Risk Factors: San Jose Sharks edition

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From the same bunch of pessimists who brought you “Why your team won’t win the Stanley Cup,” PHT presents a new series called “Risk Factors,” i.e. three reasons to be worried about each NHL team in 2014-15.

San Jose Sharks

1. They might’ve had a nervous breakdown this summer. From Mercury News columnist Tim Kawakami, who in June said the Sharks were “having a bit of a nervous breakdown right now, under financial and competitive pressure.”

The revamping of the roster has to happen because the Sharks can’t hold back all re-tooling just for that one Cup run when they’ve finally concluded that their most famous guys aren’t destined to lead anybody to a Cup.

Also, behind the scenes, it has been presumed for a few years now that the Sharks will be seeking a new arena very soon to replace SAP Center, which is almost always sold out and is a fine place to see a game but just doesn’t have the mega-revenue-generating features of the new wave of buildings.

I’ve heard for a while now that there is room in Santa Clara near Levi’s Stadium for a hockey arena and that there might have already been some informal conversations about the Sharks’ situation.

In the months following, San Jose made a series of bold, sometimes puzzling decisions: Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau were stripped of the “C” and “A”, respectively; noted pugilist John Scott was signed in free agency to provide an “element of security” and GM Doug Wilson kept referring to the Sharks as a “tomorrow team,” a classification Thornton took issue with.

2. They didn’t address the goaltending problem. Or, refused to acknowledge they had one. Lost in last year’s playoff collapse to the Kings was the fact that, throughout the seven-game series, San Jose’s goalies weren’t very good; Antti Niemi finished with a 3.74 GAA and .884 save percentage while Alex Stalock — who was summoned to replace Niemi as the starter in Game 6 — allowed four goals on 30 shots (an .867 save percentage) and was promptly returned to the bench in Game 7.

The response? San Jose gave Stalock a two-year contract extension this summer, then announced the starting gig would be up for grabs heading into the season… except there might not actually be a clear-cut No. 1 now, because the team is toying with a two-man platoon.

“I think we have 1-A and 1-B, and we want to play both of them,” head coach Todd McLellan said, per the Mercury News. “We play 16 of our first 21 on the road, I think, so both goaltenders are going to need to play and play a lot, and that’s a perfect scenario for our team — we’re going to need both of them.”

Looking ahead, there has to be some concern about Niemi. Now 31, he posted the lowest save percentage of his time as a Shark last season (.913) and his overall stats were somewhat padded by an absolutely ridiculous October, in which he went 9-1-3 with a .924 save percentage and recorded two of his four shutouts on the year.

But rather than go out and get a goalie to challenge Niemi — like, say, Ryan Miller or Jonas Hiller — San Jose stuck with Stalock, who posted excellent numbers in the regular season (12-5-2, .932 save percentage, 1.87 GAA) but is still fairly untested. The Minnesota native has just 27 games of NHL experience under his belt and, at age 27, is something of an unknown entity.

3. They’re still the Sharks. Some will argue, quite legitimately, that San Jose didn’t undergo enough change in the wake of the most painful playoff collapse in franchise history (and given the Sharks’ history of playoff collapses, this is no small feat.) Instead of sweeping changes in the front office and behind the bench, jobs weren’t just retained — in certain cases, guys were rewarded with extensions. Assistant GM Joe Will was given a new deal, as was assistant coach Larry Robinson.

Even the leadership group change wasn’t a full-scale upheaval. McLellan hasn’t ruled out giving the “C” and “A” back to Thornton and Marleau, saying player performance will decide who makes up the new leadership group. (“Thornton could end up being the captain. I don’t know, none of us know,” McLellan told the Merc in August. “If it’s real evident he’s the guy, he’ll be the captain.”)

Yes, Martin Havlat was bought out and yes, Dan Boyle was shipped out. But those veteran departures didn’t come as a surprise to many — almost expected, really — and San Jose was a virtual non-player in free agency, opting to focus on retaining the players it already had.

