Pre-game reading: Ranking the NHL’s best, young cores

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— Up top, Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg made quite the impassioned plea after an “embarrassing” home loss to Arizona. But it didn’t do much good, as Detroit has lost two of three since. The Wings play tonight at Florida before starting their Christmas break.

— TSN’s Frank Seravalli took on a neat task, ranking all 30 NHL teams by their four core players under the age of 24. The Edmonton Oilers, with no playoff appearances since 2006, rank first, with a core of Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Jesse Puljujarvi and Oscar Klefbom. The Los Angeles Kings, with two Stanley Cup victories in the last five seasons, are last, with a core of Adrian Kempe, Kale Clague, Erik Cernak, and Jacob Moverare. (TSN)

— NHL.com’s goalie guru, Kevin Woodley, asked a bunch of netminders which of their counterparts’ skills they’d like to receive for Christmas. For example, Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk would take Carey Price‘s skating. “Price pushes and stops and he’s set like he’s floating out there.” Carolina’s Eddie Lack, meanwhile, would love to have Dubnyk’s puck-tracking ability. “He’s been the best goalie in the league, he’s really playing great and his biggest strengths are his tracking and patience.” (NHL.com)

— Speaking of Dubnyk and Price, Pierre LeBrun reached out to a few NHL general managers and asked them which goalie was leading the Vezina Trophy race. Said one GM: “Price, Bobrovsky, Dubnyk. I would say it’s Price’s trophy to lose.” Another also said Price. But another said Dubnyk, so don’t count anybody out yet. The Vezina Trophy is voted on by the 30 NHL GMs, so those opinions aren’t for nothing. (ESPN.com)

— Should the Washington Capitals be worried about Alex Ovechkin‘s production? “Ovechkin is averaging 3.94 shots per game this season, compared to 5.04 a season ago, and while he leads the Washington Capitals with 14 goals, that’s three fewer than he had through 31 games last season. If he maintains his current pace, he could finish with one of the least productive seasons of his high-scoring career.” (Washington Post)

— If the NHL bails on the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, would it even be allowed to send players to Beijing’s Games in 2022? That’s a pretty good question, because as commissioner Gary Bettman concedes, “China’s a very big country. There seems to be a growing interest in hockey, partly I suppose because they’re hosting the Olympics in 2022. I think there’s a great opportunity to grow the game there.” (Postmedia)

Enjoy the games!

Video: AHL goalie Jonas Gustavsson scores his first career goal

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He didn’t shoot, but Jonas Gustavsson still scored.

The former NHL netminder, now with the Bakersfield Condors in the AHL, scored his first career goal Friday, as part of his team’s victory over the San Diego Gulls.

From the AHL:

With San Diego goaltender Dustin Tokarski on the bench for an extra attacker and the Gulls working on a power play, Gustavsson made a save before an errant San Diego pass slid down the length of the ice and into the vacated net at 16:56 of the third period.

Gustavsson is the fifth AHL goaltender to be credited with a goal without actually shooting the puck into the opposition net. In addition to his goal, Gustavsson stopped 30 of 31 shots in the Condors victory.

Bolts and Islanders both win, which is bad news for Bruins

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The New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning each had to work overtime to decide their separate games, but when they ended, both clubs were victorious.

And that makes things even more interesting in the Eastern Conference wild card race.

With their shootout win in Pittsburgh, the Islanders tie the Bruins in points but take over the final playoff spot for now with fewer games played. The Lightning, despite an abundance of injuries all season, are just a point back of Boston and New York.

Nikita Kucherov scored the winner for Tampa Bay against the Red Wings. He’s up to 38 goals, which is second most in the league behind Sidney Crosby, currently at 42 goals.

Sellers leading up to the trade deadline, and without Steven Stamkos since the middle of November, the Lightning are in the thick of this race, even if others may have counted them out.

“Once again, people counted us out,” defenseman Victor Hedman told the Tampa Bay Times. “But we showed a lot of character. And we’re right back in it.”

The Bolts don’t play again until Monday, when they host the Chicago Blackhawks — only one of the hottest teams in the league.

Meanwhile, Saturday’s busy slate of games includes a showdown between the Bruins and Islanders. For Boston, it’s a chance for redemption after a particularly costly third period against Tampa Bay on Thursday.

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.

The Ducks defeated the Jets on Friday, moving into a tie with the Sharks at 91 points.

San Jose’s 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.