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Bylsma: Sharks are NHL’s best, ‘with all due respect to Chicago’

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Call it the Thursday tire pump.

In advance of tonight’s big tilt with the Sharks, Pittsburgh head coach Dan Bylsma offered some high praise to the visitors from San Jose.

“With all due respect to Chicago, [San Jose] is the best team in the league right now,” Bylsma said on Thursday, as per Pens Inside Scoop. “They way they come at you, the way they play — I think [they’re] the best team in the league.”

San Jose currently sits second in the NHL in points (43), one back of first place Chicago but with two games in hand. In an ironic twist, it was a deflating loss to the ‘Hawks that kickstarted the Sharks’ recent hot streak — following a 5-1 loss at the United Center on Nov. 17, San Jose has ripped off six straight victories, including Tuesday’s 4-2 win over Toronto.

The victory over the Leafs started off the Sharks’ road trip well. They’ll continue on through Pittsburgh (tonight), Carolina (Friday) and Minnesota (Sunday) before returning home for a pair — then it’s back onto the road through Nashville (Dec. 14), St. Louis (Dec. 17) and Los Angeles (Dec, 19, though it really isn’t much of a road game.)

The Sharks have been getting contributions from all over lately, but the captain is really leading the charge. Joe Thornton has goals in three of his last four and now has 30 points through 27 games, leading the team while putting him in a tie for eighth in NHL scoring.

Thornton is on pace for 91 points this season, which would be his highest total since scoring 96 with the Sharks in 2007-08.

Related: Malkin (lower body) to miss tonight’s game versus Sharks

Defending Eastern Conference champion Bolts continue hot streak

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Remember those distractions the Tampa Bay Lightning had to endure?

— The future of captain Steven Stamkos, who is a pending unrestricted free agent and whose contract situation has been an ongoing discussion point for months now.

Jonathan Drouin‘s camp publicly requesting a trade, then having the 20-year-old forward sent to the minors and then suspended by Tampa Bay, etc.

Well, through it all, the defending Eastern Conference champions have emerged and are now one of the hottest teams in the National Hockey League . Since the start of January, the Bolts have lost twice. In 13 games.

They continued their hot streak Friday, defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins — another of those teams on an impressive streak — by a final score of 6-3, with Tyler Johnson leading the way with three points. He was one of six Tampa Bay players to record a multi-point night.

Penguins’ goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was pulled in the second period after allowing four goals on 14 shots.

Tampa Bay is now five points behind the Florida Panthers for first in the Atlantic Division.

For the Penguins, the loss keeps them on the outside of the playoff bubble for now. They remain one point back of New Jersey for the final Wild Card spot in the East.

Kassian has ‘no hard feelings’ towards Canadiens

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Zack Kassian never played a regular season game for the Montreal Canadiens. But unless he is held out of Edmonton’s lineup on Saturday, he’ll face his old team as a member of the Oilers.

The Habs acquired Kassian from the Canucks in the summer, after the 25-year-old forward essentially wore out his welcome in Vancouver under the team’s new management. However, an October car accident that Kassian was involved in set forward a number of events that appears to have ultimately changed Kassian’s life for the better.

He told reporters that car accident might’ve been the best thing to happen to his career.

After the accident, he was placed in Stage 2 of the Substance Abuse program and suspended without pay. He was reinstated in December and immediately waived by the Canadiens. A couple of weeks later, he was traded to Edmonton.

And, after opening up about his struggles with alcoholism, he’s since been recalled to the NHL, appearing in eight games for the Oilers, scoring twice and adding four points.

“I’m not looking for any redemption,” said Kassian, as per Sportsnet.

“Me, I got an opportunity to play for the Edmonton Oilers and I’m very thankful for that. I’m not mad at Montreal by any means. If anything I’m mad at myself for screwing up that opportunity. I’m just looking to move forward. Obviously it will feel nice if I get a goal [Saturday] or even better if we get a win but there’s definitely no hard feelings.”

Video: It took only 4:33 of the first period for Hurricanes to build 3-0 lead on Jets

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The Carolina Hurricanes got off to a spectacular start on Friday. Conversely, their opponent, the Winnipeg Jets, got off to a horrendous start.

Before Friday’s game was even five minutes old, the Hurricanes had built a three-goal lead. Phillip Di Giuseppe opened the scoring at 1:43 of the first period. By the 4:33 mark, when Jordan Staal scored, Carolina was up three, forcing a goalie change for the Jets.

Connor Hellebuyck was pulled after allowing three goals on six shots.

Update: It’s 4-0 Hurricanes . . . 10:04 into the game. Yup. Could be a long one tonight in Winnipeg.

Scrivens and slumping Habs face daunting task against McDavid and suddenly high-flying Oilers

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Connor McDavid is kind of good.

In the two games since his return to the Edmonton Oilers, he’s kind of — just kind of — had an impact. Five points in two games — that counts as an impact, right? Oh, and did you see this goal in his return earlier this week?

Since McDavid’s highly anticipated return Tuesday against Columbus, the Oilers have outscored the opposition 12-3 in two games. Small sample size? Yes. Against teams currently not in playoff positions? Yes.

But that’s still very impressive and with him in the lineup, there appears to be a sense of optimism in Edmonton.

Enter the free-falling Montreal Canadiens. Enter goalie Ben Scrivens, who only made his debut for the Habs at the end of December and will face his old team, the Oilers, on Saturday.

In four games with the Habs, Scrivens has been scored on 15 times.

The Habs, without Carey Price, have been in a tumble down the Eastern Conference standings for a long time now. And, really, there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight.

Now, the Habs and Scrivens are tasked with facing McDavid and the suddenly high-flying Oilers.

And Canadiens fans probably aren’t the cheeriest right now, as their team has gone from on the verge of NHL history in October to becoming an afterthought in the playoff picture in February.

In each of their last seven games, the Habs have failed to score more than two goals in regulation. So it would seem that if Montreal is to get a win, Scrivens will need to be as close to perfect as possible.

No pressure.

“Unfortunately, it seems like my whole career has been playing behind teams that don’t have that confidence, except for my time in L.A.,” Scrivens told reporters.

“It’s a challenge as a goalie but all you can do is worry about your job. I can’t go out there and start trying to break pucks out and do anything I’m not supposed to be doing. My job is to try and stop pucks and try and stop as many as I can.”

With the way McDavid and the Oilers have been scoring since the break and his return, it appears that will be a monumental task for Scrivens.

And with the Habs in a 1-8-1 slide in the past 10 games, the timing probably couldn’t get any worse.