Kings take Pacific Division lead on busy night in West

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If you want an illustration of the significant parity and “What have you done for me lately?” atmosphere in the NHL, take a look at the Dallas Stars’ Thursday night. With one regulation loss (2-1 to the Vancouver Canucks) and plenty of activity throughout the West, the Stars didn’t just lose their Pacific Division lead and the third seed that goes with it – they tumbled all the way to eighth place.

To keep things tidy, here’s an update of the West’s bubble and Pacific Division races, in order of where the teams are in the standings right now:

Kings edge Blues 1-0 in shootout, take Pacific lead

Point to the Jeff Carter trade, hiring Darryl Sutter or any number of other developments if you’d like, but the bottom line is that the Los Angeles Kings are red-hot. They won their sixth game in a row in the exact way you’d sardonically expect against the St. Louis Blues. The two punch-less/defensively savvy teams (depending upon how you look at it) enjoyed dual shutouts – Jonathan Quick made 35 saves while Brian Elliott stopped all 37 shots – before the Kings won it in the skills competition.

GM Dean Lombardi might smile, as Carter and Mike Richards scored the SO goals, overwhelming T.J. Oshie’s single triumph for St. Louis.

(4. Detroit – idle; 5. Nashvillelost to the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-1; 6. Chicago idle)

Coyotes curb Colorado

By no means can the Kings relax on the Pacific throne because the Coyotes have the same amount of standings points (86) thanks to a 3-2 regulation win against the Colorado Avalanche – who are now in 10th place. (Chalk that up as about the only bit of comforting news for Dallas.)

The Kings hold a game in hand advantage but that’s it – for now – as both Los Angeles and Phoenix have the same amount of wins (37) and regulation/OT wins (31).

Phoenix took a 3-0 lead and nearly coughed it up as the Avalanche scored two third period goals but Mike Smith earned the 100th win of his career. (Something tells me the next 100 won’t take nearly as long if he stays under Dave Tippett’s watch.)

Falling Stars, melting Avs

This leads me to Dallas, who gave the Canucks a solid fight but still lost 2-1. Henrik Sedin was a big difference even with his brother Daniel on the mend, assisting on both Vancouver goals while Corey Schneider stopped 25 out of 26 shots.

The good news for the Stars is that while they slipped to eighth place, the Avalanche are actually less of a threat than it seems. Both teams have 85 points but Dallas has two more games in hand. Unfortunately, the 10th place team is more of a threat …

Sharks slip by Bruins

Obviously, things have been bad for the San Jose Sharks lately. And, yes, the Boston Bruins aren’t the powerhouse they were a couple months ago.

Still, collecting a 2-1 win against the defending champions in regulation is heartening. Joe Pavelski scored a goal assisted by Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau while Daniel Winnik scored his first San Jose goal.

11. Calgary Flames gain a charity point while Brent Sutter puts a trash can on the IR.

OK, with that all out of the way, here’s how the standings look:

(3) Los Angeles – 86 points, 31 regulation/OT wins, eight games left

7. Phoenix – 86 points, 31 regulation/OT wins, seven games left
8. Dallas – 85 points, 33 regulation/OT wins, eight games left

9. Colorado – 85 points, 31 regulation/OT wins, six games left
10. San Jose – 84 points, 30 regulation/OT wins, eight games left
11. Calgary – 83 points, 31 regulation/OT wins, seven games left

Overall, it looks like the Pacific will produce three playoff teams – the division winner and perhaps the seventh and eighth seeds. What do you think, though?

Video: An early taste of the Tkachuk-inspired violence in Kings vs. Flames

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BREAKING: the Los Angeles Kings really don’t appreciate Calgary Flames rookie-pest-forward Matthew Tkachuk thanks to that elbow on Drew Doughty (and the fallout from all … that).

Tkachuk responded by critiquing Doughty for “complaining to the media,” so there was testiness from the start.

There was jawing before the game. Then Jake Muzzin rebuked Tkachuk’s kind offer for a fight. Finally, Keith’s son dropped the gloves with Brayden McNabb:

It wasn’t the only bout of the opening frame, and there could be more blood to come beyond this Jarome IginlaDeryk Engelland feud:

Players from both teams better keep their heads up (and on a swivel) tonight. The Flames have to hope that this doesn’t result in injuries, judging from what happened to Johnny Gaudreau.

