Devils stick with same lineup; should Kings make tweaks?

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New Jersey Devils head coach Peter DeBoer didn’t make a ton of changes during the first three games of the 2012 Stanley Cup finals, simply inserting veterans Petr Sykora and Henrik Tallinder in the lineup in Game 4. It’s not a shocker that Tom Gulitti reports that the Devils stuck with the same lineup from the last two wins, then.

Of course, it’s only logical to ask if Darryl Sutter should make any changes to the Los Angeles Kings lineup. John Hoven believes that Sutter should replace Simon Gagne and Jordan Nolan with grinding forwards Kyle Clifford and Brad Richardson.

Feel free to dissent, but replacing Nolan with Clifford seems like a pretty inoffensive lateral move. To me, Richardson for Gagne is the most intriguing idea.

A shaky return?

At 100 percent, one could argue that Gagne is right up there – or maybe just a stride or two behind – guys like Jeff Carter as the most gifted “natural scorer” on the Kings roster. Yet as different as his game is from Manny Malhotra’s, the parallel between the two Cup finals returnees extends to their teams’ respective struggles.

If you want to ponder a wildly unfair stat, chew on this: the Kings are now 0-2 with Gagne in the lineup.

Finding the right mix

Again, I can’t state how unfair it would be to blame Gagne. Still, one could argue that Sutter “messed with a good thing” by injecting a guy who hadn’t played since December back into the mix. It’s probably worth mentioning that Gagne hasn’t played since Carter was acquired, so the team never really had a chance to see how another top-six-type forward would fit in within its current scheme.

Richardson isn’t the talent that Gagne is by any means, yet he’s a versatile forward who might make more sense on one of the bottom lines than a guy who has 283 regular season goals to his name. Of course, on the other hand, Gagne is a bad season away from being a 300-goal scorer.

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It’s a tough call, even if Sutter hasn’t really considered it himself. What do you think? Should the Kings and/or Devils make any changes to try to get an edge in Game 6?

What is wrong with the Sharks?

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Not that long ago, the San Jose Sharks appeared well on their way to winning the Pacific Division title.

On March 14, they had a seven-point lead on both Anaheim and Calgary. Gone is that advantage. Not only have the Ducks surged back into the fight for the division, but the Sharks have lost five in a row and are having a terrible time of late creating any offense.

Their struggles hit a new low Friday with a 6-1 loss to the Dallas Stars, a team with its own flaws and nowhere close to a playoff position.

At one point midway through the second period, the Sharks trailed the Stars by four goals and had only six lousy shots on goal. During this skid, San Jose has scored only five goals.

Earlier this week, members of the Sharks said they weren’t terribly worried about this losing streak. The losses, they had said, were in close games, which is true: San Jose lost three consecutive one-goal games.

“When I look at the losing streak, we dominated some of those games for long periods and found ways to lose. You never like to lose, but I’m not that concerned,” Sharks coach Pete DeBoer told CSN Bay Area. “We’ve got to obviously end it. We’ve got to get healthy. I don’t see a bunch of symptoms of a team that can’t get this fixed pretty quickly.”

This, however, was a blowout. Adam Cracknell recorded the hat trick, pushing his single-season career-high in goals to 10.

The performance at one point forced DeBoer to take a timeout, in which he expressed his displeasure.

Making matters worse for the Sharks: Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic left the game early in the third period and was put under further evaluation. He didn’t return.

The Sharks visit the Nashville Predators on Saturday.

Halak and the Islanders defeat Penguins, move into wild card spot

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Quite a hockey game between the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday.

It offered plenty to enjoy — Phil Kessel‘s dominant but unfruitful shift in overtime, a combined 86 shots on goal between both teams, a showcase of skill from the likes of John Tavares and Sidney Crosby, and two strong goaltending performances from Jaroslav Halak and Marc-Andre Fleury.

Josh Ho-Sang, who wears No. 66, which is just fine in the eyes of Mario Lemieux, set up Brock Nelson‘s goal in the second period.

The Islanders and their fans probably aren’t hung up on style points at this juncture of the season. They just care about wins and points in the standings, and those are exactly what New York accomplished with a 4-3 shootout win in Pittsburgh.

Anthony Beauvillier and Tavares scored for the Islanders in the shootout. Halak made 37 stops, including a game-saver in overtime off Matt Cullen. Halak trapped the puck, which was right on the goal line, between his legs on a chance from in front. The play was reviewed but no goal.

The win gives the Islanders 82 points, which is the same total as the struggling Boston Bruins.

However, the Islanders, with one game in hand on the Bruins, take over the final wild card spot in the East for now.

Video: Friday night fights between Bolts and Red Wings

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Not much offense — actually, just one goal midway through the second period as of the writing of this post — between the Detroit Red Wings and Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday.

But there has definitely been some animosity between the two clubs.

Tempers flared late in the first period, with Adam Erne and Andreas Athanasiou getting involved in a spirited scrap — and Athanasiou unsuccessful in his attempt at the take-down.

The bad blood continued in the second period with Greg McKegg and Anthony Mantha getting involved in a fight, and Mantha — given the instigator — landing a couple of shots with McKegg on the ice.

 

NHL, MLB player unions support U.S. women hockey players’ boycott

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Unions representing NHL and Major League Baseball players are backing U.S. Women’s National Hockey team players’ decision to boycott next week’s world championships because of a wage dispute.

The NHL Players’ Association posted a note on its Twitter account on Friday saying it supports the U.S. players while panning USA Hockey’s bid to stock the team with replacements. The NHLPA says the decision to go with replacement players “would only serve to make relations, now and in the future, much worse.”

Earlier in the day, the MLB Players Association encouraged all women hockey players to stand united behind their national team colleagues.

Read more: USA Hockey says it will not offer living wage, as dispute with women’s national team continues

The Twitter messages were posted a day after USA Hockey announced it would begin gauging interest of replacement players to compete at the tournament, which opens next Friday in Plymouth, Michigan.

Players are seeking a four-year contract that includes payments outside the six-month Olympic period.