Five Thoughts: Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton are shaking off preconceived notions

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Here’s to hoping you’re all enjoying your day of rapture and knowing that if it all does come crashing to an end that you saw the San Jose Sharks play one of their best games of the playoffs last night. Sure that 4-3 final score made it seem a lot closer, but that was a dominant effort from the Sharks. Besides, if you’re going out in style today you can at least get one more hockey game in with Bruins-Lightning Game 4 going on at 1:30 p.m. ET on NBC. As for more from last night, here’s some thoughts you could give a penny for.

1. Patrick Marleau sure picked a great time to go on one of his patented hot streaks. Marleau’s two goals last night now gives him five in his last four games and it all goes back to the goal he had in Game 7 against Detroit. Sometimes it doesn’t take much to get the ship righted, and for Marleau it only took a rebound tap in to get him rolling once again. Oddly enough, we saw this same sort of thing happen for him last season in the playoffs.

After two rounds of the playoffs last year against Colorado and Detroit, Marleau scored just three goals and four assists in the ten games he played in there (missing one against Detroit). In the conference finals where San Jose bowed out to Chicago in four games, however, Marleau went off scoring five goals and assisting on one other. It can be frustrating to have a guy be so streaky, but similarly to last season, Marleau is the one guy showing up consistently in the conference finals yet again.

2. Speaking of showing up in the playoffs and destroying previous notions, there’s Joe Thornton. Thornton added three assists to his playoff point total in last night’s win giving him 17 points in these playoffs. That total puts him on top of the leaderboard for points scored for the postseason and given his snarly leadership in these playoffs, this isn’t the Joe Thornton you’re used to seeing from the past.

This version of Joe Thornton is playing with a focused determination that’s giving the Sharks the sort of edge they’ve needed out of him (and others) for some time now. Thornton, meanwhile, is doing the sort of thing he’s always done in the past for the regular season. He’s doing the majority of his damage in setting up teammates for goals while adding a defensive element to his game that helps make life tough on opposing scoring forwards. During Game 3, coach Todd McLellan was making sure that Thornton was shadowing the Sedins line. Their line on the night? One goal from Alex Burrows and one assist on the power play from Henrik Sedin. Keeping Henrik and Daniel Sedin off the score sheet like that is something the Sharks will take every time.

3. One thing that’s been easy to see that makes a world of difference so far for San Jose is how effective their power play is against Vancouver. Last night in Game 3, Vancouver couldn’t get out of their own way and the Sharks took advantage going 3-10 with the man advantage. In Games 1 and 2 they combined to go 3-3 on the power play.

Going 6-13 in a series is an unreal amount of production and points toward a major problem in how Vancouver is defending against the power play. After all, going 46% on the power play isn’t a normal thing and while you’d like to think that statistical correction will eventually come into play here, if there’s a weakness the Sharks have found in the Canucks’ game they’re in big trouble.

4. It should come as no surprise that the Sharks scratched Ben Eager in Game 3. That said, McLellan opting to shake up his entire fourth line by bringing three new guys into the mix was a bit of a stunner. McLellan did a lot to praise Eager’s game after his monumentally dumb Game 2 saying that the physical edge he provides is something he likes to see out of him and that if he could cut out on the penalties he’s an asset to the team.

Instead, with the team down 2-0 in the series and special teams proving to be a huge factor through the first two games, McLellan knew that having a guy out there that handed power plays to the Canucks like they were candy was a bad idea. I’d like to think we may not see Eager back out there for a bit, but Jamie McGinn (one of the three new players inserted into the lineup) took a bad penalty of his own that gave Vancouver a five minute power play late. On the major the Canucks scored twice and narrowed the deficit to one. Those sorts of mistakes won’t cut it in the playoffs and McGinn  has twice taken majors in the playoffs. For guys that only played up to six minutes in the game, they had a major impact on it. Every little bit counts.

5. Looking for a positive from the Canucks? How about Kevin Bieksa. Bieksa’s play all season long has been that of a man motivated to prove his worth. After all the trade rumors he had during the offseason about how the Canucks were going to have to get rid of someone making a good chunk of money, Bieksa’s play has made him a force along the blue line.

Bieksa scored his fourth goal of the playoffs in the third period to make it 4-3 San Jose and that gave him eight points in these playoffs. He’s provided offense, a physical presence, and been perhaps the most consistent player in Vancouver’s defensive corps. He’s able to play the physical game with an edge but one that doesn’t go too far and means he’s costing his team with it. In short, he’s giving the Canucks the kind of play from a defenseman that you dream of in the playoffs. If they can get the others to follow his lead, they’ll be sitting pretty the rest of the way.

