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Pacific: Sharks in familiar spot -- first place

by John Kreiser
It took the San Jose Sharks most of October to put the square pegs in the square holes and the round pegs in the round ones. But as the calendar turned to November, the Sharks were on a roll. They entered Wednesday's games with a 10-4-1 record and five consecutive victories despite a schedule that had them making two trips to the East.

"We're playing better and better each night and doing the things we need to do to win," Sharks defenseman Douglas Murray said after Sunday's 5-1 win against Carolina. "We played very sloppy in the beginning of the year. We got wins because (goaltender Evgeni Nabokov) stood on his head. We obviously have a lot of talent on this team and we were explosive and scored four or five goals here or there. I didn't think we played very good hockey at all.

"We've started to play better. We can certainly play better, but we're playing better now."

The Sharks have allowed just four goals -- one per game -- in their last four victories. They scored eight goals in weekend defeats of Colorado and Carolina -- and got them from eight different players, including Murray. In all, 13 players had points in the two games.

One of the eight scorers was Ryane Clowe, who opened the scoring against the Avs with his first goal in 22 regular-season games -- dating back to March 5.

"I just got a pat on the back and a 'Good job' from the coach," Clowe said. "It was nice to see the other guys on the ice because they were more excited than I was."

Jovo-cop -- A lot has been expected of Ed Jovanovski since the Florida Panthers made him the No. 1 pick in the 1994 Entry Draft -- and he hasn't always delivered, At age 33, he's on his third team and has never scored more than 17 goals or 51 points in a season.

But very quietly, Jovanovski has been playing some of the best hockey of his career in helping the Phoenix Coyotes to a 9-5-0 start.

With 11 points in 14 games, he's second on the team in scoring while playing solid defense in his own zone and providing veteran leadership for a team that has a lot of new players.

"In this game, sometimes I think less is more," Jovanovski told the Coyotes' Web site. "I'm just finding spots to jump in and I've been getting a lot of power-play time, but nothing has really changed for me. I'm just being aggressive and trying to be physical and that really gets me into the game. I think that's been the biggest thing for me this year."

One boost for Jovanovski (and his teammates) has been the arrival of new coach Dave Tippett, whose very structured system seems to fit the veteran defenseman perfectly.

"Tip's been around for a long time and he's got that experience as a coach," Jovanovski said. "In his system, I think each individual on this team knows what his role is. That's always a good thing. When you've got a guy on the third or fourth line, you're not looking at him to score 20 goals. You want him to pitch in and contribute offensively, but more so you want him to play hard and make it tough on other teams, and I think that's one thing that our team has going for it right now. We've got our roles and guys are playing them and playing them well."

Jovanovski, a part of Canada's 2002 Olympic gold-medal team in Salt Lake City, would like to earn a return trip to the Games next February in Vancouver -- the second of his three NHL stops.

"Having the opportunity to play in Vancouver would be an unbelievable experience," said Jovanovski, who made the Canadian team in 2006, but had to drop out with an injury. "It's in the back of my mind and I'm doing everything possible to maybe open some eyes and see where that goes."

Full strength --
Dallas coach Marc Crawford has a pleasant problem for Wednesday's home game against Calgary -- too many healthy players. With Mike Modano and Jere Lehtinen both cleared to play after missing most of the season with injuries, Crawford had to decide who would get a sweater and who would sit.

"We will have a few decisions to make on our lineup. It is great to get the type of experience that we're getting back into our lineup with Mike Modano and Jere Lehtinen. Those guys are very excited about coming back into the lineup. You can see with our guys that there certainly is competition now, healthy competition amongst our 14 forwards, the same way there's been on our defense."
-- Dallas Stars coach Marc Crawford

"We will have a few decisions to make on our lineup," Crawford said after Tuesday's practice. "It is great to get the type of experience that we're getting back into our lineup with Mike Modano and Jere Lehtinen. Those guys are very excited about coming back into the lineup. You can see with our guys that there certainly is competition now, healthy competition amongst our 14 forwards, the same way there's been on our defense."

