Sharks take Pacific Division lead, Flames stay alive

At least one former St. Louis Blues player hopes to the Blues see the San Jose Sharks in the first round, but the odds of that happening dropped considerably Monday. Then again, considering the up-and-down nature of the West’s stretch run, the most important word is “Monday” because things seem to change drastically from night to night.

In March 26’s case, the Sharks took a slim Pacific Division lead, the Calgary Flames stayed in the hunt and everyone else took a step back. To keep things neat, I’ll go in order of where the teams are in the standings as of this writing.

(Which, again, might only hold true for a day or two.)

Sharks contain Avalanche 5-1

It’s silly to call any individual contest the biggest of the night because they’re all huge for the individual teams, so let me temper that by deeming this the most “sweeping.”

The Sharks regulation win places them atop the Pacific and in the third seed – for now – with 88 points and six games remaining. Meanwhile, the Avalanche suffer a crushing blow that’s only a little less debilitating than the one that the Winnipeg Jets received earlier tonight.

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While the Avalanche are technically only a point behind seventh and eighth place at 86 points, they only have four games left this season – the least of all the bubble teams.

It’s hardly any solace, but at least the Avalanche didn’t fall just short in this game. They lost soundly, so there’s little sense staying up all night thinking of a single bad bounce. Instead, they must just move on and hope for bounces in their favor on future nights – but things look pretty shaky.

Flames burn Stars

In fact, I’d argue that Calgary might actually have a better chance than Colorado after Monday’s festivities. Despite allowing Jamie Benn goals 26 seconds into the first period (1-0) and 44 into the second (2-1), the Flames managed to win  5-4 – and in regulation to boot. That places them in 11th overall, but they have five games left and are only two points back of one of the final two seeds. At worst, their odds are similar to Colorado’s all things considered.

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Canucks blank Kings

If the Los Angles Kings miss the playoffs, the sad symbol of their season might just be a goose egg. Los Angeles has been shut out 10 times this season after Roberto Luongo’s perfect night, guaranteeing that more than 12 percent of the Kings’ games were fruitless.

The Canucks have already clinched the lowly Northwest Division – which looks unlikely to produce a second playoff team once again – so their sites are focused on the West’s first seed. That’s far from a pipe dream, either, because the St. Louis Blues only have a two point lead for the No. 1 spot. (Although it must be noted that the Blues currently have 47 wins and 43 regulation/OT victories to 46 and 39 for Vancouver.)

Los Angeles probably wishes that its opponents had less to play for because that 1-0 loss really hurts.

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Instead of taking the Pacific lead or at least essentially tying the Sharks with 88 points, the Kings are instead seated in ninth place with 86 behind the Sharks, Stars and Coyotes.

West update

In fact, here’s a look at how the West races shake out – we’ll focus on the Pacific and final seed battles for now:

3. San Jose – 88 points, 31 regulation/OT wins, six games left

7. Dallas – 87 points, 34 regulation/OT wins, six games left
8. Phoenix – 87 points, 31 regulation/OT wins, five games left

9. Los Angeles – 86 points, 31 regulation/OT wins, six games left
10. Colorado – 86 points, 31 regulation/OT wins, four games left
11. Calgary – 85 points, 32 regulation/OT wins, five games left

As you can see, Monday didn’t really deliver a death blow or open up an easy avenue for anyone, bu the Kings, Stars and Avalanche must really be kicking themselves. The Pacific appears to be fair game, but to use a regrettable media term, San Jose “controls its own destiny.” All six of its final contests take place against Pacific teams, with just one against the irrelevant-beyond-spoilers Anaheim Ducks.

In general, there’s plenty left in play but the Flames and especially the Sharks won the biggest tonight. We’ll find out soon enough how much that matters.

Want a video summary of the night as well? NBC Sports Network has you covered:

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NHL cracking down on slashing, faceoff violations to begin preseason

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The NHL has made it a point to crack down on slashing for the upcoming regular season. With the preseason underway, the foundation for the new standard is being set.

Dating back to late June, the NHL had vowed to call slashing more closely after a number of incidents last season, including Marc Methot‘s gruesome finger injury, which was the result of a slash to the hands from Sidney Crosby.

Monday’s game between the Islanders and Rangers featured nine slashing minor penalties. The Devils and Capitals were only 41 seconds into their preseason game Monday when Jimmy Hayes was called for slashing. A total of six slashing minors were called in that game — not to mention three faceoff violations.