Penguins will be without Evgeni Malkin in Game 6; Patric Hornqvist returns

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The Pittsburgh Penguins have another opportunity to try and win their first-round series against the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday afternoon. If they do it they are going to have to do so without one of their top players, Evgeni Malkin.

Malkin did not take the pre-game warmups and will not be in the lineup after suffering an injury in their Game 5 loss on Friday night.

Here is a a look at the play where he became tangled up with Flyers forward Jori Lehtera in the first period.

Malkin left the game for the remainder of the period only to return for the second. He played the remainder of the game but did not get his regular workload and seemed to be struggling. After the game Penguins coach Mike Sullivan would only say that Malkin was fine.

Obviously he is not fine or he would be in the lineup on Sunday.

Malkin has three goals and two assists in five games this postseason.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Riley Sheahan took pre-game line rushes between Phil Kessel and Carl Hagelin in place of Malkin, allowing the Penguins to keep the Derick Brassard, Bryan Rust, Conor Sheary line together as it has played very well in this series.

While the Malkin injury is bad news for the Penguins they will be getting winger Patric Hornqvist back in the lineup after he missed the past two games due to an upper body injury.

Hornqvist is a difference-maker on the Penguins’ power play, a unit that struggled mightily in their Game 5 loss on Friday night, going 0-for-5 while also giving up a shorthanded goal. He will skate on the top line alongside Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel.

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Barzal, Boeser, Keller are 2018 Calder Trophy finalists

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Mathew Barzal of the New York Islanders, Brock Boeser of the Vancouver Canucks, and Clayton Keller of the Arizona Coyotes have been named as the three finalists for the 2018 Calder Trophy. The award is voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers Association and given “to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition in the National Hockey League.”

This year’s rookie class was dynamic and while Barzal, Boeser and Keller get to go to Las Vegas, you could easily make cases for Yanni Gourde (25 goals, 64 points), Kyle Connor (rookie best 31 goals) and Charlie McAvoy (32 points, 22:09 TOI), among others, to be included.

The winner will be announced during the NHL Awards show on June 20.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

The Case for Mathew Barzal: The Islanders forward went the first five games of the season without a point, but once he got going, he was an offensive force. Barzal led all rookies with 85 points and 27 power play points, and finished sixth in goals with 22. He was also the only rookie to average over a point per game (1.04). One of the highlights of Barzal’s rookie resume is that he recorded three 5-point games, making him the second rookie in league history to achieve the feat. The last to do it? Joe Malone in the NHL’s first season of 1917-18.

The Case for Brock Boeser: Injury cut short Boeser’s season, allowing him only to play 62 games, but it was still an impressive rookie campaign for the owner of the one of the league’s top flows. Boeser finished second in goals with 29 and fifth in points with 55. He led all rookies in power play goals (10) and was tied for second in power play points (23). In January, Boeser joined Mario Lemieux as the only rookies to take home MVP honors at the NHL All-Star Game one night after taking home the Accuracy Shooting title during the NHL Skills Competition in Tampa.

The Case for Clayton Keller: The Coyotes forward finished tops in average ice time among rookie forwards (18:05) and shots (212), second in points (65) and assists (42), third in power play points (20) and fifth in goals (23). He also led Arizona in goals, assists and points and recorded a 10-game point streak, which tied him for the third-longest in franchise history.

2018 NHL Award finalists
King Clancy (Monday)
Bill Masterton Trophy
Lady Byng Trophy
Norris Trophy
Selke Trophy
Vezina Trophy

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

WATCH LIVE: Flyers, Avalanche attempt to force Game 7s

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Game 6: Pittsburgh Penguins at Philadelphia Flyers, 3 p.m. ET (Penguins lead 3-2)
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Call: John Forslund, Eddie Olczyk, Pierre McGuire
Series preview
Stream here

Game 6: Nashville Predators at Colorado Avalanche, 7 p.m. ET (Predators lead 3-2)
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Call: Kenny Albert, AJ Mleczko, Brian Boucher
Series preview
Stream here

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Vegas Golden Knights provide a new template for expansion teams

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Dan Bouchard can appreciate, better than most, the Miracle in the Desert.

He was a goalie for the expansion Atlanta Flames back in the 1970s, so he knows how difficult it is to build a competitive team from scratch.

”It’s astonishing what they’ve done in Vegas,” said Bouchard, who still lives in the Atlanta area, when reached by phone this week. ”I think it’s the greatest thing to happen to hockey since the Miracle on Ice,” he added, referring to the seminal U.S. upset of the mighty Soviet Union at the 1980 Olympics. ”It’s that good.”

