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Sharks still in trouble after miserable Florida weekend

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About a week ago the San Jose Sharks looked like they were getting back on track. They had won 11 out of 13 games, were climbing back up the standings, and starting to finally resemble the team that was supposed to be a Stanley Cup contender.

They were probably a little fortunate during that hot streak thanks to a bunch of one-goal wins, including a perfect 4-0 mark in games that went beyond regulation, but after the start they had they really need to stack up some points. To their credit, they did.

But after Sunday’s ugly 5-1 loss in Florida, which game just 24 hours after an even uglier 7-1 loss in Tampa Bay, the Sharks have now lost four games in a row and are just 6-8-2 away from the Shark Tank this season. This ugly Florida trip, which saw them be outscored by a 12-2 margin, also dropped their season goal-differential to a miserable minus-23, which is currently the second-worst in the Western Conference and one of the five worst in the entire NHL.

If you wanted to be an optimist about this team you could point to the fact that even with all of their struggles they are still just two points back of the second Wild Card spot in the Western Conference, still have enough talent on their roster to win, and still have 50 games remaining in the regular season to turn things around.

The problem with that is they have played more games (in many cases multiple games) than every team around them in the playoff race, while their point percentage (.500 as of Sunday night) is only 25th in the NHL, right between the Chicago Blackhawks and Anaheim Ducks, two teams that are going nowhere. They are only on pace for 82 points at the moment and still have a gigantic problem in goal. They were so dominant a year ago that they were able to mostly outplay their goaltending issues. They are not that dominant this season, and we are starting to get to a point where we are getting an idea of what every team is capable of and what they are.

The most concerning number for the Sharks is that goal-differential, because teams that get outscored by this many goals at this point in the season do not tend to get back on track. It is very simple: If you’re getting outscored by this many goals, and getting blown out this many times, it is probably a bad sign for how good your team actually is.

The Sharks have already lost 12 games this season by three goals or more. Only the Detroit Red Wings, a team that is looking to be historically bad, have lost more (14). The New Jersey Devils have only lost nine games by three goals or more. The Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers have only lost eight such games. These are teams that do not figure to be factors in the playoffs, and the Sharks are sitting there among them.

The Sharks’ wins are mostly close, one-goal games, and they have probably been very fortunate to be as good as they have in them (including 5-2 in OT/Shootouts), while they are getting completely blown out in their losses.

Not concerning enough?

Just consider these numbers as well.

— Over the past 10 years there have been 26 teams that have had a goal differential of minus-23 or worse through their first 32 games.

Do you know how many of those teams went on to make the playoffs that season?

Zero.

— Go back to the start of the 2005-06 season and teams in that situation are 0-for-40 in terms of making the playoffs.

— The last time a team with a goal differential this bad, at this point in the season, came back to make the playoffs was the 1997-98 Edmonton Oilers, who snuck into the No. 8 seed (with a losing record).

It might be early, and they may still be within striking distance of a playoff spot in the standings, but things are looking bleak for a team that still has the Stanley Cup in mind.

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.

 

 

Blue Jackets sign forward Robinson for 2 more years

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The Columbus Blue Jackets signed forward Eric Robinson to a two-year contract extension on Monday.

The 24-year-old Robinson was pressed into action at the NHL level this season because of rash of injuries to regulars. He has responded with five goals and four assists and a +10 plus/minus rating in 31 games. He got his first NHL goal on Nov. 12 at Montreal.

Robinson, who played college hockey at Princeton, would have been a restricted free agent this summer. Contract terms were not disclosed.

General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen announced the move as the Blue Jackets began their NHL-mandated winter break. They return to action Feb. 1 at Buffalo.

Ovechkin sits as Caps return to ice against Canadiens

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The Metropolitan Division-leading Washington Capitals own a one-point lead over the Boston Bruins in the race for the Presidents’ Trophy as they return from a nine-day break to face the Canadiens in Montreal on Monday night.

The Capitals, who went into their bye week and the All-Star Game break on a three-game win streak, will be without Alex Ovechkin for the contest. Ovechkin must serve a mandatory one-game suspension for skipping the All-Star Game in St. Louis to rest up for the second half of the season.

Ovechkin was red-hot before the break, scoring eight goals over a three-game span, including back-to-back hat tricks in a 5-2 win over New Jersey and a dramatic 6-4 come-from-behind victory at the New York Islanders on Jan. 18 in their final game before the layoff.

