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Pacific: LaBarbera back on top in Los Angeles

by John Kreiser /
Jason LaBarbera started the Los Angeles Kings' first 10 games. Erik Ersberg carried the load for most of November, starting nine in a row. Now it may be LaBarbera's turn again.

Ersberg was pulled after allowing three goals in the first period against Edmonton last Friday. LaBarbera gave up only one in 45 minutes before losing in a shootout, then came back the next night with a 23-save shutout, blanking Columbus 3-0.

"The first period, the goaltender was changed because the goaltender wasn't good enough," coach Terry Murray said when asked about the goaltending change against Edmonton. "We're outshooting them 9-3 and we're down in the game. Ersberg didn't have it tonight and it ends up 3-0 at the end of the first period because of not stopping the puck."

LaBarbera's play against the Blue Jackets impressed Murray.

"'LaBarbs' keeps himself ready," he said. "He's a hardworking guy. He's got a lot of pride in his game, and he came out tonight and showed great things."

Getting an extended break may have been a benefit for LaBarbera.

"I didn't play for a while, so maybe I got a different point of view, I guess," he said after his fourth career shutout and second of the season. "The thing was, I didn't feel like I was playing that bad before. I just wasn't getting the results. The biggest thing was just keeping my head above water and not getting too down on myself. Now it seems like it's turning the corner and pucks are bouncing my way."

The Kings used 11 goalies -- including LaBarbera and Ersberg -- in the past two seasons under Marc Crawford. Murray seems content to stick with the two he's got, though it sounds like LaBarbera has moved back on top for now.

"I don't think 'LaBarbs' had to re-establish himself," Murray said. "I just think at the time, Ersberg had moved pretty confidently in the right direction with his game and was getting some wins. It's a hard thing, playing goal in this League.

"Ersberg had played only 14 games in this league coming into this season, and to have expectations of him clearly grabbing the ball and running with it the rest of the year were just not possible."

Still going strong --
Perhaps lost in the swirling controversy that surrounded Sean Avery's suspension last week is the fact that 38-year-old Mike Modano is on track for his first 30-goal season since 2001-02.

Modano has 11 goals through the Stars' first 26 games, a pace that would give him 35 for the season. He had the game-winner against Edmonton on Nov. 30, a 4-3 victory that started a burst of three wins in four games that came despite the suspension of Avery by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman for remarks he made before the game in Calgary on Dec. 2. He added two more against the Oilers on Dec. 3 and got the shootout winner in a 2-1 victory against Colorado on Dec. 5 after setting up Toby Peterson for the Stars' only goal in regulation.

Modano is one goal behind team leader Loui Eriksson; with 20 points, he's one behind team leader Brad Richards. The production has been most welcome on a team that's been riddled with injuries.

"With as many injuries as we've had, we're relying on certain people to give us a little more and he's certainly done that," Stars coach Dave Tippett said of Modano. "His point totals have been strong. He's had a few off-games, but for the most part, he's been a very good player for us."

To the coaching staff and his teammates, Modano has seemed more relaxed and happier this season. 

"I think he's having fun playing," Tippett said. "Most nights, he goes out there and has fun and enjoying what he's doing, and he's getting rewarded for it."

Modano doesn't necessarily agree that he's more relaxed. He chalks it up to being experienced at handling the adversity the team has been going through. 

"I think when you feel you've been around for a while, you've been through different scenarios," he said. "This isn't any different from when I first started my career, the ups and downs and personnel changes and a lot of changeover in expectations -- but at the end, you do what you do individually to try to prepare yourself to play and do what you do best, within the group and within the team system and what we're asked to do from Dave and the coaches. Ultimately, the bottom line is to have fun and enjoy what we're doing. I guess you understand that a little better when you get older."

The game-winner against the Oilers marked another milestone for the NHL's all-time leading U.S.-born scorer. It was the 1,300th point of his career.

"It's just very lucky and fortunate enough to be around this long and be a part of the game," the franchise's all-time leading scorer said. "It's been very good to me. Players, teammates, coaches, all the same, I think it's been a great opportunity, I couldn't have asked for a better situation or organization, in Minnesota and Dallas -- and certainly, I feel very fortunate to have played the game for this long."

Milestone Night -- On the face of it, Sunday's 5-3 victory against Columbus was just another win for the Anaheim Ducks -- a little more exciting than necessary, perhaps, as the Blue Jackets cut a three-goal deficit to one before Rob Niedermayer's breakaway goal with 35 seconds left put the game away. But the game also saw a couple of milestones -- one individual and one for the franchise.

Jean-Sebastien Giguere made 29 saves for the victory, giving him 200 in his NHL career. Giguere, who played briefly with Hartford and Calgary before coming to Anaheim in 2000, is 192-144-27 and 23 ties with the Ducks, including 9-7-2 this season. His save percentage has never been below .911 with Anaheim.

"It's part of another milestone in this organization that has done so much for me. Hopefully I can be here for a lot more."
-- Ryan Getzlaf

The team milestone came at 17:55 of the second period, when Ryan Getzlaf batted home a feed from Corey Perry for the goal that made it 4-1. It was Getzlaf's 12th of the season -- and the 3,000th goal in franchise history.

