Sharks notebook: much-improved Devils on deck

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Sharks notebook: much-improved Devils on deck

Feb. 11, 2011

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By Kevin Kurz
CSNBayArea.com

NEWARK - Februarys version of the New Jersey Devils is nothing like the club that the San Jose Sharks defeated in the first month of the season.

On October 27 at HP Pavilion, Joe Thorntons hat trick led the way to a 5-2 victory over what was then the worst team in the league. Since that time, the Devils have changed coaches and, more importantly, won games.

REWIND: Thornton's hat-trick leads Sharks past Devils

A lot of them.

New Jersey enters Friday nights matchup with San Jose as the second hottest team in hockey with an 11-1-2 mark in its last 14 games. Second, of course, to the Sharks, who have gone 10 straight games without a regulation loss (9-0-1).

NEWS: NHL standings

So, Todd McLellan, whats different about the Jacques Lemaire-led Devils now than the team you saw in October?

Theyre confident. And Jacques will use that word all the time, its amazing when a team gets confident how much better they feel, said the Sharks head coach. You can see that Jacques has left his mark on the team again.

McLellan was quick to point out that the Devils surrender the fewest shots-per-game in the NHL, with 27.2. It's a reflection of their distinctly defense-first style, as they have no problems sitting on a one or two goal lead as early as the second period.

San Jose played its worst period of its road trip on Wednesday in Columbus, surrendering two power play goals before coming back to win, 3-2. They may not get that chance if they fall behind early against New Jersey.

REWIND: Sharks rally to keep roadie rolling, beat Columbus

Jacques is known for his defensive-minded system. Hes always taught the team he coaches to play good defense and hold onto leads, so its pretty important for us to get a jump start and get a lead, said Dan Boyle.

Ryane Clowe added: Theyre not giving up a lot of goals, have a commitment to defense, and commitment to their own end. Sometimes you think youre taking away offense by doing that, but theyve probably scored more goals because of it. I think they are playing more of a team game right now.

McLellan agrees that the start of the game and getting ahead will be paramount.

I dont know that well have the opportunity to come from behind 2-0 or 3-0 like we did against Phoenix, he said. This team plays a little bit different. They dont give up as much. Theyre patient and theyre not going to beat themselves.

Much like the Capitals and Alex Ovechkin, New Jersey leans heavily on a Russian-born star forward. Ilya Kovalchuk was added by the Devils over the summer with a much-publicized 100 million contract, and is finding his game since Lemaire replaced John McLean right before Christmas.

In his last eight games, Kovalchuk has five goals and five assists, including a dazzling overtime marker in Toronto on Thursday night in a 2-1 New Jersey win the 600th of Lemaires career.

Much like Ovechkin, McLellan will likely try and get Boyle out on the ice as much as possible against Kovalchuk.

They are pretty similar, said Boyle, comparing the superstars. They both have speed to burn and have powerful shots. You just have to be aware where they are at and have a pretty good gap.

Eager to remain with Thornton, Setoguchi

Ben Eager has certainly been working his way up the depth chart since arriving via trade from Atlanta. Originally penciled in on the fourth line, Eager has found himself getting more and more minutes with every passing game.

Against Columbus, McLellan put him on a line with Joe Thornton and Devin Setoguchi after a lethargic first period. By the looks of things in the morning skate at the Prudential Center, Eager will get another chance there for at least at the start of Fridays game here in New Jersey.

That move was a reaction to our lack of jump and energy in the Columbus game, explained McLellan. I think when he and Seto got together that was a little more energy and speed. Those are two of the characteristics were looking for. Somebody to work for Jumbo, do some board work, and create some energy.

I think its harder to match, and we balance our three lines out a little more by doing that.

Eager played 13 minutes and 35 seconds in the game against the Blue Jackets a season high. In fact, his ice time has increased in each of the last seven games, beginning on Jan. 22 when he skated for less than five minutes.

Notes

Devils goalie Martin Brodeur remains out of the lineup with a bruised knee. ... The Sharks reassigned left wing John McCarthy to Worcester on Friday morning to make room for Torrey Mitchell, who will return tonight ... There was no sign of Antero Niittymaki at the morning skate, so Carter Hutton will once again serve as Antti Niemi's backup.

David West is coming up big for the Warriors

David West is coming up big for the Warriors

OAKLAND -- David West is as much a cleanup man as he is a basketball player.

The veteran power forward, masquerading as a center for the Warriors, cleans up behind teammates, cleans the clocks of opponents and probably cleans his plate after every meal. And he’d hit fourth in any manager’s batting order.

The Warriors during their renaissance haven’t had such a personality. They’ve been a fun bunch, enjoying life, each other and their pillaging of the NBA.

West, 36, brings a more laconic dynamic, and it’s on full display as the Warriors lean into the final weeks of this regular season. He’s a leader who is producing and, more and more, winning over a fan base that was somewhat skeptical early this season.

“David West has been playing brilliantly,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said Friday night, after West came off the bench for a highly efficient 14-minute stint in a 114-100 win over the Kings.

Showcasing sharp passing, splendid shooting, solid rim protection and his usual old-jerky toughness, West totaled 8 points, four assists, three rebounds, three blocks and one steal. The Warriors were plus-8 when he was on the floor.

Such production, it seems, is a bit of a bonus.

“He’s been very good for us as a veteran leader,” Draymond Green said. “He’s been playing well, but just his presence also has meant a lot to this team.