Washington trailed 4-1 after two periods against the Islanders before exploding for five third-period goals, with Ovechkin scoring two of them — including an empty-netter to seal the win.

Ovechkin is tied with Toronto’s Auston Matthews for second place in the NHL in goals with 34, three behind Boston’s David Pastrnak (37). His last goal was the 692nd of his career, tying Steve Yzerman for ninth place on the NHL’s career goals list.

“It’s something special,” Ovechkin said. “It’s history. It’s pretty cool.

“I just left out there everything I had because I have a week off. Now it’s time to regroup and get ready for the second half of the year.”

Montreal also will be playing its first game in nine days and brings in a two-game winning streak. The Canadiens entered the break off a 5-4 shootout victory over the Vegas Golden Knights with leading scorer Tomas Tatar (17 goals, 26 assists) scoring the winner in the fourth round of the shootout.

Montreal is tied for fifth place in the Atlantic Division with the Buffalo Sabres with 51 points, 10 points behind third-place Florida and also 10 points behind Carolina for the second wild-card spot.

“A little reset here for the mental side of things and also the physical side of things, and now it’s time to hunt,” center Max Domi told NHL.com. “We believe in each other as a group, and we want to win some hockey games. We proved it time and time again and we know we can do it. We’ve just got to find ways put the right foot forward here.”

One Canadien who didn’t get the whole eight days off was All-Star defenseman Shea Weber, who won the hardest shot competition on Friday night with a blast registered at 106.5 mph. Washington defenseman John Carlson was second at 104.5 mph.

“Obviously, the fun’s kind of over with,” Weber said. “It’s time to get back to work in Montreal.”

This is the second of three meetings between the two teams. Montreal, behind a goal and three assists by Tatar and 26 saves by goaltender Carey Price, won the first one, 5-2, in Washington on Nov. 15.

The Capitals enter Monday night’s game with a 18-6-1 road record, best in the NHL. No other team has won more than 14 games away from home.

–Field Level Media

NHL on NBCSN: Stars keeping puck out of own net

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Monday’s matchup between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Dallas Stars. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

When you think of the Stars, you think of the offensive talent on their roster. Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and Alexander Radulov are three of the premiere players in the league when they’re rolling. When you look at their numbers this season, you’re left wondering why they’re not higher.

Here’s a list of their leading scorers this season:

Seguin: 11 goals and 36 points in 48 games
Radulov: 13 goals and 28 points in 45 games
Roope Hintz: 15 goals and 24 points in 41 games
Miro Heiskanen: seven goals, 24 points in 47 games
Benn: 12 goals and 23 points in 48 games

It’s balanced, but the offensive superstars aren’t putting up the numbers were used to seeing them rack up. It’s odd. But it’s clear that their style of play has affect on their offensive numbers.

When former head coach Jim Montgomery took over behind the bench, he put a greater emphasis on defensive structure and play without the puck. The Stars were never known to be a defense-first team, but that all changed. Now, under Rick Bowness, they’re playing a similar style.

Believe it or not, Dallas is first in goals against. They’ve given up 120 goals through 48 games. The Columbus Blue Jackets, who are second in that category, have given up 130 goals in 51 games.

“It’s just different. It’s just understanding that you can’t outscore teams anymore in the NHL,” Seguin told the Dallas Morning News. “Some teams are still trying to, but with my experience, it just doesn’t work. You need to be able to defend as a team. As a first-line centerman, you need to be able to shut down guys as well as produce.

“Really none of us are scoring at our normal pace. I don’t think there’s a guy on the roster that’s having one of his best offensive numbers. There’s many reasons that could be, but the biggest reason is just our identity, how we want to defend. We all would like more offense, which I think will come.”

Despite having some really talented teams, the Stars have won just one Stanley Cup in their history. That one cup was won back in 1999, so it’s been a while.

Last season, they were a goal away from knocking out the eventual Stanley Cup winners, the St. Louis Blues, in the second round. Unfortunately for the Stars, they allowed a double-OT goal to Patrick Maroon in Game 7 and that was the end of the campaign. It’s not easy to get over something like that, so they’ll do their best to learn from it.

Whether or not they take the next step this spring remains to be seen. The fact that the offensive players are doing the little things well is probably a good sign.

How far can they go?

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

PHT Face-Off: Frk’s heavy shot; Rough year for Johansen

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At the start of each week, the PHT Face-Off breaks down some of the topics and trends around the NHL. This week’s topics include: A crazy slapshot, four forwards on the power play, and much more.