Up front, he said, "we've got a lot of guys who are really playing well. They're making it difficult to make decisions. Somebody's going to have to sit out the next game who doesn't deserve to sit out. I think on the other side of it, it's not really that bad of a happening for the Stars. It really does emphasize our depth, and I think our depth can be something that is such a strong characteristic of this club. When you've got your seventh, eighth, ninth, 10th, 11th, 12th forwards that you can march out and they can be high-end, quality people, it just stands to reason that we should be able to play an up-tempo game and really outlast clubs."

Wasted milestone -- The Anaheim Ducks have been struggling in the past few weeks, especially at home. Those problems have obscured a terrific start by Corey Perry, who leads the team with 10 goals in 13 games.

Perry had his fourth multi-goal game of the season by scoring twice in Anaheim's 4-3 home loss to Pittsburgh on Tuesday. His first goal, a rebound past Marc-Andre Fleury less than four minutes into the game, was the 100th of his career.

Perry has scored five times during a four-game goal-scoring streak, and he's 6-4-10 during a six-game points streak.

Unfortunately for Perry and the Ducks, all those goals have translated into only four victories.

"It was very frustrating for the last four minutes," Perry said of the loss to the Penguins, in which the Ducks pressed Pittsburgh down the stretch but couldn't tie the game. "We had some great chances, but Fleury played well and stood on his head a couple of times. We're working hard, and if we keep playing the way we played tonight we're going to get bounces and create chances for ourselves. Everybody in here is trying their hardest."

Waiting game --
In past seasons, a waiver acquisition such as defenseman Randy Jones would have been thrust right into the Los Angeles Kings' lineup. Not so in 2009-10.

With the Kings off to a solid start, coach Terry Murray has been content to work Jones hard in practice without rushing him into game action.

"I think, anytime you come from the American Hockey League, you've got to get a little boost of energy and get back up to the NHL level," Murray said of Jones, who was picked up from the Flyers last week. "He's moving forward."

The play of defensemen like Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson, among others, has made Jones a depth player for the moment.

"Right now, he's our seventh guy," said Murray, who coached Jones when Murray was an assistant with the Flyers. "I like the way our six (defensemen) have played. They've done a good job. Randy -- and I talked to him -- gives us the depth now, with an NHL player, that we feel good if something happens through some kind of an injury or a decision by the coach to get him in, that we have that player available."

Around the Pacific -- Rookie goaltender Matt Climie spent the weekend in the NHL after getting an emergency call-up from the Dallas Stars. He backed up Alex Auld while starter Marty Turco was out with the flu. ... The Stars fell to 0-4 in shootouts this season when they lost 6-5 to Florida on Friday after overcoming an early 3-0 deficit. It's a big change for a team that won 12 of its first 13 shootouts after the NHL adopted the breakaway competition as a tiebreaker in 2005-06. ... Phoenix recalled Mikkel Boedker, its first pick in the 2008 Entry Draft, from AHL San Antonio before Wednesday's game against Colorado. Boedker had 11 goals for Phoenix last season, but was sent to the minors after a slow start in 2009-10. He was 1-3-4 in seven games for the Rampage. ... Were it not for the Los Angeles Kings, Phoenix would be even better defensively. The Coyotes surrendered just 30 goals in their first 14 games, but 13 to the Kings, who won two of three meetings, including Monday's 5-3 win at Arena. ... Roy Sommer, coach of San Jose's AHL affiliate in Worcester, became only the fourth bench boss in league history to reach 400 wins when Worcester beat Springfield last Saturday, The other three are Bun Cook, Fred Mathers and John Paddock. The win improved his AHL record to 400-380-54-57. ... Ray Tufts, the Sharks' head athletic trainer, reached the 1,000-game milestone Wednesday when the Sharks visited Columbus. ... The Los Angeles Kings and the California Amateur Hockey Association are holding their inaugural California Hockey Day on Nov. 7 in El Segundo, Calif. The event will feature a free beginner ice hockey clinic for boys and girls ages 4-9 who are interested in trying hockey for the first time. Participants will have access to all the necessary hockey equipment. ... Pittsburgh's visit to Anaheim marked the first time Penguins coach Dan Bylsma coached against his former team. Bylsma was part of the Anaheim team that went to the 2003 Stanley Cup Final before losing to seven games to New Jersey.
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