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NHL labor talks resume

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NHL labor talks resume

NEW YORK (AP) -- After more than two weeks apart and the hockey season hanging in the balance, the NHL and the players' association are returning to the bargaining table Saturday after more than two weeks off.

The hope of a full season being played is already gone, and so is the popular New Year's Day Winter Classic. If real progress isn't made soon, the NHL could be looking at its second lost campaign since 2004.

For the first time since Oct. 18, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly and players' association special counsel Steve Fehr agreed to meet at a secret location Saturday afternoon. The two have been talking by phone during the week and found enough common ground to get together face-to-face.

The lockout reached its 49th day Saturday, but at least there is a glimmer of optimism the season can be saved. There have already been 327 games canceled - including the outdoor Winter Classic that was wiped out Friday - and the NHL has said it will be impossible to play a full season.

The labor dispute, which began Sept. 16, forced all games from Oct. 11 through Nov. 30 to be called off. It isn't known if any of those games will be rescheduled if a new deal is reached soon, but an NHL deadline has already passed that would have allowed for each team to play all 82 games. The season needed to start by Friday for that to happen, but the only hockey activity that day was the cancellation of the outdoor game at Michigan Stadium between the host Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs.

Losing that extravaganza, the biggest attraction on the regular-season schedule, was the biggest blow yet for the league and its players. The sides couldn't even manage to get together since the previous bargaining session in which the players' union countered a league offer with three proposals that were quickly rejected by the NHL.

Daly indicated that cancelling the Winter Classic doesn't necessarily mean more games in the regular season - or the All-Star game - will be wiped out soon.

"I don't foresee any further cancellation announcements in the near term," Daly wrote in an email to The Associated Press on Friday.

In its most recent proposal, the NHL offered the union a 50-50 split of hockey-related revenue, which exceeded 3 billion last season, but that offer was rejected. The players responded with their three offers that went nowhere.

The NHL proposal has been pulled off the table because it was contingent on the league playing a complete season.

"Last week we had a proposal to save a full season on the table. That has since been withdrawn," Daly told the AP. "That creates a different environment for talks."

Players earned 57 percent of revenue in the recently expired contract, in which a salary cap was included for the first time. Owners sought to bring that number below 50 percent this time before their most recent offer. The union tried to get talks restarted last week without preconditions, but was turned away after refusing to agree to bargain off the framework of the league's offer or issue another proposal with the league's offer serving as a starting point.

There is a major divide between the sides over how to deal with existing player contracts. The union wants to ensure that those are all paid in full without affecting future player contracts. League Commissioner Gary Bettman expressed a willingness to discuss the "make whole" provisions on existing contracts, but only if the economic portions of the league's offer are accepted first by the union.

It isn't clear what, if any, preconditions were set before Saturday's meeting.

This is the third lockout in Bettman's tenure. The first forced a shortened 1994-95 season, and the second led to the cancellation of the entire 2004-05 season - the only time a major North American professional sports league lost a full season to a labor dispute.

Sharks exorcise MSG demons, take down Rangers

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USATSI

Sharks exorcise MSG demons, take down Rangers

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK — Logan Couture had a goal and an assist, Martin Jones stopped xx shots and the San Jose Sharks beat the struggling New York Rangers 4-1 on Monday night.

Tim Heed, Joonas Donskoi and Melker Karlsson also scored to help the Sharks win for the third time in four games. Jones got his fourth straight win after losing his first two starts.

Mika Zibanejad scored and Henrik Lundqvist finished with 20 saves for the Rangers, who fell to 2-6-2 on the season. New York finished 0 for 6 on the power play and is 3 for 25 over the last six games.

With the Sharks leading 3-0 after two periods, Couture took the puck away from Lundqvist behind the goal and sent it to Karlsson, who put it in for his second of the season at 2:51 of the third. Couture got his 200th career assist on the play.

San Jose turned the puck over in its defensive zone and Zibanejad snapped a shot into the top right corner to spoil Jones' shutout bid at 4:23 of the final period.

