Sharks Oilers Hockey

Around the rink – Saturday, February 5th

1:00 p.m.

San Jose @ Boston
For once, these two teams might have a game where Joe Thornton isn’t the focus of everything. Instead, you’ve got a pair of teams that are on fire of late. The Sharks have fallen into a nice groove and gotten back into the West playoff race while the Bruins are looking to keep a good thing going after flogging Dallas on Thursday night. The Sharks are going to have to hope Joe Pavelski’s return to the scoresheet can continue if they hope to beat the stingy Bruins. Pavelski’s importance to the Sharks has been obvious in how his struggles have also coincided with the team fighting to win games. Boston will be without Daniel Paille after he was suspended for four games following his awful blindside hit to the head of Dallas’ Ray Sawada.

2:00 p.m.

NY Rangers @ Montreal
The Rangers need a turnaround after dropping their last three games. Henrik Lundqvist was hard on himself after a disappointing loss to New Jersey on Thursday, expect him to be much better against the Habs. Montreal has won two in a row and they need to so they can keep up with the Bruins in the race for the Northeast Division. Consistency has escaped the Habs of late as stringing together wins for more than a couple games at a time has been tough lately.

3:00 p.m.

Anaheim @ Colorado
The Avs could use a break and they get one in the form of Jonas Hiller sitting this one out with fatigue. Colorado’s slipped back in the standings and their ability to play smart, consistent hockey has seemingly disappeared. Not a good sign for a young team. The Ducks meanwhile are looking to bounce back from a sound beating at the hands of San Jose on Thursday night. With Hiller not playing, the defense will need to tighten up while Bobby Ryan and Corey Perry do what they can to keep the offense rolling.

7:00 p.m.

Toronto @ Buffalo
Buffalo seeks to stay relevant against a hot Leafs team. The Sabres are going to have to be better than they were against Pittsburgh last night in blowing a 2-0 lead before falling 3-2 to the Penguins. Doing it against a Leafs team that’s rallying behind surprise goalie favorite James Reimer may prove tough to do. While it’s a home game for the Sabres, visiting Leafs fans tend to make it seem like a road game for Buffalo with the way Leafs faithful take over HSBC Arena.

Ottawa @ NY Islanders
Well, if there’s something to look forward to at all in this one it’s that Jason Spezza should be suiting up for Ottawa. It’ll be his first game since December 26th and in that span since he’s been out the Senators have lost 14 out of 15 games including their last eight in a row.. Yikes. Speaking of yikes, the Islanders are going without Rick DiPietro in goal for the next 4-6 weeks after getting his face wrecked by Brent Johnson in their fight on Wednesday night. Look for Kevin Poulin to get the start for New York in what figures to be a game only best served for the fans of each team.

Dallas @ Philadelphia
Dallas is smarting after the beating they took against Boston on Thursday night and taking on the Flyers doesn’t figure to make life any easier. The Flyers have won three of their last four games and still sit on top of the Eastern Conference. Dallas, meanwhile, has lost four of their last five.

Atlanta @ Carolina
Eighth place in the East is on the line and for Carolina it’s a huge opportunity to perhaps put the scare into Atlanta that their playoff spot they’ve been hanging onto all year long is not their right. An emphatic win by the Hurricanes could motivate Thrashers GM Rick Dudley into making a trade. Meanwhile the Thrashers have lost 9 of their last 11 games going 2-6-3 in that span.

Edmonton @ Columbus
Columbus seeks to keep a good thing going after shutting out Detroit last night 3-0. For the Jackets they’re not out of the playoff race in the West as every team except one is still in striking distance. The one team that isn’t is Edmonton. The Oilers had a valiant effort to try and come back against the Blues last night but fell short. Edmonton has lost 17 of their last 20 games and are riding a three game skid now. They’re playing for personal pride and looking to spoil everyone else’s season. Doing that to the Blue Jackets might seem especially cruel but it’s the sort of game that the young Oilers could use to snap out of things. Edmonton did beat the Jackets in their last meeting in December 6-3.

8:00 p.m.

Detroit @ Nashville
Jimmy Howard hopes to shake off a bit of a tough loss to Columbus last night but the Wings offense could certainly use a boost. There’s an outside chance of Pavel Datsyuk and Tomas Holmstrom rejoining the lineup for this game and having to deal with a tough Nashville team means they could use all the help possible. The streaky Preds come into this one on a four-game losing skid and their offense has all but disappeared in those games. The key for the Preds? Score more than three goals. In three of their last four losses they’ve lost either 3-1 or 3-2 (one loss coming in a shootout).

