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Pacific: Lehtinen could be spark that turns around Stars

by John Kreiser
Many of the Dallas Stars' problems this season have involved a lack of consistent two-way play. The Stars hope improved health for forward Jere Lehtinen will help overcome some of those problems.

Lehtinen, a three-time winner of the Selke Trophy as the NHL's top defensive forward, missed 28 of the Stars' first 31 games with an assortment of injuries. However, he finished play before the All-Star break with five goals in five games, and hopes his injury problems are behind him.

"I feel better. Every game I get more of everything back and the legs going," said Lehtinen, who has two goals and 10 points in 17 games this season. "It was a pretty long break I didn't play. Of course, I didn't expect it was going to be there right away, but of course, you want to, when you start playing, you want to be on top right away, and play your game how you can. It was pretty tough, a little frustrating sometimes, but at the same time, what can you do? You just try to play hard every day and trust it's coming.

"Overall, I feel, it's not there yet, but it's getting there. I feel more comfortable overall -- and I hope it stays that way."

Lehtinen is one of those players who is often taken for granted until he's not around.

"His level of the things he does within the game has been around for awhile, but it's just nice to see him -- he's getting chances, it's nice to see him capitalize on a chance," coach Dave Tippett said. "He just does all those things because that's the kind of player he is, but when he can contribute where it makes a lot of difference on the scoreboard, I think that's where he gets frustrated when he's not doing it. So from our end, he's been playing very well, he just hasn't capitalized on chances."

The Stars have gotten excellent production by putting Lehtinen together with center Mike Ribeiro and forward Steve Ott.

"To have him on my line now, I cannot complain," said Ribeiro, who scored his first career hat trick against Florida in the Stars' last game before the break. "He can score, he's always scored. I think his forecheck creates a lot of turnovers and bobbled pucks and stops and starts, he does everything that you're supposed to do right. It shows everyone how to do it and how to play it. If we can follow him, I think we can be a pretty good team."

Consolation prize -- San Jose had four players -- Joe Thornton, Dan Boyle, Patrick Marleau (a late addition) and Devin Setoguchi -- as well as coach Todd McLellan taking part in NHL All-Star Weekend in Montreal. Most of their teammates opted to spend the break in a warmer locale.

After the Sharks rallied for a 2-1 overtime win against Vancouver on Jan. 20, many of them headed out for places such as Hawaii and Las Vegas for a quick midseason vacation.

Defenseman Rob Blake and forward Ryane Clowe headed for the Hawaiian island of Maui. Blake was joined by his family and Clowe by his girlfriend. Although he still has wiring below his teeth and a plate in his jaw after taking a puck in the face a week before the break, Blake was able to describe the trip with a big smile on his face.

"It was good," Blake told the Sharks' Web site after the team reconvened for practice Monday. "We took the kids over and we had a few relaxing days. It was nice to get away and get a change of atmosphere for a little bit."

About spending time with his teammate, Blake joked, "We spent some time there, and he got to see what kids were like."

Sharks defensemen Douglas Murray and Alexei Semenov, center Marcel Goc and goaltender Brian Boucher all headed to Las Vegas for their break. Boucher flew his parents in from Rhode Island so he and his wife could enjoy a relaxing weekend in Las Vegas without their kids.

"We chose to just chill, do the spa; that type of stuff," Boucher said. "I got two massages. I went with a deep tissue the first day and then a more classic massage the second day."

Monday's practice, according to goaltender Evgeni Nabokov, was one of the hardest of the year.

"After the five-day break you have to get back and get going," the Sharks' starting goaltender said. "It's probably the hardest practice of the year. Sprints aren't something new, but how you feel, that's something new."

Jiggy gets to go home
-- Being selected to start for the Western Conference All-Star team was special for Anaheim's Ryan Getzlaf and Scott Niedermayer. But it was more than that for goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere, a Montreal native who made his All-Star debut in front of the home folks.

Giguere's father, Claude, died Dec. 15 after battling a cancer that began in his colon and spread throughout his body.

"I know he's going to be there, somewhere, watching," Giguere said. "He's no stranger to me being there, too, I think. You've got to believe that he'll be there."

He was able to bring his family to the game and reconnect with his siblings and other family members.

"It was a great weekend," said Giguere. "It was a lot of fun to share this with my family. To come to Montreal and do this with this great organization, the Canadiens, we had a great time."

Now that he's played in an All-Star Game, the Ducks need Giguere to play like one.

Ironically, he was selected in what has been his worst season as a Duck -- he's 12-12-4 with a 3.08 goals-against average, and was pulled less than 15 minutes into Anaheim's last game before the break, a 2-1 loss to the 30th-place New York Islanders in which he allowed a pair of quick goals.

