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.

The Buzzer: Murray stymies Flyers; Kuznetsov carries Capitals

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Three stars

1. Matt Murray, Pittsburgh Penguins 

Fifty saves. 50. A new career-high.

That’s what Murray had to contend with on Monday against the Flyers, who fired 51 shots Murray’s way in the game. The 24-year-old stopped all but one of them, and was heading to his fourth shutout of the season before Evgeni Malkin decided to try and take someone’s head off.

The effort was sorely needed. The Pens had dropped four straight prior to Monday’s win and were becoming a question mark in the playoff race. They still are, despite the win, but the two points help.

2. Evgeni Kuznetsov, Washington Capitals

Kuznetsov was all over the place in a four-point effort in a 6-4 Capitals win against the Los Angeles Kings.

He scored to tie the game at three, assisted on the go-ahead goal to make it 4-3 and then provided the insurance marker to make it a 6-4 game in the Caps’ favor.

Kuznetsov now has five goals in his past three games, 10 points in his past four and 15 in his past eight.

3. Tomas Hertl, San Jose Sharks

You could pick several in this game. Evander Kane had two goals. Brent Burns had two assists. Melker Karlsson had a goal and an assist.

But Hertl scored his fourth goal in his past three games with his marker. He also added an assist to make it seven points now in a three-game point streak.

The Sharks benefitted heavily from 19-year-old rookie Michael DiPietro being in goal and the Canucks abandoning him.

The Sharks are killing it these days, with six wins on the trot now. With the win, they took over first place in the Pacific Division, one point ahead of Calgary (although the Flames have two games in hand).

Highlights of the night

Bjugstad’s first as a Penguin was a nice rip:

Ovechkin threading the needle:

Jumbo Joe:

Factoids

Scores

Penguins 4, Flyers 1
Capitals 6, Kings 4
Sharks 7, Canucks 2


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

The Buzzer: Roslovic rocks Ducks; Duck-duck-goose truce?

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Three Stars

1. Jack Roslovic

Saturday almost makes you wonder if Randy Carlyle will be sadly muttering “Roslovic” in his sleep.

The young forward played a big role in the Jets humiliating the Ducks 9-3, as Roslovic generated his first hat trick while also adding an assist for four points. You could probably put some other Winnipeg players as 1B, as … you know, there were obviously a lot of goals to go around.

2. Vladimir Tarasenko

There were some other players who generated big nights, even ones who don’t play for Winnipeg. Ryan Pulock‘s a nice example, as he generated three assists to help the Islanders stay surprisingly hot.

Tarasenko’s three points came via one goal and two assists, so consider that a slight boost compared to others.

It’s been a tough season for Tarasenko – at least by his lofty standards – but the deadly sniper has been heating up. This three-point game extends his point streak to four games (three goals, three assists for six points). Tarasenko also fired five shots on goal and generated a +2 rating.

The Blues face an uphill battle to make the playoffs, although they’re improving their chances with strong recent play. This also really hurt Columbus, as the Blue Jackets’ losing streak stretched to five games.

3. Jonathan Bernier

There were some other strong goaltending performances on Saturday, but Bernier comes out ahead because a) he nabbed a shutout and b) had to make 35 saves to do so.

Bernier generated his first shutout as a member of the Red Wings, and his first victory since December. He’s not playing that much behind Jimmy Howard – and in all honesty, it’s probably better for Detroit that he struggles, at least for draft lottery purposes – but this had to be big for Bernier’s confidence.

Speaking of the Blue Jackets

While Nick Foligno believe that the Blue Jackets aren’t far from getting back on track despite losing five in a row for the first time in a long time, John Tortorella isn’t so easily convinced. He seemed pretty glum after the loss.

The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline reports that the Blue Jackets have a team meeting coming soon. There might be yelling.

Highlights

Lightning – Rangers had some great moments. Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov made great music together. Mika Zibanejad‘s pass on Kevin Hayes‘ goal was saucy, and Henrik Lundqvist sent Zibanejad with a great pass of his goalie-own. Lundqvist’s save on Ryan Callahan was gorgeous. So just enjoy the full highlights.

Video evidence of Roslovic’s rollicking night.

This is a hectic one. First, Tomas Hertl makes a nice play (it’s tempting to call him Tomas Hurdle, even if that’s a stretch), then Brent Burns makes some great moves to score the OT-winner.

Ridiculous goal by Connor McDavid, part bajillion.

