Mike Halford

Red-hot Sharks playing so well, they ‘don’t want a break’

SAN JOSE, Calif. — After an up-and-down start to the season, the San Jose Sharks head into the All-Star break on quite the roll.

Led by a rejuvenated Joe Thornton, All-Stars Joe Pavelski and Brent Burns and newcomer goalie Martin Jones, the Sharks have earned at least a point in 10 straight games heading into the break for their longest point streak in five years – when they made their last trip to the conference finals.

“When you’re playing this good you don’t want a break,” Thornton said. “You just want to play every other day like we’ve been doing because you feel so good. We’ve been playing a lot of minutes. If the guys use the rest the right way we’ll be fine coming out of the break.”

The Sharks will enjoy six days off before starting a four-game road trip in Anaheim next Tuesday. They will come back in second place in the Pacific Division, thanks to an 8-0-2 stretch that vaulted them up from sixth place and is the best run for the team since going 9-0-1 from Jan. 15, 2011, to Feb. 9, 2011.

After missing the playoffs last year for the first time since 2003, the Sharks are once again a contender in the Western Conference.

“We put ourselves in a decent spot, have some momentum,” forward Tommy Wingels said. “Obviously can climb in our division a bit, but go to the break feeling good about yourselves. Then you go from there.”

It was an odd start to the first season under coach Peter DeBoer as the Sharks struggled to generate any consistent play at home but were outstanding on the road. San Jose lost 12 of the first 17 games at the usually imposing Shark Tank but offset that with a perfect six-game road trip in November and other good stretches away from home.

Injuries to center Logan Couture, who missed 30 games with two lower-body ailments, and shorter stints that forced the team to play without one of its top defensemen for eight games hindered the Sharks.

“I think the personnel setbacks played a role in that,” DeBoer said. “I don’t think it was the guys getting the hang of the system. That came pretty quickly. I think not having a full roster but also how key the pieces were that were missing played a role in that.”

But with the team mostly healthy in January, DeBoer made a key lineup change that has helped spark this recent run. He moved the inconsistent Tomas Hertl to the top line with Thornton and Pavelski, where he has shined with six goals and five assists during the 10-game streak.

Thornton has scored in all 10 of those games, recording two goals and 12 assists, and has 25 points over the past 19 games to become the 33rd player in NHL history to reach 1,300 career points.

“We’ve got some confidence, he definitely has some confidence and he’s making some great plays and it’s typical Jumbo,” Pavelski said. “It’s what he does. Since Hertl’s come on and found his stride here, it’s been definitely a fun line to be on.”

DeBoer also separated Couture and Patrick Marleau, giving the team strong centers on three lines. That depth has helped lead to the success of the past few weeks.

“I don’t think it’s any secret that that kind of slotted everybody in the right places,” DeBoer said. “All of a sudden our depth scoring is increasing, which is huge. The reality of this league is it’s a one-goal-a-night league. And certain players are one-goal-a-night players on the positive and either defending or creating. We’re just on the right side of that now.”

Goalie nods: Mason hurt, Neuvirth to face ex-Caps ‘mates

Michal Neuvirth
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Michal Neuvirth will make his second straight start — and first against his former team — when Philly takes on Washington at Verizon tonight.

Neuvirth is getting the nod ahead of Steve Mason, who was held out of the contest due to a lower-body ailment. The injury was severe enough to keep Mason from backing up, as the Flyers recalled veteran Jason LaBarbera from AHL Lehigh Valley to serve as the No. 2.

“I just have great memories,” Neuvirth said of his six years in Washington, per NHL.com. “Really liked it here, but it’s the past and now I’m playing for the Flyers. I’m going to do my best tonight for the Flyers.”

Neuvirth, 27, is enjoying a really solid campaign in Philly, posting a 10-6-2 record with a .934 save percentage and 2.10 GAA. He’s coming off a 3-2 loss to Boston in which he made 28 saves.

For the Caps, Braden Holtby will be in goal.

Elsewhere…

— One night after James Reimer was torched by the Panthers, Jonathan Bernier goes for the Leafs. He’ll be up against Andrei Vasilevskiy, who will give Ben Bishop the night off in Tampa Bay.

