Five Thoughts: Ben Eager’s rough night emblematic of Sharks struggles

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Game 2 brought more of the same for the Sharks against Vancouver that we saw in Game 1. For the Sharks that means a lot of bad things. Slow-footed defensive play, bad reads and reactions, and uncovered MVP-type players around the ice. Throw in the careless penalties and you’ve got an even uglier result. Of course there’s plenty to carve up after such a display in the Canucks 7-3 Game 2 win so let’s just get to it.

1. Ah, Ben Eager. Never before has a fourth line part-time goon made such an impression in the playoffs. After Eager’s brutal Game 2 performance that saw him nearly single-handedly derail San Jose’s chances, it’s tough to think that we’ll see him again in Game 3. After all, when you take six penalties worth 20 minutes in the box, including a late 10-minute misconduct you’re not really generating a lot of goodwill for your team. Two of Eager’s minor penalties turned out to be killers in different ways.

Eager’s boarding call in the second period against Daniel Sedin came moments after Patrick Marleau dropped the gloves with Kevin Bieksa as a means to spark his team after Vancouver had taken a 3-2 lead. Eager’s dumb move in trying to gain some retaliation against one of the Canucks’ big guns turned out to be deflating. Eager’s tripping penalty against Mason Raymond in the third period ended up turning into a Chris Higgins power play goal that sparked a four goal third for Vancouver.

Add in his nonsensical celebrating after scoring on Roberto Luongo with 2:33 left in the game and being down by four and you’ve got yourself a perfect goat for everything that went wrong for San Jose. Eager’s actions all game long were the exact sorts of things the team doesn’t need when trying to beat the best team in the NHL. Coach Todd McLellan says Eager is 100% ready to go in Game 3 so it will be fasciating to see just what we get out of him there. He can’t possibly have a game worse than he did in Game 2… Can he?

2. One reason why the Canucks are the best in the league are the Sedin twins and over the first two games of this series, they’re showing just why they’re so dynamic. Daniel Sedin has 2 goals while Henrik has a goal and 4 assists through the first two games. They were brutally damaging on the power play in Game 2 and in Game 1 it was all about Henrik getting things done.

After a Nashville series that saw both guys get shut down hard they’re showing how vitally important Shea Weber and Ryan Suter were to the Predators success. Even the Sharks’ one “shutdown” guy Douglas Murray couldn’t keep up with the twins tonight. That doesn’t bode well for the future of the series for San Jose. The Sharks will have to figure out some kind of game plan to keep them quiet. Perhaps getting the last change at home will be the switch they need.

3. While frustrations will always bubble up in a game where you’re getting smacked around late, there’s something to be said of the lack of theatrics in Game 2. No diving, no flopping around, no over-selling of any calls or potential calls. Instead, we got more of the old school agitation from the Sharks. The late game scrums, Eager’s nonsense, and lots of chatter between everyone. The Sharks kept trying to push the Canucks buttons and the Canucks resisted everything.

More than a few times in this game things could’ve gotten ugly as the Sharks kept trying to goad Vancouver’s pests into doing something stupid and none of them took the bait. Instead, the Canucks’ stiff upper lip turned out to be all the agitation they needed as the Sharks continually made mistakes and took bad penalties. For all the rightful flack the Canucks get for their theatrics, their calm, cool reserve tonight makes them seem more dangerous.

4. The Sharks have shown in their previous four games that when the third period rolls around, their legs get tired and the game slows down for them. In Game 2, however, the slowdown started in the mid-second period. The Canucks started to lock down the pace of the game and the shot totals bear that out as Vancouver outshot San Jose 14-9 in the second and then 11-9 in the third. With things only getting worse as far as that goes, it’s tough to figure just what coach McLellan can do to get things right to make sure the Sharks don’t fall apart late in games.

5. Once again during the postgame the topic of certain players not getting it done came up for the Sharks. McLellan said that the time has approached to stop hiding who his problem players are and while he wouldn’t admit who he thinks they are, it’s up to us to figure that all out. Right now, the top candidates in need for an improvement are Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi.

While the defense is having issues of their own, Heatley and Setoguchi haven’t produced offensively the way they’re both capable of. Setoguchi played great against Detroit but he’s been a total non-factor against Vancouver. Heatley’s been on and off most of the playoffs and the majority of that being mostly off. It’s a perpetual issue for him in the playoffs but if he can find that “on” switch at some point, the Sharks will be able to keep up better offensively.

