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Sharks put bite on Capitals

by Brian Hunter /
A few thoughts while we clear out of the way of those steamrolling Boston Bruins:

Making them count — No team in the League puts more shots on goal per game than the San Jose Sharks. They were converting them at a lethal rate against Washington, putting one of every four attempts in the net during a 7-2 rout of the Capitals at HP Pavilion.

The Sharks spread the offense around, as Ryan Clowe was the only player to score twice. Also scoring were all three members of the top line — Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Devin Setoguchi — as well as Mike Grier and defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic.

"That's what you need to go all the way, when you have every line scoring or having the chance to score, it's great. It helps out the team," Vlasic said after the Sharks routed the Southeast Division leaders.

Marleau, Clowe and Setoguchi all struck within a 6:32 span of the first period to give the Sharks a 3-0 lead. The Capitals, playing for the fourth time on a five-game road trip, got Sergei Fedorov back in the lineup but looked a step behind for most of the night.

"We had great chemistry right from the start," Setoguchi said. "We got off to the right start on them and I think they kind of sat back and we just kept going on them."

Ex-Shark Matt Bradley was impressed with his former team's performance.

"Obviously they are a well-oiled machine over there, and that's why they're in first place," he said. "I think they are a very good team, but I think we can play with them when everybody is healthy."

Concern for Roberto
— A hectic road trip ended on a great note for the Vancouver Canucks as far as the scoreboard was concerned. On the ice was another story.

While they left Mellon Arena on Saturday with a 3-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, their third straight win on a four-game trip that began Monday on Long Island, the Canucks lost All-Star goalie Roberto Luongo, who has been playing perhaps the best hockey of his career, to an apparent groin injury early in the first period.

"We're not exactly sure the severity of it," said Canucks coach Alain Vigneault, adding that Luongo would be evaluated Sunday after making the trip with the team back to Vancouver on Saturday night.

Luckily for the Canucks, the previously seldom-used Curtis Sanford was up to the task. After beating Minnesota on Thursday in just his second start of the season, Sanford made 17 saves to make two goals by Pavol Demitra and one by Daniel Sedin stand up.

"You hate to see your teammate down on the ice like that, he's the biggest part of our team," Sanford said. "But we're going to have to move past that and we're going to have to play some games without him in there."

Vancouver has been soaring, with a 13-6-2 record that leads the Northwest Division and has the Canucks only five points behind San Jose for first overall in the NHL.

"It was our fourth game in 5 1/2 nights," Vigneault said. "We have gone across North America and back, and we played a good, solid road game."

Senators deep-six skid — The Ottawa Senators carried a six-game losing streak into the weekend, but you wouldn't have known it from the effort they put forth against the New York Rangers.

Alex Auld had to make only 18 saves in a 4-1 win at Scotiabank Place, as the Senators took the first 13 shots of the game and controlled play for most of the afternoon.

"We felt like we had been playing well enough to win," Auld said. "It's a great feeling to finally get one. It's good for the morale and now we can build on this and keep going."

It's true that the Senators had been creeping closer and closer toward gaining a much-needed two points, as each of their last two defeats came in shootouts, but they still hadn't skated off with the feeling of a victory since Nov. 6 against Philadelphia.

"I thought we played really hard and smart," said Ottawa coach Craig Hartsburg, who implored his team to stay positive. "The guys kept their energy high over the week which is important and we said keep playing like this every night and we'll win our fair share. Hopefully this was a sign."

Reversal of fortunes — When the Buffalo Sabres routed the New York Islanders 7-1 early in the season, the game was indicative of the type of start each team was enjoying. The Sabres were surging near the top of the Eastern Conference standings, while the Islanders were plummeting toward the basement.

The teams met again at HSBC Arena, and again the result was consistent with how each has fared of late —except that now the Islanders are playing like a playoff contender, as they won their fourth in five tries, 4-2, while sending the struggling Sabres to their fifth consecutive loss.

Goaltender Joey MacDonald had some personal redemption to seek against Buffalo, which shelled him in that initial matchup. MacDonald made 35 saves this time, with 18 coming in the second period.

"That's what my job is. I have to come up and make the save when we need it," said MacDonald, who was making his 10th straight start. "They threw a lot of pucks on the net in the second period, but our defense also did a great job clearing the rebounds and giving them only one opportunity."

Islanders captain Bill Guerin, who scored what proved to be the game-winner, said the team is learning how to win together.

