Canucks embarrass Sharks 7-3 to take 2-0 series lead

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The game may have started out evenly between Vancouver and San Jose in Game 2, but it ended with the Sharks getting outworked again and ending up in a 2-0 hole in the series. It was an all-around dominating effort from the Vancouver Canucks in Game 2 that saw them beat San Jose 7-3.

Once again the game would start out evenly as the teams traded goals in the first period, one that would wind up with the game being tied at 2-2 after the first. Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau would score for San Jose to begin and end the period, but between those tallies, Vancouver would get goals from Daniel Sedin and Raffi Torres. For Sedin, it would be the first of two goals on the night.

In Game 1 of this series, San Jose wore down in the third period but tonight, the slow legs came out halfway into the second period and it would be Kevin Bieksa who got the Canucks ahead scoring a beautiful breakaway goal.

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Bieksa wouldn’t see his night go quietly the rest of the way as late in the second period and the Sharks obviously starting to sag a bit in their efforts, Patrick Marleau would grab Bieksa and drop the gloves in a rare display of pugilism by Marleau and a fight Bieksa would happily accept. Bieksa would finish up the night with a Gordie Howe hat trick after his goal, fight, and assist on Chris Higgins’ power play goal in the third.

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Just moments after that fight would end, however, Sharks physical forward Ben Eager would make his first negative contribution of the game when he would smoke Daniel Sedin from behind on a hit he was fortunate to only get a two-minute minor for boarding on. While Sedin wasn’t hurt on the play the officials didn’t toss Eager from the game for the terrible hit. As the game went on to the third period, the Sharks might’ve wished they had.

In the third, Vancouver would rattle off four straight goals including two power play goals, one thanks to another Eager penalty for tripping Mason Raymond as Eager kicked Raymond’s feet out from under him from behind. Vancouver finished the game going 3-7 on the power play and after their four goal third period binge held a 7-2 lead highlighted by the Canucks’ work cycling the puck leading to a goal from defenseman Aaron Rome.

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Eager’s night wasn’t totally over though as the hulking forward would manage to score a late goal off a nice feed from Joe Pavelski. What Eager did after the goal, however, proved to be yet another reason why he’s more trouble than he’s worth to have in the Sharks lineup as he celebrated with arms raised in the air as if a champion of the world as his goal made it 7-3 with 2:33 left to play in the game.

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Tallying up Eager’s night: one goal, five minor penalties, one ten-minute misconduct, 20 penalty minutes, and one major detriment to his own team. Even Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo (28 saves) told Versus’ Darren Pang after the game that in spite of Eager running him over to score late, he’s OK with him being out there because it means he’ll take penalties.

For San Jose the penalties were a major problem. You can’t give up power play chances to the Canucks all game long especially when you end up looking lost in your defensive end of the ice while the Sedins are working their puck magic all through the zone. Eager was bad with his antics, but for the whole of the game San Jose just didn’t compete the right way. What started off hopeful in the first period turned in the second and wound up ultimately being a beat down in the third. The Sharks have a lot of things to get figured out when they head home for Game 3 on Friday night.

Vancouver, on the other hand, looked like a team destined to make the Stanley Cup finals save for one glaring exception: Their penalty kill. San Jose converted on both of their power play opportunities in the first period and it gave them the openings they needed to put fear into Vancouver. The Canucks will have to tighten that part of their game up. To their credit, they didn’t take any penalties tonight while the Sharks went out of their way to try and goad them into further nonsense. As the game got further out of hand, San Jose kept trying and the Canucks kept refusing – a smart, savvy move by Vancouver to not give them the satisfaction.

It’s not over for San Jose by any means, but their list of things to get fixed in Game 3 at home grew a lot longer tonight. The Sedins have too much room to work, the Sharks defense isn’t nearly physical enough to keep them nervous, and the Sharks aren’t getting top performances from most anyone. Logan Couture, Joe Thornton, and Patrick Marleau were the only ever-present guys tonight and with the amount of talent there they need the others to play better and quickly.

Dave Strader and Brian Engblom from Versus recap Game 2:

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Here are all the highlights from tonight’s action:

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Flyers experiment with Claude Giroux at LW, Sean Couturier as his center

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Last season, Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier were on the ice at the same time during even-strength situations for just a bit more than five minutes. Depending upon how a Philadelphia Flyers’ pre-season experiment goes, they could line up together a whole lot more often.