Minnesota @ Phoenix
Can the Wild keep it going? Minnesota is hot winning six of their last seven games while the Coyotes are cold losers of six of their last eight games. Lately, the Coyotes are getting outscored badly having given up 21 goals in their last five games (1-4-0 in those games). In Minnesota’s wins, they’ve been the definition of stingy having given up just six goals in their six wins including three shutouts. That doesn’t really bode too well for Phoenix on paper.

10:00 p.m.

Los Angeles @ Calgary
Calgary has won six straight and in heading back home to take on the streaky Kings, they’ve got a chance to catch up to Anaheim and San Jose who sit tied for fifth in the Western playoff race. Of course, L.A. is right there with them as well the catch being the Kings haven’t been on a tear quite as noticeable. The Kings, though, have won three of their last four and getting wins at the start of their 10-game road trip helps out. With things as tight as they are in the West, games like these make a huge difference over the long haul. Seems silly to say that now in early February but at the end of the season it’ll make a difference between finishing sixth, seventh, or eighth and being in the pits of the West.

Team Europe’s next challenge: Beat the unbeatable

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 24: Team Canada salute the fans following their 5-3 win over Team Russia during the World Cup of Hockey at the semifinal game during the World Cup of Hockey tournament at Air Canada Centre on September 24, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Dennis Pajot/Getty Images)
Getty
1 Comment

Team Europe has already done more than anybody expected them to do at the World Cup by reaching the Final thanks to their stunning overtime win against Sweden in the semifinal on Sunday.

Just getting to this point, after beating the United States and Sweden — two of the world’s biggest hockey powers — along the way is a major accomplishment that would have seemed to be a nearly impossible task just two weeks ago.

Now they have one more seemingly impossible task in front of them: Beat Canada.

And not just beat Canada, but beat them twice.

In only three games.

For any team in this tournament that would have been a tall task in the championship round. Not only does Canada bring an insanely deep roster to the table that has multiple MVP candidates, Norris Trophy candidates, and Vezina Trophy candidates on it, but their recent play on the ice matches the absurdity of the roster on paper.

They don’t just win, they dominate teams.

Since the start of the 2014 Olympics this is what Team Canada has done to its opponents in the two major best-on-best tournaments it has played:

  1. They are 10-0
  2. They have outscored teams by a 36-9 margin
  3. They are coming off of a semifinal game against Russia where they nearly put up 50 shots on goal in a regulation game
  4. They have allowed more than one goal in just two of those games, and more than two goals just once

The games haven’t even been as close as the final scores would indicate because the final scores haven’t always reflected the level of dominance on display. A one or two goal deficit against these guys and their style of play usually feels like a 50 goal deficit.

On paper, this seems like it should already be over before it even begins.

But the beauty of a short series is that even when the two teams don’t match up on paper, random things can happen, mostly because of the X-factor that is goaltending.

Right now Europe’s Jaroslav Halak is putting quite a story together in this tournament. He has helped underdogs knock off superior teams in the past when he gets on a roll like the one he is on now.

It is going to take all of that and more to help Europe beat Canada two times over the next week.

They have already done what seemed to be the impossible to get to this point. Now they just have to do what seems to be the impossible again.

Twice.

Jaroslav Halak carried Team Europe to the World Cup Final

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 25:  Jaroslav Halak #41 of Team Europe celebrates a 3-2 overtime victory over Team Sweden at the semifinal game during the World Cup of Hockey tournament at the Air Canada Centre on September 25, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Getty
4 Comments

Jaroslav Halak is doing it again.

He is taking an undermanned team, one that doesn’t match up with its opponents on paper, and carrying it to a level nobody expected it to reach.

He did it during the 2010 NHL playoffs as a member of the Montreal Canadiens when he helped a No. 8 seed upset that year’s Presidents’ Trophy winning team in the first round, and then the defending Stanley Cup champions in the second round. The Canadiens were mostly outplayed in each series, but Halak was so good, and so dominant, that it didn’t matter. He was the single biggest reason his team reached the Eastern Conference Final that year.

He showed how much of an impact a hot goalie can make on a team a short series.

He is kind of doing it again this year at the World Cup for Team Europe as it is now in the championship series getting ready to take on Team Canada.

The team in front of him isn’t getting outplayed to the same degree that the 2010 Canadiens were in those playoffs, but Halak has still been his team’s best player and the biggest factor in its current success. His .946 save percentage through four games is among the best in the tournament, while his 37 save effort in the semifinal on Sunday was probably his best one so far (and that includes his opening game shutout against the United States).

The European team has its share of forward talent up front. Anze Kopitar is one of the best two-way players in hockey and has been spectacular in this tournament. Marian Gaborik and Thomas Vanek are former 40-goal scorers in the NHL, while Frans Nielsen has always been one of the more underrated players in the league.

