Sharks struggle to start strong after Olympics

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sharks.jpgWith a respectable 3-2-1 record since getting back from the Olympics, you can fault most people for assuming that everything is fine at the Shark Tank. However, Fear the Fin’s Mr. Plank is not one of those people; he points out that the Sharks are clearly struggling (particularly early in games) and wonders how much longer the team can mask such blemishes.

I doubt I need to reiterate how important scoring first is to winning hockey games, but here’s some context– San Jose has a 77.4% winning percentage when scoring first this season, compared to a 51.4% winning percentage when giving up the first goal. Coincidentally, the Sharks are actually 2nd in the league in terms of being able to come back when trailing initially– silver lining again, but obviously not a situation they wish to find themselves in on the majority of nights.

… Overall, the Sharks have spent 42.06% of their game time tied, 42.35% down by at least a goal, and 15.59% with the lead.

They have three first period goals, two second period goals, and an astounding fifteen tallies in the third period.

Not to iodize old – yet still raw – wounds, but Sharks fans can’t be blamed for constantly waiting for the next shoe to drop.


In last year’s playoffs, they received what I felt was a really rough draw (would you rather play a loaded Anaheim Ducks team or two overachieving happy-to-be-there bunches in St. Louis or Columbus?) and bowed out in the first round. They’re once again fighting for the Presidents’ Trophy and are almost guaranteed to win their third consecutive Pacific Division title (not to mention their fourth 100 point finish in a row), but Sharks fans could care less. All they want is for the team to make the token “choking” jokes go away.

On some level, I wonder if the Sharks are simply bored. Yet again, the team ran away with what is actually a very tough division. Once more, they find themselves with nothing but first place in the West to fight for. As much as we like to think that effort, skill and coaching matter the most, there’s little question that hockey is also a game of bounces and (at least somewhat) of luck. Being the juggernaut that “cannot deliver when it matters the most” must be incredibly taxing.

Personally, I think the Sharks are as good a bet as any. Evgeni Nabokov can be overrated at times, but I’d still take him over Chicago’s goalies. If Marc-Edouard Vlasic can be healthy and rust-free by playoff time, they have a sturdy defense (even if it’s less dominant than years past). Dany Heatley can also take some of the pressure away from eternal scapegoats Joe Thornton and awkward Patrick Marleau.

Like any team, the Sharks have their issues but they’re still my pick to hoist the Cup (even if this very sentence does nothing to endear me to Sharks fans fearing a jinx, along with many people who prefer to lean on played-out punchlines).

Predators smash Sharks to get back in series

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After a dispiriting 1-0 goal allowed by Pekka Rinne, things were looking bleak for the Nashville Predators for a moment there.

Nashville’s developed into a resilient group, however, and they stormed back for a commanding 4-1 win to shrink San Jose’s series advantage to 2-1.

The Predators saw some of their big names come up huge as the series shifted from San Jose to Nashville.

Pekka Rinne looked sharp following that first goal (and didn’t allow another). Their goals came from James Neal, Colin Wilson, Filip Forsberg and captain Shea Weber.

Weber’s tally was the game-winner, and it was downright thunderous:

Another promising sign: after a struggling to a 2-for-31 clip in previous playoff games, the Predators’ power play went 2-for-5 in Game 3.

Overall, the Predators really couldn’t ask for much more from this win, especially if Colton Sissons is indeed OK after a scary crash into the Sharks’ net.

Things could get really interesting if Nashville manages to “hold serve” with another home win on Thursday.

Stars’ goalie carousel goes around again: Lehtonen replaces Niemi

Dallas Stars goalie Antti Niemi (31) subs in for goalie Kari Lehtonen (32) during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, in Dallas. The Stars won 6-5. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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It’s pretty tough not to make jokes about the Dallas Stars spending $10.4 million on their goalies at times like these, even if Dallas’ defense should shoulder plenty of blame.

After Kari Lehtonen was pulled from a Game 2 loss, the St. Louis Blues chased Antti Niemi early in the second period of Game 3 after Niemi allowed three goals on 12 shots.

Troy Brouwer‘s 3-1 goal was enough for Lindy Ruff to give Niemi the hook:

Unfortunately for the Stars, Lehtonen got off to a slow start as well, allowing an immediate Vladimir Tarasenko goal.

The Blues are now 4-1 and the Stars are searching for answers … and probably wishing Tyler Seguin was around to help them out-score their problems.

Islanders believe Boyle should be suspended for hit before OT goal

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Thomas Hickey is involved in a controversial hit, yet the greater debate may revolve around the one he received rather than the one he delivered.

In the second period, the New York Islanders defenseman connected for a thunderous hit on Tampa Bay Lightning forward Jonathan Drouin, which sidelined Drouin for a chunk of Game 3.

Many believe that hit was legal:

The Islanders are upset about the Brian Boyle hit on Hickey in overtime, which came moments before Boyle scored the game-winning goal. You can see the full sequence here, with the hit happening around the 50-second mark:

Islanders head coach Jack Capuano believes that it was a suspension-worthy hit.

You’re not going to believe this, but the Lightning disagree.

Boyle clearly didn’t receive a penalty on that sequence, yet one would imagine that the league will at least take a look at that hit.

Lightning take dramatic OT win vs. Islanders, go up 2-1 in series

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Brian Boyle was part of the fight before Game 3 even started … and then he ended it in overtime.

In a Tampa Bay Lightning win in which they just kept rolling with the New York Islanders’ punches, it only seems fitting that Boyle battled to land a big hit and then score the clinching goal for a 5-4 overtime victory.

This gives the Lightning a 2-1 series lead heading into Game 4.

Also fitting? Boyle landed a big hit on Thomas Hickey, the guy who sidelined Jonathan Drouin for a chunk of this contest.

That sequence prompted a brief goal review, but it ultimately stood:

(Was that Boyle hit on Hickey dirty, by the way?)

Drama was in the air from the beginning, yet Drouin really stole the show when he came back from what some believe was a concussion to assist on Nikita Kucherov‘s last-minute goal, which sent the game to overtime.

In some ways, this win feels like a microcosm of the Lightning’s season. They keep getting hit in the mouth with injuries and near-injuries, yet they just won’t stay down.

The Islanders saw three leads disappear in this contest, but one would think that they won’t roll over, either.