Of course, if you missed this post’s headline, you might be asking: “But how? They’re both centers.”

Well, under this experiment, Giroux would move to left wing, Couturier would play center, and Jakub Voracek would assume his familiar role at RW.

Giroux came into the NHL primarily as a right-winger before moving to center, so he’s clearly versatile enough to theoretically work out on a wing. It also might allow the Flyers to try to duplicate some of their mad science from the power play to even-strength, as that’s often the role he finds himself in on that locomotive of a man-advantage unit.

As Dave Isaac of the Courier-Post reports, Giroux doesn’t seem against it, really.

“It was actually a lot of fun,” Giroux said. “It’s not like I’m against it or I’m not happy with it. If it makes the team better, we have a lot of centermen and I’m up for it for sure.”

Giroux is right. The Flyers have a glut of pivots, especially if head coach Dave Hakstol views additions Nolan Patrick and Jori Lehtera (or fairly recent addition Valtteri Filppula) as better fits down the middle.

NHL.com’s Bill Meltzer reports that Hakstol is impressed by Giroux’s willingness to move around as need be.

“When your captain is as selfless as ‘G’ is, he [goes] all in,” Hakstol said. “Whatever the role is, he’s going to attack it… It’s early, but he’s had a very high-level camp.”

Giroux’s been, at times, a bit more dependent on the PP to get his numbers. In 2016-17, five of his 14 goals and 26 of his assists (31 of 58 points) came on the power play.

Perhaps Couturier could do the “dirty work” associated with a center while two gifted wingers exploit their chemistry and get to have the fun? It’s the sort of hypothesis that can make sense in a hockey laboratory, and it would be entertaining to see if it works out in reality.

Assuming such a scientific method even makes it to October.

Brad Marchand: NHL crackdown on face-off cheating is ‘absolute joke’

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Earlier today, PHT’s own Cam Tucker discussed the early returns on the NHL’s plan to increase penalties for slashing and to cut down on cheating during face-offs.

(The video above this post’s headline provides a helpful primer on how officials plan on policing draws.)

So far, the face-off tweaks have one especially vocal critic in Boston Bruins agitator-star Brad Marchand, as CSNNE.com’s Joe Haggerty reports.

“The slashing [penalties] is one thing, but this face-off rule is an absolute joke. That’s how you ruin the game of hockey by putting that in there. They’re going to have to do something about that because we can’t play all year like that,” Marchand said. “Basically you have to be a statue. You can’t move. It takes away from the center iceman. I think there was even a play [in the game I was watching] last night where a penalty was called on a 4-on-4 before play on the first penalty had even started because of a draw.”

Gotta love the line “Basically you have to be a statue.”

Edmonton Oilers center Mark Letestu backed up Marchand in the “we can’t play all year like that” stance, asserting that he doubts a penalty like that would get whistled during a high-stakes game, as Sportsnet noted.

Here’s another perspective, via Edmonton Oilers head coach Todd McLellan.

Now, the new face-off rule might not have that huge of a direct impact on Marchand’s daily hockey life.

In 2016-17, Marchand went 13-23 in the dot.

It may, however, affect his fantastic center, Patrice Bergeron. The dynamic two-way center has been one of the best volume winners of draws over the years. Smarts, strength, studying tape and other factors go into winning as many as 60-percent of one’s face-offs, yet Bergeron and other top centers know how to “bend the rules,” too.

As much as analytics-minded people grumble about excessive attention being paid to face-offs, they’re events that can set up rare opportunities for set plays and other advantageous moments.

One can imagine that Marchand wouldn’t be pumped about the idea that, maybe, Bergeron’s dominance in the circle could be blunted, even ever-so-slightly or briefly.

Naturally, potential self-interest doesn’t disqualify Marchand and others from being correct.

At the same time, this is the pre-season, an opportunity for the NHL to work out its own kinks, which in this case means trying to manage rule tweaks while not disrupting the flow of games. Marchand is merely the loudest to say that … it sounds like the league might have some work to do.

