Joe Pavelski

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WATCH LIVE: Tampa Bay Lightning at San Jose Sharks

The San Jose Sharks and Tampa Bay Lightning don’t meet often enough to really build a hateful rivalry, but each teams boast collections of talent that should make Wednesday’s meeting a lot of fun.

The Lightning come in with Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos riding high as possibly the hottest one-two punch in the NHL. Brent Burns, Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, and the Sharks bring plenty of starpower to the table in their own right.

Tampa Bay won’t sneak up on anyone with its 11-2-2 record, including a 6-1-1 mark in the past eight games. The Sharks are heating up in their own right, bringing a four-game winning streak (as well as victories in five of six) into this one.

You can watch the game on NBCSN, online, and via the NBC Sports App.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

For a detailed preview, read this.

We may see a rematch of that Jamie Benn – Dustin Byfuglien fight

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Confession: generally speaking, I’m not a huge fan of hockey fights. To be specific, the choreographed ones featuring career fighters tends to be gross and/or boring far more frequently than they are exciting.

(Besides, why watch guys fight for a living in a relatively awkward hockey setting instead of trained fighters in MMA or boxing?)

Maybe we can blame this on Vincent Lecavalier vs. Jarome Iginla, but the exceptions also often come down to when skilled/star players drop the gloves. This isn’t to say that those bouts are always predicated on passion, yet they tend to seem more “real” than when some poor soul tangles with Tanner Glass.

It goes over the top when you either see two big, bruising stars throw knuckles (although the flip side of two tiny, often-ineffective fighters can be fun for the comic relief of it all). With that in mind, a recent Dustin ByfuglienJamie Benn bout was quite the sight. Watch it in the video above this post’s headline, and then consider this: Benn told Buffy to prepare from round two when the Dallas Stars and Winnipeg Jets face each other tonight.

Wow. Can officials call an instigator penalty before a game even starts?

(Fun fight fact: according to Hockey Fights, Benn has dropped the gloves with David Backes three times, while every other opponent was a one-off. Byfuglien’s never fought anyone more than once … until tonight?

For those who are entertained by big-time bouts, this has been a quality-over-quantity start to the 2017-18 season, as you may remember Ryan Johansen and Joe Pavelski squaring off.

Stars – Jets already figured to be a game to watch considering the offensive firepower on both sides, but if you need some violence sprinkled into all that talent and finesse, then it might check off that box for you, too.

Now, since we brought it up, here’s Iginla vs. Lecavalier:

(Note: an image search didn’t come up with anything for Benn vs. Byfuglien, so when in doubt, go with that funny-great photo of Joe Thornton vs. Benn, right?

H/T to Sportsnet)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Fight: Pavelski vs. Johansen; Not much fight: Predators against Sharks

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The Nashville Predators’ 5-5-2 record isn’t pretty, and their effort in a 4-1 loss to the San Jose Sharks wasn’t so pretty either.

Nashville couldn’t get much going against the Sharks tonight, who improved to 7-5-0 on the season. The two teams combined for just 48 shots on goal, so it’s not surprising that a fight and a debatable hit ended up stealing the show.

(You could safely use the eye-roller “These teams don’t like each other” with this one, too, as there were 12 power plays and 54 total hits. Maybe it’s fitting that Joe Thornton ended a milestone night where he scored his 1,400th point [on an assist, of course] by getting thrown from the fray.)

The Predators and Sharks were already playing a physical game, but things started to get nasty when Ryan Johansen hurt Marc-Edouard Vlasic. We’ll see if anything comes of this beyond the contest; in the moment Johansen merely received a boarding minor:

Actually, something did come of it, as Johansen and Joe Pavelski engaged in a rare fight later in the third period:

NBC Sports California’s Brodie Brazil notes that it kind of looked like a pro wrestling move happened during the fight:

This continues the recent trend of WWE-inspired bouts, as Kevin Bieksa delivered a “superman punch” that would have made Roman Reigns proud in a recent fight.

Indeed, that run of violence overshadowed much of the play.

It’s up to the Predators to bring the spotlight back to the scoreboard, as so far they’re struggling with Ryan Ellis on the shelf and bigger targets on their backs.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Sharks send Habs to their fifth straight loss

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Make that five straight losses for the Montreal Canadiens.

Jonathan Drouin had a goal and an assist on Shea Weber‘s power play blast, giving the Habs center a two-point night. That’s one of the few bright spots, as Montreal lost by a score of 5-2 to the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday.

This was a battle of two teams struggling to start the new season, with each sitting on only one victory. For the Habs, that victory was back on Oct. 5 in their season opener against Buffalo.

