Nyquist heating up for red-hot Sharks

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To plenty of people in the hockey world, the San Jose Sharks were one of the stealth winners of the trade deadline after landing Gustav Nyquist in a night owl trade with the Detroit Red Wings.

[More on the trade, including the cost for the Sharks.]

The winger had been quiet early on, only managing an empty-net goal through his first four games with the Sharks. Tuesday presented a possible breakthrough, as Nyquist scored two goals in San Jose’s 5-4 win against the Winnipeg Jets, giving him points (2G, 1A) during the Sharks’ back-to-back set.

Overall, Nyquist has three goals and four assists in seven games. Most importantly, the Sharks are red-hot, with six straight wins. They’ve only lost one time since landing Nyquist.

So, how is he integrating into the lineup, and how do the Sharks look with him? Some of this stuff will sneak under the radar, but it’s promising overall.

Nyquist’s first seven games with San Jose

So far, much of Nyquist’s points can be attributed to the great work of Tomas Hertl.

Nyquist’s first of four points in teal came on an empty-netter (albeit a fairly long-range one), but his other three can largely be credited to Hertl.

  • On Monday, Nyquist received a secondary assist on a Hertl goal. His part in that play seemed to have started before the goal highlight even began.
  • On Tuesday, Nyquist enjoyed that two-goal game. The first happened after Hertl made some dazzling dangles, opening things up for “The Goose” to bury the puck with a backhander.
  • Hertl didn’t get credited with an assist on Nyquist’s second goal, but he set the events in motion by creating space and sending the puck toward the Jets’ net. It was technically unsuccessful in that a Jets skater batted it away, but Marc-Edouard Vlasic was able to send it back, and the puck apparently deflected off of Nyquist.

So, while Nyquist has three goals and one assist for four points during his first seven games with the Sharks, he doesn’t really have a “signature” moment yet. But that doesn’t mean he’s playing poorly.

Take that two-goal Tuesday, for example. Sure, Hertl was the driving force on those two goals, but Nyquist generated six shots on goal, his most in any single game with the Sharks so far.

He’s been a nice addition in subtler ways, carrying over his strong possession numbers from Detroit to San Jose, as he’s been a boost to shot share relative to his teammates on both teams. Perhaps Nyquist will also make a more obvious impact as he gains Peter DeBoer’s trust? So far, the winger’s averaging 16 minutes of ice time per game with San Jose, down from his 18:07 TOI average with Detroit in 2018-19. It’s plausible that Nyquist won’t ever flirt with 18 minutes per night with San Jose, as the Sharks are pretty loaded (particularly compared to the rebuilding Red Wings), but even another shift or two per night could help him generate more offense.

The combination of Hertl and Nyquist could really give opposing teams headaches, especially since they’d likely draw easier matchups while Logan Couture and others would likely face top pairings and better skaters.

Maybe Nyquist won’t wow the Sharks enough to stay around (he’s a pending UFA), but it seems like he’s been a nice addition, one who could provide crucial depth during the battles of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Sharks are on a roll

Much like the Golden Knights rattling off wins even though Mark Stone was slow to score at first, the Sharks have been red-hot since acquiring Nyquist, whether you attribute that to the addition or count it as a coincidence.

After falling 4-1 to the Bruins during Nyquist’s first game with the Sharks on Feb. 26, San Jose’s now on a six-game winning streak, outscoring opponents 25-13 during that run.

They’ve actually been a bit less dominant at five-on-five during the past seven games versus their full-season stats (according to Natural Stat Trick), but that’s a small sample size … and possession monster Erik Karlsson has been sidelined since Feb. 26. All things considered, the Sharks sure seem formidable.

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The ideal situation for San Jose would be that Nyquist will be fully acclimated to his new teammates by the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs (and Erik Karlsson can be healthy and rust-free by that same point). While some dreamed of Nyquist forming a rather overqualified third line with Joe Thornton, recent returns indicate that the Sharks might be onto something by pairing him with Hertl.

Nyquist hasn’t been lighting up scoreboards for the Sharks – yet? – but he’s been mixing in quite well, and the Sharks look like they’ll be difficult to deal with in a best-of-seven series.

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.

Erik Karlsson injury scares should send Sharks message about rest

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People love to celebrate the toughness of hockey players, but sometimes, there comes a point where it’s better to be smart.

There’s an “easier said than done” element when it comes to considering “best practices.” For instance, if your team is barely holding onto a playoff spot, it might be tough to rest that crucial starting goalie.

The San Jose Sharks aren’t really in that position, though. While they’d like to catch the Calgary Flames for the top spot in the Pacific, a round of home-ice advantage looks pretty safe for them as of Tuesday, so they have the luxury to make wise decisions.

And here’s the wise decision, if you ask me (among others, including PHT’s Adam Gretz): the Sharks need to rest Erik Karlsson.

So far this season, Karlsson’s missed 10 games thanks to a nagging groin injury. Via The Sports Forecaster’s helpful listings, nine of those missed games came from mid-January to mid-February, and then the issues cropped up again right before the trade deadline.

