Five Thoughts: Ben Eager’s rough night emblematic of Sharks struggles

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Game 2 brought more of the same for the Sharks against Vancouver that we saw in Game 1. For the Sharks that means a lot of bad things. Slow-footed defensive play, bad reads and reactions, and uncovered MVP-type players around the ice. Throw in the careless penalties and you’ve got an even uglier result. Of course there’s plenty to carve up after such a display in the Canucks 7-3 Game 2 win so let’s just get to it.

1. Ah, Ben Eager. Never before has a fourth line part-time goon made such an impression in the playoffs. After Eager’s brutal Game 2 performance that saw him nearly single-handedly derail San Jose’s chances, it’s tough to think that we’ll see him again in Game 3. After all, when you take six penalties worth 20 minutes in the box, including a late 10-minute misconduct you’re not really generating a lot of goodwill for your team. Two of Eager’s minor penalties turned out to be killers in different ways.

Eager’s boarding call in the second period against Daniel Sedin came moments after Patrick Marleau dropped the gloves with Kevin Bieksa as a means to spark his team after Vancouver had taken a 3-2 lead. Eager’s dumb move in trying to gain some retaliation against one of the Canucks’ big guns turned out to be deflating. Eager’s tripping penalty against Mason Raymond in the third period ended up turning into a Chris Higgins power play goal that sparked a four goal third for Vancouver.

Add in his nonsensical celebrating after scoring on Roberto Luongo with 2:33 left in the game and being down by four and you’ve got yourself a perfect goat for everything that went wrong for San Jose. Eager’s actions all game long were the exact sorts of things the team doesn’t need when trying to beat the best team in the NHL. Coach Todd McLellan says Eager is 100% ready to go in Game 3 so it will be fasciating to see just what we get out of him there. He can’t possibly have a game worse than he did in Game 2… Can he?

2. One reason why the Canucks are the best in the league are the Sedin twins and over the first two games of this series, they’re showing just why they’re so dynamic. Daniel Sedin has 2 goals while Henrik has a goal and 4 assists through the first two games. They were brutally damaging on the power play in Game 2 and in Game 1 it was all about Henrik getting things done.

After a Nashville series that saw both guys get shut down hard they’re showing how vitally important Shea Weber and Ryan Suter were to the Predators success. Even the Sharks’ one “shutdown” guy Douglas Murray couldn’t keep up with the twins tonight. That doesn’t bode well for the future of the series for San Jose. The Sharks will have to figure out some kind of game plan to keep them quiet. Perhaps getting the last change at home will be the switch they need.

3. While frustrations will always bubble up in a game where you’re getting smacked around late, there’s something to be said of the lack of theatrics in Game 2. No diving, no flopping around, no over-selling of any calls or potential calls. Instead, we got more of the old school agitation from the Sharks. The late game scrums, Eager’s nonsense, and lots of chatter between everyone. The Sharks kept trying to push the Canucks buttons and the Canucks resisted everything.

More than a few times in this game things could’ve gotten ugly as the Sharks kept trying to goad Vancouver’s pests into doing something stupid and none of them took the bait. Instead, the Canucks’ stiff upper lip turned out to be all the agitation they needed as the Sharks continually made mistakes and took bad penalties. For all the rightful flack the Canucks get for their theatrics, their calm, cool reserve tonight makes them seem more dangerous.

4. The Sharks have shown in their previous four games that when the third period rolls around, their legs get tired and the game slows down for them. In Game 2, however, the slowdown started in the mid-second period. The Canucks started to lock down the pace of the game and the shot totals bear that out as Vancouver outshot San Jose 14-9 in the second and then 11-9 in the third. With things only getting worse as far as that goes, it’s tough to figure just what coach McLellan can do to get things right to make sure the Sharks don’t fall apart late in games.

5. Once again during the postgame the topic of certain players not getting it done came up for the Sharks. McLellan said that the time has approached to stop hiding who his problem players are and while he wouldn’t admit who he thinks they are, it’s up to us to figure that all out. Right now, the top candidates in need for an improvement are Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi.

While the defense is having issues of their own, Heatley and Setoguchi haven’t produced offensively the way they’re both capable of. Setoguchi played great against Detroit but he’s been a total non-factor against Vancouver. Heatley’s been on and off most of the playoffs and the majority of that being mostly off. It’s a perpetual issue for him in the playoffs but if he can find that “on” switch at some point, the Sharks will be able to keep up better offensively.

Canucks GM wants Miller back, bringing rebuild into question again

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For one fine trade deadline, it seemed like the Vancouver Canucks and GM Jim Benning saw the light.

