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Sharks better, faster and deeper than last year’s Cup finalist, says DeBoer

LOS ANGELES — One of the central themes going into last year’s Stanley Cup Final was the speed of the Penguins and Sharks.

But once it was over, all anyone could talk about was how much faster Penguins were.

It’s something Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer remembered with a chuckle at Saturday’s All-Star media session, as he prepped to coach the Pacific Division.

“We were fast… until we saw Pittsburgh,” DeBoer said with a laugh. “That’s obviously something we talked about, and I think we are faster.”

To hear the head coach explain it, speed isn’t the only thing San Jose’s upgraded.

DeBoer says this year’s team is notably improved compared to the ’15-16 group — a team that finished with 46 wins, 98 points and advanced to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history.

(A scary proposition for the rest of the Western Conference, this.)

“I like our team,” DeBoer explained. “I think we’re better than last year, sitting where we are right now. The young guys have added a dimension to our team. I think we’re deeper.

“The big question here is going to be health, and energy. There’s no secret and there’s no hiding from the fact that you go to the Final and then find a way to get back there. That’s just reality. But I think if there’s a group that can do it, we’re set up to do it.”

DeBoer’s comments come after GM Doug Wilson made several unheralded-yet-significant changes to the club’s makeup. The speed upgrade was most evident — highlighted by the free agent acquisition of Mikkel Boedker, one of the quickest guys in the league — but getting faster wasn’t just limited to skating ability.

“Speed isn’t just pure speed, it’s puck movement speed too,” DeBoer explained. “We’ve added [David] Schlemko on defense, who’s a puck-moving defenseman. So I think all those factors make us definitely faster than we were a year ago.”

Changes didn’t just happen in the offseason, either. Already this year, the Sharks have parted ways with young veterans Matt Nieto (waived, claimed by Colorado) and Tommy Wingels (traded to Ottawa).

In doing so, Wilson has embraced a youth movement, implementing the likes of Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc.

Labanc, 21, worked his way into the Sharks lineup after starring with the club’s AHL affiliate and has emerged as a regular, with 14 points in 37 games. Meier, the ninth overall pick in 2015, is a little less polished and playing in a smaller role — but both he and Labanc have impressed the veteran core.

“[Labanc], just the ability to get in position to score – I think he’s a very, very smart hockey player. He wants to score every night, which is fun to see as an older player,” Joe Thornton said in late December, per CSN Bay Area. “Timo, just his speed stands out, and how strong he is.

“Both guys are playing huge roles on our team right now.”

The club has also been buoyed by the return of Tomas Hertl.

Hertl, who was one of San Jose’s best forwards in last year’s playoffs, missed nearly the entire Cup Final with a knee injury, then missed almost all of the last two months with more knee problems.

Hertl returned to the lineup in San Jose’s final game before the All-Star break, which essentially put the team at full strength.

That, plus a burning desire to repeat last year’s run — only with a different ending — could make the Sharks a very dangerous team over the next few months.

“The guys are hungry to get back,” DeBoer said. “And I like how we’re positioned.”

Ducks cement Pacific lead as Getzlaf continues his mammoth March

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By the end of Sunday night, the Anaheim Ducks removed all doubt: they’re on top of the Pacific Division.

Now, it’s not the sort of substantial lead that the sliding San Jose Sharks squandered; Anaheim merely leads the Sharks and Edmonton Oilers by two standings points after beating the New York Rangers 6-3.

With everyone at 75 games played, it’s kind of nice to enjoy the clarity that comes with a clear lead (though the Sharks and Oilers will disagree):

Pacific top four (all teams with 75 games played)

1. Ducks – 93 points (38 ROW, 41 W)
2. Sharks – 91 poitns (40 ROW, 42 W)
3. Oilers – 91 points (37 ROW, 41 W)

Flames – 88 points (38 ROW, 42 W)

The Ducks are now on a four-game winning streak and managed an 8-1-1 mark in their last 10 contests.

With all due respect to Patrick Eaves‘ two goals, it’s Ryan Getzlaf who’s really playing outstanding hockey. He generated four assists in this one, giving him eight helpers in his past four games. He now has a whopping 20 points in March.