After missing one more game, Karlsson returned for Tuesday’s contest against the Boston Bruins, and seemed to tweak that injury once again.

Now, it wouldn’t be surprising if Karlsson gritted his teeth to return to that game against the Bruins, or miss minimal time. But this issue sure seems like it’s lingering for the 28-year-old star.

If the Sharks were desperately fighting for every point, resting Karlsson would be a tougher sell. Instead, San Jose’s pretty comfortably placed in second place in the Pacific, while leaping to first would be a challenge:

Standings heading into Tuesday’s action

Three points is a tougher hurdle to clear than you might think, at least this late in the season, particularly since the Flames also hold a game in hand on the Sharks. Vegas is much more likely to fall out of the Pacific’s top three than catch San Jose.

So why not rest Karlsson, a player who’s clearly struggling with groin issues?

Really, the Sharks should be especially interested in the advantages of rest that we’ve seen embraced in other leagues, such as with the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich deployed such methods during their most competitive days, and that seemed to pay off.

The Sharks have a lot going for them, but aside from a few exceptions like rising 22-year-old winger Timo Meier, this isn’t a young team. Brent Burns is older than casual fans might think at 33. Marc-Edouard Vlasic is 31, and Karlsson is 28, and both of those defensemen have accrued a ton of mileage for their age. Joe Pavelski is somehow 34. Even Gustav Nyquist isn’t a spring chicken – at least in a league that demands speed like the NHL does these days – at 29.

(In other words, 39-year-old Joe Thornton isn’t the only guy battling Father Time in San Jose.)

At minimum, it just makes overwhelming sense for the Sharks to play it safe with a player who’s clearly not at 100-percent in Karlsson. Would you rather risk burnout to marginally improve odds of winning your division, or would you rather give your talented – but aging – roster as good a chance as possible at being fully healthy during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, when you’re in for grueling battles every other night?

Plenty of other teams should be thinking about resting their big-minute guys (looking at you, Lightning), but the signs are basically neon flashing lights for the Sharks with Karlsson.

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.

Bruins win after forcing overtime on controversial third-period goal

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Add the Boston Bruins and San Jose Sharks to Stanley Cup Final matchups that would be epic.

This game was great and ridiculous in so many ways.

The Bruins led 4-2 at one point, trailed 5-4 in the third after going over 20 minutes without a shot on goal, tied the game on a goal that shouldn’t have counted and then won 6-5 in overtime to rub it all in the faces of the San Jose Sharks on NBCSN on Monday.

Pete DeBoer coached his 800th game on Monday and it appeared he was headed for a nice win to cap it off. But he quickly turned incensed with 1:49 left in the third period when the Bruins tied the game 5-5.

The goal came after a clear high stick from Chris Wagner, who then put the puck in when it fell to the ice, but the referees chose not to review the play, effectively sending the game to overtime.

The goal flustered the Sharks.

In overtime, Evander Kane was heading for a clear cut breakaway when the net behind Tuukka Rask was found to be off its moorings. The play was halted, further frustrating San Jose (even though replays show it was Kane who dislodged it earlier in his shift).

And then Charlie McAvoy drove home the final dagger with 1:01 left on the OT clock.

The ending was so crazy that we haven’t even gotten to Joe Thornton and his hat trick.

Yes, one of the NHL’s elder statesmen potted his first treble since Oct. 27, 2010, when his beard was merely stubble and all one color.

Unlikely? Yes. Impossible? Nope. Even at 39, Thornton continues to be a special player.

The Bruins rolled in SAP Center in San Jose riding a five-game winning streak and a 10-game point streak and looked like they were heading, easily at first, to a season-long sixth straight win.

They led 3-0 in the first period (and it could have been four if not for this save by Marc-Edouard Vlasic — which may have not actually been a save at all) before Thornton clawed one back with three seconds remaining in the frame.

Jumbo Joe’s first sparked the Sharks out of the intermission and Joe Pavelski reduced the deficit to one with his 32nd on the power play. The Bruins answered four minutes later through Jake DeBrusk. With a 4-2 lead, the Bruins’ sticks fell silent.

For the next 20-plus minutes, it was San Jose who dictated the play and all of the shots.

By the time the Bruins had their first shot on goal in the third period, the game was tied. A few moments later, Thornton tallied his hat trick and the Sharks led 5-4.

The Sharks dropped just their second game in their past nine, but the loss keeps them one point back of the Calgary Flames for the top spot in the Pacific Division.

The Bruins, meanwhile, tighten their grip on second place in the Atlantic Divison. They now lead the Toronto Maple Leafs by three points, although Toronto has two games in hand.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Sharks’ Vlasic makes wild goal-line save

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The difference between a goal and a save can come down to mere millimeters sometimes.

This one, however, came down to a razor’s edge.

The Boston Bruins came within less than of scoring a goal in the first period of their game against the San Jose Sharks on NBCSN on Monday when Charlie McAvoy‘s point shot flirted with the edge of the goal line at the 7:32 mark.

