Timo Meier

Blackhawks remain in playoff race with 6-2 win against Sharks

The Chicago Blackhawks are trying to make one last push for the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

They ended a two-game skid with a 6-2 win against the San Jose Sharks Wednesday. Patrick Kane scored twice, and Alex DeBrincat dished out three assists and the Blackhawks moved to within six points of the Western Conference wild card. Rookie forward Dominik Kubalik notched his 30th of the season in addition.

Evander Kane and Timo Meier scored in the Sharks’ fourth straight loss.

Blackhawks power play connects

Chicago’s power play ranks near the bottom of the NHL in terms of efficiency. However, they snapped an 0-14 streak against the Sharks’ No. 1 penalty-killing unit and scored twice in the victory.

Kane opened the scoring for the Sharks with a power-play goal of his own, but the Blackhawks answered in the second period with back to back goals on the man advantage.

Duncan Keith scored his third of the season at 4:33 of the second period to even the score at 1-1. The Blackhawks alternate captain slung a wrist shot from the blueline that sailed past the glove of Aaron Dell. Kirby Dach provided a screen to distract the Sharks goaltender.

DeBrincat recorded the second of his three assists with a pretty cross-ice pass to Kane at 16:33 of the middle frame. Kane split the defenders and darted toward the back post before finishing the beautiful feed.


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

Detail-oriented DeBoer hoping to get Vegas back in playoffs

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LAS VEGAS — Peter DeBoer could have chosen a life inside a courtroom arguing in front of a judge’s bench, considering he has law degrees from th the University of Windsor and the University of Detroit.

Instead, he’s enjoyed a mostly successful career behind an NHL bench. In each of his first seasons with the New Jersey Devils and San Jose Sharks, he took his team to the Stanley Cup final.

But in December, just 33 games into his fifth season with San Jose, the Sharks fired him after a lackluster start. He wasn’t out of work long. The Vegas Golden Knights hired him just over a month later.

The 51-year-old veteran coach can make strong arguments he can guide the three-year old franchise back to the postseason.

”They’re right in the middle of being one of those teams that has the opportunity to win now and for the near future,” DeBoer said. ”Sometimes when you’re bringing in some new concepts and some new ideas there’s some hesitation in the play that shows up on the ice just because guys are overthinking instead of reacting. The one thing I’ve appreciated, (this is a) really smart group. They’ve seemed to have incorporated what we’re asking them to do without slowing them down, and that’s been important.”

Vegas was 24-19-6 when Gerard Gallant was fired as coach last month. Under DeBoer, the Golden Knights are 4-3-2 and have outscored their opponents 31-27, even after back-to-back losses, including Tuesday’s 4-0 setback in Minnesota. Their shots per game have increased slightly from 34.0 to 34.9, while their shots-allowed have decreased from 30.5 to 27.8 per contest.

The Golden Knights have shown a commitment to hustling, they’re making an extra effort to block shots, they exit the defensive zone and they move in transition quicker and more cleanly.

Since DeBoer’s arrival, forwards Paul Stastny and Mark Stone are tied for 28th in the league with 10 points each, while defenseman Shea Theodore has registered nine of his 37 points (24.3%)

”The second he stepped into that room he had a lot of good things to say,” Theodore said. ”I think he’s got some really important systems that he put in place that makes us a stronger team. A lot of times it forces us to communicate. Maybe work a little bit harder towards the puck and I think key things that bring our game together.”

In a stacked Pacific Division, the Golden Knights will need to get through an upcoming tough slate if they want to make the postseason for a third consecutive season.

”There’s always a game plan for whatever team we’re playing against,” Vegas forward Chandler Stephenson. ”He’s just very detailed and I think that that shows because we got a lot of speed on the team and a lot of guys with high hockey IQs. That helps with the playing style that he’s come in and tried to push on us. It’s been working and we’re having fun with it.”

If they need further convincing they’ve got the right man, the Knights need only look at what he’s done after breaks in play, whether it’s been the All-Star Break, an Olympic break or the 2012 lockout.