Here it is:

• What a Frkn shot

Montreal Canadiens defenseman Shea Weber won the Hardest Shot Event at the NHL Skills Competition on Friday night. Weber actually fired the two hardest shots of the night, with the fastest one coming in at 106.5 mph. That’s impressive. But we can’t ignore what Martin Frk did at the AHL All-Star Skills Competition over the weekend, either.

Frk set a new record by blasting a puck into a net at 109.2 mph. The 26-year-old forward has played four games with the Los Angeles Kings this year and he’s found the back of the net three times. Maybe it’s time for the Kings to give him another look? He’s also put up 20 goals and 30 points in 33 games with AHL Ontario this year.

The record previously belonged to Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara, who registered a 108.8 mph shot on the radar gun in 2012. Hockey players seem to be getting bigger, faster and stronger every year, so we’ll see how long Frk’s record holds up. Are we really going to see a human being shoot at over 110 mph in the near future?

• Four forwards on the power play becoming a trend

Over the last few seasons, we’ve seen the number of four-forward power plays increase significantly. Obviously, teams that have more high-end skill up front will use four forwards more frequently. As you can tell from the tweet below, the Capitals and Avalanche use four forwards on the man-advantage 95 percent of the time.

For what it’s worth, the Caps have the 14th ranked power play in the NHL at 20.3 percent. The Avs have the 21st ranked power play in the league at 18.6 percent. Those are two really talented teams, so how much of their power play “struggles” are based on personnel and how much is on the scheme? It’s hard to say.

But it’s interesting to see just how much of a copy-cat league the NHL is today:

Alex Killorn‘s killer season

When the Tampa Bay Lightning were looking to off-load some salary during the summer, it was reported that general manager Julien BriseBois was unwilling to part ways with Killorn. That was interesting news considering the fact that he’s not really part of the core. He’s an important part of the team, but he’s not Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Victor Hedman or Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Killorn is making $4.45 million per season through 2022-23. It would’ve been easy to ship the veteran forward elsewhere. Instead, they decided to hold on to him. How has it worked out?

Pretty well, so far.

The 30-year-old hit the 20-goal mark for the first time in his career right before the All-Star break. He’s now on pace to find the back of the net 35 times and he’s flirting with a 70-point season right now. Whether they want to continue holding on to him or not, there’s no doubt that his trade value has increased.

Interestingly enough, Killorn’s advanced numbers are down from previous seasons, but he’s been more productive than ever. His CF%, his XGF% and his FF% are all down from the last few seasons.

• Tough year for Ryan Johansen

Johansen is the Nashville Predators’ highest paid forward at $8 million per year (tied with Matt Duchene), but he’s certainly not producing up to expectations.

Over his last 12 games, the 27-year-old has just two points in his last 12 outings. That’s nowhere close to being good enough. Prior to the start of this season, Johansen 60-plus points in two of his last three campaigns. This year, he has just 10 goals and 27 points in 47 games.

“When Ryan’s playing his best, he’s moving his feet and playing with speed,” Predators coach John Hynes said, per The Athletic. “I’ve seen pockets of it here, where he’s had the puck coming up the middle of the ice and through the neutral zone with speed and then making good decisions. He should be a very competitive player on the puck with his size and his skill to be able to be a hard player to play against offensively.”

Hynes mentions that he’s seen his centerman play well in spurts, but the Predators need him to be way more consistent. If the playoffs started today, they’d be on the outside looking in. That’s a problem. They’re currently six points behind Vegas for the final Wild Card spot in the Western Conference. They’re seven points back of Dallas in the chase for the third seed in the Central Division.

They need him to step up.

What’s coming up this week?
Matt Tkachuk vs. Zack Kassian, Wed. Jan. 29, 10 p.m. ET and Sat. Feb. 1, 8 p.m. ET.
• Battle of Pennsylvania resumes as Penguins host Flyers, Fri. Jan. 31, 7 p.m. ET.

NHL on NBC
Alex Ovechkin vs. Sidney Crosby for the 50th time, Sun. Feb. 2, 12:30 p.m.

NHL on NBCSN
• Lightning vs. Stars, Mon. Jan. 27, 8 p.m. ET
• Lightning vs. Kings, Wed. Jan. 29, 10 p.m. ET
• John Hynes returns to New Jersey as Predators visit Devils, Thu. Jan. 30, 7:30 p.m. ET

Wednesday Night Hockey
• Predators vs. Capitals, Wed. Jan. 29, 7:30 p.m. ET

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.