Antti Niemi, Roberto Luongo

What Went Wrong: San Jose Sharks

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Another year, another playoffs ends with the San Jose Sharks getting bounced out unceremoniously in the Western Conference finals. This time the Sharks were bounced out in five games by the Vancouver Canucks and while it didn’t play out like the butt whooping a five game series might dictate it to be, the Sharks still had their share of problems that forced them to miss out on another opportunity to make the Stanley Cup finals. Making it this far in the playoffs is an accomplishment, but for San Jose they’re continued bridesmaid status in the West is getting a bit old. So what went wrong for the Sharks? We’ve got some ideas.

1. They couldn’t stop the Sedin line
Their first problem and their biggest problem was that they couldn’t do anything to contain Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin, and Alex Burrows. Those three combined for 24 points in this series alone with Henrik getting 12 of them (one goal, 11 assists). Getting picked apart essentially by one line and one defenseman (Kevin Bieksa and his four goals this series) shows that either those guys were that much better or a total lack of defensive ability and accountability to keep up with those guys.

Then again, getting beaten by your opponents best players when they’re the better team shouldn’t be that big of a deal but given how the Sedins were shutdown by Nashville (Shea Weber and Ryan Suter were indeed that good), perhaps a little more videotape scouting would’ve worked for the Sharks.

2. Defense not nearly physical enough
One major issue for San Jose is that they flat out weren’t physical enough to slow down the Canucks. While Douglas Murray served to be an imposing figure and dished out some monstrous hits of his own (18 in the series to be exact) the next few players that got physical were forwards. Ryane Clowe and Devin Setoguchi each were credited with 11 hits while Dany Heatley and Jamal Mayers were credited with ten each. The next best defensemen with hits were Niclas Wallin with nine and Marc-Edouard Vlasic with seven.

That lack of physicality along the blue line proved to be a problem in their own end because when you give guys like the Sedins the time and space to cycle they’re going to find ways to beat you. Sure enough that’s just what they did. Visions of the Sedins passing and skating circles around the Sharks zone should be enough to give Sharks GM Doug Wilson nightmares enough to do something about that during the offseason. Douglas Murray can do a lot of things but he can’t contain twins on his own.

3. Thornton and Marleau step up while others stepped back
It’s eerily similar how things played out in this year’s Western final as compared to last year’s that saw the Sharks bounced in four games. Last year Patrick Marleau and Dan Boyle were the only two Sharks players to do anything against the Blackhawks with Marleau scoring five goals and adding one assist while Boyle had five assists. This year it was all about Marleau, Boyle, and Joe Thornton.

Marleau had five goals and two assists against Vancouver while Thornton had a goal and five assists while Boyle had a goal and four helpers. Everyone else? Virtually non-existent.

Dany Heatley was an abject nightmare offensively adding just one assist during this series. He was so bad he was bumped down to the third line where he played better as a checking forward than he did as a guy meant to score goals. Considering he makes $7.5 million a year, he’s brutally overpaid to do that kind of work. Joe Pavelski has had his struggles since the first round and had just three assists against Vancouver. Devin Setoguchi only found the net once in this series after terrorizing the Red Wings and it took a risky play from Roberto Luongo to help make that happen. Rookie phenom Logan Couture was invisible for most of the series and even playoff-long hero Ryane Clowe had just two goals against the Canucks. With that sort of erratic help, it was the guys with the most belabored reputations that were left hanging once again in the Western Conference finals.

Marleau and Thornton historically get crap thrown their way for not playing big in the playoffs, but this time around they were let down by their teammates. For Marleau it’s especially painful as he took a beating for not playing big enough against Detroit for the second year in a row only to be one of the only guys to show up in the following round. Life is tough that way.

4. Antti Niemi wasn’t good enough
It’s tough when a goalie doesn’t have a lot of action to face over the course of a game and that’s certainly the case for Antti Niemi against Vancouver. Over the five games in the series, Niemi faced 153 shots, good for just over 30 shots per game. While that amount of work might seem healthy, the last few games saw Niemi lulled to sleep by the patient Vancouver attack. Niemi faced 38 shots in each of the first two games, 30 in Game 3, 13 (!) in Game 4, and 34 through four and a half periods in Game 5.

