Canes coach says Staal brothers will begin on same line

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It’s a great story to see Jordan Staal and Eric Staal united on the Carolina Hurricanes, but not every sibling combo can click like the Stastny brothers once did and the Sedin twins do now. Still, Canes head coach Kirk Muller told Chip Alexander that he’s going to see if the two find on-ice chemistry by pairing them on the same line — at least initially.

“I think that’s the great opportunity with training camp, is to experiment,” Muller said. “We’ve got lots of (preseason exhibition) games. The first initial thing, right now, we definitely want to give them an opportunity to play together in those games and see if there’s chemistry.”

“Lots of times, until you put guys together … you know, you’ve got to get a feel for it. I know they have a little history from before. But I think it makes sense right now to start off with them and see how they work together.”

Who should play center?

Honestly, I’ve often thought of Eric Staal as a weak guy in the dot, but he managed an above-average 52.5 winning percent in 2011-12, better than Jordan’s 51 mark. Still, faceoff skills are far from the only concern when determining which player should take the center spot (their preferred position).

Both have some limited experience on the wing, so Muller might mull over* giving both a shot. Eric’s been in Carolina longer, is the superior offensive force and is the older brother (you can rank those factors in whatever order you’d like). Meanwhile, Jordan’s generally believed to be the better checker, which certainly matters considering the fact that center is the forward position with the most defensive responsibility.

Who plays with them?

A more intriguing question is: who do you line up with the Staal brothers?

Do you load up on the top line with cerebral youngster Jeff Skinner? Add a thrashing power forward like Tuomo Ruutu to the mix or opt for Jussi Jokinen’s hot-cold creativity? Or maybe go off the board a bit with a depth guy like Chad LaRose or Anthony Stewart to diversify your offensive threats?

***

Feel free to share you hypotheses, even if Muller’s free to experiment with all different kinds of combinations. If nothing else, it’s more fun to mess with these ingredients than what he had before.

* – Sorry.

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.