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Pacific: Nabokov passes milestone, more on the way

by John Kreiser
Once upon a time, Evgeni Nabokov was a ninth-round pick of the San Jose Sharks who arrived at development camp without any pads because he hadn't been allowed to bring along his goaltending gear.

That was 12 years and 500 games ago. Nabokov reached the milestone Saturday night when he led the Sharks to a 4-1 win over the New York Islanders, then played in No. 501 -- and earned his 254th NHL win -- in San Jose's 7-3 victory over the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden Monday.

Nabokov is now 36th on the all-time wins list for goaltenders. But with several years ahead of him and a power-packed club in front of him, it's not impossible that Nabokov could climb into the top 10.

"It's a testament to him,” Sharks Assistant GM and former NHL goaltender Wayne Thomas told the team's Web site. "He's had choices along the way and he's continued to be a Shark. The Sharks have been good for him and he has been good for the Sharks."

Nabokov ranks fourth all-time in wins for a player who has played his entire career with one team. The only players ahead of him are Martin Brodeur, Turk Broda and Ken Dryden. He needs five more wins to pass Dryden, a teammate of Thomas for a time during the Montreal dynasty of the 1970s.

Nabokov was taken in the ninth round in the 1994 Entry Draft and didn't win the full-time starting job until 2000-01, when he was in his mid-20s. He's been among the NHL's most durable and successful goaltenders ever since.

"He wasn't being asked too much too soon," Thomas said. "I think we were patient and let John (an early nickname) develop. He was 25 by the time he took over the No. 1 job. A lot of guys get thrown in too early and are not allowed another chance."

He's No. 1 -- It's always nice to have your efforts recognized. That was the case this past week for Phoenix goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, whose 3-0-0 record with a shutout and just three goals allowed earned him the NHL's No. 1 star.

Bryzgalov has been the Coyotes' No. 1 star all season. He has a 5-1-0 record, a League-high two shutouts -- at Pittsburgh and San Jose -- and is tops among starting goaltenders with a 1.14 goals-against average and a .953 save percentage.

"The whole team is battling hard in front of me, and it makes my job much easier," he told "Relaxed? Maybe it's just the beginning of the season, you know, my mind is fresh . . . maybe I don't know what I want."

Bryzgalov has benefitted from the defense-first approach of new coach Dave Tippett, which has cut down on the number of shots he faces. But he's also been the last line of defense when mistakes are made in front of him.

"When we have broken down, he's making some very big saves for us," Tippett said.

Happy Birthday, Staples Center -- It's hard to believe, but the Staples Center turned 10 years old Tuesday.

The Los Angeles Kings played their first game in their new home on Oct. 20, 1999, skating to a 2-2 tie with the Boston Bruins. Before that, the Kings had played at the Great Western Forum since midway through 1967-68, their first season in the NHL.

According to the Kings, 6,453,865 (including playoffs) fans have come through the Staples Center's turnstiles and have seen their team record 181 wins (175 regular-season, six in the playoff) and score 1,095 goals (20 playoff goals). Kings fans have supported the team through ups and downs to the tune of 174 regular-season sellouts (plus 11 in the playoffs).

Former Kings defenseman Mattias Norstrom's 270 games are the most by any player. Alexander Frolov was tops with 81 goals, while Zigmund Palffy led all scorers with 186 points. Felix Potvin's 39 victories were the most of any goaltender in the building's first 10 years.

Power-less play -- One reason for the Anaheim Ducks' early offensive struggles has been the lack of production from the power play.

After finishing fifth with the man advantage last season, the Ducks began the week 26th in the NHL on the power play with a 14.3-percent success rate -- just 4 goals in 28 tries. Most of the problems have come at the Honda Center, where they were just 1-for-16.

With some practice time before Wednesday's home game against Dallas, the Ducks were putting in plenty of work with the man advantage in an effort to break an 0-for-17 drought.

"As always, special teams are a challenge to get humming at 100 percent-plus," Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said. "That is what you'd like and what we have to continue to work on. We put time and effort into specialty teams. We're just not getting the desired result yet."

The Ducks hope the return of defenseman James Wisniewski will give the power play a boost. Wisniewski has missed three games with a shoulder injury.

"Smarty Marty" continues -- Dallas goaltender Marty Turco says he loves to read, so he's a natural to serve as the spokesman for "Stick With Reading," a program designed to show youngsters the value of books and reading.

"I continue to do this for the kids and for the success that I know this program has on the children involved in it," Turco, the program's spokesman since 2001-02, told the team's Web site." The kind of inspiration that could possibly come from it, and the letters that I've received from parents, teachers and even the students about their new desire to learn or their continued desire to keep reading have been amazing to read. I have heard and seen firsthand what the effects of the program can do."

Turco and teammates Matt Niskanen and Jamie Benn in kicking off the program at Sam Houston Elementary School, which is celebrating its centennial.

An auditorium full of kids enjoyed a reading of "Bats at the Library" courtesy of Turco, with Niskanen as his book-holder and page-turner.

For Niskanen, helping Turco and getting involved in Stick With Reading was an easy decision.

"Reading, for elementary kids, and really everyone, is very important," Niskanen said. "It's something I believe in, and any chance to help out Marty for a good cause like this is an excellent opportunity. All the kids are excited to see Marty. They are all screaming and getting excited about a very good cause."

Around the Pacific -- Ryan Vesce, a 27-year-old rookie, got the thrill of a lifetime when he scored his first NHL goal in San Jose's 4-1 win over the Islanders last Saturday -- in front of his parents. Vesce, who scored what proved to be the game-winner, grew up on Long Island and was playing in front of his whole family. He added another goal two nights later against the Rangers in New York. ... The victory over the Rangers was just the third for the Sharks in their 12 visits to Madison Square Garden. They are 3-8-1 all-time at New York. ... Anaheim lost center Andrew Ebbett when he was claimed on waivers by Chicago. Ebbert had 8 goals and 32 points in 48 games with Anaheim last season but had played in just two games this season before being placed on waivers. ... Los Angeles capped an up-and-down six-game road trip on a positive note with a 4-1 win at Dallas on Monday, giving them a 3-3-0 record. They won at St. Louis and Long Island, then lost at New York, Detroit and Columbus before the win at Dallas. The Stars are the opposition Thursday night, when the Kings play their first home game since Oct. 8. ... Alexander Frolov was a healthy scratch for the Kings' game at Dallas on Monday; coach Terry Murray said he hadn't been happy with Frolov's play for several days before deciding to sit him for a night. ... Phoenix captain Shane Doan matched his season point total with three assists in the Coyotes' 4-1 win over Boston last Saturday. He had the big night despite battling flu symptoms. ... Dallas placed veteran forwards Mike Modano and Jere Lehtinen on IR. Modano has been battling a rib injury sustained on opening night, while Lehtinen has been plagued with hip and groin problems. ... The Stars have had their ups and downs in the early going, but defenseman Niklas Grossman continues to excel. He owns a four-game scoring streak and is an NHL-best plus-10 through Oct. 20.

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