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.

Report: Clippers trade Chris Paul to Rockets

Report: Clippers trade Chris Paul to Rockets

A blockbuster trade reportedly went down on Wednesday morning.

The Clippers are sending Chris Paul to the Rockets, according to The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski.

In exchange, Houston will ship Patrick Beverley, Sam Dekker, Lou Williams and a 2018 first-round pick to Los Angeles.

More to come...

Drew Shiller is the co-host of Warriors Outsiders and a Web Producer at NBC Sports Bay Area. Follow him on Twitter @DrewShiller

Knicks, Phil Jackson part ways

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AP

Knicks, Phil Jackson part ways

NEW YORK -- Phil Jackson is out as New York Knicks president after he oversaw one of the worst eras in team history and feuded with star Carmelo Anthony.

Days after Jackson reiterated his desire to trade Anthony and said he would listen to deals for Kristaps Porzingis, Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan reversed course and cut ties with Jackson on Wednesday.

"After careful thought and consideration, we mutually agreed that the Knicks will be going in a different direction," Dolan said in a statement. "Phil Jackson is one of the most celebrated and successful individuals in the history of the NBA. His legacy in the game of basketball is unmatched."

But his work as a first-time executive was awful. The winner of an NBA-record 11 championships as coach, Jackson couldn't engineer one playoff berth while running the Knicks. The team was 80-166 in his three full seasons, including a franchise-worst 17-65 in 2014-15. His departure was quickly welcomed by Knicks fans such as film director Spike Lee, who posted a picture of himself on Instagram in a celebratory pose after it was first reported by The Vertical.

The move comes less than a week after Jackson led the Knicks through the NBA draft and on the eve of free agency that opens Saturday. Dolan said general manager Steve Mills would run the day-to-day business of the team in the short term.

Jackson was a Hall of Fame coach with the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers, delivering titles with some of the game's biggest stars like Michael Jordan, Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant. He also played for the Knicks when they won NBA titles in 1970 and 1973.

He was welcomed back to the organization to huge fanfare in March 2014, but it soon became clear the transition would be a poor one. His first coaching hire, Derek Fisher, lasted just 1½ seasons, and Jackson's trades and free agency moves also failed to improve the club.

"I had hoped, of course, to bring another NBA championship to the Garden. As someone who treasures winning, I am deeply disappointed that we weren't able to do that," Jackson said. "New York fans deserve nothing less. I wish them and the Knicks organization all the best - today and always."

The turbulence he created off the court may have led to his departure more than the Knicks' record on it.

Jackson wanted to trade Anthony, the All-Star forward who has two years left on the five-year, $124 million deal that Jackson gave him shortly after taking the job. Anthony has a no-trade clause and has said he wants to stay in New York, and the stalemate that hung over the team for much of last season threatened to linger throughout the summer.

Then he said before the draft that he was listening to offers for Porzingis, the 21-year-old forward from Latvia whom Jackson drafted with the No. 4 pick in 2015 in one of his few successful moves.

Jackson believed the Knicks would compete for a playoff berth last season after he traded for Derrick Rose, signed Joakim Noah and Courtney Lee and hired Jeff Hornacek to coach. But after a solid start, they quickly spiraled toward their familiar position at the bottom of the Eastern Conference and finished 31-51.

Despite all that, Dolan said during an ESPN Radio interview in February that he would allow Jackson to finish his contract, and the sides picked up the mutual two-year option on Jackson's contract.

But the instability involving Anthony and Porzingis threatened to damage the team's ability to lure free agents and may have spurred Dolan's decision. Though he had been intent on keeping Jackson, the dysfunction within the franchise showed no sign of ending even as Jackson, 71, largely stayed out of sight.

He never spoke to the media last season after vowing openness upon taking the job and refused to provide Anthony with the communication he sought.

"It's like a total train wreck ," tennis great and Knicks fan John McEnroe told The Associated Press last week.

"I mean, he's known as the Zen Master, like a master talker, and then he's not talking to anybody," McEnroe said of Jackson. "So this whole thing seems to have gone completely off the rails."

There was also incessant debate about Jackson's insistence that the team employ the triangle offense, which potential incoming players were schooled on during the run-up to last week's NBA draft. The Knicks wound up taking 18-year-old French point guard Frank Ntilikina, who spoke highly of the triangle and Jackson's belief in the scheme.

"I think I can definitely fit with this system," Ntilikina said on draft night.

Not even a week later, the triangle is probably gone, and the Knicks will start anew.

Rose, the 2011 NBA MVP, will be a free agent. Noah - whom Jackson gave a puzzling four-year, $72 million contract last summer - will start the season by finishing out a 20-game suspension for violating the league's anti-drug policy. He averaged 5.0 points and 8.8 rebounds in his first season in New York, shooting just 44 percent from the foul line.