But the defense, even with a great player like Roman Josi, doesn’t really come close to matching some other teams in the tournament.

It has two players that don’t currently have NHL contracts (Dennis Seidenberg and Christian Ehrhoff). Zdeno Chara is 38 years old and has clearly slowed down from where he was a few years ago.

As a team, they have the oldest roster in the tournament, and based on their pre-tournament games it looked like they were going to be nothing more than a minor speed bump for the rest of their teams in their group.

Put all of that together and it put a ton of pressure on Halak to be on top of his game to give his team a chance to even stay competitive, let alone win.

He has done that and more so far in the tournament, and it is the single biggest reason the team that opened the tournament as the biggest long shot to win the whole thing (33/1) is in the final.

From a big picture standpoint Halak is not the best goalie in hockey. But sometimes in a short tournament all you need is a good goalie to get on a hot streak. And he is still capable of putting together those streaks that can carry a team, and he is doing it again in this tournament just as he did in the 2010 playoffs.

Stunner: Team Europe beats Sweden, advances to World Cup Final

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 25:  Marian Gaborik #12 of Team Europe is congratulated by his teammates after scoring a second period goal against Team Sweden at the semifinal game during the World Cup of Hockey tournament at  Air Canada Centre on September 25, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Chris Tanouye/Getty Images)
Getty
10 Comments

When the World Cup began earlier this month, Team Europe, a collection of players from eight European countries that did not have their own team in the tournament, was thought to be the weakest team in the field.

Not necessarily a bad team, but one that seemed like it would have trouble keeping up with the hockey superpowers that made up the remainder of the field. That thinking seemed to be confirmed in the pre-tournament games when the North American young stars team skated them out of the building in what the European team admitted was a wakeup call.

All of that is why they still have to actually play the games, and in a short tournament like this anything can happen. 

In this case, anything did happen.

Thanks to their 3-2 overtime win over Team Sweden on Sunday afternoon in the World Cup semifinals, Team Europe has clinched a spot in the World Cup final series and will take on Canada in a best-of-three round that begins on Tuesday night.

It’s been an incredible and almost unbelievable run so far Europe. They frustrated the United States in their opener and shut them out, beat the Czech Republic in overtime, and then on Sunday shut down Sweden to advance to the final. 

The biggest part of their success has to be the play of their goaltender Jaroslav Halak, who has been their best player the entire tournament.

On Sunday, he stopped 37 out of 39 shots and improved his save percentage in the tournament to .946.

The other big star for Team Europe on Sunday was Detroit Red Wings forward Tomas Tatar who scored a pair of goals, including the overtime winner.

After Marian Gaborik scored late in the second period to tie the game at one, Tatar opened the third period with a goal just 12 seconds in when he followed up his own shot and beat Sweden’s Henrik Lundqvist to give Europe its first lead of the game.

Sweden’s Erik Karlsson scored late in the third period to send the game to overtime.

Europe now haas to get ready to face a Canadian team that is 4-0 in the tournament and outscored its opponents by a 19-6 margin.

Canada beat Europe in the first round 4-1.

Sounds like Blues will be more aggressive

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 06:  Head coach Ken Hitchcock of the St. Louis Blues watches from the bench during the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on January 6, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. The Blues defeated the Coyotes 6-0.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Getty
Leave a comment

With their former captain now a member of the Boston Bruins and their coach on year-to-year deals, it’s appropriate to say that the St. Louis Blues are in a period of transitions.

It’s also a convenient choice of words, as it sounds like the Blues are going to change the way they transition on the ice.

That’s the indication given by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and players like Chris Porter approve.

“The play in the neutral zone will fit this team great with the speed and the size that they already have in place,” Porter said. “I don’t think it’s a huge adjustment for the guys, I think it’s just a little tweak here or there.”

Perhaps hiring Mike Yeo had something to do with taking a more modern approach?

Either way, getting more aggressive makes a lot of sense for the Blues, at least on paper.

With David Backes and Troy Brouwer out of town, younger and speedier players get to take more of a role. Some Blues fans will probably view this tweak – big or small – as a long time coming.

Of course, there’s a give-and-take when it comes to situations like these, and becoming more attack-minded sure makes retaining Kevin Shattenkirk that much more important. The underrated blueliner still expects to be moved despite being named an alternate captain, yet you wonder if these changes might prompt GM Doug Armstrong to try to pull some strings to keep him around.

(Giving Alexander Steen a contract extension means that much less room for the likes of Shattenkirk.)

Even if the Blues eventually need to part ways with Shattenkirk, there are some other nice assets who can use this change as a catalyst to push this team up another level.

In an ideal scenario, the Blues would enjoy those improvements and keep Shattenkirk to reap those rewards.