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.

U.S. women end drought, beat Canada for Olympic gold in a shootout

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GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) — The Americans’ gold medal drought in women’s hockey is finally over. They needed the first shootout in an Olympic women’s final to do it, too.

Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson scored a dazzling, triple-deke goal in the sixth round of a shootout thriller and Maddie Rooney stuffed the last two Canadians to wrap up a 3-2 victory over archrival Canada on Thursday.

The Americans piled over the boards, throwing gloves in the air before huddling and hugging on the ice – 20 years after the women’s last gold medal in women’s hockey and 20 years to the day after he men’s famous ”Miracle on Ice” victory over the Russians in group play at Lake Placid.

”I can’t put it into words,” defenseman Kacey Bellamy said. ”This whole year is for everyone that came before us. This is for Julie Chu (former USA team captain) and for all our families at home, the schools that we went to, everyone supporting us.”

Lamoureux-Davidson’s shootout goal was the talk of the game. She feinted a wrist shot, then drew Szabados out of the net by faking a backhand and came back to slide the puck past Szabados’ outstretched leg into the open net for the clinching score.

Gigi Marvin and Amanda Kessel also scored in the shootout, another nail-biter ending four years after Canada won its fourth-straight gold medal in Sochi after rallying to stun the Americans in overtime.

Monique Lamoureux-Morando tied it up with a breakaway with 6:21 left in regulation . Hilary Knight also had a goal, but Rooney was spectacular, making 29 saves for the win. The 20-year-old goalie stopped the last two Canadian shooters in the shootout in Brianne Jenner and then Meghan Agosta on her second attempt.

It was sweet redemption for the 10 Americans who watched the Canadians snatch gold away in Sochi. Not only did the Americans end the Canadians’ stranglehold on Olympic gold, they ended a skid of five straight against their rival coming into this game, including a 2-1 loss in the tournament a week ago.

”It is everything for our country,” U.S. coach Robb Stauber said. ”I am just so thankful for the outcome. It was a thrilling final. It was unreal.”

Marie-Philip Poulin and Haley Irwin each scored goals for Canada. Agosta and Melodie Daoust scored in the shootout.

The Canadians wept on the ice as they accepted their silver medals. Jocelyne Larocque took hers off immediately and held it in her hands as the Americans settled in to accept gold.

”It’s just hard,” she said. ”You work so hard. We wanted gold but didn’t get it.”

Added Canada coach Laura Schuler: ”There’s not a lot of words that can describe how you feel. It was a great game of hockey. It’s what we expected: back and forth hockey.”

The Americans had dominated the women’s game in non-Olympic years, winning the last four and eight of the last 10 world championships, including a 3-2 overtime victory over Canada last spring.

It only made the lack of gold at the Olympics all the more noticeable, and Canada has been in their way since losing the inaugural gold in Nagano in 1998. Canada had won 24 straight Olympic games to go along with those four consecutive gold medals – a streak of success in a women’s team sport second only to the U.S. basketball team’s current streak of six straight gold.

This was the eighth time these North American rivals had met in the Olympics and the fifth with gold on the line. None of the previous seven was decided by more than two goals.

U.S. coach Robb Stauber went with Rooney in net for the biggest game of her career – the goalie for each of the three wins against Canada last fall during a pre-Olympic exhibition tour.

Canada had Shannon Szabados in goal for her third Olympic gold medal game, and her teammates made her job very easy by keeping the puck in front of Rooney for most of the first period by dictating play. The Americans couldn’t use their speed or get organized even with two power plays until Sarah Nurse went in the box for interference late in the period.

Knight gave the U.S. a 1-0 lead with 25.4 seconds left in the first, redirecting a shot from Sidney Morin through Szabados’ pads to give the Americans a jolt of energy.

That lasted only 2 minutes into the second when Irwin tipped a midair pass from Blayre Turnbull over Rooney’s left leg for Canada. And when Morin lost the puck, Melodie Daoust grabbed it and passed to Meghan Agosta who hit Poulin for the wrister into the left side of the net at 6:55 for a 2-1 lead.

Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

The Buzzer: Miller steals one for Ducks, Vegas back in top spot

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

Player of the Night: Ryan Miller, Anaheim Ducks

The Anaheim Ducks picked up a huge win on Wednesday night in their quest for a playoff spot and they have veteran goalie Ryan Miller to thank for it.

They leaned on Miller to pretty much steal their 2-0 game against the Dallas Stars.

He ended up stopping all 41 shots he faced, including 24 in the third period.

It was during that third period where the Ducks were able to put the game away after killing a 5-on-3 power play that included a shorthanded goal from Ryan Getzlaf.

The Ducks have now won four games in a row and are just one point back of the San Jose Sharks for second place in the Pacific Division.

Vegas Back On Top

You just can not stop the Vegas Golden Knights.

Thanks to their dominant 7-3 win over the Calgary Flames on Wednesday the first-year team is back on top of the NHL standings with 84 points, moving one point ahead of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

It was another balanced effort from the Vegas lineup as they received goals from seven different players, including William Karlsson who scored his 31st goal of the season.

It is still amazing to think about the fact they only have 22 games remaining in the regular season and an expansion team is in a position to win the Presidents’ Trophy.

Their 84 points is now the most ever by an expansion team. That number will continue to rise.

Highlight of the Night

The aforementioned Ryan Getzlaf shorthanded goal was quite the effort!

Highlight of the Night Part 2

Ryan Carpenter scores this slick between-the-legs goal to get Vegas rolling.

Factoid of the Night

Reilly Smith scored his 20th goal of the season for Vegas on Wednesday night and gives Vegas five 20-goal scorers. Not many expansion teams have done that. Of course, not many expansion teams have been capable of doing a lot of the things Vegas has accomplished this season.

