Vancouver Canucks v San Jose Sharks - Game Four

Five Thoughts: Sharks defensive issues as well as Dany Heatley’s disappearance

Game 4 of the Western Conference finals proved to be one of the oddest games we’ve seen all playoffs long. Vancouver was outshot wildly by San Jose, yet the Canucks won the game 4-2. Vancouver did all their damage on the power play scoring three times with the two-man advantage, a first in the playoffs. While there was plenty to like in Game 4 for Vancouver, there’s a lot to worry about for San Jose as well.

1. We’ve lauded Henrik Sedin’s play already here but after his four point Game 4 in which he assisted on all four Canucks goals it makes us marvel all the more about the job the Canucks previous opponents, the Nashville Predators, did to shut him and his brother Daniel Sedin down.

The Sedins relative quiet play against Nashville that saw them combine for two goals and five assists for the six game series is made to look even smaller given that Henrik has ten points in four games against San Jose.

The Sharks don’t have a defenseman like either Shea Weber or Ryan Suter that can shadow the Sedins, never mind both of them to team up against them. That one slight difference is making life especially hard on San Jose as they just don’t have the defensive stopper along the blue line. Douglas Murray does well enough for himself but he’s just one man.

2. San Jose may have dodged a bullet with Joe Thornton’s status for Game 5 still up in the air. Thornton taking his huge hit from Raffi Torres had to have terrified everyone on the bench as he was knocked out of the game. What they’re getting from him instead is a guy embracing the role of team captain.

Thornton could’ve let coach Todd McLellan do all the talking for him regarding his injury status but instead chose to let a Sharks beat reporter know that he’s feeling 100% fine and he’ll be in for Game 5. You don’t ever see players decide to do go out of their way to let everyone know how they’re feeling. Good for Thornton for doing this because the last distraction the Sharks need is to have the press flocking to get answers as to how Thornton’s doing.

3. It’s been just four games in this series, but can we put out an APB for Dany Heatley? While some like to focus in on how Thornton and Patrick Marleau are performing, the Sharks have been getting terrible efforts in every game from Heatley. Heatley has just one assist in this series and his effort level offensively has been virtually nil. Heatley is an important offensive part to the Sharks attack and while Thornton and Marleau earn the attention they get, Heatley hasn’t nearly heard enough criticism for his seemingly disinterested play on the ice.

Heatley has just nine points in all of the playoffs and three of those are goals. While Marleau, Logan Couture, and Ryane Clowe have been the goal scorers throughout the playoffs for San Jose, Heatley has been silent all through this series and for most of the postseason. It’s not too late for him to make his presence felt, but if he doesn’t want to be the focus of negative attention any more than he already is in ways, a huge Game 5 would go a long way toward that.

4. Game 4 spiraled out of control so quickly for San Jose in the second period. The Sharks had been playing a solid, tight defensive game through the first period. They got their chances to score on the power play but couldn’t do anything to score on it as Vancouver figured out what they had to do to slow down San Jose’s power play that entered Game 4 scoring on 46% of their power plays.

Conversely, San Jose’s inability to score on the power play turned into special teams problems on the other side as the Sharks gave up three 5-on-3 power play goals. The Sharks doing that against anyone will generally result in losing but doing that against the Presidents’ Trophy winners is really dumb. Special teams have been such a huge focus of this series and while the officials switched on and off between who they would book for infractions, the Sharks suffered for their sloppy play most of all. If nothing else, it was a highly veteran performance from the Canucks.

5. Of course, there was one item of note as the game concluded. Canucks forward Ryan Kesler attempted to show the officials what a perfect pratfall looks like as he goaded Sharks forward Ryane Clowe into taking a poke at him with his gloved fist in the face. Kesler fell to the ice as if he were crushed with a straight punch to the face. Kesler said after the game that it was a head shot and he hopes the league takes a look at it and perhaps takes action against Clowe.

