Martin Erat, Alex Goligoski, Jamie Langenbrunner

Martin Erat looks forward to healthier 2011-12 season

There are many wonders in the world of hockey. Off the top of my head, a few include:

  • Alex Ovechkin “only” scoring 32 goals despite playing 79 games during the 2010-11 season. (Don’t bet on that happening again until he’s in his 30’s.)
  • Quietly elite goalie Tomas Vokoun only receiving serious offers from two suitors.
  • Jose Theodore receiving a job as a No. 1 goalie and Ed Jovanovski signing a hefty four-year contract without the use of a time machine.

Those are some mind-melting thoughts, but they’re isolated to more recent times. One bewildering thought that always seems to work itself out – at least to some extent – is: “How are the Nashville Predators actually going to score goals?”

Slim pickings for offense

Martin Erat and Sergei Kostitsyn lead the team in points with 50 and Shea Weber tied Patric Hornqvist for second place with 48 last season. Despite these piddling top-end numbers, the Predators scored 219 goals in 2010-11, more than nine other teams. That being said, the Predators might actually be less potent next season after losing playoff standout Joel Ward and two washed up scorers in Steve Sullivan and J.P. Dumont.

Perhaps Ryan Ellis can swoop in and create some offense from the blueline if he makes the big club out of training camp (or maybe the Predators’ Big Three will be so motivated by contract years that they just won’t allow any goals), but it’s likely that the team will need to scratch and claw for most of their points once again next season. That means the team might need even more from Martin Erat, a player who has produced a steady stream of seasons in the 50-point range. (Which might be more like 60-point seasons in a more wide-open system, but that’s pure conjecture.)

Could next season be a career year for Erat?

From a point per game perspective, the 2010-11 season was the second best of Erat’s nine-year NHL career. He scored 50 points in 64 games (.78 points per game), second only to his .84 rate in 06-07 (57 points in 68 games).

An optimistic Predators fan might hope he can keep up that pace and produce a career-best campaign in 2011-12 if he could manage to stay healthy. Back issues plagued the Czech-born winger last season, but Josh Cooper reports that Erat is feeling refreshed this summer.

“I took a little bit more time off, just to get healed and on the right track,” Erat said. “I’m feeling OK right now and feeling good. Excited for being healthy next season.”

(snip)

So far this offseason, Erat said, he has mostly used lower-body weights in workouts and worked on his “explosiveness.” He also decided to work more on his midsection, in order to make sure the back issues don’t return.

“Right now it’s working for me,” Erat said.

Cooper points out that although Erat’s cap hit is a reasonable $4.5 million, the 2011-12 season marks a peak salary year of $6 million. For a budge-conscious team like Nashville, that means they’ll be expecting Erat’s best. Judging by their roster of gritty but not-so-creative offensive players, they’ll probably need his best, too.

Sharks swarm in the third period, take down Predators in Game 1

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For two periods, the San Jose Sharks couldn’t solve Pekka Rinne.

Maybe it was because of that black cat that found its way on to the ice prior to the start of Friday’s game, or the video review that didn’t go in San Jose’s favor in the opening period.

But that all changed in the final period. It started with Tomas Hertl on the power play finding room just under the glove of Rinne to get San Jose on the board. Joel Ward followed that up with a gorgeous deke, tucking the puck in behind Rinne just as he started to go behind the net, as San Jose was able to take advantage of a defensive breakdown.

Logan Couture added the eventual winner. Within the span of 13 minutes, the Sharks had completely taken over, cashing in on two Nashville penalties and a defensive lapse.

When the onslaught was over, the Sharks skated off with a 5-2 win in Game 1 of this second-round series with the Predators, who only wrapped up a seven-game series win over Anaheim on Wednesday.

Ryan Johansen made it interesting, cutting into San Jose’s lead with under two minutes remaining, but any further comeback attempt was quickly halted by a pair of empty net goals from the Sharks.

The game ended with a dust-up along the boards, before cooler heads did prevail.

Another North Dakota junior goes pro as Blackhawks sign Luke Johnson

Quinnipiac forward Tommy Schutt, left, moves the puck as North Dakota forward Luke Johnson, middle, checks Quinnipiac forward Travis St. Denis during the first period of an NCAA college hockey tournament game Friday, March 27, 2015, in Fargo, N.D. North Dakota won 4-1. (AP Photo/Bruce Crummy)
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Another day, another University of North Dakota player deciding to enter the professional hockey ranks.

This time, it was 21-year-old forward Luke Johnson who turned pro following his junior year, as he signed a three-year contract with the Chicago Blackhawks, the team that selected him in the fifth round of the 2013 NHL Draft.

In 43 games with the NCAA champs this season, Johnson scored 11 goals and 21 points, just shy of his college career high of 24 points set the previous year.

Johnson will forgo his senior year at North Dakota, making him the fourth member of that program’s junior class to turn pro since the end of the season. Keaton Thompson signed with the Anaheim Ducks, Troy Stecher inked with the Vancouver Canucks and Paul LaDue signed with the L.A. Kings.

Senior forward Drake Caggiula, now a free agent, has reportedly narrowed down his list of NHL suitors to six teams.

Brock Boeser, Vancouver’s 2015 first-round pick and coming off an impressive freshman year, will return to North Dakota for his sophomore year, as per Canucks general manager Jim Benning earlier this month.

Video: Black cat hits the ice before Sharks-Predators Game 1

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Perhaps it’s an ominous sign of bad luck to come, but for which team?

Prior to puck drop between the host San Jose Sharks and Nashville Predators in Game 1 on Friday, a black cat hit the ice at SAP Center, taking a nervous stroll along the boards.

Not sure exactly where it came from, although it’s possible someone was feeling extra superstitious before the start of this series.

Official update on the really important story of the evening:

Speed, skill help Stars score late victory to take series lead over Blues

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The Dallas Stars scored a late winner, held on in the final minute and eventually struck first in their best-of-seven second-round series with the St. Louis Blues.

Once again, it was the speed and skill of the Stars that proved to be the difference in the end. Radek Faksa scored with less than five minutes remaining in the third period, breaking the deadlock and giving Dallas a 2-1 victory and 1-0 series lead over their Central Division foes on Friday.

As he entered the zone on the rush, Faksa dished off to a flying Ales Hemsky, who was denied by Brian Elliott in alone. But Faksa followed up, jamming in the rebound to give the Stars the lead, as both St. Louis defensemen Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo were caught by the speed of the Dallas forwards on the rush.

The Stars held on from there, as the Blues made a late push to tie the game.

Kari Lehtonen stopped 31 of 32 shots for Dallas, while Elliott was busy throughout the night, stopping 40 of 42 shots.

Elliott was furious after the Stars opened the scoring in the second period, as Antoine Roussel tallied on a rebound after yet another nice Dallas passing play in the offensive zone.

Stars forward Patrick Eaves left the game early in the third period and didn’t play another shift after being hit in the lower part of his leg with the puck from a point shot.