Since then, however . . .

And it isn’t about to get any easier for the Habs. This was the start of a stretch that includes three games in four nights against the bruising California teams — the Sharks tonight, the Kings tomorrow, and the Ducks on Friday. It could still get worse before it gets better.

For the Sharks, who were led Tuesday by Logan Couture‘s four-point performance and Joe Pavelski‘s first goal of the season, they end their five-game home stand on a positive note after losing three of the previous four games.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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Don’t be surprised if Kings, Ducks, Sharks finish with similar records

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Heading into the 2017-18 season, there’s a lot of optimism surrounding the Anaheim Ducks, a solid amount still going to the San Jose Sharks, and a pile of doom and gloom for the Los Angeles Kings.

Some of this comes down to crummy luck, but here’s an observation: it’s highly likely that the three California teams will finish very close in the standings.

Let’s consider the state of each team.

To go even deeper, check out PHT’s detailed preview for the Pacific Division.

Waddling through injuries

My goodness are the Anaheim Ducks banged up right now.

The OC Register’s Eric Stephens reports that Ryan Getzlaf won’t play in the Ducks’ season-opening game against the Arizona Coyotes. With John Gibson doubtful, it all adds to a troubling situation. Resounding workhorse Ryan Kesler could be gone for quite some time. Kesler is on IR with wildly underrated defenseman Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen, Patrick Eaves, and Ryan Miller. Woof.

It’s a testament to what GM Bob Murray’s built that the Ducks still have a fighting chance, as young players like Rickard Rakell bring something to the table.

Still, even well-stocked teams can only withstand so many injuries. Anaheim might just pay the price for its deep playoff run in 2016-17, not to mention the emphasis on aging, physical forwards in the well-compensated duo of Getzlaf and Corey Perry.

In an NHL with injuries turned off like a video game, the Ducks would be one of the NHL’s deepest teams.

Sharks getting sleepy?

Even in losing 5-3 to the Philadelphia Flyers last night, the Sharks put on a pretty good show. When those top-end players are clicking, they’re still pretty special.

That said, consider how old those guys are. Joe Thornton might be the next Jaromir Jagr in aging like hockey-themed wine, but he could also slip at 38. Joe Pavelski, somehow, is 33 already. With a shaky year or two in Minnesota in mind, many might be surprised that Brent Burns is 32. Paul Martin is 36 and Marc-Edouard Vlasic is a high-mileage 30. Even younger cornerstones Logan Couture (28) and Martin Jones (27) aren’t necessarily spring chickens. Joel Ward is 36 and even a supporting guy like Jannik Hansen is 31. This is an old group despite allowing Patrick Marleau to leave for a three-year term.

(Yes, Marleau was great last night, but the Sharks still made the difficult-but-necessary choice there.)

Although there’s skill in players such as Tomas Hertl and Timo Meier, being a regular contender has generally limited the Sharks’ ability to surround those aging veterans with a ton of talent.

A slip is coming, and the drop could be sharp. The Sharks just have to hope that it doesn’t come now.

Reports of Kings’ demise exaggerated?

Look, there’s no doubt that the Kings’ salary cap situation is … appalling.

In the long-term, GM Rob Blake has a mess on his hands that Ron Hextall might have winced at early in the Flyers rebuild. Even in 2017-18, there are some problems.

Still, it’s easy to get swept into excessive pessimism and forget that it wasn’t all bad for the Kings; it’s also possible that their luck might go up a tick.

Don’t forget that the Kings still dominated puck possession in 2016-17. Also don’t forget that, even at their best, the Kings tended to struggle during the regular season. Los Angeles ranked third in the Pacific during its two championship seasons; the Darryl Sutter Kings won two Stanley Cups and zero division titles.

Anze Kopitar‘s contract looks scary, yet a 2017-18 rebound is far from unreasonable. They can still revv up “That ’70s Line” with Jeff Carter, Tanner Pearson, and Tyler Toffoli (or at least elements of that). Perhaps system tweaks will allow Drew Doughty to be the fantasy-friendly scorer many dreamed of?

Now, again, there’s some negative stuff. Even beyond predictably depressing updates about Marian Gaborik, the Kings’ defense looks to be without Alec Martinez for some time.

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With the Central Division looming as a threat to take as many as five of the West’s eight playoff spots (for all we know), the Pacific Division could come down to the Edmonton Oilers and two other teams.

Don’t be surprised if one or more of those positions become, well, a battle of California. And don’t count the Kings out altogether in that joust, either.