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Pacific: Marleau playing better without a letter

by John Kreiser

"He's the best left winger in the game right now, no doubt about it. Every night he seems to have lots of jump and lots of energy. He's just so consistent."
-- Joe Thornton, on Sharks teammate Patrick Marleau

Patrick Marleau gave up the captaincy with the San Jose Sharks before this season. All he's done since then is put the puck in the net.

Marleau became the first player to reach the 30-goal mark this season when he scored twice in San Jose's 3-1 win at San Jose on Tuesday. He and linemates Joe Thornton and Dany Heatley have been the NHL's deadliest trio for most of the season, but Marleau is the player on track for a career campaign.

The two goals against the Coyotes gave him six in his last six games, and raised his total to 31, just seven below the career high he set last season.

"When Patty's hot, you just have to keep feeding him," said Thornton, who has done that well enough to lead the NHL with 49 assists.

Marleau is in one of those grooves where everything he touches turns to goals. His first goal against Phoenix came after goaltender Jason LaBarbera misplayed the puck, giving him an easy tap-in. The second came when a deflected shot hit his stick and went in.

But while Marleau says he's just been lucky and in the right place at the right time, his teammates disagree.

"He's the best left winger in the game right now, no doubt about it," Thornton said. "Every night he seems to have lots of jump and lots of energy. He's just so consistent."

Masked bandit --
Anaheim goaltender Jonas Hiller was named the NHL's Second Star for the week of Jan. 3-9 after leading the Ducks to a 4-0 record. But his best performance was his last -- he stopped 42 of 43 shots in Chicago to give Anaheim a 3-1 victory on a night his team was outshot 43-12.

"Hillsie stole the game for us, simple as that," forward Corey Perry said. "Quality scoring chances ... they probably had 15 to 20. He came up huge for us."

"You don't ask (one player) to win you the game, but he went above that and won the hockey game for us," Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle said.

Hiller has supplanted Jean-Sebastien Giguere as the Ducks' No. 1 goalie. He has gotten hot lately, with nine victories in his last 12 starts, and he allowed only three goals on 70 shots in road wins against Nashville and Chicago on back-to-back nights over the weekend.

"We've developed something the last few games," Hiller said. "That's what we need to do to get back to the playoffs. If we keep playing like we did tonight, we have a real good chance."

Road worriers -- The Dallas Stars aren't exactly setting the world on fire away from American Airlines Center. Tuesday's 6-3 loss at Philadelphia was their eighth in a row on the road (0-7-1).

"With every effort that we have like tonight, we're putting ourselves in a deeper hole," captain Brenden Morrow said. "It's been about a month or so since we've won on the road (Dec. 11), so we've all got to dig in. We've got a few guys down, but we've got to muster up some confidence and win some games here."

Despite the defeat, coach Marc Crawford still found some positives he feels his team can build on -- especially a pair of third-period goals by Steve Ott.

"As much as it's a loss, in a real funny way it could be a real catalyst for us and I'm hoping it's going to be a catalyst for our team," Crawford said. "We made a commitment after the second period to stop blaming the referees and I think that's a big step."

Ott snapped a six-game pointless streak with the two goals.

The Stars go to Montreal on Thursday before coming home to face Detroit on Saturday afternoon. Crawford is confident his team has what it takes to make the playoffs.

"We got a lot of confidence in this group, we know we haven't played our best hockey here in the last week," Crawford said. "On the other side of it, knowing that we haven't played our best, it gives us some solace, knowing that if we get our act back together, we'll get right back into the thick of things."

What homestand? -- The Los Angeles Kings had been counting on a seven-game homestand to help them move closer to solidifying their first playoff berth since 2002 -- and maybe more. Three games into the homestand, they're trying to figure out what went wrong.

The first three games all wound up as one-goal losses, though the scenarios were different. The Kings fired 52 shots at Detroit's Jimmy Howard, but lost 2-1 on a goal by Darren Helm with 17.9 seconds to play; were beaten 4-3 by St. Louis in a game that they trailed 4-1 early in the third, and lost 2-1 to San Jose on Monday in which they were unable to overcome a two-goal deficit.

In all, the Kings are 4-8-0 in their last 12 games -- and have scored just 13 goals in the eight losses. Needless to say, putting the puck in the net was a prime topic at practice this week.

"There's things we can do, and we've been doing them in practice," Murray said Tuesday. "We've been really focusing on the rebounds, the sticks on the ice being ready, the shot mentality, net presence. All of that stuff is going to create some opportunities."

The one good thing about the loss to the Sharks was the play of backup goaltender Erik Ersberg, whose playing time had almost vanished in the wake of Jonathan Quick's emergence as the starter. Ersberg's play may have re-earned Murray's confidence -- something that disappeared after a couple of shaky performances early in the season.

"He's healthy, he's been working very hard in practice recently," Murray said, "and I think you saw a pretty good result with his effort last night."

Oops -- You can be sure that the next time a Phoenix player gets a major penalty and is ejected, the Coyotes will put a man in the penalty box.

The Coyotes paid a big price for their failure to do so in Saturday's game against the New York Islanders. When Ed Jovanovski drew a major and was ejected with 16 seconds left in the first period, coach Dave Tippett didn't put anyone in the box before the period ended -- but the Coyotes also forgot to put a player in the box at the start of the second period, meaning that they were unable to put a player back on the ice after killing the long power play. The Coyotes tried to ice the puck, but Isles goaltender Dwayne Roloson smartly came out and kept the play moving.

In all, the Coyotes played another 2:51 down a man before Martin Hanzal took a penalty. Adrian Aucoin took a second penalty 75 seconds later, and the Islanders scored on both of those power plays to take a 4-1 lead. The Coyotes rallied to tie the game in the third period, but lost 5-4 in a shootout.
"It's hard enough to win in this game without making mistakes and we made some mistakes and myself included for not putting a guy in the box (to start the second period)." -- Coyotes coach Dave Tippett
"It's hard enough to win in this game without making mistakes and we made some mistakes and myself included for not putting a guy in the box (to start the second period)," coach Dave Tippett said in admitting the gaffe. "I've never seen them go eight minutes without a whistle, but that's funny how that goes sometimes. We put ourselves in a hole, but I like the way we dug ourselves out."

Ice chips -- San Jose goaltender Evgeni Nabokov came close to his 50th NHL shutout in Phoenix before Radim Vrbata scored midway through the third period. ... The Sharks have a chance to pile up some points in the rest of January -- seven of their last eight games this month are at the Shark Tank, where San Jose has lost just four times in regulation this season. ... Anaheim's 3-1 win at Chicago was the 200th victory for Ducks coach Randy Carlyle. He got the Anaheim job before the 2005-06 season and is 200-126-48. ... The Ducks got a boost in Nashville on Saturday with the return of Teemu Selanne, who had missed a month with a broken hand. Selanne scored the first goal in Anaheim's 3-1 win. He has 20 goals and 44 points in 37 career games against the Predators. ... Dallas forward Jere Lehtinen's assist on Tuesday was the 266th of his career, all with Dallas, moving him past Darryl Sydor into sole possession of 10th place on the franchise's all-time list. ... In the same game, Mike Modano played in his 1,433rd career regular-season game, moving him past Mike Gartner into sole possession of 20th place on the NHL's all-time list. Next up: Hall of Famer Tim Horton at 1,445. ... Los Angeles was 12-1-3 in its first 16 one-goal games; since then, the Kings are 1-7-0 in their last eight games decided by one goal. ... Alexander Frolov played in his 500th game as a King in the game against San Jose. He's the 17th player to play 500 games with Los Angeles. ... Phoenix forward Peter Mueller's goal against the Islanders on Jan. 9 was his first since Dec. 5. ... After winning 10 in a row at home, the Coyotes have dropped four consecutive games at Arena.
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