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Meeting helps Sharks get on the same page

by Phil Coffey
Sporting a 45-14-10 record through 69 games hardly is shoddy, but the San Jose Sharks know from history that playing strong during the stretch drive is vital for postseason success. So after being passed for the top spot in the League by the Red Wings, coupled with a loss to Phoenix, the club's players, coaches and management got together for a meeting Wednesday.

"There isn't a guy in there that should be proud of their effort in the first 20 minutes," coach Todd McLellan said after the loss to the Coyotes. "It starts with leadership. The coaches are the leaders. We have captains in the locker room that have to make sure they're prepared to play. And everybody individually has to take some responsibility and it's not there right now. It's disappointing."

But the meeting wasn't a direct result of the loss.

"That was (GM) Doug Wilson's plan for a long time," Jeremy Roenick told David Pollak of the San Jose Mercury News. "Sit down with everybody and get everybody's opinion about where we are."

Heading into play Thursday, the Sharks were just 4-5-1 in their last 10 games, hardly the pace that saw them vault to the NHL's top spot for most of the season.

"Guys got some stuff off their chests," captain Patrick Marleau said. "It was kind of wiping the slate clean and now everybody's looking forward to the games we have remaining and looking forward to the playoffs."

"There was some clarification on how far we've traveled and the road that we've taken," McLellan said. "We talked about some of the ups and downs throughout the season and how it should affect us, positively and negatively, how we collectively need to respond in certain situations.

"It wasn't a direct result in regards to the loss in Phoenix, but it was a meeting we needed to have, a meeting a lot of teams have at this time of the year -- after the trade deadline and heading into playoffs -- to discuss the plan moving forward and the input that everybody will be required to have."

Ponder your purchases -- Like just about everyone you run into, Ken Holland is worried about the economy.

But from the Detroit Red Wings' general manager's perspective, he is looking more toward next season at this point and formulating a plan to keep the Wings among the NHL's elite despite not knowing what the salary cap will be for 2009-10, and perhaps more troubling, 2010-11.

Chief among the decisions on his desk are the status of Marian Hossa and Johan Franzen, who both stand to become unrestricted free agents at season's end. Holland told the Detroit Free Press he is talking to the representatives for both players, but also needs to a bit cautious when it comes to building the team against the cap.

"Given the uncertainty of the economy, I'm moving slow," Holland said. "But it's not only the economy. It's about team building, it's about our philosophy. We can keep Franzen and Hossa, but then we'll have to let a whole lot of other players go. I don't know if that's the answer to being competitive. But if I can get a number that I think allows us to have one extra player, you start to think more and more about doing something. Right now, I'm not really close to where I'd like to get to with either side."

Holland already has lost a player he liked because of a roster logjam. There simply wasn't any room at the inn for defenseman Kyle Quincey this season with veterans Nicklas Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski, Niklas Kronwall, Brad Stuart, Chris Chelios and Andreas Lilja ahead of him on the depth chart.

"We came to camp with nine NHL defensemen and we were prepared to keep eight," Holland said. The ninth guy happened to be Quincey. Holland wanted to keep the 6-foot-2, 207-pounder, but that would have required him passing through waivers. He investigated a trade, but that was a non-starter. So the Wings reluctantly put Quincey on waivers with the hope he could slip through and be assigned to the team's American Hockey League affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins.

No such luck. He was taken by the Los Angeles Kings and has enjoyed a solid season.

"What he's doing doesn't really surprise me," Holland said. "We felt Kyle could be a top-four defenseman and play around 20 minutes (per game). Given the veterans we have, in order to sometimes play those minutes you need opportunities and the opportunity wasn't here."

Holland now wants to make sure other players aren't pushed out the door in the event the economy forces a smaller cap number. According to the Free Press, the Wings already have about $48 million committed toward next season. The salary cap, $56.7 million this season, is expected to stay in the same ballpark.