The Buzzer: Streaks good and bad around NHL; Leafs turn the page

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Turning over new Maple Leafs

One streak did end, although Sheldon Keefe has to hope that his NHL head coaching career will begin with a streak that goes beyond a debut win. The Maple Leafs ended their losing streak at six games by beating the Coyotes 3-1 in their first game after Mike Babcock fired. Read up on that win here.

From hot streaks to cold

The Islanders maintained their now-franchise-record breaking point streak of 16 games by beating the Penguins in overtime. In doing so, the Isles are also on a five-game winning streak. The Dallas Stars matched that winning streak with their fifth victory in a row, and are pretty hot in their own right, going 9-0-1 in their last 10 games. They’re also 12-1-1 in their last 14 contests.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Flames put forth a painful, pitiful effort in dropping their sixth straight loss. The Predators were more competitive in many ways on Thursday, but Nashville has also lost six in a row. Tense times for two teams that expected to be Western Conference contenders.

Three Stars

1. Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers

Heading into Thursday’s game, Giroux was on a three-game pointless streak, and only had a single point (one goal) over his past six games. The veteran forward exploded with a two-goal, two-assist performance to help the Flyers beat the Hurricanes.

Giroux’s two assists were primary assists, and his second goal ended up being the game-winner. He even threw in a 17-10 mark on faceoffs for good measure.

2. Zach Sanford, St. Louis Blues

Despite a modest 13:19 in ice time on Thursday, Sanford helped lead the charge as the Blues humiliated a flustered Flames team. Sanford scored the game’s first goal (thus getting a GWG) and added three assists during a four-point performance that was almost as impressive as Giroux’s output.

If you’d prefer handing this star to Jordan Binnington for his 40-save shutout, that’s totally understandable.

3. Aaron Ekblad, Florida Panthers

Florida found itself down 4-0 with less than two minutes remaining in the second period, yet managed to enter the third period down a more palatable 4-2. From there, Ekblad took over, scoring a goal and an assist during the third period, then adding the overtime game-winner to lock up a comeback win for Florida. Like Giroux, Ekblad came into the night’s action on a cold streak, having only managed a goal over seven games.

For me, Ekblad’s little trot after the OT-GWG breaks the tie with other players who scored three points on Thursday:

Highlight of the Night

No doubt about it, that goes Tuukka Rask, whose save rivals Marc-Andre Fleury for the save of the week/month/year. This post has more.

Benn the Bulldozer

On a less busy night, Jamie Benn trucking Mark Scheifele than scoring a pretty game-winning goal would be the top dog. It’s at least worth watching:

Factoids

  • The Panthers have now overcome four-goal deficits to win games twice in 2019-20, joining the 1983-84 Oilers as the only teams to manage such wins twice in the same season, according to NHL PR.
  • Sportsnet notes that the Flames are on a streak of 362:46 without taking a lead, the longest stretch in franchise history. Um, at least they haven’t squandered any leads, then? The Maple Leafs’ run without a lead ended at 446:47 when Tyson Barrie scored the opening goal on Thursday, also according to Sportsnet.
  • Via NHL PR: Cale Makar is the first Avs/Nordiques rookie defenseman to generate at least 15 points in a single month, and sixth overall among the franchise’s defensemen.

Scores

BOS 3 – BUF 2
FLA 5 – ANA 4 (OT)
NYI 4 – PIT 3 (OT)
PHI 5 – CAR 3
CBJ 5 – DET 4
STL 5 – CGY 0
VAN 6 – NSH 3
MIN 3 – COL 2
TBL 4 – CHI 2
DAL 5 – WPG 3
TOR 3 – ARI 1
SJS 2 – VGK 1 (OT)
LAK 5 – EDM 1

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Maple Leafs end skid in first Babcock-less game

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If it weren’t for Vinnie Hinostroza spoiling Frederik Andersen‘s shutout with 17 seconds left, Thursday would have been just about perfect for the Toronto Maple Leafs during their first game post-Mike Babcock.

Most importantly, the Maple Leafs ended their six-game losing streak with a win. (Yes, that makes brand-new head coach Sheldon Keefe 1-0-0.)

The symmetry starts to go up a notch when you consider that, on this night, Tyson Barrie finally scored his first goal of the 2019-20 season, which is also his first with the Maple Leafs. Barrie is up there when you picture Leafs with relief of Babcock grief, so scoring here almost feels on-the-nose:

That Barrie goal gave the Maple Leafs a coveted 1-0 lead, and that’s quite a reversal from how things could have felt if Andersen didn’t make this great glove save (which would have stood out even more if Tuukka Rask didn’t give Marc-Andre Fleury competition with an absolutely ludicrous stop).