"That's cool," Getzlaf said. "It's part of another milestone in this organization that has done so much for me. Hopefully I can be here for a lot more."

It wasn't a milestone, but enforcer George Parros was named one of the game's three stars after getting a couple of assists while playing on a line with Bobby Ryan and Ryan Carter. It's something he estimated hadn't happened since his minor-league days. "It's been a while," he said with a chuckle after setting a career high with the two assists and getting two points in a game for the first time since Oct. 20, 2005. "I had to ask Getzy to make sure I knew what to do."

Glad to be back -- It's not that Enver Lisin has anything against the city of San Antonio. He's just happy not to be playing hockey there any more.

The Phoenix Coyotes sent Lisin to the AHL's San Antonio Rampage in late October after he played only twice in the season's first two weeks. He spent more than a month in the minors before making his return to Phoenix, where he's been among the Coyotes' better scorers since late November.

"I wasn't playing in Phoenix so I got sent down to San Antonio to play some games," the 22-year-old Russian said. "I got a chance to show I can play hockey and work on my skills."

He's making a case to stay in the NHL. On a team that struggles to score, Lisin has contributed 4 goals and 2 assists in nine games since his return.

Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky said Lisin has the tools to succeed in the NHL.

"There are a lot of good skaters in the League, a lot of fast skaters in the League, and he is up there with any one of them," Gretzky said. "His stride is powerful and he is skating extremely hard."

Gretzky said Lisin has improved since his return.

"Since we brought him up, he has been a man," Gretzky said. "He is playing really well right now. The rules, with the way they are right now, if he takes the puck to the net like he is doing, he's either going to get a scoring opportunity or he's going to create a penalty. We're thrilled with how he is playing and we just hope he continues to make those strides and continue every night."

Ice chips -- Anaheim players traded their hockey sweaters for tuxedos Dec. 5 for the ninth annual "Ducks In Tux" night, in which they served as celebrity waiters for more than 350 guests. Money from the charity affair went to the Anaheim Ducks foundation, which serves as the team's main charitable beneficiary for supporting nonprofit organizations throughout Southern California. ... Bobby Ryan responded well to being demoted to the fourth line by getting a goal and an assist in Anaheim's 5-3 win against Columbus. "I felt that it's probably better at this point, with the way things have gone for him," coach Randy Carlyle said after the unit of Ryan, George Parros and Ryan Carter contributed 2 goals and 5 points. ... San Jose goaltender Evgeni Nabokov didn't make a save in the opening period of the Sharks' 3-2 overtime loss to Edmonton on Dec. 6. The Sharks outshot the Oilers' 16-1, but Edmonton's one shot was a blast from the slot by Ales Hemsky that hit the crossbar and went into the net. ... The Sharks' loss to the Oilers dropped their home record to 14-0-2 -- though the overtime losses both came in games in which San Jose completely dominated. The Sharks had 57 shots in a 4-3 loss to Nashville on Nov. 11 and outshot Edmonton 43-17. San Jose entered the week not having lost at the Shark Tank in their last 25 games (22-0-3). ...  Phoenix could get an offensive boost with the return of No. 1 center Olli Jokinen, who's expected to return Wednesday against Dallas. Jokinen missed six games with a shoulder injury, but is still second on the team with 18 points. ... Martin Hanzal had some special fans in the crowd at Arena last Thursday when he had his first NHL hat trick. The Czech Republic native's parents watched in person as their son had his biggest night as a pro. "It was amazing," said Hanzal, who needed less than 21 minutes to score three times against Toronto's Vesa Toskala. "I've never scored two goals (in an NHL game) and now I've scored a hat trick, so I'm really happy about that and I really enjoyed this game." Hanzal entered the game with only three goals all season, and two of those were into empty nets. ... Two nights, two completely different games at Staples Center. Los Angeles' 5-4 shootout loss to Edmonton at home on Friday saw 81 shots on goal, the most in a Kings game this season -- and that didn't count the six attempts in the shootout. One night later, the Kings and Columbus Blue Jackets managed barely half that total in L.A.'s 3-0 win. The Jackets had 23 shots to 18 for the Kings, the second-lowest total in a Kings' game this season. The Kings outshot Columbus 3-2 in the first period. ... One of the Kings' 18 shots was Patrick O'Sullivan's penalty shot in the second period. He was stopped by rookie Steve Mason. It was the 39th penalty shot in Kings history; they've scored on only 12. ... The Kings were 7-0-0 when taking a lead into the third period, then lost three consecutive games when holding a one-goal lead after 40 minutes, falling 3-1 to Toronto and 4-2 to Phoenix before the 5-4 shootout loss to the Oilers. ... Dallas improved to 27-10 all-time in shootouts by beating Colorado 2-1 on Dec. 4. The Stars' .730 winning percentage is the best of any team since the shootout was instituted in 2005. ... More so than most teams, the Stars' fate seems to be linked with their ability to score the first goal. Dallas is 9-2-1 when it scores first, but only 1-10-3 when the opposition opens the scoring. 

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