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Owen Nolan faces long odds as he tries to find a spot on the Canucks

It’s tough enough for a 39-year-old veteran to make it in the NHL—let alone one coming off of a season in Switzerland that is forced to make an NHL team on a tryout. That’s exactly the challenge Owen Nolan is facing during training camp this season. After playing in 1200 NHL regular season games and netting 422 career goals, Nolan is being asked to prove his worth before the Canucks are willing to make any commitment.

Alain Vigneault has been happy with Nolan’s play throughout training camp and pleased once again during the Canucks 4-3 loss to the Sharks on Sunday night. The first overall pick in the 1990 draft could hypothetically bring an element to the defending Western Conference champs that they could use—a gritty, talented body to put in front of the net.

Of course, there’s a reason that he’s been out of the league for a season. In a league where players can’t lose a step—he’s lost two. Throughout his two decade long NHL career, he’s never been able to play a full 82 game season. It’s hard to believe that a body that has been through so many wars would magically find health as he approaches his 40th birthday. Playing Nolan’s style of game for twenty years is much different than a guy like Mark Recchi playing twenty years of his particular style. Endurance and durability are questions that Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault have thought about:

“Can the body hold up the pace and can his body sustain it on a consistent basis? You have to be able to practise and play to maintain a high tempo. He’s playing today. Is he going to be able to practise tomorrow? That’s part of the body being able to hold up at that age. He’s been able to follow the pace and has brought the skill he might still have — those hands are still there — and he goes to the net hard.

“That power forward type of player, if we could add it to our group, we would.”

The former Sharks captain understands the questions surround his worth, but he’s not ready to hand ‘em up quite yet. Most successful veterans acknowledge that the passion to play the game is almost as important as skill they near retirement. Nolan explains that the fire burns just as bright as ever:

“I know I’m not 20, but the willingness to compete and still do that is there and playing physical has been part of my career and I’m not going to stop. Sometimes you lose a step, but the longer you play the smarter you get. You learn to read certain situations and how to react to them so you don’t get caught out of position.”

Nolan has played for six NHL organizations throughout his lengthy NHL career. If he wants to add the Vancouver Canucks to the list that already includes the Nordiques/Avalanche, Sharks, Maple Leafs, Coyotes, Flames, and Wild, he’ll need the Vancouver organization to value his experience and leadership as much as his play on the ice. There are younger players signed who are itching for an opportunity to play energy roles on the Canucks this season. Players like Cody Hodgson, Mark Mancari, Marco Sturm, and Victor Oreskovich who are all battling to solidify their roles on the team.

Would the Canucks be willing to look past players who are younger, faster, or more physically imposing for a man in the twilight of his career? Thus far in training camp, he certainly hasn’t embarrassed himself throughout his try-out. But has he done enough to make the team?

Update: Minutes after we posted this article, reports surfaced that the Canucks have released Owen Nolan from his professional tryout. Impeccable timing as usual…

Sharks defeat Hurricanes, but Vlasic exits game with lower-body injury

Marc-Edouard Vlasic
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Talk about the ideal start.

Patrick Marleau scored just 12 seconds into the first period and the San Jose Sharks had a 2-1 lead before Saturday’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes was even four minutes old.

The Sharks held on for a 4-3 win over the Hurricanes, Kevin Labanc‘s goal late in the second period standing as the winner, as the two teams traded three goals in the span of just over three minutes.

It remains awfully crowded in the Pacific Division. The Flames lead with 34 points, while the Sharks, Ducks and Oilers are all one point back.

The victory came with bad news for the Sharks.

Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic left the game in the second period and didn’t return. He’s now day-to-day with a lower-body injury, according to coach Pete DeBoer following the win.

Flames dominate the Jets to take over top spot in the Pacific Division

CALGARY, AB - DECEMBER 10: Dougie Hamilton #27 of the Calgary Flames celebrates after scoring his team's third goal against the Winnipeg Jets during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on December 10, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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Is there a changing of the guard in the Pacific Division?

It’s the middle of December and the Calgary Flames, now with six straight wins, lead the same division dominated last season by the California powers in Anaheim, San Jose and L.A. The Edmonton Oilers have been inconsistent at times this season but they are right there, too, one point back. Same goes for the Ducks. The Sharks and Kings are definitely in contention.

There is plenty of hockey remaining in the season. Plenty of chances for change in the NHL’s division standings, including in the Pacific. But there’s no denying the Flames are on an impressive run.