The underlying numbers are promising, too. In particular, it has to be uplifting to see that the Maple Leafs managed an impressive 18-7 advantage in high-danger chances at all strengths, according to Natural Stat Trick.

There’s a lot to like for the Leafs, but there’s also no denying that the Maple Leafs have a lot of work to do — and a hole they need to dig out of. That win merely brought them back to “.500,” as they’re now 10-10-4 for 24 standings points in 24 games. They wouldn’t make it into the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs if they began on Thursday night, and Toronto’s ninth place standing is even inflated when you realize that teams right behind them hold games in hand. (Toronto’s 24 games played ties for the most in the NHL, while teams like the Lightning [22 points in 19 GP] loom large.)

Ultimately, though, the Maple Leafs can only control what they’re doing on the ice. So far, so good then, when you consider how they’re playing with Keefe pulling the strings instead of Babs.

More on Babcock, Leafs:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Blues’ Dunn levels Flames’ Mangiapane with huge hit

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These are painful times for the Calgary Flames … sometimes literally.

By falling 5-0 to the St. Louis Blues on Thursday, the Flames have now dropped six consecutive games. It’s hard not to think a little bit about the Toronto Maple Leafs firing Mike Babcock amid their slump when considering the Flames’ own struggles, both now and in their own disappointing showing in Round 1 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Talk of big changes (to coaching, Johnny Gaudreau, the GM, or anything else) can wait for another day … maybe one soon? For now, let’s bask in the fearful glow of Vince Dunn‘s hit on Andrew Mangiapane, as you can witness in the video above this post’s headline.

Is that hit symbolic of the Flames’ pains lately, or could you best embody that agony by comparing the team to its most snakebitten player, Sam Bennett?

Either way, these are uncomfortable times for the Flames, and not just Mangiapane.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Islanders’ point streak hits 16 games, a new franchise record

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The Penguins spoiled the Islanders’ 10-game winning streak, but not the Islanders’ point streak, back on Nov. 7. The Islanders really haven’t slowed down since then, as Thursday’s 4-3 OT win against Pittsburgh extended their latest winning streak to five games, and allowed them to set a new franchise record.

By going 15-0-1 in their last 16 games, the Islanders set a new franchise mark for longest point streak. Yes, that means Barry Trotz’s odds-defying group has accomplished something the dynastic Mike Bossy-powered ’80s group never did.

At this rate, the Islanders might just bank enough standings points that it might not matter much when/if they “come back to Earth.”

In the spirit of Derek Jeter wedging his jersey number into a word where it only kinda sorta works, the Islanders embraced the history of the 16-game streak:

When you’re winning (or at least getting a point) as often as the Islanders have been, you’ll need to win in different ways. After some comeback wins recently, Thursday’s game against the Penguins was a back-and-forth affair where the two teams traded leads, and the Penguins needed a last-minute goal to even get the game to overtime. Brock Nelson‘s two goals were key, including his OT-winner:

There’s been a “cardiac kids” element to this run, especially lately. Thursday’s win marks the third consecutive game where the Isles’ action went beyond regulation, and six of the Islanders’ wins (plus their lone OT loss to the Penguins) have come via either a shootout or overtime goal.

This also marks the best 20-game start in franchise history for the Isles, according to The Athletic’s David Staple.

Just resounding stuff.

It says a lot about the Capitals’ own hot start (16-4-4, 36 points in 24 games played) that the Islanders still aren’t in the lead in the Metro. Of course, the Islanders could close a ton of ground considering their games in hand, as they’re 16-3-1 for 33 points in just those 20 games played.

Looking ahead, the Islanders will go on the road quite a bit as they try to extend this point streak even beyond 16 games. To start, they’ll take a California road trip, and the away-heavy stretch doesn’t end there.

Nov. 23: at San Jose
Nov. 25: at Anaheim
Nov. 27: at Los Angeles
Nov. 30: vs. Columbus
Dec. 2: at Detroit
Dec. 3 :at Montreal
Dec. 5: vs. Vegas
Dec. 7: at Dallas
Dec. 9: at Tampa Bay
Dec. 12: at Florida

As you can see, the Islanders face a run where eight of their next 10 games are on the road. You’d think that maybe there will be stumbles (dare I wonder, *gasp* maybe even a single regulation loss?) along that way, but the Islanders keep buzzing along, and they’re 6-1-0 on the road thus far this season … so who knows?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.