They actually moved veterans for assets, and interesting ones in that. They were, gasp, considered one of the winners of the trade deadline. There was the indication that a rebuild might finally be in action. Better late than never, right?

Well … maybe that was just a brief reprieve.

The Vancouver Province’s Ben Kuzma reports that Benning threw the word “competitive” around when describing why he wants to re-sign 37-year-old Ryan Miller and why he isn’t looking to trade valued defenseman Chris Tanev and declining blueliner Alex Edler.

Sensible if debatable

His reluctance regarding moving the two defensemen is easier to understand. Tanev, 27, is in his prime at a nice cap hit ($4.45 million through 2019-20). A competitive team would want him, and if Benning is convinced the Canucks are close to being just that, then it makes sense.

Edler staying is a little simpler. He has a no-trade clause and doesn’t want to go.

Now, one can argue that Tanev would be best served being moved for high-quality pieces. And perhaps Benning should at least try to convince Edler to accept a trade.

A strange direction in net

But Miller?

“As we’re transitioning these young players into our lineup, I feel that if we have solid goaltending on a night-to-night basis, we can be competitive,” Benning said Thursday, according to Kuzma.

Now, that story discusses why Miller may or may not accept a return, but one would guess that he won’t have a ton of offers. At least not offers that would involve a chance for more “platoon” or even starter-type work rather than explicitly labeling him a backup.

Really, that’s beside the point, because it’s confounding that Vancouver wouldn’t want to go in a younger direction.

You can read that sort of discussion as the Canucks once again wanting to have their cake and eat it too. They seemingly want to “reload” instead of “rebuild.”

Perhaps there’s some smoke-screening going on here. Maybe Benning’s more interested in moving parts than he lets on; it could be that he wants to drive up Tanev’s price by playing coy about moving him.

Still, on their face, the comments don’t exactly inspire confidence for a fan base that must be getting a little irritated by management that, to many, seems delusional about this team’s potential.

Penguins’ Sullivan believes resiliency is ‘strength of this team’

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PITTSBURGH (AP) Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Chris Kunitz stood shoulder to shoulder at center ice as midnight approached, crowd on its feet, Prince of Wales Trophy in hand. Another shot at the Stanley Cup in the offing.

On the surface, it could have been a scene ripped from 2008 when the longtime Pittsburgh Penguin teammates earned their first crack at a championship together, the one that was supposed to be the launching pad for a dynasty.

A closer look at the weary, grateful smiles told a different story.

This team has learned over the last decade that nothing can be taken for granted. Not their individual greatness or postseason success, even for one of the NHL’s marquee franchises. Not the cohesion it takes to survive the crucible of the most draining championship chase in professional team sports or the mental toughness (along with a dash of luck) needed to stay on top once you get there.

So Crosby paused in the giddy aftermath of Pittsburgh’s 3-2 victory over Ottawa in Game 7 of the helter-skelter Eastern Conference finals to do something the two-time Hart Trophy winner almost never does. He took stock of the moment, aware of how fleeting they can be.

“Every series you look at, the margin for error is so slim,” Crosby said. “We’ve just continued to find ways and different guys have stepped up. We trust in that and we believe in that and whoever has come in the lineup has done a great job. That builds confidence. We’ve done it different ways, which is probably our biggest strength.”

And they’ll have to do it one more time in the final against swaggering Nashville if they want to become the first team in nearly 20 years and the first in salary-cap era to win back-to-back championships.

It’s a daunting task. When the puck drops in Game 1 on Monday night in Pittsburgh, the Penguins will be playing in their 108th game in the last calendar year, and that doesn’t count another half dozen for those who played in the World Cup of Hockey and a handful of exhibition games.

Pittsburgh, however, has survived to do something even Chicago and Los Angeles – who have combined for five of the seven Cups awarded since 2010 – could not in putting itself in positon for a repeat.

Credit coach Mike Sullivan’s ever-prescient tinkering with the lineups, including his decision to throw Kunitz back into the fray with Crosby as Game 7 wore on, an experiment that ended with Crosby feeding Kunitz for the winner 5:09 into the second overtime .

Credit goaltender Matt Murray, thrust back into the lineup when Marc-Andre Fleury‘s hot play that helped carry the Penguins through the opening two rounds finally cooled.

Credit a maturity – or maybe it’s wisdom – from the team leaders who watched the first half of the decade come and go with plenty of gaudy regular-season numbers but no Cup banners to join the one they captured in 2009.

Pinning down what changed is difficult. General manager Jim Rutherford’s ability to remake the team on the fly to build one of the fastest lineups in the league helped. So did Sullivan’s ability to cut through the noise when he replaced the professorial Mike Johnston in December 2015.