DeBoer is 174-137-49 overall after those breaks, an average record of 15-12-4 with his three previous teams. In his more successful tenures, with New Jersey and San Jose, he is 138-96-36, an average mark of 17-12-4 after the breaks.

”I got to spend three years with him, he’s a great coach there’s no doubt in my mind,” Sharks forward Timo Meier said after DeBoer was hired. ”I think everybody here knew he was gonna get a job somewhere else. Obviously, they’re a good team. They’ve got loud fans. … It’s a good chance for him.”

The consensus is that DeBoer’s mindset and attention to detail will steer the Golden Knights in the right direction. He admits he uses his law background to his advantage, an important edge to have in convincing a group that was fond of Gallant, many of whom took the blame for his ousting.

DeBoer believes it’s not just their job to prove themselves, but also his job to persuade his players he’s the right person to lead the charge.

”I definitely apply my legal degree every day,” DeBoer said. ”Both in preparation for what we’re giving the players, but also in actually sitting down and making a case to them why we’re asking them to do certain things, both for their own good and for the good of the team.

”That’s today’s athlete, you have to tell them why and you have to convince them why it’s good for them and why it’s good for the team.”

Oilers look for depth beyond McDavid, Draisaitl

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The Edmonton Oilers have an opportunity to secure home-ice advantage for part of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. However, they need help from anyone not named Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl.

McDavid scored his 30th of the season to give the Oilers a two-goal first-period advantage. But the San Jose Sharks rallied with five straight goals and collected a 6-3 victory Thursday at Rogers Place.

Timo Meier scored twice, Brent Burns and Joe Thornton each had two assists in the Sharks’ second straight win. Aaron Dell added 28 saves in his 11th win of the season.

Edmonton’s dynamic duo have the chance to finish the season leading the NHL in scoring, which is an incredible feat. Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos pulled it off in the shortened 2012-13 season.

The Oilers captain showed why he is the most dangerous player in the NHL early in the first period. He sped past Mario Ferraro after catching the Sharks defenseman slightly out of position in the neutral zone. McDavid’s ability not only to fly on the rink, but skate at lightning speed with possession of the puck is his best attribute.

While possessing blazing speed is an important characteristic for McDavid, he also has the hands to finish the play and convert a deke at a similar pace.

However, McDavid and Draisaitl’s success also calls out the need for more contributions from up and down the lineup.

General manager Ken Holland has limited salary cap space available at the trade deadline and cannot afford to add a player that does not have an expiring contract. Nevertheless, an opportunity has presented itself and the Oilers have the chance to play playoff hockey if the right reinforcements are brought in.

Holland’s hands are tied due to cap limitations, but great executives always find a way to add the right piece.

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

How Pavelski signing has impacted Sharks, Stars

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It’s going to be a big night in San Jose on Saturday as former captain Joe Pavelski will make his first return to the Shark Tank as a visiting player.

Pavelski and the Stars are rolling in on a six-game winning streak and have been one of the league’s best teams since a 1-7-1 start had them buried in the Western Conference standings.

The Sharks, meanwhile, have never really been able to get on track this season and are now in desperation mode as they look to salvage what has quickly become a lost and wasted season. They are going to need to do a complete 180 in the second half just to have even a fighting chance of making the playoffs.

With Pavelski set to make his return, let’s take a quick look how his departure from San Jose has impacted both teams so far this season.

The Sharks never replaced Pavelski’s production

Very little has gone right for the Sharks this season. The goaltending has been bad again, Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns have rapidly aged, a lot of forwards have taken a step back, and now Logan Couture is sidelined for weeks with an ankle injury.

