Vernon Fiddler, Antti Niemi

Stars expand division lead as Pacific teams falter

A surreal week got that much better for the Dallas Stars, whose fortunes look far brighter after a promising night of hockey for them – and the opposite for their divisional opponents.

Sharks shootout

Most directly, the Stars won against the San Jose Sharks for the first time this season by prevailing 4-3 via the shootout. It wasn’t easy and there were silver lining moments for San Jose, but the bottom line is that Dallas is strongly entrenched as the division leader.

(The Sharks’ pluses: they generated a charity point, Joe Thornton had three assists, Joe Pavelski scored a goal and Patrick Marleau responded to his pal Jeremy Roenick’s criticisms by finding the net.)

Blown opportunities

The Stars can delight in the fact that the other Pacific Division squads either stayed idle or took a step back too.

Following in the footsteps of the Phoenix Coyotes, the Los Angeles Kings dropped a regulation game to the lowly Columbus Blue Jackets. It’s probably not melodramatic to say that the Kings may very well remember that loss with significant regret.

Speaking of the Coyotes, Dave Tippett’s team dropped another should-be-victory; this time, it was against the Minnesota Wild. The only bright side is that they salvaged a point, losing 3-2 in a shootout.

Least importantly, the Anaheim Ducks also lost in regulation as the St. Louis Blues prevailed 3-1.

Pacific outlook

Want a view of the division now that the night is over? Check out the standings, with the teams’ current Western spots in parenthesis.

Dallas (3): 79 points with 14 games remaining
Phoenix (7): 76 points with 14 GR
San Jose (8): 75 points with 16 GR
Los Angeles (9): 74 points with 15 GR
Anaheim (12): 68 points with 14 GR

As you can see, just about every Pacific team seems to have a shot at the division title or at least a playoff spot, with the likely exception of the Ducks. The Stars have certainly distanced themselves with tonight’s action, but it’s still likely to be a photo finish – and a thriller in that.

Struggling Sabre Tyler Ennis out with upper-body injury

Tyler Ennis, James Wisniewski
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Tyler Ennis can probably relate with the Buffalo Sabres’ opponent on Wednesday, as he’s struggling almost as much as the Nashville Predators.

Perhaps some of that has to do with health?

Whether that’s the case or not, Ennis is out for the Sabres tonight, as the team announced that he’s dealing with an upper-body injury.

The Buffalo News discussed Ennis’ struggles in this article.

“I’d say he’s pressing too much. You can’t make those plays in every situation and in every point you touch the puck,” Dan Bylsma said to the Buffalo News. “ … He’s just got to simplify his game. He is a special player who can make those plays, but he can’t be trying to do it every time he touches the puck.”

He’ll need to wait a while to start getting things together, anyway.

WATCH LIVE: Wednesday Night Rivalry (Flyers-Islanders; Blackhawks-Sharks)

Ryan White, Matt Martin
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You can check out tonight’s Wednesday Night Rivalry doubleheader on NBCSN, and you can also stream them online.

Here are the handy links for the two contests.

First, the New York Islanders host the Philadelphia Flyers.


After that, the Chicago Blackhawks visit the San Jose Sharks.


Braun out with upper-body injury; Zubrus to make Sharks debut

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The San Jose Sharks will be missing a top-4 defenseman tonight when they host the defending champs from Chicago.

Justin Braun has an upper-body injury. His status is considered day-to-day.

“Brauny has been one of our unsung heroes here through the first quarter of the season,” coach Peter DeBoer told CSN Bay Area. “He’s played some outstanding hockey. So, we’re going to miss him, but it’s a great opportunity for Mueller and Tennyson and one of these guys to establish themselves. It’s a great opportunity for us to reward Dillon for how well he’s played.”

Against the Blackhawks, Brenden Dillon will take Braun’s spot on the top pairing alongside Marc-Edouard Vlasic; Paul Martin and Brent Burns will stay together on the second pairing; and 20-year-old Mirco Mueller will skate with Matt Tennyson.

Mueller has played just four games for the Sharks this season. In his last game, Thursday in Philadelphia, he received only 9:13 of ice time.

Also tonight, new Shark forward Dainius Zubrus is expected to debut on the fourth line.

Related: Sharks sign Zubrus, because DeBoer

Johansen calls trade rumblings ‘weird,’ says relationship with Torts is ‘great’

Ryan Johansen
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One day after reports surfaced of Ryan Johansen being at the center of trade talks, all parties involved from Columbus did what they’re supposed to do — downplay the situation.

You can read the denials in full over at the Dispatch, but here’s the gist:

— Johansen said the rumors were “weird” and that he’s “never seen it before.” He also said there were no issues between him and head coach John Tortorella, calling the relationship “great.”

— GM Jarmo Kekalainen wouldn’t address the report, nor would Johansen’s agent, Kurt Overhardt.

— Johansen added he hasn’t spoken to any of Columbus’ management about the trade rumblings.

So there’s that. What’s next?

At this stage of the game, it’s hard not to think about another Overhardt client, Kyle Turris.

Turris, you’ll recall, spent four (mostly) stormy years with the Coyotes before his trade out to Ottawa was orchestrated. Turris eventually told GM Don Maloney “this is not going to work out” with the club, and he was gone.

So, consider the similarities now:

— Turris was 22 at the time of the trade, with four years and 137 games under his belt.

— Johansen is 23, with five years and 291 games.

— Both had contentious contract holdouts with their respective clubs.

— Both are Overhardt guys.

— The Turris trade happened after the Coyotes went from Wayne Gretzky to Dave Tippett as head coach.

— Johansen is already on his third head coach (Scott Arniel, Todd Richards, Tortorella).

For now, these are all coincidences (or a forced narrative, depending what you think of the author).

And, of course, the one big — big — difference between the two is that, at the time of his trade, Turris wasn’t as good or established a player as Johansen currently is. Therefore, logic suggests any Johansen trade would be a lot more blockbuster-y and, therefore, probably more complex.

And as we know, complex deals aren’t easy to pull off.