Jason Brough

AP

With five straight wins, the Hurricanes are ‘building some momentum’

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Two weeks ago, we wrote about the curious Carolina Hurricanes, who couldn’t seem to translate their strong possession stats into victories. At the time, the ‘Canes were 3-5-4, dead last in the NHL.

How quickly things can change.

Today, after five straight regulation wins, Carolina is 8-6-4, just two points back of a wild-card spot.

How have they done it?

Well, they’re finally getting the saves. Cam Ward was in goal for all five of the wins, and he’s allowed just five goals on 131 shots, for a save percentage of .962.

As for the offense, it hasn’t exactly taken off, save for one five-goal outburst against Washington. But the ‘Canes are scoring just enough. Last night in Toronto, Jeff Skinner (power play) and Viktor Stalberg (shorthanded) potted goals in a 2-1 victory over the Maple Leafs.

“I think we’re obviously building some momentum here,” Ward told reporters, “and just carrying it into the next game.”

Two weeks ago, it looked like the decision to re-sign Ward was a mistake by GM Ron Francis. But Ward is now 7-4-3 with a .919 save percentage.

“When we looked at the options that were out there, we felt this was the best option for our team,” Francis told Sportsnet’s Hockey Central at Noon. “We didn’t have to give up picks or prospects to get somebody else. We had a guy that wanted to be there and was excited to be there. It’s great to see him playing well.”

The ‘Canes play tomorrow in Montreal and Saturday in Ottawa, before returning home to face Florida Sunday.

Perhaps their winning ways can lead to some bigger crowds at PNC Arena. Their last home game, a 3-1 victory over the Jets on Sunday, drew just 10,809. And, of course, there were those relocation rumors earlier in the week.

Sharks had little choice but to sign Burns and go for it

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It’s a lot of money.

A lot of years, too.

But the alternative for the San Jose Sharks was to let Brent Burns go to free agency this summer, and that’s not something they were willing to do.

Not with a chance to win the franchise’s first Stanley Cup over the next year or two or three.

San Jose signed Burns to an eight-year extension today, with a reported cap hit of $8 million. He’s 31 now, turning 32 in March. So he’ll be 40 by the time his contract expires.

“Brent is one of the most dynamic players in the National Hockey League and we’re very excited to get this deal done,” said GM Doug Wilson. “He has worked extremely hard to be an elite defenseman and at six-foot-five, 230-pounds, his abilities on this ice are unique and rare.”

The Sharks can worry about the tail end of Burns’ deal down the road. Right now, they’re in their window, and who knows how long it will be open? Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau are 37, Joe Pavelski 32. Each year that San Jose’s veteran core gets older, the league gets younger. And faster.

Moreover, the Sharks don’t have a particularly strong group of prospects — mostly because they’ve only drafted once in the top 10 since 2007, the year they traded up to get Logan CoutureIn 2015, after missing the playoffs for the first time in over a decade, they selected Timo Meier with the ninth overall pick. They didn’t get a first-round pick in 2016, after they traded it to Boston for Martin Jones.

That’s not to say there’s only Meier waiting in the wings. Other prospects include Nikolay Goldobin, Mirco Mueller, and Jeremy Roy. And remember, Tomas Hertl is still only 23.

But the Sharks proved today that the next few years is where it’s at for them. Whereas on a rebuilding team, it might have made sense to trade Burns at the deadline, they’re going to keep him, and hope they can finally get over the top.

Pre-game reading: Who’s gonna play for Las Vegas?

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This is a new feature on PHT. It’s like the Morning Skate, only not in the morning. 

— Up top, NBC’s promo for Rangers-Flyers on Black Friday. Hey, why is it called Black Friday anyway? Even Wikipedia doesn’t have a good answer. Black Friday. Pretty ominous way to sell some cheap TVs.

— Who’s gonna play for Las Vegas? Another good question. The owner has said he doesn’t “want a bunch of 35- or 36-year-olds that play a couple years, and then they’re done,” which may take a guy like Marian Gaborik, 34, out of the mix. Former NHL general manager Craig Button takes a crack at putting a roster together — and yes, Marc-Andre Fleury is on it. (TSN)

Corey Perry is off to a slow start in Anaheim, with just four goals in 19 games. Ducks coach Randy Carlyle thinks Perry is doing too much “standing still in the neutral ice,” which is kinda reminiscent of what Barry Trotz once said about Alex Ovechkin. (O.C. Register)

— Panthers d-man Aaron Ekblad isn’t off to the best start this season, but he’s trying to stay positive instead of “worrying about little things that happen here and there.” Know a good way to feel positive? Sign a $60 million contract.  (NHL.com)

— What is going on with the Ottawa Senators attendance? It’s the lowest of the Canadian teams, and the team’s outspoken owner isn’t very happy about it. In a related story, Go Redblacks! (Ottawa Report)