Yet the Penguins understand there’s something else at work too, a resiliency and accountability they lacked while falling to lower-seeded teams every year from 2010-14.

“I believe that the resolve and the resilience of this team is the strength of this team,” Sullivan said.

Both were on full display in Game 7.

Kunitz, who missed the first-round series against Columbus with a lower-body injury, returned to see himself bumped from the first line to the fourth, scored his first two goals of the playoffs. Conor Sheary, a blurring revelation last spring who suddenly found himself a healthy scratch in Games 5 and 6 against the Senators, returned to set up Kunitz’s first goal .

Justin Schultz, who has assumed the as the minute-hogging, puck-moving defenseman role held by the injured Kris Letang, returned from his own health scare and scored a go-ahead goal in the third period.

If the Penguins were a force of nature last spring while earning the franchise’s fourth Cup, this one is more of a throwback. More blue collar. More anonymous.

Some of the key cogs that helped Pittsburgh get to this point – rookie forward Jake Guentzel, 37-year-old playoff newcomer Ron Hainsey and career grinder Scott Wilson – weren’t even around last spring. Yet they and so many others not named Crosby or Malkin have become equal partners in pursuit of a title.

“This year it’s been back and forth, it’s been tough,” Kunitz said. “We’ve had great individual performances. We had great goaltending. It’s something every night.”

It hasn’t been pretty. So what? Perhaps the biggest sign of the team’s growth is it has abandoned the pursuit of style points for something far more tangible. Like a 34-pound piece of hardware, one Pittsburgh has no intention of handing off anytime soon.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

Breaking: Predators’ Laviolette has not tried Nashville’s ‘hot chicken’ yet

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Nashville Predators head coach Peter Laviolette dropped a bombshell on “The Dan Patrick Show.” Some of us are still reeling from the revelation.

It turns out that Laviolette hasn’t tried “hot chicken” yet.

Laviolette explained that, if he had the “bird that bites back” before a game, he’d be on fire behind the bench. Sadly, Dan Patrick let him off the hook and didn’t ask “Well, what about off days, Lavi?”

(They might not be on a lazy hockey nickname basis yet, though, to be fair.)

All kidding aside, Laviolette provided more insight on the Predators’ Stanley Cup Final run – and not a lot more hot chicken hot takes – in the longer interview below.

Note: This post’s author may or may not have gone a year in Nashville without trying hot chicken either. Hey, Laviolette’s been there for three seasons now. Way worse.

‘Making Gretzky’s head bleed’ wasn’t so easy for ‘Swingers’ filmmaker

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Remember that classic (and very NSFW) video game hockey scene from “Swingers?” The one where Vince Vaughn espouses the virtues of Jeremy Roenick? It was pretty great, right?

There was something so organic about two friends getting up to video-game shenanigans (and discussing which 16-bit era game featured the best pixelated violence), but apparently it was easier to set the scene that it was to “make Wayne Gretzky’s head bleed.”

The Ringer’s Achievement Oriented podcast caught up with Doug Liman (pictured with Jon Favreau in this post’s main image) for some hysterical background information on getting that highly amusing scene right.

“I had never actually seen Wayne Gretzky draw blood, but Vince [Vaughn] claimed he could do it repeatedly, so we put it in the script,” Liman said. “The actors are reacting to that. And then we’re editing the movie and I bring the [game console] into the editing room and we start playing it and we’re recording it onto a videotape so that when we get the one piece we need we’ll play that back on the TV and shoot it. [We do this] for, like, weeks. Nobody can draw blood. And I’m like [to] Nintendo, ‘Hey, can you give us the backdoor key to doing this?’ It wasn’t like we were having fun playing the game, because all we would do was pass the puck down and set it up for Gretzky to get the puck and then we would, you know, try to slam him into the boards.”

Like a rare athletic feat, they got it right, but don’t ask Liman to pull it off on a whim. Liman sure made it seem like they were lucky to ever commit that moment to film.

Liman explained that it was “infuriatingly fleeting” and not the sort of video game trick that you could make work over and over again once you learned the right combination of button presses.

This is some really funny, fantastic background information on the movie that launched the careers of Favreau and Vaughn. It also helped remind us of that golden 16-bit era of EA NHL games, whether you preferred NHL ’94, ’95, or ’96. (And so on.)

Liman also shares a very amusing story about how hockey video game skills don’t exactly translate to the real sport, so check out the transcript and the full podcast for more.

And, if you’re playing a modern game like NHL ’17, don’t pick on “Super Fan 87.” Be nice to your friends. That’s the money move.

Here’s the scene itself. Again, a warning: there is strong language and 16-bit “gore.”