Chicago Blackhawks v San Jose Sharks

Under Pressure: Joe Thornton

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“Under Pressure” is a preseason series we’ll be running on PHT. For each team in the NHL, we’ll pick one player, coach, GM, mascot or whatever that everyone will be watching closely this season. Feel free to play the song as you read along. Also feel free to go to the comment section and tell us we picked poorly.

For the San Jose Sharks, we pick… Joe Thornton.

To be fair, Thornton could be the pick every year. So what makes the 2013-14 campaign different?

First, there’s his contract situation.

Thornton’s three-year, $21 million deal expires at the end of this season. Traditionally, the Sharks have wrapped up Jumbo Joe well before free agency — in 2007, he signed a three-year, $21.5 million extension with a year left on his current deal and, in 2010, agreed to a three-year pact (for $21 million) hours prior to the Sharks’ home opener.

Sharks GM Doug Wilson has confirmed talks with Thornton’s camp about another extension. Thing is, circumstances have changed since ’07 and ’10.

Thornton is now 34 years old. While he’s the captain, arguably the greatest player in Sharks history and the franchise’s lone Hart Trophy winner, it could be argued this isn’t “his team” anymore.

Logan Couture, the team’s budding 24-year-old star, signed a five-year, $30 million extension this summer. He’s been pegged as a future captain and began undertaking a leadership position last season, when head coach Todd McLellan praised Couture for elevating “into an elite role” and “driving our bus.”

The Sharks also made an equally large investment in 29-year-old Joe Pavelski, signing him to a five-year, $30 million extension as well. Pavelski emerged as a clutch performer for San Jose this past postseason, scoring 12 points in 11 games.

So there’s Thornton’s pending free agency, and San Jose’s changing of the guard. What else? How about ’13-14 being Thornton’s chance to alter the narrative of his Sharks career.

Despite all the statistics and hardware, Thornton’s time in San Jose is defined by a lack of playoff success. In eight years, his lone postseason highlights are two trips to the Western Conference finals… in which the Sharks went a combined 1-8.

(In a telling stat, Pavelski and Couture finished one-two in team playoff scoring last year. Thornton was third.)

That’s not all Thornton has on his plate this year, either — he’ll be angling for an Olympic spot as well. Though he missed August’s orientation camp due to a family illness, Thornton was one the 47 players invited to participate and one of only two that played for Team Canada at the 2004 World Cup, 2006 and ’10 Olympics (Roberto Luongo is the other). He’s one of Canada’s most decorated international players, having won gold at the World Juniors, World Cup and Olympics, and he’d love to represent his country once more.

So to recap: All Thornton’s playing for this year is a new contract, a chance at the Olympics and — potentially — defining his legacy in San Jose.

No pressure, Joe.

For all of our Under Pressure series, click here.

Will the bad blood between the Canucks and Maple Leafs spill over into tonight’s rematch?

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There will be plenty to keep an eye on tonight when the Vancouver Canucks host the Toronto Maple Leafs.

— There are the extra curricular activities:

Tempers boiled over in the last meeting on Nov. 5. It started when Toronto forward Nazem Kadri delivered a controversial hit to Daniel Sedin, resulting in a fight between Kadri and Jannik Hansen.

There was no suspension to Kadri, which obviously disappointed the Canucks.

Alex Burrows speared Morgan Rielly.

That third period turned into a throwback to a much grittier era in hockey, with Derek Dorsett fighting Leo Komarov and then Matt Martin grabbing rookie blue liner Troy Stecher in the corner, prompting goalie Ryan Miller to leave his crease and grab Martin, resulting in a heated skirmish. The two teams combined for 171 penalty minutes that night.

Canucks defenseman Erik Gudbranson also made a threat to Martin once the game was over. His words were overheard by reporters.

It’s no surprise the league and its department of player safety is paying extra attention to this game.

“It was wrong,” Gudbranson told the Vancouver Sun. “But the number of times I’ve said that (on the ice) is probably higher than most would expect. But do I mean it? No. That’s the honest truth. No, I’m not going to kill the guy. That’s insanity. I was just frustrated at that point, and unfortunately it got taken to a level that I didn’t expect.”

— Two teams with apparently different philosophies of how to build a winning team:

The Maple Leafs are in a rebuild. And while the consistency hasn’t been there this season, they’ve proven on a number of occasions to be an exciting team with a very talented, promising crop of young players.

Auston Matthews is the face of this rebuild.

The Canucks, meanwhile, don’t seem to want to venture down the path of an aggressive rebuild. Did we mention they sit 28th in the overall standings? Did we mention they’ve had difficulty scoring? They’re 29th in that category. Did we mention they’ve had their struggles in goal? They have the 29th-ranked save percentage at five-on-five.

Canucks president Trevor Linden discussed the notion of a rebuild in a wide-ranging interview with Sportsnet, but it still appears the Canucks aren’t in favor of such a drastic step.