From the Washington Post:

There’s been talk of being harder on slashing following several wrist, hand and finger injuries last season from dangerous stick work. “Now, as soon as your stick is off the ice and you touch the other players’ stick or hands, it was zero tolerance today,” Eller said. More surprising was the three faceoff violation penalties called in the first period of the game. That also represented a new emphasis from the league. “Cheating” on faceoffs has been commonplace, and for centers who’ve made their name winning faceoffs with a certain style and routine, staying perfectly within the red lines in the circle was an adjustment.

According to Mark Spector of Sportsnet, the Senators-Maple Leafs game Monday also featured three faceoff violations. It appears right now there will be quite an adjustment for players across the league to the apparent crackdown on slashing and faceoff violations, especially early on.

However, will this be the standard for the entire season? For the playoffs?

“I have a tough time believing that in the playoffs, in Game 7, that kind of call is going to be made,” Mark Letestu told Sportsnet. “Right now, there’s an overemphasis on it, and hopefully it doesn’t go all the way back to where it was.”

Video: No. 1 pick Hischier scores ‘tenacious’ goal in Devils preseason debut

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Nico Hischier, the first overall pick from this year’s NHL Draft, provided quite a glimpse into the type of player he can be for the New Jersey Devils during his first preseason game on Monday.

The Devils recorded a 4-1 victory over the Washington Capitals, with Hischier’s goal late in the third period putting it away. For Devils fans at Prudential Center, this should provide a little more optimism for a club that has looked to upgrade its offensive attack this offseason.

Hischier hounded Capitals forward Kevin Elgestal in the neutral zone, and eventually stole the puck while splitting two Washington players for the breakaway. In all alone, Hischier made no mistake, sliding the puck under the pad of goalie Vitek Vanecek.

“His skating was a factor. He was competitive on the puck,” said Devils coach John Hynes, per NJ.com.

“As the game went on, the second and third period, he started to make a few more plays, and I think he got adjusted to the time and space and battle level that was out there. You see the goal, he was really tenacious on the puck. He hunted it, had the second effort and a great stick to create the turnover. His work ethic put him in position for half a breakaway, and that’s when his skill takes over.”

While Nolan Patrick had for months been talked about as a potential No. 1 overall pick, Hischier put together an impressive year in the QMJHL and when the time came for the Devils to make their selection, they went with the 18-year-old Swiss center over Patrick.

It will be interesting to see exactly what role the Devils give Hischier this season, although the plan since the draft has been to give him every chance to make the NHL club right out of camp. Per NorthJersey.com, Hynes discussed the topic of Hischier in a potential top center role following Monday’s game.

“Certainly he has the skills and the hockey sense to play in that role but is he really ready for that?” said Hynes. “We’ll put him in a situation that will benefit him the most and the team the most.”

Video: Whoa, this is one sweet Mike Hoffman backhand goal

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Monday’s game won’t help the Ottawa Senators defy critics about last season running on luck, at least in that it doesn’t count in the standings.

Senators sniper Mike Hoffman didn’t seem to care.

Hoffman owned last night’s pre-season NHL highlight reel (sorry Nico Hischier), scoring two very different goals.

The best one can be viewed in the video above this post’s headline, as he burst through the Maple Leafs defense for a ridiculous backhander on the rush. Wow.

His first of the night was memorable for a different reason, as Hoffman shook off a near-miss (eventually) to score this goal.

Weird/cool/good, indeed.

Prediction: Hoffman will score a lot of goals that will “count” in 2017-18, too.

Wild extend captain Mikko Koivu’s contract for two years, $11M

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Minnesota Wild fans fearing that the 2017-18 season could be Mikko Koivu‘s last can breathe a sigh of relief, and that suspense didn’t even carry into opening night.

Instead, the Wild signed Koivu to a two-year contract extension worth $11 million.

That $5.5M cap hit kicks in during the 2018-19 campaign and ends after 2019-20. It represents a minor cut in pay for Koivu, as he’s entering the final year of a deal with a $6.75M cap hit.

Koivu, 34, enjoyed a strong first season under Bruce Boudreau, becoming a Selke finalist for the first time in his underrated career. He’s been Minnesota’s captain since 2008-09.

Koivu’s deal would qualify as a 35+ contract, according to Cap Friendly.

The Finnish forward likely valued stability, maybe taking a little less in AAV for the sake of peace of mind.

This continues a busy week-or-so for the Wild, who also broke their impasse with RFA Marcus Foligno by handing him a four-year, $11.5M deal.

Opinion: this Koivu deal is a much, much easier decision to justify, even taking into account his advanced age.