Mad at silly geese

The next evolution of Carolina Hurricanes celebrations is “Duck-Duck-Goose,” and it’s wonderfully goofy.

But there are plenty of hockey people who do not approve of players go the way of the silly goose.

As you’d probably expect, Brian Burke remains displeased with the Hurricanes’ antics, deeming that “bush league.” (You can see his rant in the final 30-45 seconds of this Sportsnet video.)

There seems to be disapproval from younger onlookers, too, though:

Factoids

Scores

PHI 5, EDM 4 (OT)
NJD 3, MTL 2 (OT)
WIN 9, ANA 3
TOR 3, PIT 2
DET 2, OTT 0
FLA 3, VGK 1
NYI 4, LAK 2
STL 4, CBJ 2
TBL 3, NYR 2
DAL 3, NSH 1
CHI 4, MIN 3 (OT)
VAN 5, COL 1
SJS 3, ARI 2 (OT)

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.

The Buzzer: Hertl, Ovechkin trade hat tricks in 13-goal game

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Three stars

1. Tomas Hertl, San Jose Sharks

In a game that featured 13 goals and two hat tricks, it was Hertl’s night that stood out amongst his peers.

Hertl scored one of the hat tricks and added an assist for his four-point night. Hertl was instrumental in the third period, scoring the goal to bring the Sharks to 6-5 and then assisting on Evander Kane‘s second of the game with one second left in the third period to send it to overtime.

In the extra hockey portion, Hertl finished the hat trick, scoring the game-winner at 1:48. It’s his second hat trick of the season, and second this month.

The Sharks won 7-6.

Here are the highlights:

2. Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals

It’s almost as if Ovechkin dangles the thought of someone catching him in the goal-scoring race, only to separate himself every time someone gets close. He’s just playing with those chasing him down.

Ovechkin notched another hat trick on Tuesday, scoring goals No. 34 thru 36 in the Capitals sixth straight loss. That’s 23 career hat tricks for Ovi, which are broken down here:

3. Luke Glendening, Detroit Red Wings

The Red Wings will head into their mandated week off on a high (and not in last place in the NHL) after Glendening scored a brace in a 3-2 win over the embattled Edmonton Oilers.

His first of the game came as he slipped in behind the Oilers defense and tapped in a shot past Mikko Koskinen. His second, the game-winner, came on a nice move to the net, slipping the puck past Koskinen.

Highlights of the night

The Hands of Kane:

Talk about cutting it close:

Factoids

Scores

Sharks 7, Capitals 6 (OT)
Coyotes 3, Senators 2
Blackhawks 3, Islanders 2 (SO)
Flames 3, Hurricanes 2 (SO)
Red Wings 3, Oilers 2


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

WATCH LIVE: Sharks visit on Coyotes on NBCSN

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the San Jose Sharks and Arizona Coyotes. Coverage begins at 10:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Seven games in 2019 have equated to seven straight wins for the San Jose Sharks, who own the longest active winning streak in the NHL.

The Sharks are doing so well that they’ve climbed into second place in the Pacific Divison and can take top spot if the first-place Calgary Flames lose to the Buffalo Sabres.

The Sharks come into the game having played on Tuesday, with Tomas Hertl scoring a hat trick to down the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-2.

It might be time, then, for the Coyotes to capitalize.

Arizona has won three of its past four and sends Darcy Kuemper into the crease. Kuemper has won four straight starts

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 10 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: San Jose Sharks at Arizona Coyotes
Where: Gila River Arena
When: Wednesday, Jan. 16, 10 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Sharks-Coyotes stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

SHARKS
Marcus SorensenJoe ThorntonJoe Pavelski
Lukas RadilLogan CoutureTimo Meier
Evander Kane — Tomas Hertl — Joonas Donskoi
Melker KarlssonBarclay GoodrowKevin Labanc

Radim SimekBrent Burns
Brenden DillonErik Karlsson
Tim HeedJustin Braun

Starting goalie: Aaron Dell

COYOTES

Clayton KellerJordan WealChristian Fischer
Richard PanikDerek StepanVinnie Hinostroza
Alex GalchenyukNick CousinsConor Garland
Lawson CrouseMario KempeJosh Archibald

Oliver Ekman-LarssonNiklas Hjalmarsson
Jakob ChychrunIlya Lyubushkin
Jordan OesterleAlex Goligoski

Starting goalie: Darcy Kuemper

Chris Cuthbert (play-by-play) and Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Gila River Arena in Glendale, Ariz.