They also had 38 goals from last year’s team walk out the door when Pavelski signed his three-year contract with the Stars. Even if you assumed (correctly, as it turns out) that Pavelski was going to regress from that number, that goal production from a year ago was still a significant part of the Sharks’ success. He was the leading goal-scorer on the second-highest scoring team in the league, and all of that production just suddenly disappeared. Add in the free agency departure of another underrated forward, Joonas Donskoi, and the Sharks lost nearly 20 percent of their goal total from last year’s team. The only meaningful addition they brought in from outside the organization was a reunion with 40-year-old Patrick Marleau four games into the season. That was never going to be enough. And it hasn’t been.

The Sharks were hoping that at least some of that production could be replaced from within with bigger roles for some of their young players, but it just hasn’t happened. At the halfway point of the season Kevin Labanc, Timo Meier, Marcus Sorensen, and even All-Star Tomas Hertl are all on pace for less production this season. The result is a team that is currently the sixth-lowest scoring team in the league (2.65 goals per game).

Maybe the Sharks were right to not match (or exceed) Pavelski’s offer from Dallas. Maybe it would have turned out to be another big contract for an aging, declining player on a team that now seems to have a few of them.

But those goals last year still happened and still need replaced. The Sharks not only lost them, they never found a way to replace them.

Pavelski’s impact with the Stars

Pavelski’s addition in Dallas was significant because he filled their biggest need — scoring depth.

The 2018-19 Stars were one of the most top-heavy teams in the league offensively (and the most top-heavy playoff team), relying almost entirely on Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Alexander Radulov to carry the offense. They were so top-heavy that no other forward on the team scored more than 30 points over the full season. Finding someone that could provide a real secondary scoring threat was a must.

That is where Pavelski came in.

While no one should have expected a 35-year-old Pavelski to make a run at the 40-goal mark again, he at least provided some depth that did not previously exist. Whether or not he has provided that depends on how you want to look at it. From a raw numbers perspective, his production is probably viewed as a disappointment. He enters Saturday’s game with only eight goals and 18 total points in 44 games.

As down as those numbers are, it is important to keep in mind that is STILL better than what the Stars were getting a year ago from their depth players. Keep in mind, only four Stars forwards scored more than eight goals during the entire 2018-19 season. Pavelski’s numbers also include a brutal 13-game stretch to start the season where he was virtually invisible offensively. He has been been better since.

Once he started chipping in more offense, the wins followed.

Any intangible impact?

Pavelski has always been held in high regard as a leader, and both teams will probably have a reason to argue on behalf of that. San Jose could easily argue his departure has left a hole in their room. The Stars could argue they needed his sort of veteran presence. Sharks beat writer Kevin Kurz touched on this a little bit in his lead-up for Saturday’s game for The Athletic.

There very well could be something to that. But in the end it’s probably a lot more black-and-white than that.

The Stars were a good team last season without Pavelski and are a good team again this season with him. They are winning with a nearly identical recipe — good defense, great goaltending, offense when and where they can get it.

The Sharks were a good team with Pavelski that also had a huge flaw. They never fixed that flaw, then added to it by losing 52 goals from their lineup with almost none coming back in.

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.

 

 

NHL Power Rankings: Blues take over top spot

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In this week’s edition of the PHT Power Rankings the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues climb to the top spot thanks to their current eight-game winning streak.

That streak has them running away with the top spot in the Central Division and Western Conference, while they also enter the week just one point back of the Washington Capitals in the race for the Presidents’ Trophy.

They will not need a great second half just to make the playoffs this season. They have already put themselves in position to not only return, but also make another run at the Stanley Cup.

Also this week the New York Islanders and Colorado Avalanche hit their first slides of the year, the Philadelphia Flyers are back on the good side of their streakiness, and the Buffalo Sabres and Edmonton Oilers continue to trend in the wrong direction.

To the rankings!

1. St. Louis Blues. The defending champs just keep getting better.

2. Washington Capitals. Before John Carlson this season, you have to go back to the 1991-92 season for the most recent time a defenseman had at least 50 points through his team’s first 40 games of the season (Phil Housley and Brian Leetch both accomplished it that season).

3. Pittsburgh Penguins. They are one of the best teams in the league and are going to be getting Sidney Crosby back very soon.