"When we're in the lead, we feel we deserve it and aren't completely shocked," Guerin said. "It has a lot to do with us being comfortable in that position."

Living dangerously — Taking penalties in the third period isn't normally a good recipe for winning a hockey game, but the Philadelphia Flyers managed to survive some time in the box and still rally for a goal late in regulation and another in overtime to top the Phoenix Coyotes 4-3 at Wachovia Center.

Mike Richards was serving an interference minor when the extra period began, but the Flyers killed it off and Richards netted the winning goal at 1:35 off a pass from Jeff Carter, whose goal with 1:07 left in regulation forced overtime.

"The end of the third period into overtime he was lugging the puck, he was confident, he wanted the puck," Flyers coach John Stevens said of Carter. "You almost have this feeling, I know it’s easy to say now, but you get that thing killed off, you are going down and score just because Jeff had that look in his eye where somehow we are going to win the hockey game. That is one of the reasons why we get him involved with our leadership group this year. To me he showed all kinds of leadership traits here tonight in the way he played."

Martin Biron stopped 25 shots and was one of the Flyers' most important penalty killers during a third period that saw Richards take a pair of minors and Lasse Kukkonen one of his own.

"We battled extremely hard, especially at killing penalties and that was where we gained some momentum tonight," Biron said. "I think we did that a few times in the game, and battled extremely hard to tie it up late."

Hanging up a zero
Steve Mason earned his first NHL shutout by blanking Atlanta. Hopefully the rookie goaltender for the Columbus Blue Jackets doesn't think they will all come this easily. Mason needed only to stop 15 shots as the Columbus defense shut the door almost completely on Ilya Kovalchuk and the Thrashers in winning 2-0 at Philips Arena.

''Overall, it was a pretty simple game, and the only hard part was staying focused,'' Mason said. ''You try not to think about it, but obviously during the third period, it's on your mind when there are no goals up on the board.''

Rick Nash scored the only goal Mason would need and assisted on R.J. Umberger's empty-netter that ended any Atlanta hopes for a comeback.

''It was nice to keep the shot count down,'' Nash said. ''It was great, especially against a team like that with Kovalchuk and (Slava) Kozlov. (Mason) shut them down.''

Mason, called up earlier in the season while Pascal Leclaire was injured, gave the veteran a night off and improved to 4-1-1 while helping Columbus end a two-game losing streak.

''It's tough holding a one-goal lead for the majority of the game,'' Mason said. ''The defensemen did a great job of blocking shots and making sure I could see the puck. They made it easy for me.''

"We had great chemistry right from the start. We got off to the right start on them and I think they kind of sat back and we just kept going on them." -- San Jose Sharks forward Devin Setoguchi
Sigh of relief — Meanwhile, at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, another goalie with the surname of Mason was picking up a crucial victory of his own. Veteran Chris Mason made a season-high 31 saves as the St. Louis Blues edged the Minnesota Wild 2-1.

Acquired during the offseason from Nashville to serve as Manny Legace's backup, it had been a rough go for Mason, who entered 0-5 with a 3.13 goals-against average.

"Coming to a new team, I felt sometimes I wasn't going to get one here," Mason said. "The guys did a great job of letting me see the shots and clearing the rebounds when they were sitting there. It feels great to go back-to-back here."

Indeed, it was the Blues' second win in as many nights, after Legace led them to a 3-2 overtime win against Anaheim on Friday. Brad Boyes was the offensive hero this time with a pair of goals, which Mason made sure would stand up.

"It was great for Chris Mason," St. Louis coach Andy Murray said. "He's played well this year. He's been deserving on other nights and we didn't get the job done for him."

Coming home — The focus of attention at Air Canada Centre was former Toronto Maple Leafs captain Wendel Clark, whose number was honored in a ceremony prior to the team's game against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Clark wasn't the only guy enjoying a homecoming, though, as local product David Bolland scored 49 seconds into overtime, giving the Blackhawks a 5-4 win in a game the Maple Leafs led 3-0 and 4-2.

''I just took one step (into the slot) and it was a wide-open cage for me,'' said Bolland, a former first-round draft pick who was playing in front of more than 50 friends and family members.

Bolland also picked up the primary assist on Ben Eager's third-period goal that forced the extra period.

''He made a great play on the goal to tie it and a special play on the overtime move,'' Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. ''His overall game is very effective, and (it was) a great finish to today's game. That's what he's capable of.''

