Sharks best positioned to withstand big early season injury

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Doug Wilson didn’t go looking for Joe Thornton insurance last summer. The general manager of the San Jose Sharks already had it.

The Sharks didn’t panic when they found out their longtime star had another setback with a series of nagging right knee injuries. They knew what they could count on from captain Joe Pavelski and the rest of the supporting cast.

”We’re very fortunate we have a lot of players that can go up and down in the lineup,” Wilson said. ”Our players just look at it as they just move up a role or slip into a different position, and it’s not really that much of an adjustment for them because they’ve done it before.”

All over the NHL, teams are adjusting on the fly to a surprising number of significant injuries early in the season, including a handful of starting goaltenders.

The Kings are calling Jonathan Quick week-to-week with a lower-body injury. The Panthers will be without Roberto Luongo for two to four weeks because of a sprained ligament in his right knee, and the Penguins don’t know when Matt Murray will be back after being diagnosed with yet another concussion.

The Flyers have ruled out high-priced forward James van Riemsdyk for the next five to six weeks, and the Blue Jackets are without top defenseman Seth Jones and center Brandon Dubinsky .

The Sharks in particular seem best prepared to withstand the loss of Thornton because of organizational depth in the form of summer addition Antti Suomela and ready-made NHL forwards like Rourke Chartier, Marcus Sorensen and Dylan Gambrell.

The Sharks hope doctors caught the infection in Thornton’s knee early enough that he won’t be out too long. Still, Wilson expected to use 28 or 29 players this season and credits the versatility of players on the roster and coaching of Peter DeBoer for having San Jose ready for this scenario.

”When you lose a difference-maker, no team can just plug and play to replace a difference-maker. But then you become the sum of all your parts,” Wilson said. ”A lot of our guys are not kids. … When people say they’re new or younger, they’re actually mature players. And most importantly our coaches and our players trust them, and that’s half the battle.”

No GM can go into an offseason making moves on the uncertain scenario that a star will go down. But previous experiences paved the way for Los Angeles, Columbus and Florida to have a plan in place.

Quick missed four months two seasons ago, and Luongo sat out two months with a groin injury last year. Florida has backup James Reimer signed long term as an option already, and Los Angeles traded for former top prospect Jack Campbell and brought back veteran Peter Budaj as depth.

”We’ve experienced it here two years in a row,” Kings GM Rob Blake said. ”We lost Quickie for four or five months and Jeff Carter the same last year. (Coach John Stevens’) message is the same: the next guy up, someone’s going to come in and fill that spot. Will he be at the level of Jonathan Quick? Will he be at the level of Jeff Carter or (Anze) Kopitar? Probably not. But they are adequate players, and the rest around have to be better, too.”

The Penguins for now are counting on young goalies Casey DeSmith and Tristan Jarry to shoulder the load without Murray. Knowing them from his time in Pittsburgh, Vegas netminder Marc-Andre Fleury said: ”They’re both very talented goalies. … I’m sure they’ll be fine.”

Often, it’s not about one player filling a void. Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen doesn’t expect one defenseman to replace Jones or one center to step right into Dubinsky’s role.

”If somebody comes from being the seventh, eighth defenseman to thinking he’s going to play 27 minutes to replace Seth Jones with all his strengths, probably either he shouldn’t be the seventh defenseman or he’s got unrealistic expectations,” Kekalainen said. ”Everybody who’s coming into the lineup from outside of the lineup should have their eyes wide open with the opportunity in front of them, but also realizing what their own strengths are and what their role on the team is and how they can be successful.”

That’s the case in Philadelphia, where Jordan Weal gets the first crack at filling in for van Riemsdyk after being a healthy scratch the first two games of the season. Like the Sharks, the Flyers believe they have flexibility among their forwards.

”We have a lot of players that are versatile in terms of being able to play the middle or play the wing,” coach Dave Hakstol said. ”In the short term, that’ll challenge us and challenge our depth and challenge somebody else to step in and do a good job.”

VEGAS ADVERSITY

After losing just two of their first 10 games last season as an expansion team, the Golden Knights have already lost twice in their first three games. For a Vegas team that didn’t face much adversity in a charmed inaugural season that included a trip to the Stanley Cup Final, it’s a chance for coach Gerard Gallant to emphasize some fundamentals with a tough road schedule early.

”I thought we played loose and were not concentrating enough and were making mental mistakes,” Gallant said. ”So, it’s just about getting focused and getting ready to play every game.”

GAME OF THE WEEK

The defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals host a 2019 favorite in the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night.