Despite cancer diagnosis, Devils’ Brian Boyle doesn’t want to miss games

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New Jersey Devils forward Brian Boyle shared frightening news on Tuesday, yet he’s showing resounding courage and optimism in also plotting his “plan of attack.”

Boye, 32, announced that he was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia on Tuesday.

Chronic myeloid luekemia (or CML) is a type of bone marrow cancer. Here’s an explanation of the disease via the American Cancer Society:

Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), also known as chronic myelogenous leukemia, is a type of cancer that starts in certain blood-forming cells of the bone marrow. In CML, a genetic change takes place in an early (immature) version of myeloid cells – the cells that make red blood cells, platelets, and most types of white blood cells (except lymphocytes). This change forms an abnormal gene called BCR-ABL, which turns the cell into a CML cell. The leukemia cells grow and divide, building up in the bone marrow and spilling over into the blood. In time, the cells can also settle in other parts of the body, including the spleen. CML is a fairly slow growing leukemia, but it can also change into a fast-growing acute leukemia that is hard to treat.

Despite that scary news, Boyle is very positive about his chances; in fact, he hopes to live a “normal life,” right down to playing in the Devils’ season-opener on Oct. 7.

Back in 2014, Boyle discussed his father’s battle with cancer to ESPN. It’s quite an inspiring read.

We’ve seen multiple instances of hockey players showing resilience while fighting cancer during the active career. Mario Lemieux and Saku Koivu stand as some of the most memorable examples, while Phil Kessel also comes to mind.

Jason Blake bounced back from CML, specifically:

The number one thing isn’t playing hockey, of course. It’s most important that Boyle emphasizes his overall health, even if that means taking some time off.

The Devils seem to be very supportive of Boyle as his fight begins. Here’s hoping he wins this one.

Contenders should keep an eye on Jaroslav Halak

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Here’s a gut reaction regarding the 2017-18 season: there aren’t a ton of teams with unclear goalie situations, at least as far as who their top guy is.

Clear number ones

The Frederik AndersenJohn Gibson battle ended last summer. Promising backups like Cam Talbot, Scott Darling, and Antti Raanta got their shots or will be getting their chances to be No. 1 guys this year. Marc-Andre Fleury generously accepted becoming the face of the Vegas Golden Knights.

It doesn’t exactly make for a sellers’ market for the few teams who might want to part ways with goalies.

Petr Mrazek‘s mess with the Detroit Red Wings is the most pressing example, and considering the fact that he’s only 25, acquiring him could be a boon for another team, at least in a scenario (injuries and/or poor play) would call for such an acquisition.

What if the Red Wings would ask for too much? What if a team would, instead, like to monitor a diamond in the rough for the summer of 2018?

Halak could still be very viable

Jaroslav Halak should be on plenty of radars, especially if he gets his wish for a fresh start with the New York Islanders in 2017-18, as NHL.com’s Brian Compton reports.

“Obviously, last season was kind of a strange season, not only for me but for a lot of guys,” Halak said. “Now it’s a fresh start for everybody. But ultimately, it’s going to come down to our start too. Last season, we all know we had a bad start. We just need to make sure that we pick up points at the beginning of the season because that hurt us at the end.”

The Islanders have incentive to give Halak a chance, whether it would be to pump up his trade value or if Thomas Greiss struggles/gets hurt.

It would also be foolish to worry too much about Halak’s time in the AHL, especially considering how well he played for the Islanders late last season. Check out his split stats in March and April; Halak gave the Isles at least some hope to make an unlikely playoff push.

At 32, Halak doesn’t boast the same dreamy potential of Mrazek, yet he’s only a year older than Greiss.

The price could be right

With a nice .917 career save percentage and some playoff heroics in his past, Halak is the sort of goalie a team could call upon if their top guy falters or gets hurt. If a move were to happen around the trade deadline, his $4.5 million cap hit would be less of a problem.

On the other hand, if a team needed Halak earlier, the Islanders could conceivably retain some of his salary, especially if it allowed them to add a piece that might improve their team in other areas (and maybe help keep John Tavares happy?).

The goalie market could be interesting in the summer of 2018 if Mrazek and even Craig Anderson join the UFA ranks. Halak stands as a sneaky-interesting prospect then, but possibly sooner, for a team that might want to spend less (in assets via a trade or in actual money in free agency).