“What people fail to realize is the older group of players we had here—the Garrisons and Keslers and Bieksas and Higgins and Hamhuises—which are no longer with us, these are good people. These are leaders. Perhaps in Toronto that wasn’t the case,” said Linden.

“We have Daniel and Henrik Sedin here, who are very important to this organization and icons in the city. They’re not going anywhere. I don’t know how I walk into the room and tell these guys, “Strip it down.” I’m not sure it’s fair to these guys. There’s different circumstances, be it in Toronto or Carolina or Vancouver, that require different routes. It’s not perfect, but I’m encouraged by the young players we’ve introduced, and we’ve got some young prospects.”

Indeed, plenty to keep an eye on between these two teams tonight. Plenty to debate, too.

Sharp placed on IR with concussion symptoms

GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 18:  Patrick Sharp #10 of the Dallas Stars during the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on February 18, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Stars 6-3.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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The Dallas Stars wrap up a four-game road trip tonight against the Colorado Avalanche, but they will be without forward Patrick Sharp.

It’s unknown when, exactly, he’ll be back in the lineup.

On Saturday, the Stars placed Sharp on injured reserve retroactive to Dec. 1 with concussions symptoms.

“He has concussion symptoms. We don’t know if it is related to the last one,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. “He’s going to be evaluated, and obviously he is going to be out. It’s something he missed a lot of time with and something we want to be really careful with.”

Per the Dallas Morning News, Sharp must be out at least seven days, but it’s almost impossible to put a timeline on concussions given their complex nature.

Sharp has already missed time this season — 14 games to be specific — with a concussion he suffered in October.

“Most injuries you can circle a date, but the injury I suffered was a day-to-day thing I thought I had experienced in the past, but never quite like this,” Sharp said recently.

“The type of injury that I had, you hear some scary stories from around the league. … I’m thankful I was able to come out of it and feel healthy and strong.”

Matt Beleskey suffers lower-body injury in Bruins win in Buffalo

BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 20:  Matt Beleskey #39 of the Boston Bruins takes a shot against New Jersey Devils  during the third period at TD Garden on October 20, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Bruins defeat the Devils 2-1.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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The Boston Bruins have back-to-back wins, as they held on to defeat the Buffalo Sabres 2-1 on Saturday.

However, there was bad news for the Bruins as forward Matt Beleskey left the game after the first period and didn’t return due to a lower-body injury. The injury occurred as Beleskey was hit by Taylor Fedun as he was cutting across the Buffalo blue line. There was no call on the play.

Beleskey’s right knee collided with Fedun’s hip, as the Buffalo defender pivoted at the last second.

So far, there has been no word on the severity of the injury.

Patrice Bergeron scored the winning goal for Boston.

In 24 games this season, Beleskey has two goals and five points. The Bruins host the Florida Panthers on Monday.

Provorov scores two goals in 30 seconds to lead Flyers over Blackhawks

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 03:  Ivan Provorov #9 of the Philadelphia Flyers is congratulated by teammate Andrew MacDonald #47 after Provorov scored a goal in the second period against the Chicago Blackhawks on December 3, 2016 at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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One of the biggest reasons the Philadelphia Flyers should be optimistic about their future is the fact their farm system has produced a couple of potential top-pairing defensemen the past two years in Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov.

We already saw the impact Gostisbehere’s debut made a year ago when finished second in the Calder Trophy voting and was perhaps their most important player in the second half of the season on their way to earning a playoff spot. This year it is Provorov’s turn to make his debut, and while he hasn’t been quite as dominant as Gostisbehere was in his rookie season, he played his best game of the season on Saturday afternoon in a 3-1 win over the Chicago Blackhawks.

In just a little more than 20 minutes of ice-time, Provorov scored a pair of goals (both as part of a three-goal second period for the Flyers), recorded four shots on goal, and was a plus-six in shot attempt differential for the day. His two goals came just 30 seconds apart, with the first one tying the game at one, and the second one going in the books as the game-winner.

Have a look at both goals.

Both shots beat Blackhawks goalie Scott Darling from similar spots on the ice. Darling ended up getting the start on Saturday because Corey Crawford was undergoing an appendectomy and will be sidelined for the time being. The Blackhawks had to sign a backup goalie pretty much off of the street to serve as the backup. Coach Joel Quenneville said after the game they could not use goalie coach Jimmy Waite as the emergency backup because he would have counted against the salary cap. It had to be an amateur with no pro experience.

The win on Saturday keeps a couple of streaks going for the Flyers.

First, it was their fourth win in a row and is now their longest winning streak of the season. It is also the 13th consecutive time they have beaten the Blackhawks in Philadelphia during the regular season. You have to go back to 1996 to find the last time the Blackhawks won a regular season game in Philadelphia. We emphasize the regular season part of that because the Blackhawks did win a pretty big playoff game in the city back in 2010.