LEADERS (THROUGH MONDAY)

Goals: Auston Matthews (Toronto), 5; Assists: Brad Marchand (Boston), 7; Points: Matthews (8); Ice time: Drew Doughty (Los Angeles), 28:44; Wins: John Gibson (Anaheim), 3; Goals-against average: Ben Bishop (Dallas), 0.50; Save percentage: Bishop, .984.

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/tag/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Ryan Johansen on playing in Smashville, Central Divison battles (PHT Q&A)

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The Nashville Predators took many years to be built into the contenders that they are now. General manager David Poile had made shrewd move after shrewd move in order to put his team in the best possible spot to win a Stanley Cup.

One of those moves was trading Seth Jones for Ryan Johansen in Jan. 2016. It was a move trading from excess to fill a need, which was an impact centerman. Johansen has filled that role scoring 37 goals and recording 150 points in 205 games with the Predators.

During the NHL Player Media Tour in Chicago last month, Johansen sat down with NBC to talk about coming up short last season, playing in Nashville and the tough Central Division.

Enjoy.

PHT: When you look at last season, especially the playoffs, do you see “Wow, we had a good year” or that was a blown opportunity?

JOHANSEN: “I’d lean towards more of a good year. [We] won the Presidents’ Trophy and it is not an easy thing to do. Our league is so competitive, it’s anyone’s game in the playoffs, but it was definitely a disappointing finish. We felt like we were a better team than that and falling short was just a little disappointing.”

Q. You have a great home environment. Describe Smashville for somebody who doesn’t know.

JOHANSEN: “That’s all you need to say, is Smashville. It is absolutely incredible. It is tough to describe from the time I was traded until now. It is absolutely amazing to see the support for our team, and not only hockey fans but kids learning about the game and learning about the Preds. Young kids, their eyes just light right up when we run into people around town and it truly has turned into a remarkable place to play hockey and I am definitely very fortunate to be there.”

Q. Does it sound differently in that rink than any place else?

JOHANSEN: “When it’s time, and when we’re going and the crowd’s into it, I don’t know how you can compare it or who you can compare it to. I mean, Winnipeg’s pretty fun when they were going, but two years ago when we were in the Finals and we were the underdogs and surprising people and making Nashville fans proud, you couldn’t help yourself but be distracted from it. It was so cool.”

Q. In past years, the success you guys have had, does that start by sweeping the Chicago Blackhawks in 2017?

JOHANSEN: Yeah, I think that was a big confidence booster. That was the hump here in the West that we needed to get over. And more than we probably knew it, it gave us a boost where we felt unbeatable after that and we had a swagger to our game, our team game, where no matter what was happening on the ice we were going to keep coming and we were going to get the job done.”

Q. How much does it take out of a player to play in the Central Division?

JOHANSEN: “Whenever we’re matched up against each other it’s a different game than playing other teams. I would say more of the West though, too. There’s just a lot of strong, big hockey teams and, not taking away from anybody in the East but, just with the rivalries between the teams that are close to us, it’s fun hockey. Those are games you want to play in, you love to play in. There’s no days off or else you’re losing, so, especially when we’re in our division, and the games are so important.”

Q. Even though they finished last, last season, are the Blackhawks and guys like Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane still a measuring stick for you?

JOHANSEN: “Definitely as a centerman, being matched up against Toews, who won the Stanley Cup three times, it’s a very fun challenge in competitiveness that personally I thrive on. I thrive on those opportunities to match up with those guys and see where my game’s at and gain confidence from, or go back to the drawing board with my own game and find ways to improve or outplay not only Toews but all the top centermen or forwards in the league.”

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Injuries to sideline Dubinsky, van Riemsdyk for at least a month

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The 2018-19 NHL season isn’t even a week old and the Columbus Blue Jackets have already had to deal with a few significant injuries, including a new one that popped up over the weekend.

On Monday, the team announced that center Brandon Dubinsky was going to miss four-to-six weeks of action because of an oblique strain, which means he’s headed for injured reserve. What makes the injury even more frustrating, is that it occurred during a team practice on Sunday. The 32-year-old was off to a nice start, as he collected one point in each of his first two games. He’s also won almost 69 percent of his faceoffs so far this season.

The Jackets have also been without top defender Seth Jones so far this season. The 24-year-old is sidelined because of an MCL sprain he suffered during training camp.

There’s been plenty of drama surrounding Columbus over the last few weeks. Not only have they had to deal with injuries, they’ve also had the issues surrounding pending unrestricted free agents Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky potentially leaving the team at the end of the season.

[Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule]

Getting this team to focus on the task at hand may be challenging for head coach John Tortorella, but it’s his job to keep this team on the straight and narrow path. They’re in a tough Metropolitan Division, so they can’t afford to fall behind the eight ball early on.