Niemi allowed 20 goals in the series giving him a 3.68 goals against average and an abysmal .869 save percentage, including seven goals against in Game 2. Those kinds of numbers aren’t going to win you anything in the playoffs. For as good as Niemi was against the Red Wings, he reverted back to the form he had against the Kings in the first round. That sort of play nearly cost the Sharks that opening round series and against a superior Canucks team, the writing was on the wall.

***

The Sharks have a good thing going there but they’ll need to make some small changes to be able to get out of the Western Conference next year. They’ll need to get a little tougher on defense, they’ll need to find a way to properly motivate Dany Heatley into being a full time scoring threat. Perhaps a little heart-to-heart with Patrick Marleau there would do wonders as Marleau, outside of the Detroit series, was great all season long. People will want to fully blame goaltending but Antti Niemi is solid there and more than capable of leading a winner. The Sharks will be back next year and while the playoff loser tag will hang around them, someday it’ll all come together.

PHT Morning Skate: Ben Bishop loves chowing down on delicious carbs

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–Lightning goalie Ben Bishop is a creature of habit when it comes to his game day meals. One of the things that’s consistent in his diet is the overload of carbs. Bread, pasta and oatmeal, Bishop eats it all on game day. Here’s a deeper look into his diet. (Sports Illustrated)

–Speaking of carbs, did you know that Alex Ovechkin always dreamed of becoming a pizza delivery boy? Okay, maybe not, but this Papa John’s commercial of him failing miserably at being a delivery guy is still pretty funny. (Top)

–The Edmonton Oilers made a huge move last off-season when they shipped Taylor Hall to New Jersey for Adam Larsson. The Oilers are currently in first place in the Pacific Division, but that doesn’t mean the trade has worked out well for them. (Sportsnet)

–Wayne Gretzky will appear on an episode of the Simpsons on Sunday evening. NHL.com provides us with a look at his appearance. “People argue about a lot of things, but they never argue about who’s the greatest hockey player. It’s always him,” Al Jean, who’s an executive producer on the show. “I don’t think there is anybody better at anything than Gretzky is as a hockey player. He had a lot of great stories, and it was a real pleasure to meet him.” (NHL)

–Oilers sophomore forward Connor McDavid has been fantastic this season, but “The Great One” still doesn’t think he’s the top player in the NHL. “Is Connor a great player? Absolutely. Does Connor have an opportunity to be the next Crosby? Absolutely. Right now, Sidney deserves to be known as the best player in the game,” Gretzky told ESPN.com.

–Yesterday, we told you that Blackhawks emergency goalie Eric Semborski will be getting his own Topps hockey card. Now, Puck Junk gives us the inside story on how the idea for the card came about. “It all came together pretty quickly,” said Mike Salerno, App Producer of Topps Skate. “We saw the situation in Philadelphia unfold over the weekend and thought it would make for a fun and unique card.” (Puck Junk)

Video: Max Domi hurt after big hit, fight with Garnet Hathaway

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Dave Tippett insists that, even though he suffered an upper-body injury, Max Domi has to play with the sort of edge he showed tonight.

But, yeah, that edge left him bleeding this time around.

As you can see from the video above, Domi and Garnet Hathaway engaged in a fierce fight after a hit by Domi. The Arizona Coyotes forward left the game and didn’t return with an upper-body injury, and is now considered day-to-day. The price of doing business?

Domi grabbed an assist during the game, so maybe this will be the sort of thing that helps him get back on track.

Speaking of back on track, the Flames are now on a five-game winning streak while the Coyotes dropped their sixth in a row as Calgary won 2-1 in overtime. Chad Johnson remains brilliant, Mike Smith keeps getting Arizona points (they may or may not actually want in the long run) and, hey, Dougie Hamilton is still a Flame:

Penguins keep pace with Rangers on top of Metro

SUNRISE, FL - DECEMBER 08: Bryan Rust #17 of the Pittsburgh Penguins takes a shot on Roberto Luongo #1 of the Florida Panthers during a game  at BB&T Center on December 8, 2016 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) Sidney Crosby is tied for the NHL goal-scoring lead, and the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins are tied atop the division.

They certainly impressed the struggling Florida Panthers and their new coach.

Sidney Crosby got his 18th goal and added an assist to lead the Penguins over the Panthers 5-1 on Thursday night.

Conor Sheary, Tom Kuhnhackl, Matt Cullen and Carl Hagelin also scored for Pittsburgh. Matt Murray made 28 saves.

