Sharks and Kings faceoff in huge Pacific Division battle

Every night down the stretch is going to have a huge game in the Western Conference and tonight is no different. After fans in the West get the Ducks/Preds matchup between the 7th and 8th seeded teams; the dessert will be the Sharks and Kings from Staples.

Both teams have been on fire over the last two months. The Kings are 17-4-5 over their last 26 games, only to be bested by the Sharks 21-4-3 run over their last 28 games. The Sharks have been turning it on ever since they managed to sleepwalk through October and November. In fact, the Sharks are riding a four game winning streak after severely damaging the Flames’ dying playoff hopes in a 6-3 win last night. The entire team has found their scoring touch as they’ve averaged 5 goals per game over the recent winning streak—including Torrey Mitchell and Patrick Marleau who each have 4 goals on their own.

The stretch run looks good for the men in teal as well. San Jose’s final eight games are all against Pacific Division rivals; which is a good thing for Sharks fans. They are 9-3-4 this season against the division most people will tell you has been the strongest this year. Time and time again the Sharks have shown that they have a thicker skin this year and can play best when their best is needed. Whether it’s playing their best hockey down the stretch of a tight playoff race or giving their best effort against the teams in their own division, the Sharks have seen the best results when they needed them the most.

Kings head coach Terry Murray was even talking about the Sharks ability to put it all together over the last three months:

“You get great awareness of what it is that you need to do every night in order to make a big push. It’s just a process. You see it so many times with young hockey clubs. You take a step backward, you take two ahead, and you just go through it. They seem to be coming to their time right now, where it is their opportunity to put it all together. They’ve got a lot of experience, world-class players, a top line, a good back end, and they’re just making the big push and they know how to do it right now.”

Speaking of the Kings, this will be their first game without scoring winger Justin Williams who is out for the rest of the regular season with a dislocated shoulder. In his place, Oscar Moller will play in his first game since his four game stint with the Kings in mid-December. For those who thought he might be eased into the lineup, he’ll be on the first line with Anze Kopitar and Dustin Penner—on a team struggling to score in the middle of a playoff race. No pressure, kid.

The Kings hot streak has been a little different than the Sharks. They’re 1-1-1 on their current five game homestand and have only scored 2 goals in a week. They are a pedestrian 4-3-1 in their 8 games at Staples Center; sandwiching a 4-game winning streak on their recent road trip through Western Conference contenders. They’re winning and earning points—but they’ve certainly been playing their best hockey outside of Southern California over the last few months. It’s an ironic trend considering they started with the best home record in the NHL.

Going into the night’s games, the Kings need the game much more than the Sharks do. Los Angeles is tied with the Blackhawks and Predators for 5th place with 88 points; only a point ahead of Anaheim; more importantly, only 2 points ahead of 9th place Dallas. The Sharks are trying to solidify the Pacific Division crown and home-ice advantage; Los Angeles is just trying to get in.

The good news for the Kings is that scrappy rookie Kyle Clifford will return to the lineup after getting KO’d a week ago by Ryan Reaves of the St. Louis Blues. His return will help offset the Williams injury as the Kings will look for scoring by committee to replace offense that will be sitting in the press box. More likely, Jonathan Quick will be asked to hold the opposition down while the Kings try to get by with the bare minimum.

Then again, that’s not the easiest task when facing the Sharks who have 20 goals in their last 4 games and have scored 7 of their last 19 on the power play.

Modano, Ciccarelli, Roenick and Savard highlight Minnesota-Chicago alumni rosters

Mike Modano
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There’ll be no shortage of star power on display on Feb. 20, when alumni from the Wild, Blackhawks and North Stars do battle at TCF Bank Stadium.

On Tuesday, the NHL unveiled the rosters for the Stadium Series outdoor game — one day prior to the tilt between Chicago and Minnesota, a slew of ex-NHLers will compete for bragging rights, including Mike Modano, Dino Ciccarelli, Chris Chelios, Jeremy Roenick and Denis Savard, to name a few.