That’s some solid spin doctoring from Kesler and even better politicking to try to win one in his favor. We love Ryan Kesler’s game the way we’d love ice cream cake at a birthday party but Kesler’s histrionics are maddening to see. The flopping to the ice is something we saw against Chicago but not again since then, at least not from Kesler. Having him take part in such bad acting makes us long for there to be another B-level film on TV.

You don’t see other players of Kesler’s ilk doing stuff like this and while we’re sure there’s a method to the madness as to why he does do it, it’s a part of his game we’d like to see him get away from as fast as possible. If you’re looking to dive to make things better for your team, you’ve got your priorities all sorts of wrong.

Trade talk: Who Oilers might deal, Eric Staal in limbo

Carolina Hurricanes center Eric Staal (12) celebrates his second-period goal with teammates, including his brother Jordan Staal, second from left, during an NHL hockey game against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013. The Penguins won 5-2. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
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As has often been the case, some big trades have already happened before the hype-soaked Feb. 29 deadline, but there’s plenty of speculation regarding what might happen next.

TSN’s Insider Trading segment is always a must-watch, so check it out right here.

To reiterate, the video’s worth watching in full, but here are some highlights:

  • The Edmonton Oilers shine as one of the most obvious “sellers.” Teddy Purcell could be a nice supplementary piece, yet Pierre LeBrun rightly points to Justin Schultz as the most interesting name.

He’s really received just about every chance you can ask for in Edmonton, but LeBrun notes that his confidence is “shot.” Schultz is a pricey guy to take on thanks to his qualifying rights; still, some team might believe that they can make that reclamation project work.

  • Andrew Ladd seems to be in limbo with the Winnipeg Jets, as it sounds like there’s the possibility of an extension or a trade.
  • Eric Staal‘s situation is murky, too. Bob McKenzie points out that Staal has control of his situation with no-trade/no-movement clauses, so he can dictate his future with (or without) the Carolina Hurricanes.
  • An interesting opinion raised by LeBrun: Mikkel Boedker‘s maybe the No. 1 rental forward.

Darren Dreger reports that Boedker is looking for a six-year deal with a $5.5 million cap hit (which would be $33 million), whether that comes from the Arizona Coyotes or someone else.

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Again, watch the full video, as a lot of names and teams are discussed. Plenty of things can happen, but we’ll ultimately need to wait and see.

Brian Elliott’s been steady for up-and-down Blues

St. Louis Blues goalie Brian Elliott (1) lunges to make a save against the Nashville Predators during the first period Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Sanford Myers)
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ST. LOUIS (AP) Brian Elliott is on a roll. Too bad the St. Louis Blues have little to show for it.

During a prolonged scoring slump, the veteran goalie’s play has bordered on spectacular. He has seized the opportunity since Jake Allen was sidelined by a knee injury in early January.

The 30-year-old Elliott has allowed one or fewer goals in regulation and overtime in five of his last seven starts, a run that has put him among the NHL’s best with a 2.07 goals-against average and .932 save percentage on the season.

“Fantastic,” captain David Backes said after Elliott’s latest standout effort in a 2-1 shootout loss to Winnipeg on Tuesday. “You can’t complain about our goaltending, that’s for dang sure.”

“Our goalie was our best player again. Played great,” coach Ken Hitchcock said.

The rest of the team is in the doldrums, and the bottom line is the Blues have lost four of six. The Blues have scored no more than one goal in five of their last six.

Hitchcock said the offense didn’t work nearly hard enough to sustain chances against the Jets, then put his players through a rigorous workout the next day to drive home the point. The defense is adjusting to expanded roles without Alex Pietrangelo, who is among the league leaders in minutes played but will be sidelined at least three weeks with a right knee injury.

Elliott describes Pietrangelo as the type of player who “stick handles in a phone booth” to get the puck out of the zone.

“Umm, we have some work to do,” Hitchcock said. “It’s pretty obvious.”

Elliott has thrived with a heavy work load and is set to make his 13th consecutive start on Friday at Florida. Last year, Elliott was an All-Star.

“It’s fun, it’s awesome,” Elliott said. “It’s why you play, to play the game and not to watch.”

Before relieving Allen on Jan. 8 in the second period at Anaheim, Elliott had played just three games in the previous 14. There was no question who was No. 1.

Whenever Allen returns, it’s liable to be more of a job share.

“You try not to think about the past and the future, you just focus on the present,” Elliott said. “I don’t really look at the stats, I just keep trying to be the rock back there for the guys.”

The last week or so, the 25-year-old Allen has been jumping into the latter stages of practices. Hitchcock said there’ll be something to talk about when he’s a full participant.

The team is hoping injecting Jaden Schwartz will help revive the offense. The speedy forward was third on the team with 63 points last season but has played just seven games this season and is coming off a 49-game layoff from a broken left ankle heading into Friday’s game.

“It doesn’t matter how many goals we score, you want to keep as many as you can out of your own net,” Allen said. “Obviously, we haven’t had a good amount of goals the last few games but we’re still coming out with some points.”

Despite the scoring drought, the Blues have kept themselves in the vanguard, picking up at least a point in 12 of the last 15 games. Nine of them have been decided by a single goal.

“Good teams get through tough situations,” Elliott said. “When things start clicking we’re going to be a dangerous team.”

Jackets sign d-man Murray to two-year, $5.65 million extension

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Columbus has agreed to terms with young blueliner Ryan Murray on a two-year, $5.65 million extension, the club announced on Thursday.

“Ryan Murray is a talented, smart player who has been a very steady performer on our blue line and we are extremely happy to have this deal completed,” Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen said in a statement. “Ryan has earned more ice time, showed steady improvement and contributed in all situations for us throughout the season.

“We look forward to his continued growth and development with our club.”

Murray, 22, was the second overall pick at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, taken one spot behind Nail Yakupov. While the first few years of his career were a disappointment — Murray missed a boatload of time to various injuries — his ’15-16 campaign has been a step in the right direction.

Murray has four goals and and 17 points in 55 games this season, sitting third on the team in TOI per game (22:27).

Of those numbers, the 55 games played is perhaps the most important, as it makes Murray one of three Blue Jackets – Boone Jenner and Gregory Campbell are the others – to have played in every game this season.

Considering Murray’s previous career-high for games played in a season is 66, he’s well on his way to breaking that mark.

Originally slated to become a restricted free agent on July 1, Murray is now locked in with Columbus (at $2.825M annually) through 2018. Of all the club’s blueliners, only he, Fedor Tyutin and Jack Johnson are signed for that long.

NHL confirms ’17 Draft for Chicago, an ‘ideal setting’

CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 18:  Owner and Chairman Rocky Wirtz of the Chicago Blackhawks prepares to speak to the crowd during the Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup Championship Rally at Soldier Field on June 18, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Well, it’s official — the NHL Entry Draft is coming to the Windy City for the first time.

On Thursday, the league announced that Chicago and the United Center would play hosts to the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, marking the first time in league history the ‘Hawks organization has hosted the event.

“The energy and passion Chicago has for the Blackhawks makes United Center the ideal setting for the 2017 NHL Draft,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. “The Draft will be one of the central moments of our Centennial, and the NHL family is looking forward to bringing this signature event to Chicago for the first time.”

Though it’s still far off — heck, the 2016 draft, which will be held in Buffalo this June, hasn’t even happened yet — the ’17 draft already has a few key names attached to it.

Chief among them is WHL Brandon forward Nolan Patrick, the son of ex-NHLer Steve Patrick.

Nolan, 17, scored 56 points in 55 games for the Wheat Kings in his first full campaign, capturing the Jim Piggott Memorial Trophy as the WHL’s rookie of the year.

He’s expected to be one of the top players selected in ’17, as is Timothy Liljegren, a defenseman currently plying his trade with Rogle in the Swedish Hockey League.