"I'd like to have one of them (Hossa or Franzen) signed by mid-April, but I'm not worried if I don't," Holland said. "I'd rather have no deal than a bad deal. It's all about what direction do we want to go. I'd love to keep this team together. I like the mix of veterans and kids, but we're in a cap world and we've made some decisions that affect future decisions."

Got a ways to go -- It has been a heady season for the Columbus Blue Jackets, who stand 37-28-6 heading into play Thursday night. That record has them slotted as the West's sixth seed.

But coach Ken Hitchcock isn't going to let the Blue Jackets get full of themselves, especially after a 4-0 loss to the Red Wings that gave Hitchcock the chance to accent the gap between the two teams.

"I don't care who plays Detroit," Hitchcock said. "If (the Red Wings) decide they're going to play that way, nobody's going to beat them. Nobody's going to beat them in a (playoff) series if they're going to play that way. Teams are going to be lucky to win games against them.

"They played a deliberate game. They played with work ahead of skill, and when you have their skill level, it's pretty devastating if you're the opposition."

Pahlsson back on the ice -- The Chicago Blackhawks have stumbled a bit over the last week or so, but there is good new. Sami Pahlsson is back on the ice after recovering from mononucleosis.

Pahlsson is one of the League's top defensive forwards and may add the jam and grit the team needs to get back to its winning ways. Acquired from the Anaheim Ducks at the March 4 trade deadline, Pahlsson hadn't played since Jan. 31.

"I've been waiting for a long time," said Pahlsson.
He made his Chicago debut in Wednesday's 4-3 overtime loss to the Blue Jackets.

"It's too bad we lost, but I was happy I was on the ice again," Pahlsson said, noting there is no substitute for game play.

"It doesn't matter how much you skate or how much you ride the bike," he said. "It's always different when you get out there and the timing isn't really there. I'll work on it and try to get better quickly."

Pahlsson played 14:54, had a shot and was a minus-1.

Where for Briere? -- Finding a home for Danny Briere would have seemed like a dopey concept to the Philadelphia Flyers last season, when he had 31 goals and 41 assists in 79 games. But this season has been a nightmare, with groin injuries conspiring to limit Briere to just 16 games, 5 goals and 4 assists.

Now healthy again, the Flyers are trying to get Briere up to game speed without messing up team chemistry. So Briere started off with the limited duty playing on the fourth line brings.

"Our plan was, we had four games in six nights and we wanted to get him through that, get his legs under him and go from there. And we did that," Flyers coach John Stevens told Ed Moran of the Philadelphia Daily News. "Most signs are that Danny is doing good and has started to get his legs under him and now it's time to go from there."

So does that mean a move to the first or second line, places befitting Briere's need for minutes?

"We're still talking about some different things and we are looking at some different line combinations. We're looking to get some more balance throughout our four forward lines.
"(Briere) looks like his legs are underneath him. I thought he did some good things in Detroit and that's what we were hoping for. We're looking at moving both Danny's, Carcillo and Briere."

Opportunity knocks -- A spot on the Boston Bruins' defense wasn't in the cards for Matt Lashoff, who was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning at the deadline in the deal for Mark Recchi.

Now with the Lightning, a team that has used 20 defensemen this season thanks to a terrible run of injuries, you could say opportunity is knocking in a big way.

"The job is his now," coach Rick Tocchet told Eric Erlendsson of the Tampa Tribune. "I don't want to put a lot of pressure on him so he doesn't think he has to score or make a great play the first couple of outings. He's going to have regular time on the power play to get used to it."

"Just the way things were going in Boston, I didn't have my confidence," Lashoff, only 22, said. "I was always second-guessing plays that I was making out on the ice. I think from the moment I got here, it was like a weight was taken off my shoulders. The moment I found out I was traded here, to be able to have that opportunity to come in and play right away, to have that all behind me, it's changed my whole demeanor."

He debuted Tuesday night in a 4-3 shootout loss to Toronto and logged 23 minutes, including more than four minutes on the power play.

"He knows that we are looking for some 'D' here and there are jobs open, so it's up to him to take hold of it and grab it," Tocchet said. "A guy like him, who is a young guy, you want to play him and see what he's got."

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