Joe Thornton

What a difference a year makes for the California three


NHL history was made last season as the California-based teams — the San Jose Sharks, L.A. Kings and Anaheim Ducks — all made the playoffs. It was the first time the three qualified for the postseason in the same year and, given how strongly they finished (each had at least 46 wins and 98 points), it looked like the start of a compelling three-way postseason rivalry.

But now, less than a year later, things couldn’t be more different.

The Ducks and Kings both fired their head coaches before Dec. 15 and are in a dogfight for eighth place. The Sharks, meanwhile, have blown their lead in the Pacific Division and face the sobering reality that, halfway through a season-high nine-game road trip, they too are in a playoff battle.

“All of us realize what we’re in for right now,” Joe Thornton told the Mercury News after a 6-3 loss to Columbus. “We’ve pretty much hit bottom now and hopefully we can dig our way out of it because we’re definitely in a race now to get into the playoffs.”

The Columbus loss moved San Jose to 1-4-1 on its nine-game trek and essentially wiped out its division lead. Phoenix is now tied with San Jose on 69 points while Dallas, once thought to be out of the running, is just five points back.

Sharks head coach Todd McLellan says he’s concerned about the current swoon.

“I don’t know if some guys really understand where we are at this point in the season and how the season is dwindling quickly,” McLellan said. “You can’t just come to the rink and wear a jersey. You have to find a way to contribute. There’s been a few that haven’t lately and that’ll be my job tomorrow. We’ll address it in one-on-ones.”

It’s unlikely that none of the California teams will make the playoffs this year, but the possibility is there. If Phoenix overtakes top spot in the Pacific, the Sharks (69 points) would find themselves in the mix for spots seven and eight with L.A. (66), Calgary (65), Dallas (64) and Colorado (62). Anaheim (60) has been hot of late but still has plenty of ground to make up and teams to leapfrog, including the Minnesota Wild (61).

Goalie nods: Prized Jets prospect Hellebuyck makes NHL debut

Joshua Morrissey, Jason Pominville, Connor Hellebuyck
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The future of Winnipeg’s goaltending will be on display tonight in Minnesota.

Connor Hellebuyck, the highly-touted prospect that starred for Team USA at the 2015 World Hockey Championships, will make his NHL debut today when the Jets take on the Wild at Xcel.

Hellebuyck is up with the Jets following an injury to No. 1 (or, “No. 1”) netminder Ondrej Pavelec, who’s out until January with a lower-body injury. An AHL All-Star a year ago, Hellebuyck arrived in Winnipeg with great fanfare and it’ll be interesting to see how he responds to the hype and pressure that come along with his first-ever big league start.

For the Wild, Devan Dubnyk‘s in goal.


Corey Crawford goes for Chicago in Anaheim. No word yet on who the Ducks will have in goal.

Braden Holtby starts again for Washington, as the Caps host the Bolts. Tampa Bay has yet to name a starter, much like the Ducks.

Marc-Andre Fleury takes on Sergei Bobrovsky in Columbus tonight, as the Blue Jackets host the Penguins.

Mike Condon is back in the starter’s role for Montreal with Carey Price sidelined, and his first order of business is a road date against Cory Schneider and the Devils in New Jersey.

Cam Ward faces Chad Johnson as Buffalo welcomes the ‘Canes.

— The Isles will start Jaroslav Halak in Florida. The Panthers will counter with Roberto Luongo.

Cam Talbot finally gets back into the starter’s role tonight in Detroit. Jimmy Howard will go for the Wings.

— It’s Ryan Miller versus Antti Niemi as the Canucks take on the Stars in Dallas.

— Even though Jonas Hiller is healthy and Joni Ortio‘s in the minors, Calgary will stick with Karri Ramo in Arizona. The Coyotes are going with their No. 1, Mike Smith.

‘We’re still right in the hunt for everything’ — Parise will play tonight versus Jets

Zach Parise
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For the first time since Nov. 5, Zach Parise will suit up for the Minnesota Wild.

The team confirmed today that Parise will be in the lineup tonight at home versus Winnipeg. The 31-year-old forward has missed the last eight contests with a sprained MCL.

The Wild were 7-2-2 before Parise got hurt. They lost the game against Nashville in which he suffered the injury, then went 4-3-1 without him.

“I’m just hoping to get back to form as quick as possible and go from there,” Parise told the Star Tribune. “I’m not thinking I need to score right out of the gate, I just want to play. … We’re still right in the hunt for everything. We’ll be fine.”

After ’embarrassing’ loss to Sens, Stars motivated for Canucks

Milan Michalek, Antti Niemi
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The Vancouver Canucks will face a pretty motivated Dallas Stars team tonight at American Airlines Center.

Blame the Ottawa Senators. They were the ones who smoked the Stars, 7-4, on Tuesday.

“It brings you back down to earth,” captain Jamie Benn told the Stars’ website. “You learn that any team can come in here and whip your butt. It was embarrassing for us, especially in our home rink and in front of our home fans. We don’t want that to happen again.”

The Stars have had their way with the Canucks in recent years. The last time Vancouver won in Dallas was Feb. 21, 2013. Since then, victories have included scorelines like 5-1, 4-1, 6-1, and 6-3.

The Stars have already hosted the Canucks once in Dallas this season. On Oct. 29, they fought back from a 3-1 third-period deficit to win, 4-3, in overtime.

Dallas (17-5-0) has yet to lose consecutive games this season.

Video: Beleskey rocks Stepan, fights McIlrath (Update: Stepan won’t return)


Well, Matt Beleskey sure made his presence felt in the Thanksgiving Showdown.

With the Rangers leading the Bruins 2-1 midway through the second period, Beleskey delivered a huge hit on Rangers forward Derek Stepan, then had to answer the bell as he was immediately confronted by towering Blueshirts d-man Dylan McIlrath.

Needless to say, it had a pretty profound effect on the game.

McIlrath got the instigator penalty for the fight, which sent the B’s to the power play. Not long after, Brett Connolly scored his fifth of the year to even the score at 2-2.

Then, later in the period, Stepan was spotted going down the Rangers’ tunnel.

We’ll keep tabs on Stepan’s condition moving forward, and if the comes out for the third period.

There’s a pretty good chance New York bench boss Alain Vigneault will be asked for his thoughts on the hit, too, so stay tuned.

Update: The Rangers have ruled out Stepan for the remainder of the contest.