Jason Brough

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Lower stakes, but Sharks aim to ‘make a statement’ in return to Pittsburgh

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PITTSBURGH (AP) The stakes are nowhere near the same: hockey immortality versus two points in the standings in the second week of a long season.

Still, the San Jose Sharks and Pittsburgh Penguins expect the atmosphere to be a little more heated than the usual NHL October product when they meet Thursday night barely four months removed from Pittsburgh’s six-game victory in the Stanley Cup Final.

“It was obviously tough to go on that long a journey and lose the way we did,” San Jose coach Peter DeBoer said. “I don’t think there was any doubt at the end of the day they deserved to win, but at the same time I think for us it’s a chance to go in, and we’re a different team this year, and make a statement that we are a different team this year.”

The Penguins, in essence, are not. They brought back nearly the entire group that captured the franchise’s fourth championship and led to a raucous downtown parade in mid-June. A week removed from a giddy opening night in which the 2016 Cup banner was raised at newly renamed PPG Paints Arena, the Penguins are trying to focus on the next chapter instead of the last one.

That shouldn’t be a problem.

The Penguins are coming off sloppy performances in an overtime loss to Colorado on Monday and a 4-0 setback in Montreal on Tuesday. Captain Sidney Crosby – the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as the MVP of the 2016 playoffs – remains out indefinitely with a concussion and goaltender Matt Murray is still on the mend from a broken hand.

Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan is focused on his team getting its act together. The fact the Sharks (3-1) happen to be next on the schedule is coincidental.

“You’ve got to bring your A-game each and every night to give yourself a chance,” Sullivan said. “But certainly, coming off the type of game we had (against Montreal) and our opponent moving forward, there should be plenty of motivation for us to make sure we respond the right way.”

The Penguins did relentlessly during the 2016 postseason, seizing control of the best-of-seven final by taking the first two games at home and eventually closing the Sharks out on the road in Game 6. The giddy celebration in the visiting locker room in San Jose will be long remembered. It also won’t mean a thing when the puck drops on Thursday.

“They’re probably going to have a chip on their shoulder and we obviously didn’t play too great (in Montreal), so we’re obviously going to have a chip on ours,” forward Bryan Rust said. “I think it’s going to be a physical, playoff-like atmosphere.”

San Jose appears just as sharp as it was last spring when it reached the Cup Final for the first time ever. If the Sharks need a reminder of how close they came, they only need look up at Pittsburgh’s banner-strewn rafters. There’s no going back, however. Another long trek to the postseason awaits. Thursday night is just one more step in the process.

“It’s important that we keep building our game and trying to get better,” captain Joe Pavelski said. “We understand it’s a long ways from getting back to that position and this is a good team that we’ll be playing.”

 

It’s Matthews vs. Laine in Winnipeg, where the Jets have started slow

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The pre-game hype has been all about the first meeting between Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine, the first and second overall picks in the 2016 draft, respectively.

But for the Winnipeg Jets, tonight’s home game against the Toronto Maple Leafs should be about figuring things out, before the season starts veering off the rails.

The Jets have not been very good out of the gate. They’re 1-2-0 after three games, and their only win required a third-period comeback from 4-1 down to Carolina. At five on five, they have not controlled the puck enough in the attacking zone, and their possession stats reflect as much.

On Monday, the Jets dropped a 4-1 decision to Boston. They outshot the Bruins, 35-25, but failed to score on the 13 shots they tallied on five power plays.

“I still think we have another level of work to get to, with our work ethic,” said defenseman Tyler Myers, per the Winnipeg Sun. “It was better (against Boston) and we spent more time in the offensive zone, but there’s another level we can get to, (one) that’s more consistent.”

The Jets entered the season with a good deal of optimism, buoyed by the drafting of Laine and the arrival of top prospect Kyle Connor. There was also reason to think the goaltending might improve after Ondrej Pavelec was sent to the AHL, but young Connor Hellebuyck has an .863 save percentage in two starts, and oh by the way, the “long term” injury to center Bryan Little hasn’t helped either.

Meanwhile, the Jacob Trouba situation hangs over the club. He has to sign an NHL contract by Dec. 1, otherwise he can’t play the rest of the season. It remains to be seen if the club will grant his trade request. And if he does get dealt, what will the Jets get for him?

The Jets host the Leafs tonight, then play outdoors Sunday against Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers.

Related: Babies get in free: NHL changes ticket policy after outcry in Winnipeg

The winless Kings expect Quick to miss ‘about three months’

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The Los Angeles Kings expect goalie Jonathan Quick to miss “about three months” with a reported groin injury, according to Lisa Dillman of the L.A. Times. 

Quick has not had surgery and has not yet been placed on long-term injured reserve, but all eyes will be on GM Dean Lombardi to see if the Kings (0-3-0) make a move now.

At the moment, the Kings’ netminding tandem is comprised of Jeff Zatkoff, who has just 31 career NHL starts to his name, and Peter Budaj, who’s spent the last couple of years in the AHL.

Quick, in stark contrast to those two, started 68 games last season, and he started 71 the season before. He’s been a fixture in L.A.’s net, and it’s not so easy to replace a guy like that. When Quick missed time in 2013-14 with a groin injury, the Kings had Martin Jones and Ben Scrivens step in and play well. (Jones, of course, is now the starter in San Jose.)

The Kings’ next game is Thursday in Dallas.

Related: Now’s a good time to examine the goalie market

Report: Blackhawks’ van Riemsdyk is ‘available’ on the trade market

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Trevor van Riemsdyk has only played one game this season, and it didn’t go all that well. The 25-year-old defenseman was stuck in his own end for much of the Blackhawks’ season-opening loss to St. Louis, and he’s been a healthy scratch ever since.

Now comes word from Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman that Chicago could be looking to trade van Riemsdyk for help up front.

First, a caveat: Chris Hine of the Chicago Tribune followed up on Friedman’s report and tweeted that there did not “appear to be anything serious in the works at the moment.” Hine also noted that van Riemsdyk has a low cap hit — just $825,000 for the next two seasons, per Cap Friendly — so if the cap-strapped ‘Hawks do trade him, they either can’t take back much salary, or they’d have to shed it some other way (would they be willing to part with Marcus Kruger?)

But if the Blackhawks are indeed looking for help up front — and remember, they reportedly kicked tires on Nail Yakupov, so it’s safe to assume they are — dangling van Riemsdyk does make sense. He may have fallen short of replacing Johnny Oduya last season, but he could still help a team in a bottom-pairing role, or possibly in a more significant role.

He’s just less helpful to the ‘Hawks, who have Brian Campbell, Michal Kempny, and the surprising rookie, Gustav Forsling, now. Their depth issues are up front, not on the back end anymore.

Bergeron ‘on track’ to make season debut Thursday

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The Boston Bruins (2-1-0) should get a nice boost for their home opener tomorrow night against New Jersey, as center Patrice Bergeron is “on track” to make his season debut, according to head coach Claude Julien.

“We’re hoping he’ll be in the lineup,” said Julien.

Bergeron missed Boston’s first three games with a lower-body injury. Today, he practiced on the Bruins’ top line between wingers Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak.

David Backes, meanwhile, dropped down to play right wing on the second line with veteran center David Krejci and 21-year-old Danton Heinen.

Backes, the Bruins’ big free-agent addition, centered Marchand and Pastrnak in Bergeron’s absence, and Backes, Marchand, and Pastrnak were very productive together.

But according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, Julien said there was no chance that he’d break up Bergeron and Marchand, who’ve played almost exclusively together since Marchand’s rookie season in 2010-11, the year the B’s won the Stanley Cup.