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In The Crease

After a horrible start (0-6-2) the Sharks are in the playoff
race, and a lot of the credit for that should go to second-year
center Marco Sturm. He has improved offensively--with 11 goals
through Sunday, he's already surpassed his rookie total--and his
speed makes him an effective forechecker. He has also been more
physical, and as NHL observers like to say, he has a lot of
Western Hockey League in him....

The pulled groin muscle that has sidelined Capitals star center
Adam Oates since Nov. 27 is more serious than first thought.
He's scheduled to visit Rae Brown, a Montreal-based trauma
surgeon, next week for another evaluation....

Predators 12-year veteran center Cliff Ronning, who was acquired
from the Coyotes for future considerations in December, has done
such a good job that management has offered him a contract
extension. He has not only provided offensive punch (25 points)
but also has set a good example for Nashville's younger

In the off-season the Islanders expanded their coaching staff to
a football-like six assistants (most NHL teams have two or
three), but the move has had a negative effect. Many current and
former members of the team say the players are sometimes
confused by conflicting advice, and it shows: New York was
winless in its last 10 games and had the second-worst record in
the league....

Buffalo, one of the NHL's smaller teams, has struggled recently
because opponents have found that the Sabres aren't nearly as
effective if an opponent hits them first....

Speaking of Buffalo, general manager Darcy Regier is shopping
center Derek Plante, who is small but offensively gifted. Regier
wants a second-round draft pick in return....

There are two reasons that the Red Wings are flashing
championship form again: First, rugged winger Kirk Maltby has
returned from a knee injury and is playing with grit, which
makes linemate Kris Draper more effective; and second, coach
Scotty Bowman and his staff put together the explosive line of
Steve Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov and Slava Kozlov. These guys could
run wild in the second half of the season.