Donskoi increased the Sharks' lead to 3-0 with 38 seconds left in the second as he skated into the right circle and beat Lundqvist glove-side inside the right post.

The Rangers controlled the play for most of the first period while outshooting the Sharks 16-8, but trailed 2-0 after 20 minutes.

Couture, who had his second career hat trick in a loss at the New York Islanders on Saturday night, got San Jose on the scoreboard 1:56 into the game. With Jones pulled for an extra skater on a delayed penalty, Brent Burns sent pass from the right circle up top to Couture, who fired a slap shot from straightaway past Lundqvist.

Jones had two nice saves on back-to-back attempts in close by Pavel Buchnevich with a little more than nine minutes left in the first.

Heed doubled the Sharks' lead with 7:15 left as he brought the puck up the right side and sent a bad-angle shot from near the goal line along the boards. The puck trickled through Lundqvist's pads for the 26-year-old's first career goal in his seventh NHL game.

The Rangers had a two-man advantage for 25 seconds late in the opening period, but Jones stoppedZibanejad's shot from top of the left circle, and Rick Nash missed with an attempt in close.

NOTES: Couture has six goals and three assists in his last four games. ... The Sharks are 30 for 31 on the penalty kill in seven games since giving up three power-play goals in the season- opener against Philadelphia. ... The teams conclude the season series Jan. 25 at San Jose. ... Rangers D Kevin Shattenkirk played in his 500th career regular season game. ... New York F Rick Nash played in his 999th game. ... D Marc Staal played in his 699th game — all with the Rangers — and passed Mark Messier and Steve Vickers for sole possession of 12th place on the franchise list. ... New York has given up 15 goals in the first period this season.

UP NEXT

Sharks: At Boston on Thursday night in the fifth of a six-game trip that concludes at Buffalo on Saturday.

Rangers: Host Arizona on Thursday night in the finale of a season-high six-game homestand.

The world’s most famous arena is a house of horrors for Sharks

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USATI

The world’s most famous arena is a house of horrors for Sharks

Whenever the NHL's schedule comes out, a trip to Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers is usually a highlight. A matchup against one of the league's biggest teams, in the country's biggest city, in a historic venue? That's a date worth circling.

If the San Jose Sharks circle it, it’s for entirely different reasons.

Throughout the entirety of the franchise’s 26-season existence, the Garden has been anything but welcoming. The Sharks have traveled to the world’s most famous arena 17 times, and have only skated off with a win four times. They didn’t even win a game there until October 19, 1999, in San Jose’s eighth appearance in the building.

Madison Square Garden has been “King” Henrik Lundqvist’s castle against the Sharks. The king in the castle is also the moat surrounding it: In four career appearances against San Jose at home, Lundqvist has only allowed four goals.

The Sharks haven’t been able to solve his squires, either, losing games to two of his most recent back-ups: Martin Biron, now on television, and Antti Raanta, now in Arizona. Lundqvist will likely start on Monday night, but if he doesn’t, this is probably the one instance where San Jose wouldn’t want to face Ondrej Pavelec, even though he’s never managed to eclipse a .920 save percentage in a season.

That’s because the team’s most recent appearances at the Garden have been among their worst. The Sharks have been shut out twice in their last four visits to Manhattan, and have only scored five goals over that span. They did manage to win one game, thanks to a Lundqvist-like shutout from then-goaltender Antti Niemi in 2014.  

Martin Jones, on the other hand, has been decidedly unlike Lundqvist. He’s allowed nine goals on 55 shots in two road starts against the original six franchise, good for an .837 save percentage. The skaters in front of him exactly helped Jones, either. The Sharks have played from behind in their last two trips to Madison Square Garden, failing to score first and trailing after the first two periods both times.

Those recent struggles are especially strange, given Peter DeBoer’s relative success in the building. He won big road games against the Rangers before assuming his role behind the Sharks’ bench, most notably two in the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals, when DeBoer’s Devils upset the top-seeded Rangers. Once you coach this team in that arena, though, all bets are off.

Somehow, in a month known for horror, there may be nothing scarier than the thought of the Sharks playing in Madison Square Garden.