Joe Thornton

NHL on NBCSN: Sharks strive to break slump against Capitals

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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2014-15 campaign with Wednesday’s second game as the San Jose Sharks host the Washington Capitals at the SAP Center at 10:30 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game and pre-show online.

The month of February simply hasn’t started off well for the San Jose Sharks, who host the Washington Capitals on NBCSN tonight.

Slumping Sharks

Beginning with a shootout loss against the Edmonton Oilers, the Sharks have dropped four of five games to begin this month, including two straight losses at home. If Washington continues this trend, San Jose will squander a brief-but-key three-game homestand.

At this point, the Sharks have to know that just about every stretch means something. Losing to the Calgary Flames on Monday bumped them down to third in the Pacific Division. When you consider games in hand and other factors, San Jose’s not as far above the Western Conference bubble as the Sharks may seem, either.

That’s not to say that the Sharks have all the motivation by any means.

If the Capitals aren’t careful, they could face similar problems when it comes to bubble teams being closer than they seem. Washington seems to have shaken off a frustrating run of losses to end January, but they’re beginning a very challenging four-game road trip in San Jose on Wednesday.

The two teams played an early regular season game on Oct. 14 as the Sharks edged the Capitals 6-5 via a shootout. While they aren’t particularly familiar opponents, there’s plenty of talent to go around with the Sharks’ slew of forwards (Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Patrick Marleau) going up against Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Washington’s expensive defensive corps.

If we get Braden Holtby vs. Antti Niemi in net, we’ll get to see a match between two goalies hoping to earn big contracts after this season.

We don’t see the Capitals face the Sharks very often, but it could be an entertaining match to close out Wednesday’s back-to-back set of NBCSN games.

(Check out this preview of the Detroit Red Wings – Pittsburgh Penguins game here.)

Video: Niemi robs Toews, Sharks hang on to beat the Blackhawks

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The play of Antti Niemi was the difference. And maybe a quick whistle, too.

Niemi stopped all 31 shots he faced and the Sharks were able to hold on for a 2-0 win over the visiting Chicago Blackhawks in a physical affair Saturday evening. San Jose grabbed a lead at the 5:09 mark of the opening period thanks to a goal from Melker Karlsson that appeared to go in off Chicago’s Duncan Keith.

From there, it was the Niemi Show. His teammates manufactured only 20 shots on goal the entire night.

He made a spectacular save on Jonathan Toews on a short-handed breakaway late in the second period, and then denied the Blackhawks’ captain numerous times on the ensuing scramble in the San Jose crease before a quick whistle with the puck clearly visible to everyone except the referee stopped play.

Joe Thornton scored into an empty net to secure the win for San Jose.

Video: Bickell crushes Hannan, physical play picks up in San Jose

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There has been bad blood between the Chicago Blackhawks and San Jose Sharks on Saturday.

Late in the first period, Blackhawks forward Bryan Bickell crushed San Jose defenseman Scott Hannan with a heavy hit near the boards, drawing a quick and small melee. There was no call on the play.

Hannan, shaken up on the play, remained in the game.

It got a little testy after that hit, with Joe Thornton and Andrew Shaw going to the box for coincidental slashing minors near the end of the period. The two teams combined for 19 registered hits in the opening period, which saw the Sharks gain a 1-0 lead on what looked to be an own-goal from Duncan Keith.

NHL on NBCSN: Sharks face Kings in California clash

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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2014-15 campaign with Wednesday’s second game as the San Jose Sharks host the Los Angeles Kings at the SAP Center at 10:30 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game and pre-show online.

Beating the Los Angeles Kings handily to open the 2014-15 season obviously didn’t erase all the pain from that infamous “reverse sweep” in the 2014 playoffs, but the San Jose Sharks still got a measure of revenge with that 4-0 win.

The Sharks will get another chance to spite the Kings tonight, as things haven’t been going smoothly for the defending champions lately. The aim is obvious enough for a Kings team that is currently on the outside of the playoff picture, as NHL.com notes.

“We need to be in that playoff spot before the break. No doubt about it,” Drew Doughty said . “We need to win this game. It’s a division game and it’s a big rivalry. We need to win it, and we need to go into the break feeling good about ourselves.”

Really, you can trace the bad times back to a 2-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Dec. 6. Including that defeat, the Kings have gone 6-7-7 in their past 20 games. More recently, Los Angeles has dropped three straight games and six of seven, squandering precious points from an expired seven-game homestand.

(While four of those defeats netted standings points, there was also the frustration of leaving points on the table.)

Much of those struggles stem from Jonathan Quick’s prolonged slump.

After starting brilliantly (.942 save percentage in October), Quick’s individual stats have dropped significantly each month; his January save percentage has been a putrid .861.

That’s not to say that the Kings are the only team that sees room for improvement, of course.

You know things aren’t going great for a team when its head coach questions their drive, as Sharks bench boss Todd McLellan did on Tuesday.

After beating Toronto to begin this seven-game homestand, the Sharks have dropped two straight games. They would greatly benefit from exploiting this opportunity to load up on standings points.

As much as these two perennial contending California teams have been struggling lately, there’s still plenty of talent on hand. From Joe Thornton to Patrick Marleau and Logan Couture, the Sharks remain loaded with scoring skill. Los Angeles can go toe-to-toe in that area with Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter as well while also boasting elite defenseman Drew Doughty.

Sharks – Kings games are always an entertaining watch, but things get that much more interesting when there’s something on the line. That’s the case tonight, January game or not.

Lundqvist wanted to make All-Star team, will rest instead

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New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist told the New York Daily News that he wanted to make the 2015 NHL All-Star Game roster, yet he’s not using that “snub” as motivation, either.

“Not really,” Lundqvist said. “I’ve been planning not to go (to Columbus in late January), spend time with family and recharge. I feel like there are a lot of good goalies and the competition is tough, but I think about it. I want to be one of those guys, obviously. I see myself as a guy that can compete against the guys that are there, but at the same time there are guys having strong seasons right now.

It’s easy to see why Lundqvist isn’t totally heartbroken about this situation, especially since he’s probably been the most consistently “All-Star caliber” goalie in the NHL during the last decade or so. He’s made three teams, yet with how erratically the events have been happening lately, his frequently elite numbers argue that he doesn’t have much to prove.

Beyond that, one wonders how many players are secretly glad to get the break, even ones who don’t profess to planning exotic vacations like Joe Thornton did. Lundqvist, 32, noted that he’ll use the break to “recharge” and spend time with his family.

In a way, the Rangers are probably glad he didn’t make it, unless this disrupts his rhythm.

Lundqvist has been absolutely lights out since December 8, winning 11 of 12 games, pitching a shutout and allowing two goals or less in all but two contests.

After another slow start (5-3-0 with a troubling .891 save percentage in October), “The King” has ranked among the league’s best once again. He probably doesn’t need an All-Star nod to confirm that.