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What we learned in the NHL over the past week of play: Sharks on the rise

What we learned in the NHL over the last week of play:

San Jose has won five of its last six games, including back-to-back victories over the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins at home Saturday and over the Ducks at Anaheim on Sunday. That surge has lifted the Sharks into second in the Pacific Division, behind the still-remarkable Vegas Golden Knights. Aaron Dell has stepped in to provide steady goaltending — while Martin Jones recovers from a lower-body injury — and has a 2.17 goals-against average and .929 save percentage in 20 appearances. “When you’re going good, every night, you don’t know who’s going to be the big line or the big player,” Joe Thornton told the San Jose Mercury News after his goal and assist led a balanced attack against the Ducks. “We rely on everybody to contribute every night.” Thornton has moved into 16th place in NHL career scoring, with 397 goals and 1,426 points.

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Cronyism was a factor in Edmonton’s long downturn, with a payroll full of ex-players whose main qualifications were that they wore the uniform during the Oilers’ glory days. They went outside to hire general manager Peter Chiarelli, but did they revert to old, bad habits when they hired Paul Coffey as a skills development coach to work with their defensemen and defense prospects? Great players rarely make great coaches (see Wayne Gretzky as a prime example), but with production and mobility from defensemen now a vital element for successful teams, Hall of Famer Coffey might be able to help. But his arrival likely is too late for the Oilers to get back into a playoff spot this season.

Hard-driving John Tortorella is the last coach you’d expect to give his team extra free time in Las Vegas. But not only did he bring the Columbus Blue Jackets to town early before facing the Golden Knights, but also he urged them to go out and have fun. Other teams have stayed far from the Strip in an effort to avoid distractions, but Tortorella trusted his players’ judgment. “When you start trying to treat your players like 10-year-olds, babysit them and don’t allow them to go out and enjoy some of the cities they’re in, you’re going down the wrong road,” he told the Columbus Dispatch. It will be interesting to see how well the Blue Jackets play after they’ve enjoyed Vegas. They’ll face the Golden Knights — who own a league-best 18-2-2 home record — on Tuesday.

An era ended when hockey writer Red Fisher died last week at 91. A throwback to the days when newspaper reporters traveled on trains with teams, he covered 17 of the Canadiens’ 24 Cup championships for the now-defunct Montreal Star and the Montreal Gazette from 1955 through 2012. Fisher earned universal respect for his keen observations and no-rumors-please reporting. To earn a kind word from him was bliss, no matter your status. He will be missed.

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