Scores

Chicago Blackhawks 4, Ottawa Senators 3

Anaheim Ducks 2, Dallas Stars 0

Vegas Golden Knights 7, Calgary Flames 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.

Trade: Kings get Rieder, Wedgewood from Coyotes for Kuemper

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

With the trade deadline inching closer the Los Angeles Kings made their second trade in as many weeks on Wednesday evening.

Let us take a look at the deal!

The trade: The Kings acquire Tobias Rieder and Scott Wedgewood from the Arizona Coyotes for Darcy Kuemper. Arizona is also retaining 15 percent of Rieder’s salary. He will be a restricted free agent after this season.

Why the Kings are making this trade: Let’s check in with Kings general manager Rob Blake for his take on the deal.

“We continue to look for opportunities to improve our team speed and Tobias will bring that dynamic to our club.”

Okay, that’s actually pretty important. A few days ago I wrote about how the Kings needed to hit the reset button on how they play because the league seems to have passed them by. They are not overly skilled. They do not have a ton of speed. They could use more in both areas.

Rieder, though having a really down year, could help improve that. He certainly improves the speed dynamic for the team and he seems to have the potential for a bounce back in Los Angeles because he is capable of more production than he has shown so far this season.

Kuemper has been great in a backup role this season so it’s a little surprising to see the Kings make that swap, but Rieder is at least an interesting addition.

Why the Coyotes are making this trade: That’s actually … a little bit of a mystery?

One potential angle on it is that Antti Raanta is an unrestricted free agent after this season while Kuemper is signed for two more years at a pretty cheap salary cap hit. The Coyotes make it sound like they still plan on keeping Raanta, but if nothing else this provides them with a little bit of insurance in case they can’t.

Here is Coyotes general manager John Chayka.

“Darcy is a big, talented goaltender who is having an excellent year. You need great goaltending in this league in order to be successful and with Antti and Darcy, we are confident that we have an excellent tandem for the future.”

Who won the trade? I like what it does for the Kings because they need someone like Rieder to step into their lineup. Someone fast, someone that still has the chance to score a bit more than they have shown this season. With Jonathan Quick locked in place for the foreseeable future Kuemper was never going to be anything more than a backup there so they did not really have to give up a significant piece.

Did the Coyotes give up on Rieder too soon? We will see.

[Related: Kings get Dion Phaneuf from Ottawa Senators]

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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.

U.S. women back looking for Olympic gold vs. archrival Canada

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) — To three-time Olympian Hilary Knight, the thought of finally hoisting the gold medal means giving women’s hockey a big boost in the United States.

How big?

Huge.

”The U.S. wants to be No. 1 in everything, and I think we’ve all been raised as awesome competitors so at the end of the day we want a victory,” Knight said. ”We want to win, and that would be winning a gold medal.”

That’s the only shade of medal that has eluded the Americans since 1998, the last time they won it all in Nagano when women’s hockey made its Olympic debut. They took home a disappointing bronze from Turin in 2006 and silver from the past two finals – no loss more crushing than in 2014 in Sochi when Canada rallied from an 0-2 deficit to win 3-2 in overtime.

Now the Americans have their latest chance at Olympic gold (Wednesday, 11:10 p.m. ET, NBCSN) against their archrival in a showdown Thursday that will include Marie-Philip Poulin, whose two goals snatched gold from U.S. hands in Sochi. She is back again as Canada’s captain.

”For me, it’s been a fairy tale for the last Olympics,” Poulin said. ”But it’s in the past now. It’s a new Olympics, and we have to bring our best game and go from there.”

This game once again features the only two nations ever to win Olympic gold.

Nothing less than a fifth straight gold medal is expected in the country that created the sport, and the Canadians have won the past four Olympic gold-medal games. Only the United States in basketball has dominated a women’s team sport more thoroughly with its streak of six straight golds.

The Canadians haven’t lost even a single Olympic game since the 1998 Nagano final won by the United States. Their streak stands at 24 consecutive games, including a 2-1 win over the United States to cap pool play a week ago. They’ve also won five straight over the Americans, including four exhibition victories in December prepping for the Olympics.

”Maybe I’m biased, but one of the best rivalries in sports and especially in our game,” said Canadian forward Emily Clark, who played college hockey at Wisconsin. ”So we obviously have a lot on the line, mostly pride. All of us are going to bring our best game.”

Yet the Americans have owned the world championships, winning the last four and eight of the last 10. That has only made the U.S. drought at the Olympics all the more noticeable and makes this game even more special.

”It’s been something I’ve been dreaming about since I was little,” said U.S. forward Dani Cameranesi. ”So it means a lot, and to be here with this group of girls and to be with them all year has really been an honor.”

The 10 Americans who lost the final in Sochi have left that game in the past. No need to waste energy dwelling on such a heartbreaker when the chance at history is at hand. Cameranesi is among 13 Americans on the roster at their first Olympics, so Sochi is just a game they may have watched on TV.

”We’re in South Korea, and it’s 2018 and you want a different result,” U.S. coach Robb Stauber said . ”They’ve put a lot of energy and focus into transforming things that they needed to get better at, and that’s now. You drop the puck, see what happens.”

When the Americans and Canadians play, it’s essentially a heavyweight bout even if nobody drops the gloves.

”Every single time we play them, it’s a big game,” Canada coach Laura Schuler said. ”You know the crowds there, people. There’s always pressure every single time when you represent your country and you play best on best competition. I think it’s something that we’re used to.”

Follow Teresa M. Walker at http://www.twitter.com/teresamwalker