Late last month, they had a particularly frustrating loss to Philadelphia and coach Glen Gulutzan voiced his displeasure about it. They followed that up the next day with an overtime loss to the Islanders. Prior to that weekend, there had been rumblings about the future of Gulutzan with the club, despite being only a few months into his tenure.

But since then, the Flames have yet to lose. They continued their winning streak with a convincing 6-2 victory over the visiting Jets on Saturday.

Dougie Hamilton — remember all that trade speculation surrounding the Flames defenseman and Brian Burke’s classic response? — had two goals for Calgary. Chad Johnson was solid in net again. It was a pretty dominant performance all around.

Frustrating night for the Jets and it showed when Dustin Byfuglien dropped the gloves with Garnet Hathaway late in the third period.

There are more difficult tests ahead for Calgary.

The Flames face the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday and then the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday.

In previous seasons, a Friday night game between the Flames and Blue Jackets in the middle of December might not garner much interest. But they are both among the hottest teams in the league right now and it’s likely not many would’ve predicted that a short time ago.

Video: Perlini’s first NHL goal helps lift Coyotes over Predators

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 10:  Brendan Perlini #29 of the Arizona Coyotes reacts alongside Calle Jarnkrok #19 of the Nashville Predators after Perlini scored his first career goal during the second period of the NHL game at Gila River Arena on December 10, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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The Arizona Coyotes have moved out of last place in the NHL’s overall standings, courtesy a 4-1 win over the Nashville Predators on Saturday.

Minus forward Max Domi, placed on IR and expected to be out on a week-to-week basis, the Coyotes got a 44-save performance from goalie Mike Smith and recently recalled forward Brendan Perlini pitched in with his first career NHL goal.

That goal gave Arizona a 3-1 lead. Thanks to the play of Smith, the Coyotes wouldn’t relinquish the lead, snapping a six-game losing skid.

It wasn’t all good news for the Coyotes.

Defenseman Connor Murphy played only 4:12. He left the game with an upper-body injury and didn’t return. Per reports, Murphy is considered day-to-day at this point.

The Blue Jackets just keep on winning

COLUMBUS, OH - OCTOBER 15:  Zach Werenski #8 of the Columbus Blue Jackets is congratulated by Cam Atkinson #13 of the Columbus Blue Jackets after scoring his first career NHL goal during the third period of the game against the San Jose Sharks on October 15, 2016 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. San Jose defeated Columbus 3-2. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) Jack Johnson, Cam Atkinson and Seth Jones each had a goal and an assist as the Columbus Blue Jackets beat the New York Islanders 6-2 on Saturday night for their sixth straight win.

Josh Anderson, Brandon Saad and Lukas Sedlak also scored for Columbus and Sergei Bobrovsky had 25 saves.

Josh Bailey and John Tavares scored for New York, which had earned a point in a season-high five straight games (4-0-1). Jaroslav Halak made 32 saves until he was pulled after the Blue Jackets scored four consecutive goals in the third period.

Anderson put Columbus ahead 3-2 at 2:19 when he picked off a defensive pass and banged it in from the slot seconds after coming onto the ice for his shift.

Saad, Sedlak and Jones scored in a 5-minute span to make it 6-2 with 5:37 to go.

New York’s third-string goalie Jean-Francois Berube then replaced Halak and stopped the one shot he faced in his season debut.

The Islanders came out quick and it took Columbus a while to get going. New York took a 1-0 lead 5:59 in when a defensive pass by the Blue Jackets’ Sam Gagner at the boards was deflected by Bailey, and the popup was bobbled by Bobrovsky into the net. Bailey was given credit for an unassisted goal.

The Blue Jackets tied it up on a power play with 6:01 left in the first when Johnson wound up from just inside the neutral zone and fired a bullet past Halak. It was Johnson’s first goal of the season.

Columbus’ Brandon Dubinsky and New York’s Travis Harmonic went to the penalty box for 5 minutes each when both threw down the gloves and threw punches near the end of the first quarter.

Columbus took a 2-1 lead when a speeding Atkinson took a pass from Johnson in the neutral zone and beat Halak on the breakaway 10:16 into the second. New York tied with 7:28 left in the period when Tavares lifted the puck over Bobrovsky’s pad from in front of the net.

The Blue Jackets took off in the third period.

After Anderson gave Columbus the lead for good, Saad made it 4-2 on a wrister from the high slot at 9:23.

Sedlak, who scored his first NHL goal on Friday night, scored another when he tapped in a loose puck with 7:21 to go. Jones capped it with just over 5 1/2 minutes remaining.