San Jose Sharks v Chicago Blackhawks

Chicago’s big guns best San Jose’s stars in 6-3 victory

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I’m not a statistician, but your team’s odds for a victory must skyrocket when one player produces four assists during a single period. Normally, Patrick Sharp plays the role of sniper for the Chicago Blackhawks, but tonight he was the one making the precise passes. The 2011 All-Star Game MVP earned four helpers during a wild second period, as the Hawks out-scored the San Jose Sharks 5-1 in that middle frame and ultimately earned a 6-3 win.

Chicago 6, San Jose 3

Sharp wasn’t the only big-name Blackhawks forward to come through in what some might call a “statement game.” Marian Hossa began that wild second period with two power-play goals, Jonathan Toews continued his torrid run with a goal and an assist and Patrick Kane reached a career milestone with his 100th goal. Kane became the third youngest Blackhawk to reach 100 goals, behind two nobodies named Jeremy Roenick and Bobby Hull.

The Sharks’ big guns contributed, albeit in a losing effort. Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture scored one goal each for San Jose.

Antti Niemi performed outstandingly well against his old team in their first three meetings this season, but his former teammates gained a measure of revenge by chasing him from the Sharks’ net tonight. Niemi’s 25th consecutive start ended early, as he was yanked from the game in favor of former starter Antero Niittymaki about seven minutes into that wacky second. Niemi allowed four goals on 18 shots while Niittymaki was beaten twice on 14.

Corey Crawford has been a workhorse for Chicago in his own right, as he was the Hawks starter for the 15th time in a row. The surprisingly effective rookie won his 27th game of the 2010-11 season – one more than Niemi, by the way – after he made 33 out of 36 saves.

This win places Chicago in fourth place with 84 points, even if such a spot is typically tenuous. For the most part, the Blackhawks have been red-hot lately, as they even earned two points during their recent three-game skid. They’ve been especially stout at the United Center, winning five games in a row in the Windy City.

Every time it seems like the Sharks are going to run away with the Pacific Division, they seem to hit a speed bump. After producing an eight-game winning streak, San Jose went 1-2-2 in their last five games. They still have a three-point lead in the division, although the Los Angeles Kings have a game in hand.

In other words, this game didn’t solve anything for either team, but there shouldn’t be much of a question about how much of a threat Chicago will be if they actually make the playoffs.

WATCH LIVE: Bruins at Capitals – Wednesday Night Rivalry

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Even with two games in hand, some might be surprised to see the Washington Capitals tied with the Boston Bruins in standings points in early December.

That’s the case on Wednesday Night Rivalry, as a somewhat up-and-down Capitals team (which is glad to welcome T.J. Oshie back) hosts a Bruins squad that’s riding a three-game winning streak.

It should be an interesting matchup on NBCSN, which you can also watch online or via the NBC Sports App.

Click here for the livestream.

Rangers mostly dodge a bullet: Nash only expected to miss a week

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 06: Rick Nash #61 of the New York Rangers moves the puck along the boards during the second period against the New York Islanders at the Barclays Center on December 6, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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No one wants to hear “It could be worse” when injuries are really piling up, but … uh, it could be worse for the New York Rangers.

At least, it could have been worse for Rick Nash. The team announced that he’s only expected to miss about a week after undergoing an MRI related to a groin injury.

It’s been a redemptive season for Nash, so it’s nice to see that it isn’t getting totally derailed. Granted, injuries like these can linger even if a guy returns to the lineup, so we’ll need to see if he gets back to 100 percent.

The Rangers certainly aren’t at full-strength right now. Their laundry list of injured forwards is quite daunting, even for a team with vaunted depth at that position:

(It sounds like Pavel Buchnevich is still quite a ways from returning, sadly.)

Alain Vigneault sells the biggest benefit of these issues: opportunities for other players – including Oscar Lindberg – to step up.