The puck appeared to teeter on the goal line before Marc-Edouard Vlasic swatted out of the net. You be the judge on the above video evidence. It’s so incredibly close.

To the referee’s credit, he immediately waved no goal, a testament to his hawkish eyesight. He was right. Video review determined that the puck, somehow, did not cross the line.

The game continued until the 10:13 mark before the play was reviewed.

The call didn’t seem to faze the Bruins, who scored three straight and led 3-1 after the first period.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Surging Sharks in perfect position

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While most of this year’s wild Western Conference flails about looking for the last wild card spot, the San Jose Sharks can smell blood in the water.

After throttling the Vancouver Canucks Monday night 7-2, the Sharks have now won six straight games – five of them on the road – and seized the top spot in the West. They’re averaging five goals per game during that stretch and they’ve done it all without Erik Karlsson.

San Jose’s depth has been exemplary. Fourteen of 18 skaters registered at least one point against Vancouver alone. Eleven different players on the Sharks have multiple game-winning goals this season, tied with the New York Islanders for most in the league. Led by Norris Trophy winner Brent Burns, their 166 points by defensemen leads the NHL. The Sharks are also the only team in the league to have five different players – Joe Pavelski, Evander Kane, Tomas Hertl, Timo Meier and Logan Couture – with 20 goals or more.

“If you look at the dynamics of this team, their secondary players are, a lot of times, their best players,” former Shark and current NHL on NBC analyst Jeremy Roenick told Pro Hockey Talk. “I say their secondary players being Hertl, Meier, (Melker) Karlsson played well (Monday) night. You have (Marcus) Sorensen who has just been an amazing work horse on that team that brings a lot of energy to that hockey club. (Joonas) Donskoi – these are all of their second-tier guys. A lot of the times, they’re the ones winning hockey games for them.”

That’s not to say the stars haven’t stepped up as well. Evander Kane has been red hot with 15 goals in his last 16 games dating back to Jan. 2, which leads the NHL during that span. He’s on pace for a career-high 37 goals, which is exactly what the Sharks envisioned when they signed Kane to a seven-year, $49 million extension last May.

“I talk to a lot of guys on that team and they say that if (Kane) prepared and got ready to play every single game and was consistent, he would be one of the best players in the National Hockey League,” Roenick said. “That’s saying something when it’s coming from your teammates.”

Next up for San Jose is a three-game homestand against three playoff contenders in the Capitals, Canucks and Bruins, followed by a four-game road trip in Pittsburgh, Columbus, Detroit and Boston. It seems like a two-team race between the Sharks and Flames for the top spot in the Pacific, and a four-team battle for the top spot in the west between San Jose, Calgary, Winnipeg and Nashville.

“There’s some good teams there,” Pavelski told reporters after the Vancouver win. “Being in first would help.”

On paper, Pavelski is right. The top seed in the West this season will have the pleasure of hosting one of the slew of teams gunning for playoff position. Since nine teams are currently within eight points of the final wild card spot, whichever team outlasts the others will have conceivably spent a lot of energy doing so over the stretch run of the regular season. That said, anyone that watches the NHL knows any team can make a run in April. The Sharks understand that all too well. After winning the Presidents’ Trophy in 2008-09 behind a franchise record 117 points, San Jose lost in the first round in six games to the Anaheim Ducks. Pavelski, Joe Thornton and Marc-Edouard Vlasic all played in that series. Given their history, it is unlikely the Sharks would take any opening round opponent for granted.

“I think this is a different team, a different focus of a team,” said Roenick, a member of that 2008-09 Sharks club. “One thing you have to really take into consideration is, is this going to be Joe Thornton’s last year? That’s going to be something that’s going to be talked about quietly around the locker room among the guys and I think the focus is going to be much greater game in and game out…(The Sharks) are the only ones that can beat themselves right now. When they play their style of game, they dominate pretty much every team they play against, road or home.”

As for Thornton, the Sharks legend had one assist on Monday to pass Gordie Howe for ninth on the NHL’s all-time assists list and tie Teemu Selanne for 15th in all-time points. The sure-fire Hall of Famer is in his 21st season, but has only had one crack at a Stanley Cup Final (in 2016). Whispers of Thornton’s potential retirement could be quite the rallying cry for the Sharks in the playoffs.

“I played for 20 years and maybe with the exception of Chris Chelios, I have never seen a player be loved or be so respected in a locker room than Joe Thornton,” Roenick said. “I can honestly tell you that there is not one person in that organization – player, trainer, upper management, office people – that doesn’t absolutely love Joe Thornton through and through. You can’t say that about a lot of people. That’s an amazing compliment to a guy who has had such a glorious and Hall of Fame career.”

Barring an astounding stretch in the final two months of the season, San Jose’s franchise record of 117 points is safe. But this could very well be the deepest team the Sharks have ever had and one that could do what no other San Jose team has: hoist the Stanley Cup.