Karri Ramo will start for Calgary when the Flames host the Preds. No word yet on who Nashville will start, but it could be a Carter Hutton game after Pekka Rinne played extremely well in the Preds’ 2-1 win over Vancouver on Tuesday.

— No definitive starters from either the Kings or Avs as the two prep to do battle in L.A. Calvin Pickard got the hook last night against the Sharks, so the team could go with AHLer Roman Will tonight. L.A. is likely to start Jonathan Quick.

‘Hawks want to extend Panarin this summer

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The Chicago Blackhawks aren’t messing around with keeping Artemi Panarin in the fold.

Per the Sun-Times, ‘Hawks GM Stan Bowman said the plan is to work on a contract extension with Panarin this summer — even though the Russian rookie’s entry-level deal has one more year on it, and won’t expire until July 2017.

Patrick Kane would be pretty upset if we didn’t,” Bowman said.

Bowman’s remarks are in reference to the Panarin-Kane-Artem Anisimov line, which has been virtually unstoppable for most of this season. Kane leads the NHL in points, with 73, while Panarin leads all rookie skaters with 46.

(In both instances, Kane and Panarin are way out in front — Jamie Benn sits second in NHL scoring with 58 points, while Jack Eichel is second among rookies with 34).

It’ll be really interesting to see the financials on Panarin’s next deal.

His current ELC is a complex one, laden with performance bonuses (see here for more). The important thing for Chicago is that it only carries a $812,500 cap hit — but that’s unlikely to be the case with his second deal.

Panarin will be 25 next season and will probably be looking to cash in — he got a late start to his NHL career, after spending his first seven professional seasons in the KHL.

That said, he’s still an RFA at the expiration of his current deal, meaning Bowman and the ‘Hawks have some control over the situation.

 

Oilers claim Clendening off waivers from Ducks

during the NHL game at Gila River Arena on October 10, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona.
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Edmonton made a move to bolster its blueline on Wednesday, picking up d-man Adam Clendening off waivers from Anaheim.

Clendening, 23, is now with his fifth organization in just over a year. Taken 36th overall by Chicago in 2011, he’s spent time with the Blackhawks, Canucks, Penguins and Ducks — though he failed to appear in a single game for Anaheim before getting waived.

A right-handed shot with some good offensive upside — he had 12 goals and 59 points in 74 games in his last full AHL campaign — Clendening was always likely to be picked up on waivers. He’s still relatively young and carries a mere $761,250 cap hit.

Clendening should be in line for minutes in Edmonton. Brandon Davidson was placed on IR prior to the All-Star break with an undisclosed ailment, and the Oilers have rotated in a number of bottom-pairing guys throughout the season.

Report: Anaheim’s Stoner expected to plead guilty to grizzly bear hunting charges

Calgary Flames v Anaheim Ducks - Game One
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The long, drawn-out saga involving Ducks defenseman Clayton Stoner and a controversial grizzly bear hunt he participated in three years ago could soon be coming to a close.

Per CBC, Stoner is expected to plead guilty to some of the charges brought against him. He’s been charged with two counts of knowingly making a false statement to obtain a hunting license, and individual counts of hunting out of season, hunting without a license and unlawfully possessing dead wildlife.

CBC reports it’s unclear which charges he’ll plead to.

Charges against Stoner were initially filed last September, nearly two years after pictures of him hoisting a grizzly’s severed head first appeared online.

Stoner, who at the time of the hunt was playing with the Minnesota Wild, identified himself as an avid outdoorsman that “grew up hunting and fishing in British Columbia.”

In a statement released by the Wild’s PR team, Stoner said he conducted himself in a legal manner.

“I applied for and received a grizzly bear hunting license through a British Columbia limited entry lottery last winter and shot a grizzly bear with my license while hunting with my father, uncle and a friend in May,” he explained. “I love to hunt and fish and will continue to do so with my family and friends in British Columbia.”

But authorities had a different take.

From the Vancouver Sun:

The legal argument is that Stoner did not meet those conditions due to living out of the province as a professional hockey player. At the time of the hunt, Stoner played for the Minnesota Wild but joined Anaheim as a free agent in 2014.

“All five charges are directly related to the residency requirement,” [conservation office Detective-Sergeant Cynthia] Mann said.

Stoner came under fire in the weeks since the charges were filed. In mid-October, a group of animal activists protested outside a Ducks home game at the Honda Center.