“I just think this is part of the NHL and it is what it is. It’s there and you deal with it,” Vigneault said . “You get a lot of players at different times that wish that they can get more ice time to prove that they can have a bigger role and that they can do more. Well, no better time than the present for us right now.”

Double whammy to Habs centers: Galchenyuk, Desharnais out 6-8 weeks

MONTREAL, QC - NOVEMBER 08:  Alex Galchenyuk #27 of the Montreal Canadiens looks on during the warmup prior to the NHL game against the Boston Bruins at the Bell Centre on November 8, 2016 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Boston Bruins 3-2.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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Thanks to two knee injuries, the Montreal Canadiens suddenly seem pretty slim at center.

The team announced two unfortunate and strangely similar timelines for important centers: both Alex Galchenyuk and David Desharnais are expected to miss six-to-eight weeks with their knee issues.

It will be a challenge for Michel Therrien to make everything work, to the point where you wonder if maybe he’ll move a player from the wing to center (hey, Max Pacioretty DOES want an elevated role, if you believe the rumors about discontent).

Tomas Plekanec becomes that much more important to the Canadiens, and one might assume that Andrew Shaw may go back to the middle. LNH.com’s Arpon Basu listed some options, in case you’re more of a visual learner:

Yeah, not ideal.

The road ahead

It isn’t all bad news when you look at Montreal’s overall situation.

For one thing, they gave themselves a nice cushion, as they currently lead the Atlantic Division by five points. With four games in a row and six of seven at home, they may be able to manage these tough losses pretty well in the short-term.

The real challenges might come late in December and early in January. They play seven road games in a row – though with a break around New Year’s – and nine of 10 away from Montreal from Dec. 23 – Jan. 12.

While they’ve suffered some minor bumps in the road so far, this is their truest test of 2016-17. It should be interesting to see how they handle this.

Pre-game reading: On the Isles and John Tavares

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— Up top, that time John Scott was named MVP of the All-Star Game. The big man announced his retirement today.

— New York Post writer Brett Cyrgalis believes the Islanders must do a better job of surrounding John Tavares with talent. Otherwise, Tavares might decide to leave. The Isles are certainly going to be an interesting team to watch. There’s all sorts of speculation that the new ownership group wants to bolster the front office, with former Canucks executives Mike Gillis and Laurence Gilman hearing their names floated as potential hires. Tavares can become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2018, and just like Steven Stamkos not too long ago, other markets already have their eyes on him. (New York Post)

— Speaking of the Canucks, GM Jim Benning will not be approaching any of his players about waiving their no-trade clauses. That includes Alex Burrows, Jannik Hansen, and Alex Edler, three veterans who could theoretically be dealt to help a rebuild. “These are the guys we want to keep and build our young players around,” said Benning, who’s said similar things in the past. (The Province)

— Elliotte Friedman’s latest “30 Thoughts” includes a prediction that the NHL will be in Beijing for the 2022 Winter Olympics, but it remains to be seen about the 2018 Games in South Korea. “For the first time, I’m not so sure. The NHL does not like the IOC and the owners don’t like the toll this season’s compressed schedule is taking on the players.” Which begs a pretty good question — If the NHL skips out in 2018, will the IOC even allow NHLers back in 2022? (Sportsnet)

— ESPN columnist Scott Burnside thinks the NHL should take a pass on the 2018 Games. “When we talk about the Olympics in terms of growing the game, what game are we talking about growing? The NHL game and the Olympic one are sometimes mutually exclusive. Forget the time difference and the difficulties of scheduling Olympic games during North American prime time. The more important question — and ultimate incentive for owners — is: Did the Olympic games in Japan, Italy and Russia do anything to promote the NHL game globally? The answer is pretty simple: No.” (ESPN)

— Good news about Craig Cunningham, who’s been speaking with his Tucson Roadrunners teammates via FaceTime. “It was nice to see him smile. He was cracking jokes just as if he were here the next day. It was pretty funny. He said he wanted us to come pick him up and take him to the rink. He was joking around. Stuff like that.” (KVOA)

Enjoy the games!