"I'm even more frustrated with the way I've been playing lately. It's just been hard for me," Giguere said in Montreal. "I feel like I've been practicing the right way, I've been making lots of saves in practice, I've been feeling great this year. The first year in two, three years that I feel so good, no injuries, nothing, knock on wood. Sometimes you don't understand why things go the way that you don't think they should go."

Moving forward — They're still not a playoff team, at least in the standings, but the Los Angeles Kings are on the way to a major improvement.

The Kings played 46 games before the All-Star break, coming away with 45 points. That's up from 36 points at the same stage last season and 38 in 2006-07. Most of that is because of a major improvement defensively under new coach Terry Murray. The Kings allowed 131 goals, down from 155 after 46 games last season and 167 at the same point in 2006-07.

"I like what we've done in the first half of the year," Murray said after the Kings wrapped up their pre-break play with a 6-5 road win at Colorado. "We've played extremely well in some games. Our record, I feel, should be better than what it is, but it's a process."

Murray has the Kings playing defense-first hockey. They've allowed just 26.8 shots per game, tying San Jose for the fewest in the League. That's a big drop from last season, when the Kings were 28th in the 30-team League by allowing 32.0 shots per night.

They've also become one of the NHL's best faceoff teams, winning 52.2 percent of draws -- fourth in the League and a huge move from last season, when they were 27th at 47.7 percent. Part of that improvement stems from the addition of Jarret Stoll in an offseason trade with Edmonton; he's 11th in the NHL at 56.5 percent.

Los Angeles was also one of the most robust hitting teams, ranking second in the NHL with 1,225 hits. All-Star forward Dustin Brown, who led the League in hits last season, was second at the break with 168.

At age 24, Brown has adapted well to his first season wearing the captain's "C."

"There are a lot of guys who could have represented the team, and they're all qualified to do so," Brown told the Los Angeles Daily News. "To be picked out of all of them and to be named an All-Star, it's really an honor.
"For this team, I think it's important that we learn how to do things the right way. I try to show that with how I play, and if that's what got me voted in, hopefully it will translate to more wins for the organization." -- Kings captain Dustin Brown
"For this team, I think it's important that we learn how to do things the right way. I try to show that with how I play, and if that's what got me voted in, hopefully it will translate to more wins for the organization."

News and notes -- Jeff Shumway stepped down last week as chairman and CEO of the Phoenix Coyotes in order to devote more time to running the business ventures of team owner Jerry Moyes as president of Deer Valley Capital. Moyes will serve as the team's governor on the NHL Board of Governors. Team President Doug Moss and General Manager Don Maloney will report directly to Moyes. … The Coyotes finished play before the break with a 6-3 win against Detroit, ending a nine-game drought against the reigning Stanley Cup champs. They hadn't beaten the Red Wings at home since Jan. 24, 2005, going 0-6-1-1. … Dallas defenseman Stephane Robidas was a late addition to the Western Conference All-Star team. He was added when Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom dropped out. Being selected to play in the game at the Bell Centre was a special honor for the Sherbrooke, Que., native. "For me it's just special," said Robidas, who began his NHL career with the Canadiens. "Montreal is a team with a lot of history. Me being here in Montreal, being a kid from Sherbrooke which is not too far from here, I grew up as a Montreal Canadiens fan." …  San Jose center Joe Pavelski is only 24, but he's already had his number retired. The USHL's Waterloo Black Hawks retired his No. 8 on Jan. 24. The Sharks drafted Pavelski in the seventh round of the 2003 Entry Draft after he was named USHL Rookie of the Year in 2002-03. He spent another season with Waterloo and two more at the University of Wisconsin before joining the Sharks. … San Jose center Joe Thornton, who had only one point in his first five All-Star Games, had three assists in the Western Conference's 12-11 shootout loss. Forward Patrick Marleau had a goal and two assists, while defenseman Dan Boyle scored one goal and set up another. … The Ducks' first win after the All-Star break will be the 500th in franchise history. They missed a chance to reach the milestone before the break with consecutive road losses to the Rangers and Islanders. … Anaheim was glad to see the break: The Ducks won only five times in their last 16 games and twice lost to teams with the worst record in the NHL when they played them. The Ducks got some good news when Teemu Selanne, out since before Christmas with a lacerated leg, was back at practice Monday. … Los Angeles captain Dustin Brown, a first-time All-Star, had an assist for the West in a 12-11 shootout loss to the East. He received one more honor when he was named the NHL's first star for last week after getting the winning goal in the Kings' consecutive road wins at Minnesota and Colorado. … Kings farmhand Teddy Purcell had five assists in Planet USA's 14-11 victory against Canada on Monday night, tying him for the AHL career record for All-Star points with eight. He had a hat trick in last season's game, earning the MVP award. … Los Angeles forward Alexander Frolov reached the 20-goal mark for the sixth consecutive season when he scored against Colorado. Frolov is on target for 35 goals, which would tie his career-high, set in 2006-07.

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

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