Flyers lose JVR for up to six weeks

The news wasn’t much better for another Metropolitan Division team, as the Philadelphia Flyers announced that they’ll be without James van Riemsdyk for anywhere between five and six weeks because of a lower-body injury.

The 29-year-old was banged up during Saturday’s game against the Colorado Avalanche. The Flyers can go in a number of different directions to replace his scoring touch, but none of those options are as good as having him back healthy.

Van Riemsdyk signed a five-year, $35 million contract with the Flyers over the summer. He has one assist in two games so far this season.

MORE:
Bobrovsky talks contract distraction, says he’s ‘human’
Panarin took one game to spotlight his importance to Jackets

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.

Panarin took one game to spotlight his importance to Blue Jackets

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What’s tougher: stopping Artemi Panarin or figuring out what the Columbus Blue Jackets should do with him?

Such a question came to mind during the team’s season-opener, as the pending unrestricted free agent scored the overtime game-winner, assisted on the team’s first goal of 2018-19, and greedily hogged the puck as few forwards could do.

(In a good way.)

Say what you will about John Tortorella, but he’s smart enough to know when he should just stay out of the way, and that’s what he did with Panarin, allowing him to stay on the ice long enough to win the game.

In a team sport like hockey, you cannot assign all the credit to one player. Even a team-carrying goalie needs overmatched defenders to block shots every now and then. In the case of last night’s Panarin-propelled 3-2 OT win against the Red Wings, people hand credit to other Blue Jackets, like a lunch-pail trio featuring Brandon Dubinsky.

Let’s be honest, though. Just about every team has those muckers and grinders. The Blue Jackets aren’t that far removed, after all, from being a team with a rat-like mentality.

Such a hard-driving style suits Tortorella’s tendencies, and it’s likely helped Columbus rise to a more respectable level, but stars are what win you games … and hopefully, playoff series.

For all the progress the Blue Jackets have made, they still haven’t advanced to the second round or beyond in their franchise history.

That thought makes losing Panarin – who, at best, is leaning toward leaving – that much more painful. Trading him would mean avoiding losing Panarin for nothing except a roster spot and cap space, yet it could also pull this seemingly rising franchise that much closer to the pit of misery that is being regularly booed in your own building.

What does GM Jarmo Kekalainen do, really?

Theoretically, the best trade return for Panarin would probably come from landing a bunch of futures from a contender, much like the Montreal Canadiens received for Max Pacioretty. That’s a tough pill to swallow for a team that has reasonable aspirations to win their division and make a deep run in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, though.

Do you instead demand present-day assets, knowing that you’re just about assured a meager return?

Or do you just ride things out, hoping that Panarin will change his mind while playing for an – ideally – very competitive team where he’s the man? Because, with all due respect to very good players such as Zach Werenski, Seth Jones, and even Sergei Bobrovsky, Panarin reminded the hockey world last night that he’s exactly that for Columbus, at least for as long as he’s wearing a Blue Jackets sweater.

This is a story to watch all season – particularly before the trade deadline expires – and if opening night was any indication, the questions will only burn deeper as 2018-19 progresses.

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’ Torey Krug sidelined three weeks with ankle injury

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The one thing NHL teams do not want to see in the preseason is injuries to established players. This preseason has been especially costly for teams as Anaheim’s Corey Perry and Columbus’ Seth Jones are just a couple of the players to be sidelined for the start of the season.

On Monday we found out another name that can be added to that list as the Boston Bruins announced defenseman Torey Krug will be sidelined for at least three weeks due to a left ankle injury that he suffered in Saturday’s preseason game.

According to general manager Don Sweeney, this injury is unrelated to the fractured ankle he suffered in the playoffs this past season.

Krug’s absence will be a big blow to the Bruins’ blue line over the first month of the season as he has emerged as one of their top players and one of the most productive defenders in the league, having topped the 50-point mark in each of the past two seasons. He finished the 2017-18 season among the top-15 among the league’s defenders in goals (14) and total points (59). Along with that he was also the Bruins’ fourth-leading scorer, trailing only their big three forwards Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak.

Sweeney said that Krug will be evaluated again in three weeks.

With Krug sidelined this means the Bruins will need to rely even more on veteran Zdeno Chara and their young star, Charlie McAvoy. Chara isn’t as dominant as he once was but he is still a really good player, while McAvoy is quickly developing into a legitimate top-pairing defender. Still, for as good as they are Krug brings an element offensively that is, at this point, just a touch above what the others can do.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.