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West update: Now the Kings lead the Pacific Division

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I’m a big fan of parity in the NHL, but for those who glorify the days of stability and a handful of teams running roughshod over competition, this has been a dark month or two. The Pacific Division might be the greatest enemy of consistency, as the top spot is being treated like a hot potato going from the San Jose Sharks to the Dallas Stars and finally to the Los Angeles Kings after tonight’s results.

To keep with the tradition of wide-ranging West impact updates, I’ll go ahead in order of where the teams rank as of this writing.

(3) Los Angeles 4, Edmonton 1

The Kings beat down a beaten down Edmonton Oilers team tonight to (more than a little bit ridiculously) take the division lead. Jonathan Quick needed a laughable 13-for-14 save night to beat the Oil while four different Kings found the net.

(4) Nashville hops over (5) Detroit (read here); (6) Chicago was idle

Vancouver Canucks kick around Stars down to seventh place

Hopefully the Dallas Stars didn’t get too comfy in third place because the second place Vancouver Canucks destroyed them 5-2. There really wasn’t much of a doubt about this one, as the Canucks just looked downright better than the Stars. (Probably because, at least at this moment, they very much are.)

(8) Phoenix was idle

(9) San Jose was idle, too, but …

The road to the playoffs looks like it will go through the Sharks – in one way or another. First, San Jose begins a home-and-home with the Stars on Saturday. There isn’t much of an excuse for them to be worn out against Dallas tomorrow considering the fact the Stars got kicked around tonight. (Oh, and Ray Ratto points out that the Stars are an ugly 1-10-2 on the tail end of back-to-backs this season.)

If that wasn’t big enough, the Sharks’ final two games of the season are a home-and-home set against the current Pacific leader Los Angeles. It’s anyone’s guess what exactly will be on the line then, but it’s hard to imagine those games being anything but huge.

Finally, moving on from the Pacific-specific teams but certainly a Pacific-relevant development:

(10) Colorado deals a big blow to (11) Calgary

The Avalanche face some tough odds to make the playoffs, as they’ll likely need to root for a lot of two-point games and extreme results (up-and-down won’t cut it). If nothing else, they probably won’t need to worry much about the Flames after handling them by a score of 4-1.

Colorado also has some positives to build on for next season, particularly with the stretch run work of Semyon Varlamov, who stopped 38 out of 31 shots to keep the Avs alive – for the moment.

Former NHLer LaCouture pleads not guilty to assaulting woman

PHILADELPHIA - JANUARY 19: Dan LaCouture #28 of the Boston Bruins looks on during the game against the Philadelphia Flyers on January 19, 2006 at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Bruins won 5-2. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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BARNSTABLE, Mass. (AP) A former NHL player has pleaded not guilty to charges he assaulted a woman in Massachusetts over the weekend.

The Cape Cod Times reports Daniel LaCouture appeared Tuesday in Barnstable District Court on charges of assault and battery and vandalizing property.

Police responded just after 6 p.m. Saturday to a house in Centerville, where they say the 39-year-old LaCouture hid underneath a vehicle in the home’s driveway before confronting the victim and striking her in the collarbone.

LaCouture is due back in court July 15.

A phone number listed for LaCouture in online public records was disconnected.

LaCouture made his NHL debut with Edmonton in 1999. The forward had 20 goals and 25 assists in 337 career games with six NHL teams.

He is one of dozens of plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit against the NHL over concussion-related injuries.

A better start is key for Sharks in Game 2

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It’s easy to suggest that perhaps the San Jose Sharks got caught up with some nerves during the first period of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final versus the Pittsburgh Penguins.

After all, this is a franchise that, after well-documented playoff shortfalls, is playing in the championship series for the first time. The Pittsburgh Penguins, on the other hand, well they’ve been here before — seven years ago.

Sharks’ defenseman Brent Burns conceded that his team may have been overwhelmed at first, outshot 15-4 in the opening 20 minutes, before eventually getting back on track in the middle of the game.

The result was a two-goal deficit, as the Penguins jumped into the lead. San Jose fought back, but ultimately lost on a late Nick Bonino goal.

The Sharks, of course, have stressed getting out to a better start, and that what happened Monday can be a learning experience, as they look to even the series in Game 2 on Wednesday.

“We were excited to play. We felt we were ready. Then at the start, we didn’t execute the way we needed to. We try to take that lesson and learn from it,” Joe Pavelski told reporters on Tuesday.

“Hopefully we can have a better start. Obviously it’s exciting to be here. I don’t know if it’s your first time or your fifth time, I’m sure it’s exciting every time. So we’ll learn from that game and hopefully have a better start.”

 

Bears face Monsters for the AHL’s Calder Cup

MILWAUKEE - JUNE 15:  Chris Bourque #17 of the Hershey Bears kisses the Calder Cup after the Hershey Bears defeated the Milwaukee Admirals in game six of the AHL Calder Cup Finals on June 15, 2006 at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Bears defeated the Admirals 5-1 in game six to win the AHL Calder Cup. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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The Hershey Bears and Lake Erie Monsters will play for the 2016 Calder Cup, as the American Hockey League’s championship series begins Wednesday.

The Bears, who start with home ice advantage, enter the series having won the Calder Cup 11 times — the most of any franchise in the league’s history. They also enter the final having dispatched the Toronto Marlies — Canada’s remaining hope for an AHL championship, right…? — in the third round.

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Meanwhile, the Monsters have been on a torrid run in the playoffs, losing only twice in 13 games so far. They’ve earned the sweep in two of three series, making quick work of the Rockford IceHogs and Ontario Reign.

Bears forward Carter Camper, a journeyman in the minors with three games of NHL experience with Boston in 2011-12, is second in AHL playoff scoring with 15 points in 17 games.

For the Monsters, Blue Jackets prospect Lukas Sedlak has been on a roll, offensively, and now has 13 points in 13 post-season games this year.

From the Columbus Dispatch:

Sedlak was regarded as a smart two-way forward, but his offensive production was minimal, almost non-existent. Players like that tend to drift away after a few seasons, pushed aside by the next wave of young talent and high draft picks.

“I’d say right around Christmas I started wondering what was going to happen,” Sedlak said. “I was asking my agent what Columbus thought of me, and I was prepared for everything — maybe even going back to Europe.

“I knew my contract was up after the season. I thought I was playing pretty well … but you just don’t know.”

 

Stars sign Dowling, Ranford to one-year deals

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The Dallas Stars made a pair of depth moves on Tuesday, announcing the signings of forwards Justin Dowling and Brendan Ranford to one-year contracts.

Both players have put up good numbers in the American Hockey League with the Texas Stars.

This past season, the 24-year-old Ranford scored 19 goals and 59 points in 76 games — all career highs for him in the minors. He played once for Dallas last season, but didn’t register a point.

Initially undrafted and a Stars’ free agent signing from two years ago, the 25-year-old Dowling was also productive with 11 goals and 46 points in 52 games.