Another day, another win — As far as the Boston Bruins are concerned, there's no rush to turn the page on the calendar. The B's improved to 9-0-1 in November and took over the lead in the Eastern Conference with a 3-2 shootout victory over the Montreal Canadiens.

They also won in Bell Centre for the first time in almost two years — and on the night Patrick Roy had his jersey number retired, no less. Tim Thomas made 33 saves through regulation and overtime, then stopped all three Montreal shooters in the penalty-shot tiebreaker, including captain Saku Koivu to end it.

"To come in here and come out with a win is really good, especially in a shootout," Thomas said. "I've seen Saku score on that last shot and him the one walking off the ice with his arms raised and all happy, and I was happy to be the one with my arms raised and happy today."

As an indication of just how well things have been going for the Bruins this month, rookie Blake Wheeler netted the shootout winner on a play where he lost the puck while skating in on Carey Price but it still trickled past the goalie and into the net.

''I might have to practice that now and see if it's a good thing to do, but I'll try to stick with what's worked in the past,'' Wheeler said.

"I think I’m here to help Ozzie out, give him a couple nights off if he needs it, and to play well when I get the opportunity. I don't decide when I play, the only thing I have any impact on is how I play when I do play." -- Red Wings goalie Ty Conklin
Life without Morrow — Just when the Dallas Stars thought it couldn't get any worse, the last-place team in the Pacific Division learned it will be without captain Brenden Morrow for the remainder of the season after a torn knee ligament sustained Thursday against Chicago.

For the reeling Stars, there was some solace to be taken in a 2-1 shootout loss to the Anaheim Ducks. Marty Turco led the way with a solid effort in goal, but Ryan Getzlaf beat him in the third round of the breakaway competition for the deciding score.

"We had heart and we had lots of compete in us," Dallas coach Dave Tippett said. "We would certainly like to get that extra point. But we had a lot of guys that played hard."

Now the Stars will have to find a way to turn things around without one of their heart-and-soul players, a veteran whose goal in the fourth overtime last spring eliminated San Jose and sent Dallas to the Western Conference Finals.

"I'm used to having him in the lineup making a difference, pulling the guys along,"  Turco said. "There's not too many guys in the league you'd miss as much as Brenden Morrow. We've got to pick up the slack."

Consider him No. 1(a)Ty Conklin has been a No. 1 goalie for brief stints in the NHL, including last season when he kept the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Atlantic Division race while Marc-Andre Fleury missed several weeks with a high-ankle sprain.

Three-time Stanley Cup winner Chris Osgood holds down the starting goalie job for the Detroit Red Wings, but coach Mike Babcock has shown plenty of confidence in Conklin so far and a willingness to use him. Conklin improved to 6-1 on the season by making 31 saves in a 5-2 win over the Calgary Flames at Pengrowth Saddledome.

"I think I’m here to help Ozzie out, give him a couple nights off if he needs it, and to play well when I get the opportunity," Conklin said. "I don't decide when I play, the only thing I have any impact on is how I play when I do play."

He's played extremely well, and when asked about the way defensemen like Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski have made life easier with their efforts in front of him, Conklin was quick to offer praise.

"You have to worry about your job, stopping the first shot, they take care of the rest," he said. "The shots they do give up are usually pretty stoppable and routine shots."

Masters of the shootout
— It hasn't been a particularly easy start to the season for the Colorado Avalanche, but should a tight game end up having to be decided via the shootout, then the team is in good shape.

Marek Svatos and Milan Hejduk scored in the first two rounds and Peter Budaj was a perfect 2-for-2 as the Avalanche edged the Los Angeles Kings 4-3 at Staples Center and won their eighth straight shootout, tying for the third-longest streak since the League instituted it for the 2005-06 season.

"It's pretty hard because they have great shooters," Budaj said. "Patrick O'Sullivan had a great shootout record and also Dustin Brown has great hands and a great shot, but I was able to get a good gap and a good read on it. I feel good right now with a shootout win."

Budaj has been a key weapon for Colorado in their tremendous run of shootout success, and coach Tony Granato said it's a source of inspiration for the rest of the team in such situations.

"When he was playing four or five years ago down in the minors, that was one of his strengths," Granato said. "You just gain confidence, you gain experience, you gain knowledge of the shooters — I think the research he does with (goalie coach) Jeff Hackett, that certainly helps. But he's been very solid the past couple weeks, as you can see, and when you're confident in your goalie, that means everything."

Material from wire services and team broadcast and online media was used in this report.

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