4. Toronto Maple Leafs. They waited too long to make that coaching change. They are different, better and more dangerous team under Sheldon Keefe.

5. Boston Bruins. Their overtime and shootout luck has been lousy lately, but they do have at least a point in seven consecutive games (4-0-3 record).

6. Philadelphia Flyers. The streakiest, most unpredictable team in hockey is back on the good side of things. They are capable of a 10-game winning streak or a 10-game losing streak at any time, and neither one would — or should — surprise anyone.

7. Dallas Stars. With this defense and goaltending they are going to be a very tough out in the playoffs.

8. New York Islanders. They have won just two of their past six games and given up 26 goals during that stretch. This is their first slump of the season. Nothing to be alarmed about. They are fine.

9. Colorado Avalanche. Like the Islanders, the Avalanche have hit a little bit of a slump the past two weeks and slid just a bit. The type of thing that happens over the course of an 82-game season. Also like the Islanders, they are fine.

10. Carolina Hurricanes. The Dougie Hamilton Norris Trophy campaign needs a bigger PR department.

11. Tampa Bay Lightning. Do not give up on the Lightning just yet. This sleeping giant is starting to wake up.

12. Vegas Golden Knights. Max Pacioretty is playing some of the best hockey of his career and the Golden Knights are starting to rapidly climb the standings.

13 Florida Panthers. Jonathan Huberdeau has three four-point games in the past two weeks and is climbing the point leaderboard.

14. Vancouver Canucks. Jacob Markstrom has solidified their goaltending spot, but what is it going to cost to keep him?

15. Columbus Blue Jackets. A 10-game point streak is keeping them in it. That lost point against Chicago might hurt, though.

16. Minnesota Wild. That slow start where Bruce Boudreau’s job seemed to be in question is a distant memory right now.

17. Arizona Coyotes. They are still in the thick of the Pacific Division race but are cooling off fast.

18. Nashville Predators. An ugly weekend took some of the steam out of their recent strong play. Still, they are only a couple of points out of a playoff spot and have multiple games in hand on every team ahead of them.

19. New York Rangers. They may not be a playoff team just yet, but Artemi Panarin is doing his best to drag them to contention.

20. Calgary Flames. Since that 10-game point streak came to an end they have won just two of the next seven. Before that 10-game point streak they had lost six in a row.

21. Chicago Blackhawks. Sunday’s shootout win in Columbus was just the second for Robin Lehner since the start of the 2015-16 season. The shootout is the Achilles heel for one of the NHL’s best goalies.

22. Montreal Canadiens. Carey Price leads the league in games and minutes played, but he hasn’t been particularly sharp. That’s a big problem for the Canadiens.

23. Winnipeg Jets. The concern here was always what happens when Connor Hellebuyck slows down even a little. That has happened over the past couple of weeks and the results have not been pretty.

24. Buffalo Sabres. They were 8-1-1 after 10 games. They are 9-15-6 in 31 games since. Now they are without Jeff Skinner for the next 3-4 weeks.

25. Edmonton Oilers. We have all seen this movie enough times to know how it ends.

26. Ottawa Senators. D.J. Smith is getting more out of this roster than I thought he would.

27. Los Angeles Kings. There is nothing wrong with the way they play, they just do not have enough talent to make it matter. Combine that with continued decline of Drew Doughty and Jonathan Quick and things get bleak really fast here.

28. Anaheim Ducks. They simply have zero offense, and none of the young players on the roster have really taken a big step forward yet to help fix that. 

29. New Jersey Devils. Jack Hughes added another career first over the weekend by scoring his first career overtime goal.

30. San Jose Sharks. Timo Meier‘s hat trick came at the perfect time for him and the Sharks, but this team is still in a LOT of trouble. They are 2-10 in their past 12 games and are going to need an insane second half just to make the playoffs. Are they capable of that?

31. Detroit Red Wings. Still on track to be one of the worst teams of the salary cap era.

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.