Pavel Datsyuk

Five Thoughts: Pavel Datsyuk continues to impress; Roenick sounds off on Patrick Marleau

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Last night’s incredible comeback by the Red Wings to beat the Sharks and send the series to a Game 6 has us really spinning our wheels about just what in the world is going on.

1. In a playoffs where we’re seeing unknown guys get a lot of the headlines while some superstars get ripped for not showing up enough, there’s one guy that continues to amaze and solidify his legacy as one of the best in the NHL. Detroit’s Pavel Datsyuk continues to do things with the puck and play the sort of game that just brings you out of your seat when he rushes up the ice with the puck.

During last night’s 4-3 Game 5 win over San Jose, Datsyuk was supposedly playing with a hurt wrist. He wasn’t doing his normal part in taking the bulk of faceoffs but instead was dazzling Sharks defenders with his ability to wheel out of a cluster of players and help set up the game-winning goal in the third period. His assist on Tomas Holmstrom’s game winner was his third assist of the game.

While Detroit is still down 3-2 in the series, should they find a way to get past the Sharks and deeper into the playoffs, his case for the Conn Smythe Trophy should write itself. For now, he’ll need to keep doing his superhuman things to try and force a Game 7 at the least.

2. Jeremy Roenick caused a stir with those watching the post game coverage on Versus last night. Roenick voiced his displeasure with the play of Sharks forward Patrick Marleau saying he played a “gutless” game and lacked the heart to help his team out. Roenick even went as far as to say that 19 of the 20 guys that suited up for the Sharks last night came to play. Never mind that he’s counting backup goalie Antero Niittymaki there as well (and perhaps that was intended)his takedown of Marleau is something we’ve heard from others before. While his words were harsh and Roenick being a former teammate of Marleau’s certainly adds to the drama, in this series he’s got a point.

Against Detroit through five games, Marleau has zero points and is a -2. Marleau did rack up five points (2 goals, 3 assists) against the Kings in the first round, but against Detroit he’s withered away and played very small. Marleau goes through fits like this in the postseason. Last year against Colorado he had a goal and two assists in six games but rebounded great against both Detroit and Chicago. In seasons previous to that, however, his track record shows that when the going gets tough, Marleau tends not to score.

Roenick took to Twitter to say that he wants to see Marleau play angrier and with a purpose because it makes him a better player. Perhaps JR’s words will give Marleau the spark he needs to prove Roenick wrong.

3. Detroit needed Jimmy Howard to play huge in Game 5. They didn’t necessarily need him to steal them a game, but they needed him to play huge. They got just that from him as he again faced over 40 shots (42 this time) and made 39 saves, many of them spectacular to get the win. The Sharks have been throwing tons of shots at the net in these playoffs and while Jon Quick suffered from that in the first round, Howard has thrived. Now that he’s getting the offensive support, the Wings are winning. With each of the games in the series being decided by one goal, it’s performances like last night that make all the difference.

4. The psychological mettle of the Sharks is something that many bring into question over time thanks to their episodes of playoff failure. They showed last year that they could get over such things when they struggled with Colorado in the opening round but ultimately won out before beating up on Detroit in the second round. Getting swept by Chicago in the West finals wasn’t a shock considering how good they were.

This year, the script started the same struggling a bit with the Kings. Now they’re fighting with the Wings and while still one win away from moving to the West finals again, dealing with the Wings is never a simple matter. These Wings, unlike last year’s, aren’t gassed from just making the postseason. The Sharks have a handful of players who show no mental blocks. Guys like Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture are too new to be affected by anything in the past. Still, the rest of the team tightens up a bit when things start getting tough. How they handle things going ahead is worth paying attention to closely because if Detroit keeps hitting them where it counts, history leads us to believe that’s really bad for the Sharks.

5. How the series between San Jose and Detroit might pan out could hinge on how some of the depth defensive pairs work out for both teams. We saw some bad play from Brad Stuart and Jonathan Ericsson for the Wings and from Ian White and Niclas Wallin for San Jose. Teams have taken advantage of those matchups and you’d better believe that Mike Babcock and Todd McLellan will be juggling things around to get their top guys out against them. It’s worth paying attention to in Game 6.

Patrik Laine to make highly anticipated preseason debut for Jets

BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 24:  Patrik Laine gives an interview after being selected second by the Winnepeg Jets during round one of the 2016 NHL Draft on June 24, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Jen Fuller/Getty Images)
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Anticipation has been building since the Winnipeg Jets officially took Patrik Laine with the second overall pick in this year’s NHL Draft.

On Friday, Laine, the highly coveted Finnish forward, will make his preseason debut for the Jets when they play the Edmonton Oilers in Winnipeg, as the home fans get the chance to take in the occasion.

The Jets have done a nice job of amassing good young forwards in their organization. Laine, who has the gifts to be a prolific scorer in the NHL, is at the top of that prospect list.

Winnipeg’s roster tonight also includes forward prospects Kyle Connor, Nic Petan and Brandon Tanev, not to mention more NHL experienced forwards like Alex Burmistrov, Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele.

Laine enters this season with high expectations placed on him from fans and media, after coming to the NHL following a standout career in Finland as a teenager. He’s aware of the expectations, but toned down the hype with the usual statements of just playing his game.

“Just be brave on the ice and show everybody I will earn my spot on the team,” he told reporters.

Laine has already seen game action this month. Not with the Jets, but with Finland’s entry at the World Cup of Hockey.