Indeed, Vegas has set a new norm for expansion teams in all sports. No longer will it be acceptable to enter a league with a squad full of dregs and take your lumps for a few years, all while fans willingly pay big-league prices to watch an inferior product.

The Golden Knights have come up with a stunning new template for how this expansion thing can be done.

They romped to the Pacific Division title with 51 wins. In the opening round of the playoffs, they finished off the Los Angeles Kings in four straight games , casting aside a franchise that has a pair of Stanley Cup titles this decade while becoming the first expansion team in NHL history to sweep a postseason series in its debut year.

Imagine how storied franchises in Montreal and Detroit and Edmonton must be feeling right about now.

They didn’t even make the playoffs.

From Bouchard’s perspective, it’s all good. Vegas’ success right out of the starting gate will make everyone raise their game in the years to come.

”This will wake up the teams that are sitting on $90 million budgets and not doing anything,” he said. ”People will say, ‘If Vegas can do it, we can do it.’ That’s a paradigm shift in the game.”

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

When one considers how NHL expansion teams have fared over the years, the Vegas story becomes even more compelling.

The Golden Knights are the first new team in the NHL’s modern era to have a winning record in their inaugural season, a period that began in 1967 and encompasses 26 new franchises (including one, the ill-fated California Seals, who are no longer around).

Only six other first-year teams have made the playoffs – and that includes four that were assured of postseason berths in the landmark 1967 expansion. You see, when the NHL finally broke out of its Original Six format, doubling in size to a dozen teams, it placed all the new franchises in the same division, with the top four getting postseason berths even with sub-.500 records.

Until the Golden Knights came along, the Florida Panthers were the gold standard for NHL expansion. They finished one game below .500 in their first season (1993-94) and missed the playoffs by a single point. In Year 3, they had their first winning record and made it all the way to the Stanley Cup final, though they were swept by the Colorado Avalanche.

That remains the closest the Panthers have come to winning a title.

In Sin City, the wait for a championship figures to be much shorter. Heck, the Golden Knights might do it this year.

They’re 12 wins away from hoisting the Stanley Cup in a city that has always had a soft spot for long shots.

”We’re still a few wins away from this being a great story,” said goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, a key contributor to the Golden Knights success.

Even now, it seems like a bit of dream to coach Gerard Gallant, who thankfully will be remembered for something other than getting left at the curb to hail his own cab after being fired by the Panthers.

”When this all started in October, we just wanted to compete,” Gallant said. ”Now we’re going to the second round of the playoffs. It’s unreal.”

For sure, the Golden Knights wound up with a much more talented roster than most expansion teams – partly through astute planning, partly through getting access to better players as a reward for doling out a staggering $500 million expansion fee, which was a more than six-fold increase over the $80 million required of Minnesota and Columbus to enter the league in 2000.

The expansion draft netted a top-line goalie in Fleury, who helped Pittsburgh win three Stanley Cups; center Jonathan Marchessault, a 30-goal scorer in Florida who was surprisingly left exposed by the Panthers; and winger James Neal, who had scored more than 20 goals in all nine of his NHL seasons. It also provided a solid group of defensemen: Colin Miller, Nate Schmidt, Deryk Engelland and Brayden McNabb.

In addition, the Golden Knights wisely nabbed young Swedish center William Karlsson, who hadn’t done much in Columbus but became Vegas’ leading scorer with 43 goals and 35 assists.

”They’ve got some top centers. They’ve got some real good defense. They’ve got good goaltending,” Bouchard observed. ”They went right down the middle. That’s how the built it. Then they complemented it with the fastest guys they could get their hands on. They went for speed.”

Previous expansion teams didn’t have it nearly as good.

Bouchard actually played on one of the better first-year teams when the Flames entered the league in 1972. They were in playoff contention much of the season and finished with more points than four other teams in the 16-team league, including the storied Toronto Maple Leafs.

But that was a team that had to struggle for every win. The Flames had only three 20-goal scorers and were largely carried by their two young goalies, Bouchard and Phil Myre.

”We didn’t have a bona fide 30-goal scorer,” Bouchard recalled. ”We had a lot of muckers.”

That was then.

The Golden Knights have shown how it should be done.

If expansion teams are going to fork over enormous fees for the chance to play, they should have access to a much better pool of potential players.

They should have a chance to win right away.

That way, everyone wins.

Paul Newberry is a sports columnist for The Associated Press.

AP Sports Writer Beth Harris in Los Angeles contributed to this column.

For more AP NHL coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey