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Sharks battle Kings in Blake's return to L.A.

by Brian Hunter
He left Los Angeles over the summer to sign with the San Jose Sharks, but Rob Blake is still seeing plenty of the Kings early in the 2008-09 season.

The Pacific Division rivals met for the first time Saturday night at HP Pavilion — the Sharks won 3-1 — and they’re right back at it again Sunday night (9 p.m. ET) as Blake makes his return to Staples Center, a place he called home for parts of 14 seasons during two stints with the Kings (1989-2001, 2006-08).

Two other Western Conference games complete Sunday’s NHL schedule: Anaheim faces off against Phoenix at Honda Center in the Ducks' home opener and Colorado travels to Rexall Place for a date with Edmonton, which becomes the last team to open its season.

But Blake’s homecoming is the night’s top storyline.

The 38-year-old defenseman was drafted by the Kings with the 70th pick in the 1988 Entry Draft and was playing in Los Angeles less than two years later, getting into four regular-season and eight playoff games during the 1989-90 season.

In the almost two decades that have passed since then, Blake has rewritten the record book for Los Angeles blueliners. He leads in almost every statistical category imaginable: games played (805), goals (161), assists (333), points (494), shots (2,468), power-play goals (92) and game-winning goals (29). He won the Norris Trophy in 1997-98 as the League’s best defenseman.

Blake was traded from the Kings to the Avalanche on Feb. 21, 2001, and along with legendary Boston defenseman Ray Bourque — who had landed in Denver the previous season — helped them win the Stanley Cup a few months later. Blake played four full seasons for Colorado after that before re-signing with Los Angeles.

In 1,128 career regular-season games, Blake has 223 goals and 704 points, adding 24 goals and 67 points in 125 playoff games. Blake hasn’t been to the playoffs since leaving the Avalanche, but he certainly expects to get back this season with the veteran Sharks.

"That's what you need when you get to this stage of your career," Blake said after contributing two assists in his San Jose debut Thursday against Anaheim. "It was a lot more difficult (in Los Angeles) the last couple of years than I thought it was going to be."

Phoenix at Anaheim (8 p.m. ET) — A youthful squad of Coyotes plays its second game in as many nights while the Ducks try to bounce back from an opening night loss to the Sharks.

Newcomer Olli Jokinen and 20-year-old Peter Mueller scored power-play goals in the first period Saturday, leading Phoenix to a 3-1 win at home over Columbus. Mueller, who scored 22 goals as a rookie, is practically a veteran on a roster that includes 18-year-old Mikkel Boedker and 19-year-old Kyle Turris.

Rob Niedermayer prevented Anaheim from being blanked by San Jose when he scored with 5:25 left in the third period Thursday. But the rest of the night was forgettable for the Ducks, who did little in a 4-1 defeat. One goal Sunday might be staying out of the box — Anaheim was whistled for seven minor penalties during the second and third periods of its opener and yielded a pair of power-play goals.

Phoenix took five of eight meetings with Anaheim last season, including three shootout victories and another win that went into overtime.

Colorado at Edmonton (8 p.m. ET) — The Oilers will become the 30th and final NHL team to play their opening night game as they host the Avalanche.

After finishing ninth in the Western Conference last season and missing the playoffs by a mere three points, Edmonton will be looking to get off to a quick start. The Oilers surged to a 14-5-1 finish, but it still wasn't enough to overcome the hole they dug themselves early in the campaign.

Milan Hejduk had a goal and an assist but the Avalanche dropped their first game to Boston, 5-4 Thursday at Pepsi Center. Wojtek Wolski, Cody McLeod and Jordan Leopold also tallied for Colorado and Peter Budaj finished with 20 saves.

The Avalanche won six of eight last season against the Oilers, with two of the victories coming via the shootout.

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