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Pacific: Sharks benefit by being quick on the draw

by John Kreiser
The San Jose Sharks have been on quite a roll in the past few weeks -- partly because they're so quick on the draw.

San Jose entered the week on a 7-0-1 run that has carried them to the top of the Western Conference standings. A big reason for that success has been the Sharks' abilities in the faceoff circle.

Through 19 games, the Sharks had won 56.9 percent of their faceoffs, by far the best showing in the NHL (Chicago was next at 53.4 percent).

Scott Nichol led the Sharks with a 64.2 winning percentage, second in the NHL behind Buffalo's Paul Gaustad. Three other Sharks were in the NHL's top 12. The others include Patrick Marleau (56.6 percent, 10th), Manny Malhotra (56.0 percent, 11th) and Joe Thornton (55.8 percent, 12th).

The Sharks' success in the circle is no accident. Working on faceoffs is a regular part of practices under coach Todd McLellan

"It's the first battle for a loose puck and it starts every shift," McLellan said, noting how those battles can carry over into other areas on the rink.

The rankings have created a bit of a good-natured rivalry in the dressing room.

"They talk about it," McLellan said of his centers. "It is very much in the conversation."

"There's a little bit of an in-house rivalry," Nichol said. "It's a good competition."

Eastward ho! --
With Tuesday set aside for travel as Anaheim prepares for a four-game Eastern swing that began Wednesday night in New Jersey, coach Randy Carlyle decided to make some changes to get his troops used to the time change.

Carlyle switched Monday's practice time to late afternoon -- 4:15 PT -- putting his players on the same time frame they'll have during the road trip.

"We moved practice later in the day, so it would be more like game situation," Carlyle said of the practice that got going around 3:30 p.m.. "We won't be able to skate [Tuesday], so we have to stretch and do our workout when we get in Jersey. Just a little bit of a change."

Carlyle hopes the Ducks can build on the momentum of winning back-to-back games at home.

"When you go on the road, it's all about playing the game," he said. "There are no other distractions. You're not going to pick up the dry cleaning. You're not going to do what your list is, if you're married, what list has been made for you. It's all about hockey and getting out on the road with your teammates."

One positive for the Ducks as they headed East was that goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere was ready to play. He went down with a groin injury on Oct. 24 and hasn't played since.

"Giguere is ready to go," Carlyle said. "He's ready and 100 percent. He says that he can play and he feels he healed. All indications from him is he feels fine and there are no issues there."

Power outage -- The Los Angeles Kings' power play isn't getting enough work. In their last six games, the Kings have generated just 15 power plays (2.5 per game), with a high of four, after getting 58 in their first 12 games (4.8 per game).

Entering Wednesday's games, the Kings' only power-play goal in their last six contests was by Dustin Brown in last Saturday's 3-1 loss to Nashville.

Coach Terry Murray isn't happy about the lack of production, but he's even more displeased by the lack of power-play opportunities.

"The lack of chances bothers me more than the lack of the actual goals," he said. "You can have a great power play and have it moving around and get a great number of scoring chances, and you're saying, 'Guys, just keep doing it.' You reinforce the positive, it's going to happen. You might be up against some hot goaltenders in some stretch of games, or you're just not getting the job done at the end of the day.

"But when you're not generating good offensive-zone time, not generating shots at the net and your attitude has changed, then that's a concern. I think we've got in that second category a few times recently. We just need to get more offensive-zone time established and get back to keeping it simple, getting pucks to the net and that net presence."

Unexpected production -- Daniel Winnik is making the most of his additional playing time under new Phoenix coach Dave Tippett. With 7 points in the Coyotes' first 17 games, he's already matched last season's total, which took him 49 games to generate.

"I didn't score until February of last year," said Winnik, who had 11 goals and 26 points in 79 games as a rookie in 2007-08. "And it wasn't the fact that I was playing bad to start the season, I just couldn't score and started changing other parts of my game. I took out my physical part to try and jump on more offensive chances."

Winnik has found good chemistry with center Vernon Fiddler and winger Taylor Pyatt, both of whom signed with the Coyotes as free agents this summer. He said he's also gotten a lot of help from new assistant coach Dave King.

"Dave King has a wealth of hockey knowledge that I don't think too many of us have seen in this room, especially us young guys," Winnik told the Coyotes' Web site. "He helps a lot with just positional stuff. The pregame preparations are phenomenal. The video they show us, and the pre-scout and where guys are going to be, the other team's tendencies and how they play, that just makes your game a lot easier to play."

Around the Pacific -- Defenseman Randy Jones, claimed off waivers by Los Angeles on Oct. 29, is getting close to making his debut for the Kings. "It's a matter of getting him into the NHL conditioning again," coach Terry Murray said. "His summer was spent rehabbing a surgery." Jones had hip surgery in May. ... Few wins have felt as good for the Phoenix Coyotes as their 3-1 victory against Chicago on Nov. 5. The Blackhawks swept the season series from Phoenix in 2008-09 and outscored the Coyotes 24-9 in the four games. In a scheduling quirk, the teams don't see each other again until Feb. 5. ... The Coyotes have to be more careful: They've taken six delay-of-game penalties in their last five games, including a pair in Saturday's 4-3 loss at Anaheim ... The Ducks' visit to New Jersey Wednesday is only their second trip to the Garden State since losing all four visits to the Meadowlands in the 2003 Final. Anaheim has won just twice in 13 lifetime visits to New Jersey, though they're 1-0 at the new Prudential Center. ... Anaheim improved to 5-0-2 against Phoenix with a 4-3 home win against the Coyotes on Nov. 7. ... The Dallas Stars continue to struggle when the outcome isn't decided in 60 minutes. Their 3-2 overtime loss to Calgary on Nov. 4 dropped Dallas to 1-6 in games decided after regulation. ... The Sharks Foundation will be hosting food drives at home games on Nov. 10 and Nov. 12 to support the Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties in their annual Holiday Food Drive. ... San Jose forward Torrey Mitchell, who hasn't played a regular-season game since 2007-08 due to injuries, moved another step closer to returning when he was sent to AHL Worcester on a conditioning assignment. Mitchell missed all of the 2008-09 regular season with fractured leg (he did get into four playoff games), and hasn't played this season due to a knee injury.

Material from team Web sites was used in this report
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