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Christmas Q&A: Who needs a hug from Santa?

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Brough: I’ll say Joe Sakic. The Avalanche are a total disaster, the worst team in hockey. And as general manager, he’s got some big decisions to make about the team’s future. Should he trade Matt Duchene? What about Gabriel Landeskog? While it might be tempting to do major surgery on an underachieving roster, there’s always the potential to make things worse. I think Sakic would love a hug from Santa. And if Santa could score a goal or make a few saves, even better.

Gretz: I think John Tavares could use a hug from Santa. Here you have a player that has been one of the best in the NHL for several years, playing on a below-market contract, for a team that is at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. There have been a lot of head-scratching decisions made by the Isles over the past year, from letting Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen go, to signing a 30-year-old Cal Clutterbuck to a long-term contract (I know, Tavares and Clutterbuck go back a long way, but you still have to be sensible about this stuff), to having that Andrew Ladd contract hanging out there. Tavares deserves better.

Alfieri: I think Santa should take some time out of his busy schedule to give Steven Stamkos a hug. Stamkos was fortunate enough to have signed a huge contract this summer, but he’s also faced plenty of adversity. The Lightning captain has been sidelined by injuries multiple times over the last couple of years and 2016-17 has proven to be no different. Thanks to a knee injury he suffered in November, he’ll be out of commission until March. This comes less than a year after he missed time with a blood clot and just three seasons after he suffered a broken tibia.

Tucker: You mean besides Gerard Gallant? How ’bout Willie Desjardins. He’s been on the hot seat in Vancouver for about a year now, and the criticisms about his coaching — player deployment being one — are fair. But he’s not responsible for what’s happened in Vancouver. The way their roster has been built, the Canucks are not playoff contenders and never should’ve been considered as such by management. 

O’Brien: This season hasn’t been especially kind to goalies who are in pivotal contract years, but my goodness, it’s hard not to feel bad for Brian Elliott. After years of being bypassed for options like Ryan Miller, Jaroslav Halak and ultimately Jake Allen in St. Louis, he gets a chance with the Flames … and flops. Worse yet, Chad Johnson puts up blazing numbers, limiting Elliott’s opportunities to make things right. Elliott could lose millions from this bumpy season, and even if you think Hitch’s system inflated his numbers in St. Louis, that’s a rough break for a guy who put up a fantastic .925 save percentage in his 181 games with the Blues. Along with a hug, Santa should save one of his cookies for Elliott. It’s been a tough haul for the poor guy.

Halford: While I remain somewhat skeptical about Santa’s proclivity for hugs — aren’t his handouts strictly candy canes and bad mall photos? — I’ll play along and say Riley Sheahan could use one. No forward in the NHL has played more games (34) and had more shots on goal (51) without scoring a goal. And that deserves a hug, and maybe a shoulder to cry on. 

Editor’s note: In all seriousness, we’d like to pass along our best wishes to Bryan Bickell, Nicholle Anderson, Dave Strader, and any others in the hockey community who are courageously battling life’s challenges. 

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.