Avalanche sign Toews-like first-rounder Tyson Jost

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Things have been pretty bleak for the Colorado Avalanche this season, but at least they can look to a high pick in the next draft … and maybe dream about how their top pick from 2016 may pan out.

The Avs signed Tyson Jost, the 10th pick of the 2016 NHL Draft, to an entry-level contract on Wednesday. Colorado notes that he’ll jump right into some NHL action to close out this season.

It’s a nice sneak preview, as NHL insider Bob McKenzie noted on an NBCSN appearance (see above) that doing so will not burn the first year of Jost’s entry-level contract. Nice.

Even nicer? McKenzie also compares Jost favorably to … (drum-roll, though the headline spoiled it) Jonathan Toews.

Most obviously, the two both starred at the University of North Dakota. For the sake of fun, here are their numbers in their final years in the NCAA:

Jost: 16 goals, 35 points in 33 games, +17 rating (2016-17)
Toews: 18 goals, 46 points in 34 games (2006-07)

Naturally, Toews enthusiasts in particular will tell you that points aren’t everything … but maybe there are some shades of the two-way Blackhawks center there?

The Hockey News’ Ryan Kennedy raved that Jost has “man-strength already” back around the 2016 NHL Draft, as you can see in this profile.

“Jost oozes confidence and already looks like NHL captain material for the future.”

Hey, that does sound at least somewhat Toews-like, doesn’t it?

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In other signing news, the Buffalo News’ Mike Harrington reports that the Buffalo Sabres signed UMass-Lowell’s CJ Smith. More on that below.

Video: This Kane-to-Panarin goal is all sorts of ridiculous

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When people were arguing against Artemi Panarin‘s Calder case, they often discounted his work because of Patrick Kane‘s brilliance (at least when they weren’t focusing on age questions).

It always felt a little unfair to Panarin.

Do we blame a great wide receiver playing with an adept quarterback? Sure, it’s an interesting discussion to have, but it seems fairly clear that there’s a symbiotic relationship between Panarin and Kane.

One could see that plainly in a 1-0 goal for the Chicago Blackhawks against the Pittsburgh Penguins that … admittedly was driven by Kane’s almost audacious creativity and skill.

But still, Panarin has 26 goals this season because he’s really good, too. This season has been a nice showcase for such thoughts, and a reminder that – like most great combinations – they make each other better.

(Seriously though, Kane was out of his mind there.)

‘Old Time Hockey’ video game takes a bit of an early beating from reviewers

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From the sound of things, “Old Time Hockey” is a video game with a lot of heart, but maybe not the skills to make it to the big time.

While “NHL 17” is pumped out by publishing giant EA Sports, this title is very much an independent labor of love by a company called V7 Entertainment. Puck Daddy’s Sean Leahy provided a great interview with the developers here. It’s worth noting that the game reminds one of 8-bit titles in another way: lacking an NHL license, these teams are instead fictional. This isn’t necessarily a drawback as much as it provides the title with its own unique “flavor.”

It’s hard not to get behind a scrappy development, especially in an age where sports video game options are so scarce. Some leagues barely see any licensed games any longer (see: the MLB, which feels woefully misrepresented these days), and the arcade-style that “Blades of Steel” and other old-school games popularized is even tougher to come by.

Combine these factors with an aesthetic inspired by “Slap Shot” and “Old Time Hockey” seems like it could really scratch an itch … except, it sounds like the puck missed the net.

So far, reviews are pretty mixed for the title, which is currently on PC and Playstation 4 (with planned releases on Xbox One and Nintendo Switch).

While there are a few good reviews here and there, the general reception is of disappointment.

A Sporting News review states that “the promising premise falls apart quickly.” Game Informer slams a “slew-footed story mode.” PC Gamer notes that, with EA not releasing an NHL game on that platform since 2008, there was a need here … but it wasn’t met.

Does that mean there’s no fun to be had? Not necessarily, but it’s a bummer that the game might be off the mark, especially since V7 Entertainment seems to have its heart in the right place.

Then again, maybe those who want that “NHL 94” fix merely need to dig a little. As this Vice article points out, there’s still an active community playing the sort of game that scratches the itch that “Old Time Hockey” – perhaps – can’t quite reach.