As the old saying goes: The more things change…

The Buzzer: Fleury shuts out Penguins; hats off to Jost

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Three Stars

1. Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights. The Pittsburgh Penguins did everything they could on Saturday night, and probably even had the better of the play against the Golden Knights, but Fleury stopped all 29 shots he faced — including a couple of highlight reel saves — to get the shutout against his former team. Fleury is off to a great start this season and now has a .934 save percentage in his first six starts.

2. Tyson Jost, Colorado Avalanche. The Avalanche improved to 7-0-1 by rolling over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night thanks in large part to a hat trick from Jost. Expectations were sky high for the Avalanche at the start of the season and they have done nothing but justify them so far. They have the best top line in hockey, an exciting young defense, and strengthened their secondary scoring during the offseason. It is now really difficult to find a clear weakness on this team.

3. Corey Perry, Dallas Stars. Style points don’t matter for the Stars right now. They were not particularly strong on Saturday night in Philadelphia, but they still managed to snap a six-game losing streak with a 4-1 win to get two points that they desperately needed. The star of the game was offseason Perry, scoring his first goal as a member of the Stars and recording two assists. How bad as the Stars offense been this season? Entering play on Saturday the Stars only had five players on the team record more than three points for the entire season (over nine games!).

Other notable performances on Saturday

Highlights of the Night

This is some vintage Anze Kopitar hockey here, turning defense into offense and scoring a slick shorthanded goal to help the Kings roll.

Look at the patience from Panthers forward Vincent Trocheck to wait for Pekka Rinne to make the first move and then beat him with a slick backhander.

Here it is again, the first NHL goal for the 2019 No. 1 overall pick, Jack Hughes. The only goal in a 1-0 win over the Vancouver Canucks.

Blooper of the Night

Jost ended up getting a splash of water to the face in celebration of his first NHL hat trick.

Factoids

  • The Vegas Golden Knights won the 100th game in franchise history on Saturday, needing just 173 games to reach it. That is the second fewest games needed to reach 100, trailing only the 165 games the original Ottawa Senators franchise needed back in 1917. [NHL PR]
  • Jack Hughes became the ninth player in league history to score their first NHL goal in a game against their brother. [NHL PR]
  • Morgan Rielly‘s overtime goal on Saturday night was the fourth of his career. Only Tomas Kaberle has more among Maple Leafs defenders in franchise history. [NHL PR]

Scores

New Jersey Devils 1, Vancouver Canucks 0
Montreal Canadiens 5, St. Louis Blues 2
Arizona Coyotes 5, Ottawa Senators 2
Toronto Maple Leafs 4, Boston Bruins 3 (OT)
Colorado Avalanche 6, Tampa Bay Lightning 2
Dallas Stars 4, Philadelphia Flyers 1
Vegas Golden Knights 3, Pittsburgh Penguins 0
New York Islanders 3, Columbus Blue Jackets 2 (OT)
Florida Panthers 3, Nashville Predators 2 (SO)
Los Angeles Kings 4, Calgary Flames 1
Buffalo Sabres 4, San Jose Sharks 3

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Drew Doughty and Matthew Tkachuk had another chaotic encounter (Video)

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The Los Angeles Kings put together their best game of the season on Saturday night, defeating the Calgary Flames 4-1 to pick up their third win.

A lot of good things happened for the Kings in this game, starting with the fact that they actually scored a few goals after being shutout for more than 130 consecutive minutes of hockey (including back-to-back shutout losses) entering the night. Then there was starting goalie Jonathan Quick, stuck in a miserable slump to open the season that has seen him allow 19 goals in his first three games, stopping 23 of 24 shots for his first win of the season. The only goal he surrendered was a late penalty shot goal to Mikael Backlund.

