout.

"A good play by Brenden (Morrow) and Ribi and I just drove the net and tapped her in," said Benn, who's come a long way for a fifth-round pick. "It means a lot to have lots of friends and family in the stands and it was a good time to get the goal, too."

The point left the Stars with a 1-0-3 record heading back to Texas, including a 1-0-2 mark in their three-game swing through Western Canada.

"I thought it was a good point," Stars coach Marc Crawford said. "I felt the latter half of the game was the better half for us. We started shortening our shifts, we started advancing the puck a little bit more and supporting our plays, and when you do that, that's when good things start to happen for you. In the end, we had a lot of good chances in the third period, we had a couple more in overtime. But they're a good club and they work hard, so it is a good point for us."

Around the Pacific --
Jonathan Quick played every minute of the Los Angeles Kings' first five games, going 4-1-0. Backup Erik Ersberg got his first start Wednesday against the Rangers in New York, taking a 4-2 loss. ... The Kings' 4-1-0 start marked the fifth time in franchise history that Los Angeles won four of its first five games; the most recent was 1992-93, when the Kings went to their only Stanley Cup Final. The Kings also got eight of the first 10 available points by going 3-0-2 in 1967-68, their first season. ... San Jose's Dany Heatley was the NHL's First Star for the week of Oct. 5-11. Heatley had a hat trick in the home opener and finished with 5 goals and 8 points in three games. Linemate Joe Thornton had 8 assists in the three games. ... San Jose has been shuffling youngsters up and down in the early stages of the season. Center Steve Zalewski made his NHL debut Monday after being recalled earlier in the day. ... Talk about a one-man offense: Teemu Selanne scored two third-period goals for Anaheim to force overtime in Philadelphia last Saturday, then got the only goal of the shootout to give the Ducks a 3-2 win. ... If the first two weeks of the season are any indication, the Phoenix Coyotes may be tough to score on. The Coyotes allowed just six goals (plus an empty-netter) in their first five games and shut out the Penguins in Pittsburgh and the Sharks in San Jose. ... The Coyotes, who usually wear red or black at home, wore white for their home opener as part of "Welcome Back WhiteOut" night. The sellout crowd of 17,532 also received white T-shirts and provided plenty of enthusiasm, though the Columbus Blue Jackets spoiled the party with a 2-0 victory. ... The Dallas Stars played the same opponent in each of their first two home games. The Nashville Predators were the visitors on opening night Oct. 3, then returned to American Airlines Center again on Oct. 14, when the Stars returned from a three-game swing through Western Canada. ... Dallas defenseman Stephane Robidas had a career-best plus-5 night when the Stars won 5-2 in Calgary on Oct. 9, handing the Flames their first loss.

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

Author: John Kreiser | Columnist

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