Joe Thornton

NHL on NBCSN: Wild hope to rise from ‘rock bottom’ against Sharks

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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2014-15 campaign when the Minnesota Wild host the San Jose Sharks at the Xcel Energy Center at 8:00 p.m. ET tonight. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game and pre-show online.

The Minnesota Wild hope to climb up from “rock bottom” as they host the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday.

That 7-1 loss to the Dallas Stars was devastating, but in some ways, they’re set up nicely to bounce back. As tough an out as the Sharks are, they’re playing without former captain Joe Thornton and may be a little fatigued coming off of last night’s buzzer-beating win against the Winnipeg Jets.

Really, the tension could really rise if Minnestoa doesn’t begin to figure things out.

This begins a three-game homestand for the Wild with playoff-caliber opponents on the docket in San Jose today, Chicago on Thursday and Nashville on Saturday.

That’s a tough slate, yet such games (and matches against opponents closing off back-to-back sets, in general) are challenges that legitimate playoff teams must meet. As of this writing, the Wild are slipping out of playoff contention with an 18-15-4 record (40 standings points, seven behind final wild card holder Winnipeg, as well as San Jose). These are the kind of games that may help trigger a turnaround or accelerate a downfall.

On the bright side for the Wild, they’ve dominated the Sharks at home lately, winning the last seven games between the two teams in Minnesota.

One would think that Alex Stalock will play for San Jose after Antti Niemi started last night, but we’ll see. The Wild’s goaltending situation has been worrisome whether it’s been Darcy Kuemper or Niklas Backstrom in net.

The Sharks have the makings for a tough test for the Wild, but then again, isn’t that usually the case in the rugged West?

Poll: Are the Preds legit Stanley Cup contenders?

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The Nashville Predators are one of the big surprise teams of the 2014-15 NHL season.

Probably the biggest, actually.

Even with a healthy Pekka Rinne in goal and Norris Trophy candidate Shea Weber on the blue line, we can’t recall anyone who predicted the Preds would be 25-9-4 after 38 games, good for the highest points percentage in the NHL.

In fact, prior to the season, online sportsbook Bovada set Nashville’s point total at just 76.5. To fall short of that now, the Preds would need to finish something like 12-31-1. That’s how good they’ve been, relative to expectations.

So, with a spot in the playoffs seeming all but assured, the question is begging to be asked — do the Preds have what it takes to win it all?

The argument for ‘Yes’

Nashville has the second-best goals-against average in the NHL. And if there’s one thing that recent Stanley Cup winners have shown us, it’s that defense wins championships.

Goals against of past six Stanley Cup champs
2013-14 Kings (1st, 2.05)
2012-13 Blackhawks (1st, 2.02)
2011-12 Kings (2nd, 2.07)
2010-11 Bruins (2nd, 2.30)
2009-10 Blackhawks (6th, 2.48)

And as the Preds showed this weekend, they can also put the puck in the net. Nashville’s offense is now tied for seventh in the league, averaging 2.95 goals per game. Five-on-five, no team has a higher goals for/against ratio than the Preds, at 1.47.

The argument for ‘No’

It’s more of a subjective one. No matter how good Nashville’s numbers look right now, and no matter how much talent they have in goal and on the back end, can a team really win the Stanley Cup with Mike Ribeiro as its first-line center? Because that’s who it is for the Preds — the 34-year-old who signed for peanuts after he got bought out by the Coyotes due to “behavioral issues” and has never entered the conversation when debating the truly elite centers in hockey.

That conversation has been limited to the likes of Jonathan Toews, Sidney Crosby, Ryan Getzlaf, Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Patrice Bergeron, Joe Thornton, and Anze Kopitar. You know, players that have won Stanley Cups. Or Hart Trophies. Or Selke Trophies. Or Conn Smythe Trophies.

Go ahead and search the list. Try to find a team that’s won the Stanley Cup without a top center with some serious credentials. You won’t find many.

Time to vote!

With Thornton hurt, Sharks say slumping Marleau ‘has to find a way to produce’

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With his club mired in one of its worst stretches of the season, San Jose head coach Todd McLellan is prodding the longest-tenured Shark to pick up the pace.

Patrick Marleau — pointless in nine games, with just one goal in his last 17 — has been asked to start producing with more regularity, especially with co-leading scorer Joe Thornton (upper body) shelved.

“There’s two ways of dealing with it. There’s getting down and wallowing in it, or pushing forward and being direct and finding a way to get it done,” McLellan said, per the San Jose Mercury News. “I think Patty will take the second approach. He has in the past.

“But there’s no doubt that for us to have success, especially with some of the injuries, that he has to find a way to produce.”

The Sharks are 1-3-1 in their last five, mitigated by the fact they went 5-0-0 in the five games prior. Still, their latest issues go beyond their record; San Jose’s offense has fallen off a cliff lately, with just nine goals and a power play that’s gone two for its last 22.

For Marleau, putting pucks in the net has become a problem. The seven-time 30-goal scorer is on pace for just 15 this year and his .18 goals-per-game average is his lowest since breaking into the NHL as an 18-year-old in ’97-98.

Now 35, Marleau admitted the slump is starting to get at him — but also said the opportunities to score were there.

“I’ve been getting tons of chances, and it’s frustrating that they haven’t been going in,” he explained. “One thing that I’ve learned over the years is that you just have to keep working for that next opportunity, and sometimes they just go in a ton at once.”

After Sharks’ blowout loss without Joe Thornton, he’s heading to IR

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For the first time in 319 games, the San Jose Sharks had to play without Joe Thornton on Saturday and they suffered a 7-2 loss to the St. Louis Blues. They’ll have to bounce back without the star forward and their former captain though as Thornton has been placed on the injured reserve list.

The move is presumably retroactive to Dec. 31, but that still rules Thornton out for Monday and Tuesday’s contests. Sharks coach Todd McLellan previously described Thornton as day-to-day and an earlier report from the San Jose Mercury News suggested that it’s Thornton’s shoulder that’s bothering him.

Thornton has nine goals and 33 points in 38 contests in 2014-15. The 35-year-old hasn’t recorded fewer than 70 points in a non-lockout season since he had 68 points in 66 contests in 2001-2002.

San Jose also announced that they have called up forward Micheal Haley.

Report: Sharks’ Thornton ‘day-to-day’ won’t play vs. Blues

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The San Jose Sharks won’t have Joe Thornton in the lineup tonight when they play host to the St. Louis Blues.

According to David Pollak of the San Jose Mercury News, Thornton’s injury is believed to be a shoulder injury.

The 35-year-old’s current ironman streak of 319 consecutive games will come to an end.

Thornton has nine goals and 33 points in 38 games this season.