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Sharks try to regroup; Blues seek new start

by Matthew Mankiewich

BLUES (17-18-6) at SHARKS (27-9-7)

Last 10 -- St. Louis 3-6-1, San Jose 8-2-0

Season series -- They've split the first two of the series, with the road team winning in each case. The Sharks relied on goals by Dany Heatley and Jed Ortmeyer 16 seconds apart to cover up a less-than-stellar effort and snatch the first game 3-1 on Nov. 14. The Blues got even in San Jose with a 3-2 shootout win on Dec. 3.

Big story -- One of the stranger things going on in the NHL is the Blues' significantly better play on the road as opposed to home at ScottradeCenter. Since taking three in a row on the road just before Christmas, the Blues proceeded to drop a season-high five in a row, resulting in the firing of coach Andy Murray on Saturday. Their 11-4-3 road record is one of the better ones in the League which leaves people scratching their heads at that 6-14-3 home record -- including a 6-3 loss to Chicago in interim coach Davis Payne's debut on Saturday night.

Team scope:

Blues -- Often the most positive move a coach can make has little to do with X's and O's. In his first practice on Monday, Payne worked with the team on typical things like the power play and defensive attack, but also concentrated on trying to loosen the players up.

"It's tough to have fun when you're not winning," Blues forward Brad Boyes said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "He's coming in here and making sure that we lighten up a bit. He's been saying, 'We're playing hockey, let's have some fun ... when we do that, good things will come.'"

"We've got to go through an evaluation process ... take our time, but do it quickly," said Payne. "I think we're getting into that stage. We have 41 games left in the season, and that's not a lot of time to be tinkering."

Sharks -- Monday night's 6-2 home loss to Los Angeles wasn't just the end of an eight-game winning streak. Also snapped were streaks of nine games without allowing a first-period goal and 29 successful penalty kills.

All of it was done by a Kings team that outscored the Sharks 6-2 but was outshot by a 47-20 margin. When that happens, it usually means a few mistakes were made.

One big one occurred late in the first period when Patrick Marleau tried to get a stick to Dan Boyle, whose stick had broken while blocking shots during a penalty kill.

"I pitched it a little bit and I guess that's illegal," Marleau said in the San Jose Mercury-News. "Good to know now."

Boyle had to retrieve the stick on the aborted exchange, allowing Oscar Moller to score. Marleau was sent to the penalty box for the infraction and Anze Kopitar scored on the ensuing power play.

"It's a prime example that you need two aspects to your game," coach Todd McLellan said. "You better be there physically and you better be there mentally. Physically we were fine. But the mental mistakes were unacceptable. I don't know where everybody's heads were."

Who's hot -- Marleau's goal in the third period was his 27th of the season, tying him with Marian Gaborik of the Rangers for the League lead. Joe Thornton's assist on that goal was his 900th NHL point. Defenseman Douglas Murray was selected as the Sharks Foundation Player of the Month for December. Though he only logged three assists in 12 games, he leads the Sharks and is fourth among NHL defensemen (seventh overall) with 130 hits. … Blues center Andy McDonald has five points in his last three games.

Injury report -- Blues forward Keith Tkachuk scored a goal in Saturday's 6-3 loss to the Blackhawks, but he got it the hard way. A T.J. Oshie shot hit him in the mouth and deflected into the net. It was his 10th goal of the season, but it cost several teeth, some extensive dental work and stitches. He didn't practice Monday and no decision has been made about his status for the San Jose trip. Forward Paul Kariya missed his third straight game Saturday with a concussion-related ailment. He underwent tests Monday to determine his status. Defenseman Barret Jackman missed Monday's practice because of the flu.

The Sharks enter Wednesday with a clean bill of health.

Stat pack -- Sharks starting goalie Evgeni Nabokov is 6-0-2 with a 1.82 GAA in his last eight starts against the Blues. The Blues have allowed nearly one more goal per game at home than on the road, and they allowed 19 goals in their recent 0-3-1 homestand.

Puck drop -- "It's a new coach, but it's the same guys on the ice," Blues forward David Backes said. "I don't know how he's going to motivate or what he's going to do, but it's not all him, we need to make changes and stick to game plans."

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