The Penguins have won four straight, scoring 24 goals in the process. Pittsburgh had a 3-0 lead on five shots less than eight minutes in.

“It was nice to start with the lead. It was kind of weird the way things worked out,” Crosby said. “We didn’t have many shots, but we had a few goals right off the bat.”

Jaromir Jagr scored his 755th career goal, and Roberto Luongo stopped 25 shots for the Panthers.

Panthers interim coach Tom Rowe, who replaced Gerard Gallant on Nov. 28, made his home debut. The Panthers have lost five of six under Rowe, but managed a point in three of those losses.

“I thought we showed them way too much respect in the beginning of the game. We were back on our heels a little bit,” Rowe said. “Obviously, they’ve got two of the best players in the world and I think it could have intimidated some of our younger guys a little bit.”

The Panthers have lost six of seven.

“It’s a work in progress, I guess,” Rowe said. “We’ve still got a lot of young guys in the lineup.”

Pittsburgh took a 1-0 lead on Crosby’s goal 3:06 in. Crosby snapped a wrist shot from above the right circle that got through several Florida defenders and past Luongo.

Crosby is tied with Boston’s David Pastrnak for the NHL lead in goals.

“With us, we knew that they were going to be motivated,” Crosby said. “They’ve played a lot of close games lately, a lot of overtime games. When you get a new coach, everybody is trying to prove themselves. I think we expected a pretty tough game. It was just nice to get that kind of start.”

The Penguins extended their lead to 2-0 on Sheary’s tally. The initial shot by Sheary missed the net, but the puck came off the end boards and into the crease and was inadvertently kicked across the goal line by Luongo at 4:51. Crosby had an assist on the goal.

“(Crosby) is always the guy that takes the lead,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “His line gets us a couple goals early on and gets us the lead and speaks volumes for the leadership he displays night in and night out.”

Pittsburgh stretched the score to 3-0 when Scott Wilson‘s shot from the right circle deflected off Kuhnhackl and into the net at 7:34. The Panthers unsuccessfully challenged the goal, claiming Kuhnhackl interfered with Luongo.

The Panthers closed to 3-1 on Jagr’s power-play goal. Aleksander Barkov passed from below the right circle to Jagr in the slot, and his one-timer beat Murray at 6:17 of the second.

Cullen gave the Penguins a 4-1 lead at 5:48 of the third when he grabbed a rebound in front and put the puck between the pads of Luongo.

Hagelin added an empty-net goal with 32.9 seconds left to make the score 5-1.

Notes: The Penguins have gone 6-0-2 in their past eight games against the Panthers. … The Penguins sent LW Jake Guentzel and D Derrick Pouliot to AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. … Jagr has 1,882 points, putting him six behind Mark Messier for second place on the career list. … Panthers C Jonathan Marchessault missed his third game with a lower-body injury. … Former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield attended the game.

UP NEXT:

Penguins: Visit Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night.

Panthers: Host Vancouver Canucks on Saturday night.

It’s probably too early for Predators to worry about Rinne, right?

ANAHEIM, CA - OCTOBER 26:  Pekka Rinne #35 of the Nashville Predators looks on during the first period of a game against the Anaheim Ducks  at Honda Center on October 26, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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December hasn’t been kind to November’s player of the month so far.

Pekka Rinne helped hold the Nashville Predators together when they struggled early and then was there for their recent ascent, but coming into this season, many expected him to be a weakness for his team.

Especially worried types might wonder if “that” Rinne is returning after a tough Thursday performance in the Dallas Stars’ eventual 5-2 win against the Predators.

Rinne allowed four goals on 18 shots before being taken out of the game about six minutes into the second period. One of his best moments was this bit of unintentional comedy:

All kidding aside, it’s been a rough run lately, even if the sample size is small enough that it would be silly to panic.

While he did grab a win during this span, Rinne’s now allowed 12 goals in his last four games. That’s happened on 68 shots on goal, so he’d have a .823 save percentage for this span.

During his magnificent month of November, he generated an awe-inspiring .949 save percentage over 12 games.

Such a staggering disparity shows how wildly a goalie’s stats can swing thanks to an off night or two.

It would be foolish to overreact, but it’s a situation to watch as the Predators hope to round into a legitimate contender out West.