Vancouver Canucks v San Jose Sharks - Game Three

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.

Flyers enter bye week with major goaltending questions

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 08: Goalie Steve Mason #35 of the Philadelphia Flyers looks on in the first period against the Edmonton Oilers at Wells Fargo Center on December 8, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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The Philadelphia Flyers went into their bye week with just three wins in their last 14 games.

When they come out of it, they might also be out of a playoff spot.

The Flyers don’t play again until Saturday against New Jersey. They’re only one point clear of Carolina for the second wild-card spot, and the Hurricanes are surging.

“It’s definitely a tough stretch right now,” Flyers goalie Steve Mason said, per CSN Philly. “Not proud of the way things are going. Kind of have to step back here and get away for a few days, which will be good I think at this point in time. Just come back and reset.”

Mason allowed five goals on just 17 shots in Sunday’s 5-0 loss to Washington. It was the second straight game he didn’t finish; he also got pulled Thursday against Vancouver.

Looking ahead, if the Flyers don’t get better goaltending from one of Mason or Michal Neuvirth, they may have to consider recalling Anthony Stolarz from the AHL. Mason’s save percentage has fallen all the way to .897, and Neuvirth’s is even lower at .877.

Stolarz, 22, only made two starts when he was up with the big club, but both were wins and one was a shutout. When he was reassigned to Lehigh Valley of the AHL, he left with a .938 save percentage.

One even wonders if GM Ron Hextall might spend part of the bye week making calls to his counterparts around the league. Could the Blues or Stars be interested in Mason or Neuvirth?

At the very least, it wouldn’t hurt for Hextall to find out, if he hasn’t already. Because at this point, it seems very unlikely that both Mason and Neuvirth will be back with the Flyers next year. Each is a pending unrestricted free agent, and Stolarz has made a pretty strong case to be up in the show.

Related: Jake Allen knows he needs to be better

Rangers lose Raanta, but get Zibanejad back from broken leg

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 19: Mika Zibanejad #93 of the New York Rangers celebrates his first period goal against the Detroit Red Wings and is joined by Chris Kreider #20 at Madison Square Garden on October 19, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Busy little Monday for the Rangers.

First, the club announced forward Marek Hrivik cleared waivers and was sent to AHL Hartford — paving the way for Mika Zibanejad to return from his broken leg — then announced goalie Antti Raanta would miss the next 7-10 days with the lower-body injury suffered against Montreal over the weekend.

Plenty to unpack here.

Let’s begin with Zibanejad, acquired this offseason in the Derick Brassard trade. The 23-year-old suffered his broken leg back on Nov. 20 and has missed the last 26 games as a result — so, needless to say, New York is glad to have him back. He’d been producing very well at the time of his injury, with five goals and 15 points in his first 19 games as a Blueshirt.

But for all the excitement about his return, enthusiasm has to be dampened a bit by the Raanta injury.

Arguably the best backup in the NHL this season, Raanta’s gone 10-4-0 with a 2.23 GAA and .923 save percentage. He’s done a terrific job of spelling Henrik Lundqvist when called upon, and even had a brief stint of starts in late December before King Henrik resumed No. 1 duties.

With Raanta sidelined until the All-Star break, the Rangers have recalled Magnus Hellberg from the AHL.

Staal-Lindholm-McGinn line doing the business in Carolina

DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 21:  Brock McGinn #23 of the Carolina Hurricanes awaits a face off against the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center on October 21, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Hurricanes defeated the Avalanche 1-0 in overtime.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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Bill Peters has found something in the Jordan Staal, Elias Lindholm and Brock McGinn trio.

The line, formed just a short while ago, erupted for 10 points in Saturday’s 7-4 win over the Isles. McGinn went on to capture third star of the week honors and, together, the unit has been a major reason Carolina’s knocking on the door of a playoff spot.

“They’re doing it playing against everybody’s best at home,” Peters said of the Staal-Lindholm-McGinn line, per the New York Daily News. “They’re taking on tough matchups each and every shift and more often than not, they win it.”

Given that Staal, the club’s top defensive center, anchors the line, Peters often uses it against the opposition’s top group. So full credit has to go to Lindholm and McGinn, especially given their relative inexperience — both are just 22 years old and, coming into this season, McGinn had all of 21 games of NHL experience.

He’s a pretty good story, to say the least. The youngest of the McGinn brothers — Jamie currently plays for Arizona, Tye is with the Lightning organization — Brock was the 47th overall pick in 2012, and has steadily progressed from a good scorer in junior, to a good scorer at the AHL level, to a good scorer at the NHL level.

McGinn now has 12 points in 27 games with the ‘Canes this season.

“Our scouts stepped up and took [McGinn] in the second round. He’s a little under-sized and he’s maybe not the fastest guy, but he’s got a lot of hockey player in him,” Peters explained, per the ‘Canes website. “He’s a very courageous kid, a very intelligent player, a lot of old school in him. He’s starting to play with way more pace now, which is a huge credit to him.”

As mentioned above, the ‘Canes are in a great spot right now. They head into today’s action just one point back of Philly for the final wild card spot in the East, but with three games in hand.

Carolina could vault the Flyers with a result against Columbus on Tuesday. It would be another big step in trying to get back to the postseason for the first time since 2009.

More good times in Washington, as Backstrom named first star of the week

Nicklas Backstrom
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The Caps have won nine in a row and catapulted to top spot in the NHL with 63 points, one ahead of second-place Columbus.

Suffice to say, folks are feelin’ fine in D.C.

Those good vibes continued on Monday, as center Nicklas Backstrom was named the NHL’s first star of the week.

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Backstrom led the League in assists and points with 3-7—10 in four contests as the Capitals won all four games to extend their overall winning streak to nine contests and propel Washington to the top of the NHL standings (29-9-5, 63 points).

Backstrom registered multiple points in all four games starting with one goal and one assist in a 4-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Jan. 9. On Jan. 11, he recorded one goal and three assists in a 5-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, followed by one goal and one assist in a 6-0 win over the Chicago Blackhawks on Jan. 13. Backstrom finished the week by notching two assists in a 5-0 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on Jan. 15.

In his 10th season, all with the Capitals, the 29-year-old Galve, Sweden native leads the Capitals and is tied for 10th in League scoring with 42 points (12-30—42 in 43 GP).

Backstrom, of course, wasn’t the only big story in Washington last week. Captain Alex Ovechkin scored his 1,000th career point on Wednesday, becoming the first player in franchise history to hit that mark.

The only negative thing coming out of D.C. is that John Carlson, who leads all Caps d-men in scoring, is out for today’s game versus Pittsburgh. Carlson’s absence will be brief, though, as head coach Barry Trotz expects him back in the lineup later this week.