— John Scott on the new All-Star Game voting rules: “It’s good. I think, you know, something had to happen. I don’t think they wanted a situation like me to happen again. Guys from the AHL, guys who are hurt — I don’t think they should be included anymore. I think it was a one-time thing and … it’s a good rule.” (PHT)

— Gary Bettman on the new ASG voting rules: “I think it’s important for fans to have a say. Obviously, you want an NHL player at the NHL All-Star Game. And we think all of our players, in some way or another, are All-Stars.” Awww. (The Tennessean)

— The Detroit Red Wings will have to share their new downtown arena with the Pistons, who’ve been struggling to fill seats in Auburn Hills. The Pistons made the playoffs last season for the first time since 2009. They were swept in the first round by the Cavaliers, just like in 2009. (The Detroit News)

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The Oilers are out of their ‘funk’ and ‘looking to go on a run now’

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These are not your same, old Oilers.

It may have looked that way from a distance, when they dropped five straight after a hot start. But the Oilers have since won two in a row, including last night’s 5-0 destruction of the Chicago Blackhawks.

With the wins, Edmonton has climbed back atop the Pacific Division with an 11-8-1 record.

“We’ve been able to snap out of a bit of a funk and we’re looking to go on a run now,” said captain Connor McDavid. “Once you get out of one of those, it is important you take off from there.”

McDavid had two assists last night, bringing his season point total to an NHL-high 24 (8G, 16A).

The 19-year-old center is clearly his team’s MVP. In the seven games that McDavid has failed to register a point, the Oilers are 2-4-1. In the 13 games where he’s succeeded, they’re 9-4-0. They really do rely on him to create much of their offense, even if it bothers the coach that they rely on him so much.

That being said, McDavid isn’t the only one putting the puck in the net. Leon Draisaitl, Patrick Maroon, and Tyler Pitlick have six goals each; Jordan Eberle and Milan Lucic have five each. And not all those guys play in the top six.

The Oilers are also doing good things defensively, like having the NHL’s sixth-best penalty killing. Last year, their PK ranked 18th. The year before, it was 28th. The addition of defenseman Kris Russell seems to have helped in that regard.

The Oilers also have the puck more, as evidenced by a score-adjusted Corsi that ranks ninth in the league. Last year, it was 21st. The year before, 23rd.

And, of course, we can’t forget the goaltending. Cam Talbot has started an NHL-high 18 times this season. He’s 10-7-1 with a .920 save percentage. If McDavid is the Oilers’ MVP, then Talbot is the runner-up.

Granted, all those starts does beg a question — how many is too many for Talbot? He’s currently the only goalie in the league that’s played over 1,000 minutes. Jonas Gustavsson is the backup; he’s only made two starts (1-1-0, .898).

For the Oilers, whether or not Gustavsson can be trusted could end up being the difference between making the playoffs or missing them yet again. After all, Talbot is only human; he’s bound to wear down if the coach keeps running him out there.

Gustavsson started 20 games for Boston last season (11-9-1, .908), before Bruins management identified the backup position as one that needed to be addressed.

“We’re going to try and get Gus more games,” coach Todd McLellan said recently, per the Edmonton Journal. “But it was tough early when we were winning to not play Cam (every game).”

The Oilers play at Denver tomorrow, before finishing their two-game road trip Friday in Arizona.

Pre-game reading: On Craig Cunningham, one of the good guys in the game

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This is a new feature on PHT. It’s like the Morning Skate, only not in the morning. 

Craig Cunningham is in stable but critical condition after suffering an apparent heart attack just prior to an AHL game on Saturday. The 26-year-old is a very popular player, and for many good reasons. One example: During Cunningham’s junior career in Vancouver, he visited the team’s beat writer in hospital, and that writer will never forget it. (The Province)

Martin Brodeur is learning the business of management with the St. Louis Blues. It’s not always glamorous, but he’s having fun while “getting to understand the behind-the-scenes of what it takes to put a team on the ice.” (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

Why is the NHL expanding to Las Vegas when there are still problem franchises in Carolina, Arizona, Brooklyn, and Florida? The answer is money, but Scott Stinson wonders if it’s such a good idea. (National Post)

Larry Brooks takes the boots to the New York Islanders. “The season is young enough it cannot yet be considered a write-off. But the clock is ticking. It is ticking on Capuano, on Snow and on the Islanders.” (New York Post)

On the importance of the back-up goalie. There are a few NHL general managers who should read this. (Sports Illustrated)

Alex Burrows isn’t the most popular player in the NHL, but the 35-year-old is playing well in the final year of his contract with the Vancouver Canucks. Might there be interest at the trade deadline? (Vancouver Sun)

Niklas Hjalmarsson says he’s “playing like it’s my last contract.” But he’s actually signed through 2018-19, so don’t worry, Blackhawks fans, he’ll be around a while longer, “taking away shooting lanes, blocking shots” and doing his thing. (Chicago Sun-Times)

Tweet of the Day

Yeah, the Wild are having some trouble scoring.

Enjoy the games!