Pre-game reading: T.J. Oshie picked a good year for a career year


— Up top, T.J. Oshie leads off the “Goals of the Week” with a beauty backhander against the Stars.

— Speaking of Oshie, he’s on the verge of setting a career high for goals in a season. He has 25 now. Two more and he’ll break the mark he set last season with 26. And did we mention he’s a pending unrestricted free agent? “Some players have career years on those years,” said Caps coach Barry Trotz. “Some players wilt under that pressure. He’s real focused. He’s having an exceptional year.” (CSN Mid-Atlantic)

— The latest news on the NHL and the Olympics is that there’s, well, no news. According to commissioner Gary Bettman, “There’s absolutely nothing new. I think the overwhelming sentiment of the teams is that it’s very disruptive on the season, and there’s somewhere between fatigue and negativity on the subject.” Don’t lose all hope, though. There’s still time to make a deal, and these things usually go right down to the wire. (NHL.com)

— A profile of Gabe Vilardi, who could be the third center drafted this summer after Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier. Vilardi, 17, has 28 goals and 31 assists in 43 games for the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL. His 59 points are tops on his team. (The Hockey News)

— The Chicago Blackhawks do a great job staying out of the penalty box. In fact, as noted by Mark Lazerus of the Sun-Times: “With 196 penalties in 65 games, the Hawks are 29th out of 30 teams. In fact, they’ve been 27th, 28th or 29th in the league in penalties for eight consecutive years, dating back to the 2009-10 season, when they won their first Stanley Cup of the modern era.” (Chicago Sun-Times)

— How would changing the NHL’s points system — say, to three points for a regulation win — change the way games are coached? That’s what Postmedia’s Michael Traikos tried to find out this week during the general managers meetings in Florida. Devils GM Ray Shero had some interesting thoughts on the subject. (National Post)

Enjoy the games!

‘Glaring’ mistakes led to latest Panthers loss

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The Florida Panthers are running out of time.

After last night’s 5-2 loss to the Rangers at BB&T Center, the Panthers have just 17 games left to leapfrog the Lightning, Flyers, Maple Leafs, and Islanders and grab the second wild-card spot in the East.

Since sweeping a five-game road trip, it’s been a tremendously disappointing stretch for the Panthers. They have just one win in their last seven, and six of those games were at home.

Last night, they were the rested team, hosting a Rangers side that had played the night before in Tampa. But it was the visitors who struck with two goals in the first period. After that, the Panthers were chasing, and they never could catch up.

“We’re still a young team trying to learn how to win and then play against real good competition,” said interim coach Tom Rowe, per the Sun-Sentinel.

“Our defensive mistakes were glaring and they capitalized on them. We got great chances, which we definitely did, but their goaltender came up with great saves when he had to.”

It’s estimated that the Panthers will need to go around 11-4-2 to give themselves a good shot of making the playoffs.

That’s doable for this group, but it’s not likely.

Jannik Hansen practices on Sharks’ top line


Jannik Hansen is starting right at the top.

At today’s Sharks practice, the speedy winger, acquired last week in a trade with the Canucks, was skating on San Jose’s top line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski.

Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture, and Mikkel Boedker comprised the second line. Then came the trio of Joonas Donskoi, Tomas Hertl, and Melker Karlsson. And finally, on the fourth line, it was Marcus Sorensen, Chris Tierney, and Joel Ward.

That Hansen is starting on the top line should come as no surprise. The 30-year-old spent time in Vancouver with the Sedin twins on the Canucks’ top line. And if it’s not a fit with Thornton and Pavelski in San Jose, Hansen has the versatility to play further down the lineup.

Hansen is expected to make his San Jose debut tomorrow against the visiting Washington Capitals.

The Sharks also assigned forward Kevin Labanc to the AHL today.

Related: Hansen adds more speed to Sharks, who were already faster

Riley Sheahan could really use his first goal tonight

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Detroit’s Riley Sheahan can set a dubious mark tonight against the Boston Bruins.

If Sheahan registers two shots and doesn’t score, he’ll hold the record for most shots in a season by a forward without scoring a goal.

The NHL first started tracking individual shot totals in 1967-68, the first season after the league expanded from the Original Six.

The good news for Sheahan? The Red Wings still have 18 games left for him to score. Even if he sets the mark tonight, if he can just pot one before season’s end, he’s off the list, and the “honor” goes back to Craig Adams.

h/t to Brock Seguin for pointing this out

The Sens are feeling good about their system


The Ottawa Senators may not be as fun to watch.

They sure don’t run and gun like they used to.

But it’s hard to argue with the results. Under new head coach Guy Boucher, the Sens enter tonight’s game in Dallas with a record of 36-22-6. Their 78 points are good for second place in the Atlantic Division.

Last season, under Dave Cameron, they were 30-27-7 at this point in the season, a full 11 points behind this year’s pace. They went on to miss the playoffs by a healthy margin, and Cameron was fired soon after.

The Sens under Boucher have become half-decent at defending. Their goals against has fallen from 2.94 (26th) to 2.59 (11th), and though they’re not scoring as much, it’s been a net positive gain in goal differential.

“Guys have a total buy in,” said new Sens forward Alex Burrows, per the Canadian Press. “You can have any system, but if you have total buy in from all 20 guys normally that’s a good sign and right now I can see in this lineup that everyone is believing in the system, everyone wants to compete in the system and we’re getting the right results.”

What is Boucher’s system anyway?

Well, you’ve probably heard the word before.

“They obviously play that trap system,” said Toronto’s Auston Matthews before a game last month, per TSN. “For us, we don’t want to mess around with the puck in the neutral zone. We just got to get in behind them with speed coming in through the middle and just try and arrive first before their D and play below the dots here tonight. It’s going to be pretty muddy there so we got to get past that.”

The Boston Bruins fell into Boucher’s trap on Monday, losing 4-2 in a key divisional contest.

“We kind of played into their system,” said B’s forward Bard Marchand, per CSN New England. “We didn’t get enough pucks in deep and that’s the game you have to play against this team with the five guys in the neutral zone they really clog it up so we have to get in a little bit more than we did and hopefully we can do a little bit better next game.”

Now, whether the Sens have what it takes to make a deep playoff run remains to be seen. But their owner thinks they do, that’s for sure.

“I just think we have the potential, first, of getting into the playoffs and secondly, potentially going into the second, third and even the fourth round,” Eugene Melnyk said recently. “I think finally I’ve become optimistic cautiously.”