A lot going on – fight included – between Corey Perry, Brendan Smith (Video)

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If there’s one thing that’s undeniable from the clip going on, it’s that Corey Perry and Brendan Smith squeezed a lot of activity (carnage?) into a single shift.

Early on in Sunday’s New York Rangers – Anaheim Ducks game, both player delivered hits that were at least borderline dangerous. After that, they traded punches in a pretty solid fight (especially since they seemed a little tired because, again, this was a fairly elaborate sequence).

It’s way too messy a sequence to call neat, but there is something efficient about trading hits and then getting into a fight. That’s a mini-hockey feud in short order.

If you want a pretty moment to counteract all that, check out the great puck movement on this 3-on-1 goal for the Rangers:

Penguins lose to Flyers and lose another key player to injury

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PITTSBURGH — Even with a ridiculously long injured list that would be the foundation of a pretty good hockey team, the Pittsburgh Penguins still found a way to go 8-1-3 in their previous 12 games entering Sunday’s contest against the Philadelphia Flyers.

The injuries finally seemed to start catching up to them on Sunday in a 6-2 loss, extending their current losing streak to three games, matching their season long.

While the loss certainly impacts their pursuit of the top spot in the Metropolitan Division (they remain three points back of the Washington Capitals), and even their quest for home ice advantage in the first round, it is still not the worst thing to come out of Sunday’s game.

The worst thing for them would be the fact the Penguins lost yet another key player to an injury when forward Conor Sheary had to leave the game mid-way through the first period.

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said after the game that Sheary is dealing with a lower body injury and that right now he is considered to be day-to-day. It was initially believed that Sheary was injured blocking a shot, but Sullivan insisted that was not the case and that it happened in the offensive zone at some point in the first period.

With Jake Guentzel still sidelined due a concussion he suffered in a recent game against the Buffalo Sabres, that means two-thirds of the team’s recently assembled top line (Sidney Crosby-Sheary-Guentzel) is now sidelined due to injury. Sheary’s injury is especially concerning given how good he has been on Crosby’s wing dating back to the 2016 playoffs. Entering play on Sunday Sheary was averaging nearly a point per game (50 points in 54 games) with almost all of that production coming at even-strength.

They had yet another scare in the third period on Sunday when defenseman Brian Dumoulin had to briefly leave the game and head to the locker room after he was elbowed in the side of the head by Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds.

On Sunday, all of the injuries finally seemed to be too much with the Flyers pretty much dominating the game over the final two periods.

The Flyers received goals from six different players (Jordan Weal, Valtteri Filppula, Dale Weise, Jakob Voracek, Radko Gudas and Shayne Gostisbehere) in the win and outshot the Penguins by a 24-15 margin over the final 40 minutes.

“That wasn’t a good effort and at this point of the season we can’t afford to have those,” said Penguins forward Matt Cullen after the game. “I don’t think that was a typical effort for us. I don’t think we had a lot of life, to be honest.”

Even more than winning games the rest of the way the biggest concern for the Penguins has to be getting their list of injured players healthy and finding a way to avoid adding to it, something that has proven to be difficult in recent weeks.

At this point, whether they win the Metropolitan Division or not, they know their path through the Eastern Conference playoffs is very likely going to have to go through both Washington and Columbus, and they are going to need their full complement of players to do it.

One of the biggest factors in winning a Stanley Cup is having all of your key players in the lineup come playoff time.

A year ago the Penguins did.

Right now they are not even close to having that.

Video: Dumoulin shakes off elbow, Sheary out day-to-day for Penguins

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Barring a major comeback, the Pittsburgh Penguins look like they’re going to lose to the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday. Their injury losses might be just as big.

On the bright side, it seems like Brian Dumoulin was able to shake off an elbow from Wayne Simmonds. You can watch the hit, which didn’t draw a penalty, in the video above.

Meanwhile, Conor Sheary has been missing since the first period with what might be a lower-body injury.

The Penguins’ list of injuries is already pretty ridiculous, so if one or both of these players miss significant time, tonight will sting deeper than a setback on the scoreboard.

Update after the Penguins’ loss: Seemingly good news, if very early and vague: