Brent Burns, Mikkel Boedker

Offseason acquisition Brent Burns raises the expectations in San Jose

Expectations are pretty high in San Jose these days. Back-to-back trips to the Western Conference Finals will do that for a team. Then in the offseason, they went out and acquired the best defenseman they could get their hands on when they traded for former Minnesota Wild all-star Brent Burns. It didn’t take long for people to start asking Burns if he was feeling comfortable with his new team.

“Is this a chemistry question?” Burns said with a laugh before his second game. “Do I feel like a Shark? I have all the gear. I hope so. Yeah, it’s going to take a while, but it’s been great.”

Good thing it’s been a good start with his new teammates, because he signed a 5-year contract with San Jose before playing a single game. It was a big life decision for a guy who was only a year away from unrestricted free agency.

“It was pretty easy,” Burns said about the decision to sign an extension. “Me and my family didn’t know much about the city or the organization for that matter. I knew that it was tough to play against them and they had a great team. But right after we got traded, it can be a pretty devastating thing for somebody. The organization was just awesome. It almost takes me back to when I was 18 and pumped up to get one-piece sticks for the first time! The organization does everything they can to make sure you are ready to win—that’s all you have to care about. So it was a pretty easy decision once we started to see all the little things the team did. It was a no-brainer.”

Now that he’s in San Jose for the next six seasons, Burns should start getting used to the expectations. They’re the only team in the league that has been to the conference finals in each of the last two seasons. Before that, they were the #1 seed in the Western Conference before bowing out to the Anaheim Ducks in the first round of the 2009 Stanley Cup playoffs. The team has plenty of talent all over their roster—but until they take the next step in the playoffs, there will always be doubters (whether its warranted or not).

With Burns, the organization adds even more talent to a team that sent more players to the Olympics than most countries.

“Another puck-moving, active defenseman in the rush,” Sharks’ head coach Todd McLellan said. “[He has a] Great shot. Huge man, he’s our biggest defenseman and can play physical. In and around the blue paint, we feel that we’re stronger in that area.”

He’s not the only player who can play in the tough areas of the ice. Douglas Murray knows his way around the crease as well—and he’s excited about Burns joining the team.

“He’s an elite player,” Murray said. “He brings that extra dimension offensively and he has a big body too. He’s physical. Danny Boyle has done the heavy lifting as far as offense, so it’s great to have another high-end, top defenseman as well.”

Expectations are sky-high for the Sharks each season. Another trip to the conference finals may be a great season for most teams around the league—but it’s only the first step for San Jose. Not only do they want to make it back for the third straight season, but they want to break through this season. Everyone around the team has hopes that this could be the year it finally happens.

“I think he’s a big piece to the team,” Sharks play-by-play announcer Randy Hahn said about Burns. “If you look at the teams that win the Stanley Cup: last year, Zdeno Chara—a big defenseman. You go down the line of teams that win the Cup and almost every team that wins the Cup has that big-time, big man on the back end. Taking nothing away from Dan Boyle, he’s a tremendously gifted player with and without the puck, but he doesn’t bring the size.”

Pacific Division foes know that Burns is going to fill a big void for one of their rivals. Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle says Burns brings something the Sharks were missing last season.

“I thought that they had missed Rob Blake type of player and they look to have that element back on their backend,” Carlyle said. “That’s what Brent Burns brings. He’s a big man that can move, he jumps in the rush, big shot, plays big minutes, so I think that’s their mandate [for bringing him in.]”

Sharks head coach Todd McLellan expounded on Carlyle’s take:

“Maybe more with all due respect to Blake, because he has younger legs and can go a little bit more,” McLellan said. “But the same shot, the same tenacity, not quite the same maturity level obviously, but he does replace some of those assets lost when Blake retired.”

Carlyle and McLellan aren’t the only ones who think Burns can bring the “Rob Blake” presence either. Sharks play-by-play announcer Randy Hahn admitted that he thinks the team actually found an upgrade when asked about Burns replacing Blake’s productivity:

“With them not having to play together as a pair,” Hahn continued, “it gives the Sharks two sets of D [pairings] now that can truly dominate on the ice. That’s an element that even when Rob Blake was here, we didn’t quite have. No disrespect to Rob, but he was at the end of his career. We’ve never had this element that Brent Burns gives us with Boyle on one pair and him on a second pair. It makes us WAY tougher to match-up against.”