The full rosters:

North Stars/Wild

Fred Barrett, Don Beaupre, Brian Bellows, Brad Bombardir, Neal Broten, Andrew Brunette, Jack Carlson, Jon Casey, Dino Ciccarelli, Curt Giles, Craig Hartsburg, Darby Hendrickson, Antti Laaksonen, Reed Larson, Dennis Maruk, Brad Maxwell, Giles Meloche, Mike Modano, Richard Park, Steve Payne, Willi Plett, Gordie Roberts, Brian Rolston, Bobby Smith, Wes Walz, Tom Younghans.


Adrian Aucoin, Murray Bannerman, Chris Chelios, Dave Christian, Denis Cyr, Eric Daze, Reggie Kerr, Steve Konroyd, Jerry Korab, Cliff Koroll, Dave Mackey, Peter Marsh, Jamal Mayers, Grant Mulvey, Troy Murray, Brian Noonan, Jack O’Callahan, Jeremy Roenick, Phil Russell, Denis Savard, Reid Simpson, Brent Sopel, Jimmy Waite.

The North Stars/Wild will be coached by Lou Nanne, Mike Ramsey and Tom Reid. Tony Esposito and Pat Foley will man the Blackhawks bench.

Veteran NHLer Moss signs in Swiss league

David Moss
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Another journeyman has been forced to find work overseas.

David Moss, who had four goals as 12 points in 60 games for Arizona last season, has signed with EHC Biel of Switzerland’s National League A, the club announced on Tuesday.

Moss, 33, is a veteran of over 500 games, split between the Coyotes and Calgary Flames. He nearly landed in Switzerland last season, reportedly agreeing to a deal before utilizing his one-week out clause to catch on in Arizona.

After playing out his one-year, $800K deal, Moss failed to land a contract in free agency and eventually signed a PTO with Milwaukee, the AHL affiliate of the Nashville Predators.


Chara isn’t satisfied with Bruins’ recent success

Zdeno Chara
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The Boston Bruins didn’t get off to a great start in October or November, but in both instances, they were able to turn things around in the back half of the month.

Right now, everything seems to be going right for Boston, but if you think they’re satisfied with their current five-game winning streak, guess again.

“We did some things well, and we did some things that we need to improve, keep working on and keep getting better,” captain Zdeno Chara told CSN New England. “ It’s nice to win games, and it’s nice to be getting points. But I think we also want to improve our play systems-wise, and be better in certain areas.”

A big reason for their success comes from their improvement on special teams, specifically on the penalty kill.

Boston still has the 27th ranked penalty killing unit in the league, but they’ve killed 15 of their opposition’s last 16 power plays during their recent winning streak.

They’re power play is clicking at a mind-boggling 32.5 percent, which is tops in the NHL this season.

The Bruins will get their first crack at former GM Peter Chiarelli’s new team when they take on the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday night.

Does Columbus have a fitness problem?

John Tortorella

Interesting note from the Dispatch this morning regarding Monday’s Blue Jackets practice, in which head coach John Tortorella put his players through some rigorous skating drills.

Especially interesting, given what Scott Hartnell had to say.

“You can tell by the way we practiced today that [Tortorella] wants us in better shape so we’re not fading at the end of games,” he explained.

Fitness, or lack thereof, has been a recurring issue in Columbus this season.

In late October, Tortorella called out All-Star center Ryan Johansen for being out of shape — coincidentally, Johansen was “singled out” for extra skating on Monday — and, in a recent conversation with, Torts again brought up the team’s conditioning problems.

“I think it’s a team with a number of different mental and physical bad habits that we’re trying to turn into good habits to where it becomes an instinct, but we’re a ways away,” he explained. “These are mental habits that have nothing to do with X’s and O’s.

“It’s a pretty young team, and quite honestly it’s about what it is to be a pro and doing the little things.”

So, does Columbus have a fitness problem?

It’s hard to say.

Back in October, GM Jarmo Kekalainen told the Dispatch all players passed their training camp conditioning tests and, when asked, said “I don’t think anybody can say we’re out of shape.”

But it stands to reason one of Kekalainen’s objectives in making the coaching change from Todd Richards to Tortorella was to light a fire under the team, and get them back to playing “Blue Jackets hockey” — the hard-working, hustle-filled style with a decided lunch bucket approach.

And in order to play that brand of hockey, the team has to be in shape.