“D-West is just kind of a no-bull---- type of a guy. He doesn’t say much. But when he does, you know it means a lot. And everybody hears him.”

Said West: “It’s just about adjusting and learning personalities. Obviously, this group has been very successful. I just try to add my 2 cents where I feel like it fits. Try not to over-talk people. I speak to guys directly and just make sure that we’re all on the same page.”

West is in his 14th season. Drafted by the New Orleans Hornets in 2003, he also has played for the Pacers and, last season, the Spurs, before joining the Warriors in July.

The question at the time was whether he still had a lot to give. West is a two-time All-Star and one of the most widely respected players in the league. But did he still have the legs to compete at a high level?

The answer is visible, particularly over the past month, since he returned from fractured left thumb on Feb. 23. West is shooting 53.0 percent from the field, he’s rebounding consistently and he has proven to be a spectacularly good passer -- easily one of the best in the league among big men.

Earlier this week, to quell any lingering concerns about how much athleticism he still has, West rose up and dunked over a crowd of three Dallas Mavericks. It was clock-cleaning at its finest.

“I’m just getting more comfortable,” West said, referring to his game and his locker-room influence. “We’ve developed good chemistry, communicating, harping on our defense more than anything else at this moment, because we feel that’s going to give us a chance if shots aren’t falling.”

West is on a one-year deal for the veteran’s minimum, $1.55 million. He sacrificed bigger dollars for a chance at his first championship. He’s doing his part. And he neither takes nor leaves any mess.

Dempsey hat trick lifts US over Honduras in statement win

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AP

Dempsey hat trick lifts US over Honduras in statement win

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE — Bruce Arena's return as U.S. coach reignited American confidence, and his players responded with an emphatic rebound in World Cup qualifying.

Clint Dempsey returned from an irregular heartbeat to score his second international hat trick, 18-year-old phenom Christian Pulisic had one goal and set up three others, and the U.S. routed Honduras 6-0 Friday night to get right back in contention for an eighth straight World Cup berth.

Surprise starter Sebastian Lletget got his first international goal in the fifth minute after Pulisic's shot deflected off the goalkeeper, Michael Bradley doubled the lead in the 27th and Dempsey scored off Pulisic's perfectly weighted chip in the 32nd.

Finding room to maneuver in a central midfield role, Pulisic made it 4-0 just 12 seconds into the second half with his fourth international goal, Dempsey rounded the keeper to score following a Pulisic feed in the 49th, and Dempsey got another on a 23-yard free kick in the 54th. With 55 international goals, Dempsey moved within two of Landon Donovan's American record.

In its first competitive match since Arena replaced Jurgen Klinsmann, the U.S. moved from last to fourth in the final round of the North and Central American and Caribbean region, tied at three points with Honduras but ahead on goal difference, Mexico leads with seven points, followed by Costa Rica with six and Panama with four.

The top three nations qualify for next year's tournament in Russia, and the fourth-place nation advances to a playoff. With a victory at Panama on Tuesday, the Americans could move into the top three.

The U.S. had never before won a hexagonal game by more than three goals.

And oh how the American Outlaws and others among the lively home crowd loved every second of this long-awaited showing, chanting "Michael Bradley!" and "Demp-sey! Demp-sey!" through the Bay Area rain and cool March air.

Then, it was "Bruce Arena! Bruce Arena!"

Gloom descended upon the Americans in November when they opened the hexagonal with a 2-1 home loss to Mexico and a 4-0 wipeout at Costa Rica. The defeats caused the U.S. Soccer Federation to fire Klinsmann, who had coached the Americans since 2011, and bring back Arena, who lead the team from 1998-2006.

Dempsey, 34 and hoping to reach a fourth World Cup, was sidelined from August until this month by an irregular heartbeat and likely was starting only because of injuries to Bobby Wood and Jordan Morris. Tim Howard, the Americans' 38-year-old goalkeeper, got the shutout after returning only two weeks ago from a leg injury sustained in the loss to Mexico.

Geoff Cameron, back from a knee strain that had sidelined him for fourth months, was shifted to right back from central defense because of injuries to others, and Jorge Villafana was inserted on the left.

But there were yet more injuries. Lletget hurt his left ankle on Ever Alvarado's tackle and was replaced in the 18th minute, and defender John Brooks was stretchered off the field, hand over his face, in the 69th due to dehydration.

From the opening whistle, the U.S. played more aggressively than in the latter years of Klinsmann's reign. Arena revamped the midfield, giving a prominent role to Pulisic, who last week became the youngest American to score in the Champions League. He inserted Lletget and Nagbe, who were largely overlooked by Klinsmann last year, on the flanks.

The U.S. went ahead when Jozy Altidore picked up a loose ball and on his second try poked the ball ahead to Pulisic. His left-footed shot that went off goalkeeper Donis Escobar, and Lletget tapped in the ball with his right foot from 2 yards.

Bradley, given his debut by Arena in 2006, doubled the lead when he took a pass from Alejando Bedoya, cut to his left, took four touches and cut the ball back to beat Escobar with one-hopper from about 25 yards.

Showing poise beyond his years, Pulisic created the third goal when he lofted a pass to Dempsey, who allowed the ball of bounce off his right shoulder. Dempsey held off Henry Figueroa and while falling scored with his right foot from 8 yards.