If we are being honest, though, the biggest reason anyone outside of the Kings and Flames fanbases would be keeping an eye on this game would be to see if Matthew Tkachuk and Drew Doughty would continue their ongoing feud.

To the surprise of no one, they did.

Midway through the third period Doughty managed to take out Tkachuk with a low hit that set off a chain reaction pile-up that also included Flames defenseman Mark Giordano flying in from the top rope and taking out Kyle Clifford.

Tkachuk ended up getting two minutes for tripping, two minutes for roughing, and a 10-minute misconduct, while Clifford picked up two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct. No other penalties came out of that sequence.

This feud has been ongoing for three years now starting with Tkachuk — during his rookie season — earning a two-game suspension for elbowing Doughty in the face. Since then they have gone back and forth through the media and constantly been involved in on-ice incidents.

In their first meeting this season Tkachuk scored a late game-tying goal against the Kings to send it to overtime where Doughty would win it and then taunt the Flames’ crowd.

So far this season Doughty and the Kings have managed to get the best of Tkachuk and the Flames.

They will have to wait until Dec. 7 to face each other again.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Wild’s Jason Zucker apologizes to Bruce Boudreau for post-game comment

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The Minnesota Wild are off to an absolutely brutal start to the 2019-20 season having won just one of their first seven games.

Following their most recent defeat, a shutout loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday, Jason Zucker vented some frustration and said that everyone on the team needed to be better. Not exactly an earth-shattering comment for a 1-6 team, but what made it into a story was that he specifically mentioned coach Bruce Boudreau by name.

The exact comment: “I think more than (a meeting’s) going to have to jumpstart us, to be honest with you. Bruce has got to be better. We’ve got to be better. Everybody’s got to be better. That’s it.”

Anytime one of the top player’s on a team mentions the coach by name as someone that needs to be better — especially one that is seemingly already on the hot seat — it is going to get some attention. In Zucker’s case, it got a little more attention than he wanted, and after apologizing to Boudreau on the team plane after the game on Thursday, publicly apologized on Saturday.

“I’ll start by first apologizing to Bruce,” Zucker told Wild reporters on Saturday, via Michael Russo of The Athletic. “There was no reason for me to use his name in that quote in any way. That’s completely on me. My intention with the quote was to state that everybody needs to be better and needs to do more and pull more weight, and 99.9 percent of that is on the players.”

He went on to call it a poor choice of words on his part and again reiterated the fact that everyone needs to be better.

Zucker has two goals for the Wild through the first seven games of the season.

He has been one of the Wild’s best players for a few years now but still found himself as the centerpiece in two different trades that fell through by former general manager Paul Fenton.

The Wild are back in action at home on Sunday against Canadiens before playing seven of their next 10 games on the road.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Jack Hughes scores first NHL goal in first game against brother (Video)

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Jack Hughes had to wait until his eighth game to score his first NHL goal, and the timing of it could not have been any better.

Hughes, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, scored on the power play at the 14:04 mark of the first period to give the New Jersey Devils the lead over the Vancouver Canucks, finishing a play that was set up by the 2010 No. 1 overall pick, Taylor Hall.

It turned out to be the only goal in a 1-0 Devils win, their second in a row.

Here is a look at the play.

Why was the timing so perfect for Hughes?

Because his older brother, Quinn, is also playing in his rookie season for the Canucks and is in the lineup on Saturday afternoon. And since this was the first regular season matchup in the NHL between the two brothers the entire Hughes family was in attendance In Newark to see the big moment.

Both players players figure to be contenders for Calder Trophy as the league’s rookie of the year.

Jack’s goal on Saturday comes one game after he recorded his first career point, an assist in the Devils’ win over the New York Rangers  — and No. 2 overall pick Kaapo Kakko — on Thursday night.

Quinn entered Saturday’s game with a goal and two assists in six games for the Canucks. He scored his first goal in a win over the Los Angeles Kings earlier this season. He was the No. 7 overall pick in the 2018 draft class.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.