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Pacific: When Sharks load top line, opponents beware

by John Kreiser
The only thing more dangerous than the combination of Joe Thornton and Dany Heatley is the addition of Patrick Marleau to San Jose’s dynamic duo.

Coach Todd McLellan has kept the Heatley-Thornton pairing together throughout the season, but has played Marleau on other lines. Judging by his team's performance in its first two games with the Heatley-Thornton-Marleau trio, though, he might want to keep them together a while longer.

Heatley had a hat trick, Marleau scored a goal and Thornton set up four of San Jose's six scores in a 6-3 defeat of Philadelphia on Friday. One night later at Anaheim, Heatley and Thornton each had a goal and an assist, while Marleau added an assist in a 3-2 win against the Ducks.

"It's good that a lot of different guys played with each other early on, and I think you're going to see as the year goes on that there's going to be different combinations," Thornton said after beating the Ducks. "Right now, it's a pretty dynamic line with Patty and myself and Dany.

"Good players make each other better, and that's what's going on right now. The scary part is that I think we can get better."

Thornton has been criticized for being too much of a pass-first center, but he took a season-high six shots against Anaheim and scored his seventh goal -- the game-winner -- in the third period.

"For Joe to get six shots on goal -- he can go two weeks and not get six shots on goal," McLellan said. "For him to have six -- he understands, or I hope he understands, the reward that's there. Sometimes a shot on goal is as good as a pass to an open player."

Even better -- In a disappointing season for the Dallas Stars in 2008-09, Loui Eriksson was a delightful surprise, leading the team with 36 goals and finishing second with 63 points. The question for this season was simple: Was Eriksson for real, or just a one-year wonder?

Eight weeks into the season, Eriksson is showing he's no fluke.

Through the Stars' first 23 games, Eriksson had 9 goals and 11 assists -- more than meeting the increased expectations he faced.

"I think I got a lot of opportunities to play a lot of hockey, to get a lot of ice time out there," the 24-year-old Swede said of last season, when he demolished his previous bests of 14 goals and 31 points before the All-Star break. "We had some injured guys and I got some more ice time and my confidence level was really high and everything just went well. I think the whole season felt good, and I just wanted to bring that to this season."
Eriksson is more than just an offensive player, however. He usually plays on the Stars' top shut-down line against opposing scorers, and he entered Wednesday's game leading the team's forwards with a plus-6 rating.

Eriksson's regular center, Brad Richards, says the best is yet to come.

"Whether he scores 36 goals or 33 goals, he's going to be a better player," Richards said in an interview on the Stars' Web site. "Where do you go from 36? I think definitely, he has a chance to get to 40 some day, but I think with Loui, he's going to be up there. He's good at a lot of areas of the game. His willingness to go to the tough areas -- he's always going to score goals because he's not scared to go there."

Teddy's turn --
The injury that sidelined Los Angeles forward Ryan Smyth has caused havoc with the Kings. Anze Kopitar, the NHL's top scorer before losing his left wing, hasn't been the same, and moving Alexander Frolov into that spot hasn't helped.

So when the Kings hit the ice Wednesday in Edmonton to begin a two-game swing through Western Canada, it was Teddy Purcell's turn.

Purcell had two goals in the Kings' first three games, but hasn't scored since and has spent most of his time on the third and fourth lines. If he's ever going to make a splash in L.A., now is the time.

"I need him to get going. I want to give him every opportunity to play well," Kings coach Terry Murray said. "I think, in the last couple games, he has been trying to do more things. He's been handling the puck with more confidence in practice the last couple days. There's much better jump, and I want to try to take advantage of that upside of the curve."

But Purcell won't get too long to show what he can do.

"Probably a couple of games," Murray said of how long he'll get to show he can play on the No. 1 unit. "I'm going to give him a couple of games here on this top line, get him back on the power play, and also I need to have that conversation with him, that, 'Hey, it's time. I need you to give us some statistics here, points. That's a big part of your game, to create, score. This is a great opportunity.'"

Masking -- New season, new team, new mask for Jason LaBarbera.

The Coyotes' backup goaltender, who signed with Phoenix as a free agent this summer, said personalizing a mask has become a detailed process for him. And a new team means a new look.

"I love getting a new design," LaBarbera said. "I'm not the most creative guy, but it's kind of fun to come up with something different every year. The artist that I have, David Arrigo, does an amazing job; he's really good at communicating and coming up with ideas."

LaBarbera's mask this season has several elements rolled into one.

"I usually stick to some kind of music theme. I like listening to music," LaBarbera told the Coyotes' Web site. "Everyone has a favorite band; mine's Metallica. Every year I've always had some type of Metallica theme on there, so this year I have (lead singer) James Hetfield on the one side, and on the back I have St. Anger Fist, the album from a couple years ago. I actually have a tattoo of St. Anger Fist, so I guess you can say I'm a bit of a Metallica fan."

The mask also features Eddie Vedder from Pearl Jam, and The Ultimate Warrior, his favorite wrestler growing up.

Despite having a new design every season, the one constant on LaBarbera's masks through the years has been the initials of his family members.

"It's kind of a calm and safe thing that you have, that you just look at and reminds you of good things,” he said.

Ice chips --
San Jose's special teams have separate home and road personalities. Entering Wednesday's game, 20 of the Sharks' 25 power-play goals were scored away on the road. They were 5-for-34 at home (14.7 percent), but 20-for-64 (31.2 percent) on the road. However, the Sharks' penalty-killers were almost flawless at home (34-for-36 killed, 94.4 percent) but had struggled on the road (45-for-57 killed, 79.0 percent). ... With their 2-0 win against Carolina at the American Airlines Center on Monday, the Dallas Stars are now 9-1-1 on home ice against the Hurricanes franchise since relocating to Dallas in 1993, and 13-6-3 against them overall. The Stars have not at home lost to the club since Feb. 11, 1996, when the team was the Hartford Whalers. ... Phoenix captain Shane Doan's goal against Philadelphia on Saturday was the 264th of his career, all with the Winnipeg/Phoenix franchise. He's now tied for third on the team's all-time list with Thomas Steen. ... The Coyotes changed coaches at AHL affiliate San Antonio, releasing Greg Ireland and naming Ray Edwards interim coach. The Rampage is 6-10-2-1, last in the West Division of the Western Conference. ... Anaheim's 3-2 win against Calgary on Monday was the Ducks' tenth in a row against the Flames at the Honda Center. The Ducks are 15-1-3 in Calgary's last 19 visits. ... Scott Niedermayer's overtime goal against Tampa Bay last Thursday was the Anaheim captain's 12th extra-time goal, the most by any defenseman in League history. The overall record is 15, held by New Jersey's Patrik Elias, Jaromir Jagr, Mats Sundin and Sergei Fedorov. ...  Calgary scored 13 seconds into a 5-2 victory at Los Angeles on Saturday, the fastest goal surrendered by the Kings this season. ... Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick has started 22 of the team's first 24 games. With L.A. scheduled for three games in four days beginning Wednesday, backup Erik Ersberg might get a chance for his third start.

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