In Sochi, even star players must know their roles

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SOCHI, Russia — Steve Yzerman was asked Monday what the biggest adjustment his collection of star players would have to make to have success at the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Not surprisingly, given he just got off a long flight from North America, Team’s Canada’s architect called the time change “a huge difference, number one.” And as countless others had already done, he referenced the larger ice surface, too.

But the “biggest difference” for the players? According to Yzerman, that was going to be “playing a lesser role” compared to what they were used to with their NHL clubs.

“You’ve got forwards that are used to playing 21, 22 minutes a game that are going to play 10 and 11, and defensemen that are used to playing 27 playing 18,” he said. “That’s a huge adjustment for them.”

Take Jamie Benn, the captain of the Dallas Stars who’s used to hopping over the boards for 25 shifts a night and being out there for every power play.

On Team Canada, his role is going to be dramatically different.

“I think I’m going to see a lot more of a PK role, checking line,” the first-time Olympian said. “I’ll do whatever it takes to win.”

In fact, he agrees his role may be similar to what the last Stars captain before him, Brenden Morrow, had with Team Canada in Vancouver – get in on the forecheck and “make things happen.”

Said Mike Babcock of Morrow in 2010: “He’s one of those guys that’s got real good hockey sense, but he’s satisfied to be a grinder on this team. He’s added energy.”

Adjusting to “lesser” roles isn’t just an issue for star-studded Canada, as United States coach Dan Byslma made clear Tuesday.

“Look at the defensemen that we have here,” said Bylsma. “Most of them are accustomed to playing 23-plus minutes, 24-, 25-plus minutes for their own respective teams.

“When you’re putting seven defensemen on your bench and onto the ice, I can’t do the math really quick, not everybody can play 23 minutes and [Ryan Suter] play 30, 33, 34 minutes that he sometimes does for his NHL team.”

Byslma still expects Suter to play upwards of 25 minutes a game in Sochi, so it may not be a huge adjustment for him. But it will for at least a few of the other guys.

Of the eight defensemen on the U.S. roster, Kevin Shattenkirk has the lowest average ice time, logging 20:24 per game for the Blues.

Ducks take control of second in Pacific after edging Oilers

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Connor McDavid was fantastic on Wednesday, but the Anaheim Ducks overcame his strong showing for a significant win in the Pacific.

McDavid scored a goal and two assists, yet Ryan Getzlaf was right there with him with three assists, helping the Ducks win 4-3.

With that, Anaheim is clearly ahead of Edmonton for second in the Pacific. The Ducks would hold home-ice over the Oilers if the playoffs began today, and better yet for them, a division title isn’t out of the question:

1. Sharks – 91 points in 73 games played
2. Ducks – 89 points in 73 GP
3. Oilers – 87 points in 73 GP
4. Flames – 86 points in 73 GP

As you can see, the Oilers aren’t exactly far ahead of the Flames for third, either.

Going forward, the Oilers have an interesting schedule: a mix of games against cellar dwellers (two apiece against the Canucks and Avalanche) plus two games apiece versus the Kings and Sharks.

The Ducks’ schedule includes two matches against the Flames, one against the Kings and one more match at Edmonton on April 1.

Long story short, the jockeying for position is far from over, but this was a pretty significant win for the Ducks.

Video: Connor McDavid shows off speed and skill (again)

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Connor McDavid‘s 26th goal of 2016-17 was a lot like many others: an impressive display of skill and speed. He didn’t blaze past the Anaheim Ducks like has against opponents on other occasions, but his rare wheels still came in handy.

Maybe more than sheer speed, this tally is a reminder that McDavid could do impressive things while losing little or no momentum. It’s one thing to have straight-line speed, but he has the hands and hockey IQ to take advantage of his swift skating.

McDavid already has two points in this one, pushing him to 84 points. He also extended his point streak to five games (three goals, six assists if he stays at one of each on Wednesday).

Islanders grab precious points by beating Rangers

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The goal posts might move from time to time – now they’re chasing the Boston Bruins more than the Toronto Maple Leafs – but the bottom line is that the New York Islanders need to get it done to make the playoffs.

They still have some climbing to do, but Wednesday represented a step in the right direction with a tough 3-2 win against the New York Rangers.

The Rangers built 1-0 and 2-1 leads in the second period as John Tavares struggled with a “hat trick” of penalties, but Tavares & Co. wouldn’t give up. They managed two power-play goals in the third (one by Nikolay Kulemin, the winner by Andrew Ladd) to turn things around for a significant win.

Anders Lee was also a big part of the win, grabbing a goal and an assist. The biggest difference-maker may very well have been Thomas Greiss, who stopped 34 of 36 shots (including all 11 in the third) as the Rangers created a lot of offense.

The Islanders now have 80 standings points, placing them two behind the Bruins for the East’s final wild card spot.

The Rangers’ hold over the first wild card seems quite secure, but they do have to worry ever so slightly about their play at home. With this defeat, they’ve now lost seven straight (0-5-2) at Madison Square Garden.

Video: Rick Nash scores 20th goal in sprawling style

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Rick Nash has his critics stemming from his playoff struggles in the past, but for those who support him, moments like these are satisfying.

Why? Because you’d be absurd to discredit how hard he tries when Nash scores goals like he did for the New York Rangers against the New York Islanders on Wednesday.

Nash went all-out for his 20th goal of the season, sprawling after scoring against Thomas Greiss. It’s quite a sight, and Getty Images really was on top of that one.

via Getty Images

The Rangers may need more from him tonight, however, as the Islanders just went up 3-2. Watch the remainder of the contest on NBCSN.