Take note: people around the Sharks think they’ll be “way tougher” to match up against than last season. This is a team that finished with the second best record in the Western Conference, won the Pacific Division crown for the fourth consecutive season, and eliminated both the upstart Los Angeles Kings and perennial power Detroit Red Wings in the playoffs.

We’ll know how much better they are when April and May roll around. But if they are, the Eastern Conference better start preparing themselves.

Unbeaten no more: Canucks fall to Kings in shootout for first loss

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 22:  Tanner Pearson #70 of the Los Angeles Kings celebrates his goal with Nic Dowd #26 and Dustin Brown #23 in front of Alexander Edler #23 of the Vancouver Canucks to take a 2-0 lead during the first period at Staples Center on October 22, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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One of the biggest early surprises of the 2016-17 NHL season was the fact the Vancouver Canucks were the NHL’s only unbeaten team entering play on Saturday. Not Washington. Not Pittsburgh. Not Tampa Bay. Not Chicago. Not Dallas.


Their stunning four-game winning streak to open the season came to an end on Saturday night when they opened up a brief two-game road trip in Los Angeles with a 4-3 shootout loss to the Kings, handing them first loss of the season and making it so all 30 NHL teams now have at least one loss this season.

The Canucks have made a habit so far this season out of falling behind early and rallying for overtime or shootout wins, and they nearly did it again on Saturday. After spotting the Kings a 3-0 lead early in the second period Vancouver came back with three consecutive goals, including a game-tying goal from defenseman Alex Edler in the final minute to send the game to overtime. But the Canucks know that is not a sustainable long-term strategy and that eventually their luck in those games is going to run out.

On Saturday, it kind of did.

Tanner Pearson scored the only goal in the shootout to give the Kings the win.

As tough as this two-game road trip through Los Angeles and Anaheim looks, playing both teams within 24 hours, the Canucks seemed to catch a little bit of a break when the Kings had to turn to Peter Budaj, their third string goalie, after Jeff Zatkoff was injured in the morning skate on Saturday. With regular starting goalie Jonathan Quick already sidelined it seemed to be a good opportunity for the Canucks to extend their winning streak against a goalie that has only played 38 games in the NHL since the start of the 2012-13 season (with below average numbers during that stretch).

But Budaj was able to do just enough to get the win, stopping 22 out of 25 shots through regulation and overtime and not giving up any goals in the shootout.

Even with the loss, the Canucks still managed to pick up a point and have earned nine out of a possible 10 points to start the season. No matter how they did it, collecting points like that is never a bad thing. They have now played four overtime games this season and the one game that did not go overtime was still decided by a single goal. If nothing else you have to give them a ton of credit for keeping things interesting.

The Canucks are back in action on Sunday against the Ducks before returning home for a three-game homestand.

Juuse Saros helps Predators shut down, dominate the champs

NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 28:  In his first career NHL game goalie Juuse Saros #1 of the Nashville Predators plays against the Buffalo Sabres at Bridgestone Arena on November 28, 2015 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
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Weird times in Nashville right now as a significant portion of the Predators’ roster is sidelined by food poisoning. They went into Saturday’s game against Pittsburgh without Mike Fisher, Craig Smith, Colton Sissons and starting goaltender Pekka Rinne all out of the lineup. That meant a bunch of call-ups and a rookie goaltender getting the start against the defending Stanley Cup champions.

While the Penguins were also playing without Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang, it is still a very formidable lineup (one that just rallied to beat San Jose the other night). That is part of what made Nashville’s 5-1 win so convincing and impressive.

The Predators used a four-goal second period, including a pair of goals from Kevin Fiala, to pick up their second win of the season and what is easily their most impressive of the two.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the night was the play of 21-year-old goalie Juuse Saros, playing in only his second NHL game.

