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.

Kraft Hockeyville: Blues beat Penguins in tune-up for season-opener

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Much like Sunday night, the St. Louis Blues will visit the Pittsburgh Penguins for a game in Pennsylvania on Oct. 4. With that in mind, the more heated moments from tonight’s Kraft Hockeyville preseason match might be fresh on the minds of both teams when the games start to count.

In this case, the Blues carried the play from a variety of perspectives, including the final score of 4-1.

The Penguins got the first goal when Jake Guentzel finished a nice one-timer sequence set by Sidney Crosby and Conor Sheary, yet St. Louis was able to leverage its possession advantages to goals that beat Matt Murray up high.

The first one came from a familiar face in Vladimir Tarasenko, who aims for a Maurice Richard Trophy in 2017-18.

The game-winner was from 19-year-old Jordan Kyrou:

Paul Stastny then iced the game with a 3-1 empty-netter with a little less than 30 seconds remaining. Dmitrij Jaskin then made it 4-1 with a nice, patient score with Murray sprawling on the ice.

Carter Hutton deserves credit for a sharp win, but the final score didn’t do Murray’s alert evening justice, as the Blues fired 45 shots on him. This was probably the save of the contest:

While the Blues and Penguins wanted to be alert in this one, the stuff they might remember came down to rougher moments. Things started to escalate when Crosby mixed it up with Alex Pietrangelo.

As a preseason contest, some of this will likely be forgotten by veteran Penguins and Blues, but the people of Cranberry, Pa. and Belle Vernon, Pa. won’t soon forget the Kraft Hockeyville experience.

WATCH LIVE: Kraft Hockeyville featuring Penguins vs. Blues

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The Pittsburgh Penguins are set to host the St. Louis Blues to celebrate the latest edition of Kraft Hockeyville USA, with the game beginning at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

You can watch it online and via the NBC Sports App.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Find out more about Kraft Hockeyville winner Belle Vernon, Pa. in the video above this post’s headline (and also in this post). The game itself is taking place at UPMC Lemieux Sports complex in Cranberry, Pa.

NHL.com captures some of the spectacle, as about 2,000 fans showed up and players signed autographs during what sounded like a very fun event.

Speaking of very fun, all signs point to Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin being among those players suiting up for the game itself.

Predators marvel at Fiala’s ‘beautiful’ work in preseason win

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Confession: It was difficult to shake the memory of Kevin Fiala‘s frightening injury from the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. If you need a reminder of the scary moment that ended what seemed like a breakthrough run, the video can be seen above this headline.

Another confession: personally, there’s been some concern about how well Fiala can bounce back, at least early on. One of the distinguishing characteristics of the young forward is his blazing speed; what if that’s been taken away from him?

Now, scoring two goals in the Nashville Predators’ 5-3 preseason win against the Columbus Blue Jackets doesn’t mean Fiala will avoid missing a beat in 2017-18.

Forgive Predators fans for getting excited, anyway, especially with goals like these.

Wow.

Filip Forsberg got borderline-romantic about what Fiala did on Sunday, and again, can you really blame him?

Again, the true tests for both Fiala and the Predators begin in October. Still, it’s better to look impressive at this time of the year instead of to go in slow (or injured, as the unlucky St. Louis Blues seem to be doing).

Gaudreau, other NHL players approve of crackdown on slashing

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When slash after slash broke one of Johnny Gaudreau‘s fingers, he called it part of the game.

The Calgary Flames winger known as “Johnny Hockey” is one of the NHL’s most marketable players, so broken bones should be a problem.

Slashing has become such a regular element in NHL games that it necessitated 791 minor penalties last season with countless more going uncalled. Gaudreau’s broken finger and Marc Methot‘s lacerated pinkie brought enough attention to the issue that the league is taking a stronger stand on flagrant slashing this year to cut down on injuries and obstruction.

“I think it’s tough for the refs to make those calls in games: You don’t really know how bad a slash is,” said Gaudreau, who sat out two and a half weeks after surgery to repair a fractured finger on his left hand. “But if they can harp down or look at it a little more closely, I think it might cause a little less injuries. Guys won’t be missing substantial time. I think it’d be huge.”

It was impossible to ignore slashing when Sidney Crosby sliced Methot’s finger open during a game in March, forcing the defenseman to miss three weeks. No penalty was called, and Crosby didn’t receive any supplemental discipline.

After members of the league’s competition committee recommended a closer look at slashing, officials have been instructed that it’s OK to call it more this season. NHL director of officiating Stephen Walkom said the rise in slashing over the past decade came about after the stricter enforcement of hooking and holding following the 2004-05 lockout with players finding new tactics to slow the game down.

“Players started slashing in between the hands and on the hands, and the whacking became hacking became something that became the norm in the game,” Walkom said. “It’s time to have a stronger enforcement to let the players know what they can and can’t do. If you’re going to be whacking a player’s hands six, eight feet from the puck, there’s a good chance that you’re going to be penalized if it’s seen by the officials on the ice.”

So many slashing penalties were called in the first few preseason games that it was somewhat comical. Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere understands slashing but said he doesn’t know if it should be a penalty when no one knows why the whistle was blown.

Walkom sent a note reminding referees that the intent was to focus on slashes around the hands, not every time a player’s stick hits an opponent in the heavily-padded pants. Slashing at players’ hands will not only be an area of emphasis on the ice but also from the league office where new vice president of player safety George Parros is watching closely.

The former enforcer said slashes delivered with greater force or directed at players’ fingers will be met with fines and/or suspensions.

“We’re going to try and change player behavior,” Parros said. “We’re certainly trying to get rid of a pattern of a certain type of slash. If that’s like a harder slash on the fingertips as opposed to maybe in the elbow pad or something, that might be something we look at. And if it’s a pattern of a certain type of location slash or if it’s a pattern of a player, we’re going to look to eliminate both of those.”

Reducing unnecessary injuries is just one piece of this tighter enforcement. As with the crackdown on the hooking, holding and interference that mucked games up in the late 1990s and early 2000s, fewer slashes should open the ice up for offensive players at even-strength and potentially lead to more power plays.

“In some ways it’s going to put even bigger premium on getting body position and not being stuck in a position where you have to reach for a guy,” Carolina Hurricanes forward Jeff Skinner said. “Usually that’s a positive sign for getting more opportunities to produce.”

St. Louis Blues coach Mike Yeo said he already noticed players slashing less often a few games into the preseason. That’s one of the intended consequences of calling certain types of slashes more.

“The players are the smartest people in the game relative to the game and they will adjust because nobody wants to sit in the penalty box,” Walkom said. “A lot of it’s reflex and habit, but the players will break old habits with a consistent enforcement.”

Old habits die hard, but it’s easier than healing broken bones.

Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SWhyno

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