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.

The Buzzer: Kopitar keeps Kings rolling; O’Reilly gives Sabres OT win

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Player of the night: Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings. The Los Angeles Kings continued their impressive start on Saturday night with a 6-4 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets, improving their record to a league-best 6-0-1 through their first seven games.

Anze Kopitar was the star of the night as he finished with two goals, an assist, three shots on goal, a plus-five rating while also winning 68 percent of his faceoffs.

His second goal of the game, which came with less than three minutes to play in regulation, proved to be the game-winner for the Kings.

Dustin Brown added an empty net goal (he finished with four points in the win) a minute later.

Kopitar is coming off of a down year offensively in 2016-17 but already has 11 points (six goals, five assists) so far this season for a Kings team that looks to be vastly improved under new coach John Stevens.

Highlight of the night. 

For most of Saturday night it looked like the Buffalo Sabres were on their way to another ugly loss, continuing what has been a miserable start to the season. At one point in the second period they found themselves trailing by a 4-1 margin. But they slowly started to chip away then after Evander Kane scored a late third period goal to tie the game, Ryan O'Reilly ended up winning it in overtime on this beauty of a play to give the Sabres their second win of the season.

Factoid of the Night.

The Tampa Bay Lightning have two superstars at forward. They are playing like it. Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov are the first pair of teammates in more than 15 years to start a season with matching nine-game point streaks. [NHL]

Misc.

— Three more assists for Erik Karlsson on Saturday night giving him six on the season. He has played in two games. After major ankle surgery. He is not human.

Clayton Keller added to his rookie leading goal total with his sixth of the season. He is the one bright spot for the Arizona Coyotes this season as they remain winless after their 4-2 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks.

— With the first two-goal game of his NHL career Tyler Pitlick was the difference for the Dallas Stars in their 4-3 win over the Carolina Hurricanes.

Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak are both off to tremendous starts for the Boston Bruins. Both players scored a pair of goals for the Bruins on Saturday night in their 5-4 overtime loss to the Buffalo Sabres. Both players already have six goals on the season.

James Reimer was great for the Florida Panthers, stopping 41 shots in their 4-1 win over the Washington Capitals. With Roberto Luongo on injured reserve the Panthers are going to need a couple of big games from Reimer over the next week.

Mikhail Sergachev looks fantastic for the Tampa Bay Lightning. He is now up to eight points on the season.

Wayne Simmonds was the hero for the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday with a late goal to help lift them to a 2-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers. He is now up to six goals on the season. Claude Giroux scored his fifth goal in the win.

Logan Couture‘s hat trick was not enough to help the San Jose Sharks in New York on Saturday night against the Islanders. John Tavares had a goal, two assists in the win.

Scores and recaps

New York Rangers 4, Nashville Predators 2

Philadelphia Flyers 2, Edmonton Oilers 1

Buffalo Sabres 5, Boston Bruins 4

Tampa Bay Lightning 7, Pittsburgh Penguins 1

Ottawa Senators 6, Toronto Maple Leafs 3

New York Islanders 5, San Jose Sharks 3

Los Angeles Kings 6, Columbus Blue Jackest 4

Florida Panthers 4, Washington Capitals 1

Dallas Stars 4, Carolina Hurricanes 3

Chicago Blackhawks 4, Arizona Coyotes 2

Minnesota Wild 4, Calgary Flames 2

Vegas Golden Knights 3, St. Louis Blues 2

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.

Jaromir Jagr leaves game with lower body injury

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Calgary Flames forward Jaromir Jagr played just four shifts on Saturday night before exiting their game against the Minnesota Wild in the first period.

The Flames later announced that Jagr would not return with what the team is calling a lower body injury.

They had no other update.

After going through the entire summer unsigned as a free agent, Jagr finally landed a one-year deal with the Flames just before the start of the season. So far he has appeared in five games for the team recording a pair of assists.

He recorded 46 points (16 goals, 30 assists) while playing in all 82 games for the Florida Panthers a year ago.

Even though he appeared in every game a year ago he still showed some signs of finally starting to slow down, and you have to assume that there is going to be some sort of an injury concern for a player that is turning 46 years old in February.

Senators top Maple Leafs but lose Bobby Ryan for a month

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The Ottawa Senators’ 6-3 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night came with a price.

After the game coach Guy Boucher confirmed that veteran forward Bobby Ryan broke his right index finger during the game and is expected to miss at least the next month.

Ryan has yet to score a goal for the Senators in eight games this season but has recorded five assists.

He fought through an injury plagued season in 2016-17 that ended with one of the worst individual stat lines of his career. He was able to salvage the season however with a tremendous postseason performance that saw him finish with 15 points (six goals, nine assists) in 19 games as the Senators went all the way to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals where they would lose in double overtime.

The Senators are off to a great start this season earning at least a point in seven of their first eight games (4-1-3).

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.

The Penguins seem to have a backup goalie problem

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The Penguins worked to address one area of concern on Saturday when they acquired forward Riley Sheahan from the Detroit Red Wings.

Now they need to start working on another major area of concern — their backup goalie.

The Penguins had to know Antti Niemi was never going to step into Pittsburgh and replace what Marc-Andre Fleury gave them on the ice, but they had to be expecting a little more than what they have received thus far.

After giving up seven goals in the Penguins’ 7-1 loss in Tampa Bay on Saturday night, Niemi has now given up 16 goals in 128 minutes of hockey this season. His save percentage is a brutal .797.

In games Niemi starts the Penguins are 0-3 and have been outscored 22-6, losing games by margins of 10-1 and 7-1.

In the games he hasn’t started they are 5-0-1 and have outscored their opponents 24-17.

It would be unfair to put all of the blame on Niemi, because even with regular starter Matt Murray in net they have also had stretches where they have struggled defensively and not quite played at the level they showed the past two seasons.

Niemi has also made all of his starts in the second half of back-to-back situations against teams that were not only rested the night before, but also teams that should be among the best in the league this season (the Chicago Blackhawks, two games against the Tampa Bay Lightning).

But none of that can excuse the way Niemi himself has played thus far, either. At some point you  need your goalie to make a save no matter who your team is playing or what is happening around him. His rebound control has been shaky, he looks uncomfortable when he is making saves and it is not like he is coming off of a great performance a year ago. In 42 appearances with the Dallas Stars he finished with an .892 save percentage, one of the worst marks in the league, and was at .905 the year before. He is 34 years old and has not performed at a better than league average level (or even at a league average level) in several years.

It has to be an area of concern for the Penguins because if Murray has a flaw early in his young career it is that he has missed some time due to injury. In the past they have had Fleury there to step in. They do not have that luxury now.

Niemi is only signed for one year at $700,000 so it is not like they have a huge investment in him.

If they decide to go in another direction already (they will probably give Niemi a little bit of a longer leash, I am sure) they have Tristan Jarry in the American Hockey League, or perhaps explore a trade if they are uncomfortable with such a young duo and inexperienced backup behind Murray.

Either way, it is really difficult to see them sticking around with this sort of performance from their backup for much longer.

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.