Following offseason knee surgery, Laine wasn’t happy with his performance in Finland’s first pre-tournament game. In three tournament games, Laine failed to register a point, despite a team-best 10 shots on goal, as Finland was quickly eliminated in the round robin.

Related:

Looking to make the leap: Patrik Laine

Murray: Ristolainen’s good-faith gesture unlikely to sway talks with Sabres

BUFFALO, NY - JANUARY 22: Rasmus Ristolainen #55 of the Buffalo Sabres makes a pass during the game against the Detroit Red Wings on January 22, 2016 at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Tom Brenner/Getty Images)
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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) Buffalo Sabres general manager Tim Murray tells The Associated Press he doesn’t believe defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen‘s decision to join the team for practice without a contract will have any effect on thawing negotiations.

With a big laugh, Murray on Friday said the only way Ristolainen could speed up contract talks is if “he got all lovey-dovey” and elected to take the Sabres’ latest offer.

Ristolainen is a restricted free agent whose rights were retained by the Sabres in June. After representing Finland in the World Cup of Hockey, Ristolainen reported to the Sabres on Thursday in what was regarded as a sign of good faith.

Though he’s not allowed to play because he’s not under contract, Ristolainen is practicing with the team and also taking part in meetings. Ristolainen is not making himself available to reporters.

Murray says he didn’t see anything wrong with allowing Ristolainen to practice, saying he’d rather the player be in Buffalo than working out elsewhere.

Murray says the two sides are still negotiating.

In three seasons, Buffalo’s 2013 first-round draft pick has established himself as the Sabres’ top defenseman. Last year, Ristolainen led the team in averaging more than 25 minutes of ice time per game, and led Buffalo defensemen with 41 points (nine goals, 32 assists).

Contract coming? Rakell’s agent negotiating ‘frequently’ with Anaheim

ANAHEIM, CA - NOVEMBER 30: Rickard Rakell #67 of the Anaheim Ducks skates during a game against the Vancouver Canucks at Honda Center on November 30, 2015 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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More updates from Anaheim, the land of contractual impasses…

Rickard Rakell, the still-unsigned RFA forward, sounds as though he’s closer to an extension with the Ducks than teammate Hampus Lindholm, who’s working out in Sweden.

From the O.C. Register:

Rakell has yet to resume his training after being unable to play for his homeland in the World Cup of Hockey. But it is believed that while the Ducks would prefer to stay lower than Rakell’s six-year, $24 million asking price, they’ve made more headway with the center’s agent, Peter Wallen.

In an e-mail to the Register, Wallen confirmed as much while saying Rakell has slowly started to work out again and will need “a couple of weeks” to get back in top shape. “Back negotiating,” Wallen said. “More frequently now.”

Rakell finished fourth on the Ducks in scoring last year, with 20 goals and 43 points, and led the team in game-winning markers. His emergence over the last two seasons — he had 31 points in 73 contests in ’14-15 — his age (only turned 23 in May) and his versatility (can play center or right wing) are the big reasons why he’s angling for a significant payday.

For Anaheim, it’s one of those problems teams wish they had.

Though they’re stretched thin financially, the Ducks have an arsenal of good young talent up front that will eventually replace the likes of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Ryan Kesler. Rakell is chief among them, and he’ll soon be followed by the likes of Nick Ritchie, Nick Sorensen, Julius Nattinen and both of the club’s first-round picks at this year’s draft — Max Jones and Sam Steel.

The key, of course, is keeping all those young guys in the fold.

And that starts with Rakell.

Related: Lindholm seeking eight-year deal from ducks, at least $6M per

Schwartz injury increases focus on Blues who could step up

CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 24:  Ty Rattie #18 of the St. Louis Blues passes around Trevor van Riemsdyk #57 of the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on January 24, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Blues 2-0.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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It was already going to be interesting to watch the St. Louis Blues without David Backes and Troy Brouwer.

Then came today’s news that they’ll be without Jaden Schwartz for at least the first two weeks of the regular season.

Now the focus really turns to players like Ty Rattie, the 23-year-old winger who’s piled up the points in the AHL but still has to establish himself as a regular NHLer.

Can he help fill the void?

“It’s him, it’s (Kenny) Agostino, it’s (Samuel) Blais, it’s (Magnus) Paajarvi,” said Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock, per In The Slot. “These are guys that, man, they can make our team be a little bit different here, quite a bit different and really be one of those teams where we’re dangerous right throughout our lineup if they can make the grade.”

Backes had 21 goals last season, while Brouwer chipped in 18. The Blues did partially answer their departures with the David Perron signing, but they’ll need others to step up as well. That includes veteran Alex Steen, whose goal totals have fallen from 33 to 24 to 17 in three consecutive seasons, and 20-year-old Robby Fabbri, who had 18 goals last season as a rookie, but has the talent to score more. Paul Stastny only had 10 goals last season. He can do better.

Schwartz, too, will need to stay healthy when he returns. He only played 33 games last season after fracturing his ankle in October. He has to be doubly frustrated after sustaining yet another injury in practice.

And, of course, Vladimir Tarasenko will need to keep scoring. He had 40 goals last season, the fourth most in the NHL. Any falloff there would hurt.

The Blues finished 2015-16 with 107 points, then made it all the way to the Western Conference Final for the first time since 2001. They still consider themselves Stanley Cup contenders.

But first things first, they have to get back into the playoffs.

“This is my sixth season in the Central Division and this looks like the most challenging year yet,” Hitchcock told The Associated Press yesterday. “The crunching between the top and bottom started last year, and it’s going to be closer this year.”