Saros stopped 34 of the 35 shots he faced to pick up his very first NHL win. Things got off to a rough start for him when Nashville’s defense got caught up the ice and created an odd-man rush for the Penguins that resulted in a Scott Wilson goal less than a minute into the game. After that one blemish on the scoresheet Saros was flawless the rest of the night.

It was a really special night for Saros not only because of the win and the way he played, but because Marc-Andre Fleury started at the other end of the ice for Pittsburgh. Saros said after the game that Fleury has been an idol of his.

The win snapped a three-game losing streak for the Predators after a season-opening win against Chicago. Even though it’s been a slow start, this should still be a team that is going to compete for the Western Conference crown once they get their full roster on the ice.

The Maple Leafs fell apart late (again)

CHICAGO, IL - FEBRUARY 15:  James Reimer #34 of the Toronto Maple Leafs looks to stop a shot by Jonathan Toews #19 of the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on February 15, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Maple leafs 7-2.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

No matter how much young talent the Toronto Maple Leafs have on their roster (and they have a lot) this was still always going to be another long season. The organization is on the right track, but it’s not where it needs to be just quite yet.

There will be flashes of brilliance and potential, but there are still going to be some pretty significant growing pains and a lot of frustration along the way.

Just five games into the season, they have already experienced plenty of the latter.

First there was rookie sensation Auston Matthews scoring four goals in his NHL debut and the team still finding a way to lose the game.

Then there was the game in Winnipeg where they jumped out to a 4-0 lead and then ended up losing in overtime. Earlier this week they let another third period lead slip away against Minnesota.

On Saturday, they added another one to the list in a 5-4 shootout loss to the Chicago Blackhawks.

For 57 minutes it looked as if the young Maple Leafs were going to add to the Blackhawks’ early season woes as they held a 4-2 lead and seemed to be in control of the game. The young players were scoring goals, they were the latest team to beat the Blackhawks’ shoddy penalty killing unit, and they seemed on their way to a big early season win on the road against a top team.

Then everything fell apart. Again.

Chicago’s Artem Anisimov scored with less than three minutes to play to cut the deficit to one.

Then just one minute later Richard Panik (former Toronto Maple Leaf Richard Panik) continued his early season goal scoring surge by netting his league leading sixth goal of the year to tie the game and send it to overtime.

After the two teams failed to score in the 3-on-3, it went to a shootout where Jonathan Toews and Artemi Panarin scored goals to help the Blackhawks get back into the win column and sent the Maple Leafs home with another tough loss.

If you’re an optimist in Toronto you have to look at the fact that this young, talented Maple Leafs team has at least earned a point in all but one of its first five games.

They are competing, they are showing signs of being an entertaining team with a strong foundation in place.

They have actually had the lead going into the third period of every game they have played.

Yet here they are, five games into the season, still sitting with only one win.

The Jimmy Vesey show leads Rangers over Capitals

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 06: Jimmy Vesey #26 of the New York Rangers waits for the faceoff against the Philadelphia Flyers at Madison Square Garden on October 6, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin had the big highlight early in the game on Saturday night, but it was New York Rangers rookie Jimmy Vesey that ended up stealing the show.

Vesey scored a pair of goals for the Rangers — the first multi-goal game of his career —  to help lead his team to a 4-2 win in Washington.

Even though he had never played a game in the NHL before this season, Vesey was still one of the most sought after free agents this summer after he completed his college career at Harvard. He eventually signed an entry level deal with the Rangers, and given how much attention his free agency saga generated it seemed hard to believe that he could ever match the hype. Especially given the track record of players signed as free agents coming out of college (it’s not a great one).

It’s obviously still very early in his career, but so far Vesey has not disappointed in New York.

Saturday was by far his best performance of the season, scoring both of his goals just three minutes apart in the second period. The first goal tied the game at two to help erase a two-goal deficit, and then his second goal proved to be the game winner.

It was also a heck of a play.

Rick Nash would add an empty net goal late in the third period to put the game away for the Rangers while Henrik Lundqvist stopped 26 of the 28 shots he faced.

For Washington, the loss is its first regulation loss of the season and snaps what had been a three-game winning streak.