Shane Doan, Dany Heatley

Pacific Division Watch (March 19)

Every week, we’ll provide updates for each division. The biggest contenders and/or closest races will receive the greatest amount of attention.

Bold = playoff contender; Italics = likely lottery fodder, Underlined = clinched division.

Pacific Division outlook (March 19 -March 25th)

1. San Jose Sharks (41-23-8 for 90 pts; 72 Games Played)

Current streak: Two wins in a row.

Week ahead: Home vs. St. Louis (Saturday), home vs. Calgary (Wednesday) and @ Los Angeles (Thursday).

Thoughts: After the next two home games, it’s all Pacific Division matchups for the Sharks. Those closing games include a substantial three games against second place Phoenix, two against Los Angeles and Anaheim, plus one against Dallas. In other words, the Sharks will only have themselves to blame if they let their slim division lead slip away.

2. Phoenix Coyotes (39-23-11 for 89 pts; 73 GP)

Current streak: Five straight wins.

Week ahead: Three home games – vs. Chicago (Sun), St. Louis (Tues) and Columbus (Thurs).

Thoughts: The best thing about Phoenix’s five game winning streak might be that they won four of those contests on the road. They have a great chance to push past San Jose being that they begin a six-game homestand on Sunday and three games remaining versus the Sharks (two of which are at home). Overall, the ‘Yotes only play two of their last nine games on the road, so they must be taken seriously.

3. Los Angeles Kings (40-26-5 for 85 pts; 71 GP)

Current streak: One loss.

Week ahead: Three home games – vs. Anaheim (Sat), Calgary (Mon) and San Jose (Thurs).

Thoughts: It seems like most of the Pacific teams play the majority of their remaining games against each other, with the Kings holding true to that trend. Their five-game homestand didn’t begin well – their fans booed them, after all – but this is still their best chance to improve their playoff prospects.

4. Dallas Stars (38-24-8 for 84 pts; 71 GP)

Current streak: One win.

Week ahead: Home vs. Philadelphia (Sat) and home vs. Anaheim (Wed).

Thoughts: The Stars need to stock up some points in the next two home games – even if they are far from cakewalks – because they face a harrowing five-game road trip beginning next Saturday in Nashville. That trip begins against the Predators and then swings the team through every Pacific Division squad, making it a high stakes group of games. If they can keep their heads above water after those games, their last four contests are relatively palatable. That’s a big if, though.

5. Anaheim Ducks (38-27-5 for 81 pts; 70 GP)

Current streak: One win.

Week ahead: Away vs. Los Angeles (Sat), home vs. Calgary (Sun), @ Dallas (Wed) and @ Nashville (Thurs).

Thoughts: The rest of March is going to be tough for Anaheim, as they face four of six games on the road against challenging squads. The Ducks’ final five games are against Pacific teams, with two against San Jose and Los Angeles and one contest versus Dallas. It would be awfully interesting if it all came down to their last two games: a home-and-home series with the Kings.

Niemi blanks Pens, notches two assists in Stars debut

Antti Niemi, Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist

DALLAS (AP) — Antti Niemi recorded his 33rd career shutout and assisted on two goals in his Dallas debut, as the Stars beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-0 on Thursday night in the season opener for both.

Ales Hemsky had a power-play goal and an assist.

Rookie Matthias Janmark scored on his first shot on his first shift in an NHL game to make it 1-0. The Stars acquired Niemi and Janmark in trades earlier this year.

Dallas scored on two of five power plays. Jamie Benn, the NHL’s leading scorer last season, had a power-play goal in the third period.

Niemi made 37 saves to improve his career record against the Penguins to 5-1-1. He withstood a flurry in the final minute after Pittsburgh pulled goalie Marc-Andre Fleury for an extra skater.

Fleury had 21 saves.

The Stars are 4-0-1 in their last five home games against Pittsburgh, and have won three in a row overall.

Janmark skated down the slot, took a pass from Hemsky and shot between Fleury’s legs at 1:39 of the first.

The Penguins dominated the latter half of the period, but couldn’t score. Niemi’s best stop was a reaching glove save of Rod Scuderi’s drive from the blue line with less than 3 minutes remaining. Pittsburgh outshot the Stars 10-4 in the first.

Hemsky scored at 5:42 of the second on Dallas’ first power play. His shot from the top of the right faceoff circle went in over Fleury’s right shoulder.

The Penguins again had an advantage in shots, 13-11. Pittsburgh had chances in close, but Niemi turned those away. Midway through the second, John Klingberg cleared away a loose puck from in front of the net.

Seven seconds into the Stars’ fourth power play of the third period, Jamie Benn tipped in Jason Spezza‘s shot from the right point.

NOTES: Dallas acquired Janmark as part of a March trade that sent Erik Cole to Detroit. The rookie had been playing in the Swedish Hockey League. . San Jose traded Niemi’s rights to the Stars in June for a seventh-round draft pick. Also making their Dallas debuts were LW Patrick Sharp and D Johnny Oduya, teammates with Chicago’s Stanley Cup champions last season. . In his first game for the Penguins, Phil Kessel played in his 447th straight game. . Pittsburgh was 0 for 3 on the power play.

Fabbri’s first spoils McDavid’s debut as Blues down Oilers

Robby Fabbri, Justin Schultz
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ST. LOUIS (AP) — Rookie Robby Fabbri scored the tiebreaking goal midway through the third period to help the St. Louis Blues beat Edmonton 3-1 Thursday night, spoiling Oilers rookie Connor McDavid‘s NHL debut.

Vladimir Tarasenko had the tying goal for the Blues near the midpoint of the second period, and Troy Brouwer added an empty-netter with 18 seconds remaining in the third. Brian Elliott finished with 23 saves.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored in the first period for Edmonton and Cam Talbot had 28 saves.

McDavid, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, took 22 shifts, played 18:07 and was on the ice for Brouwer’s goal. He had two shots on goal, and struggled on faceoffs – winning only three of 13.

Fabbri, a 19-year-old forward — and McDavid’s childhood friend — was also playing in his first NHL game. The Blues’ first-round pick in 2014 was one of three rookies in the St. Louis lineup, joining defensemen Colton Parayko and Joel Edmundson.

Nugent-Hopkins gave the Oilers a 1-0 lead late in the first period with a fluke power-play goal. He lost a face-off but when Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo tried to clear the puck it bounced off Alexander Steen and past Brian Elliott. Nugent-Hopkins was credited with the unassisted power-play goal with 2:38 remaining in the period.

Tarasenko tied it a 9:10 of the second after getting loose on a breakaway with a stretch pass from Alex Pietrangelo and beating Talbot through his legs.

Tarasenko, who signed an eight-year, $60 million extension in the offseason, was the last Blues player to score in his debut.

NOTES: McDavid and F Anton Slepyshev made their NHL debuts for the Oilers. … St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina dropped the ceremonial first puck. … The attendance was announced as standing room-only 19,327.