Marc-Edouard Vlasic

Oilers latest Battle of Alberta Leon Draisaitl buzzer
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The Buzzer: Oilers dominate latest Battle of Alberta; goalies fight for records, too

Three Stars

1. Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers

The second “Battle of Alberta” of the week ended up lopsided. Leon Draisaitl ended up being a big part of that.

Impressively, Draisaitl collected four assists in Edmonton’s 8-3 win over Calgary. Draisaitl exits Saturday with a commanding lead in the Art Ross race with a resounding 83 points. Last season’s jump to 105 points was incredible, no doubt. Yet, Draisaitl is almost at last year’s assist total of 55, as he reached 54 on Saturday. That’s about a 130-point pace.

The German-born forward has been especially hot lately. Draisaitl pushed his point streak to 11 games, scoring 22 points during that span. That four-point outburst also gives Draisaitl a streak within a streak: five consecutive multi-point games.

In the process, Draisaitl may have solved the riddle of scoring without Connor McDavid.

The Mike Smith – Cam Talbot goalie fight will grab a lot of the attention. And, really, why not? Goalie fights are too odd not to be fun. But Oilers fans should be just as excited about Draisaitl’s dominance.

2. Jeff Petry, Montreal Canadiens

There’s an argument for Petry over Draisaitl, as they both ended Saturday with an impressive four assists. To me, Draisaitl’s blistering overall play, NHL points lead, and involvement in the “Battle of Alberta” overwhelmed the Petry dish of accomplishments.

Regardless, Petry remains a strong contributor for the up-and-down Habs. Those four assists pushed Petry to 33 points in 53 games in 2019-20. It sure looks like Petry will continue his trend of setting new career-highs (he tied his old mark of 42 in 2017-18, set a new one in 2018-19 with 46, and now has months to flirt with 50+).

3. Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers

Here is another spot where there are tough calls. Even ignoring other scorers and just focusing on goalies, Lundqvist has competition. Carey Price pitched a 29-save shutout. Curtis McElhinney blanked the Sharks with 30 saves. Ryan Miller didn’t get a shutout, but he stopped 46 out of 47 shots on goal for Anaheim.

But who knows how many more times we’ll see “King Henrik” warrant a three stars nod? Hopefully the answer is “A surprisingly large number of times,” yet it’s unclear.

Lundqvist generated a 33-save shutout against the Red Wings on Saturday. In doing so, Lundqvist earned a shutout for the first time since Nov. 19, 2017. That marks the 64th of his outstanding career. Considering the Rangers’ defensive struggles, Lundqvist and other goalies will have to earn each goose egg.

Also, for what it’s worth: yes, the Red Wings are dreadful, but it was a 1-0 game so New York needed all of Lundqvist’s saves.

Highlight of the Night that’s not a Goalie Fight

No doubt, many will pick Talbot vs. Smith as the highlight of the night. Bask in that glory here, and you know what? This can save you a click:

But it feels worthwhile to give another goalie some of the spotlight. Antti Raanta should practice his “Mortal Kombat” voices after pulling off a scorpion save:

Poor Ryan McDonagh

Consider this one of the lowlights of the night. Sorry, Ryan McDonagh.

Factoids

Scores

BUF 2 – CBJ 1 (OT)
VAN 4 – NYI 3 (OT)
MTL 4 – FLA 0
TOR 2 – OTT 1 (OT)
NYR 1 – DET 0
DAL 3 – NJD (OT)
PHI 6 – COL 3
WPG 5 – STL 2
VGK 3 – NSH 0
BOS 6 – MIN 1
CHI 3 – ARI 2 (SO)
EDM 8 – CGY 3
ANA 3 – LAK 1
TBL 3 – SJS 0

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.

Sharks stick with GM Doug Wilson — for better or worse

Sharks Doug Wilson vote of confidence
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The San Jose Sharks are sticking with GM Doug Wilson despite a huge letdown of a season.

Majority owner Hasso Plattner gave Wilson a vote of confidence on Thursday. While it makes sense to comment on a disappointing season, it’s interesting to see it in an official release.

“While we are all very disappointed in the team’s performance thus far this season, Doug has a long history of leading our team to success,” Plattner said as part of the statement. “The last time we failed to meet our winning standards in the 2014-15 season, we were able to quickly rebound and re-establish a winning culture for the next several years. I am supportive of Doug’s plan to get our team back on track.”

Wilson has overseen a long run of Sharks success

Wilson deserves credit for a remarkably strong and consistent run since being named GM in May 2003. The oft-tanned executive must make other GMs feel like he’s a shark smelling blood at times. While the Joe Thornton trade is Wilson’s masterstroke, he often wins other trades — sometimes by a lot.

The Sharks have also won a lot since he took the reins.

The Sharks won four Pacific Division titles in a row from 2007-08 to 2010-11, grabbing the 2009 Presidents’ Trophy along the way. Those peak years ended with heartbreak, yet a run to the 2016 Stanley Cup Final silenced a lot of the “choker” claims.

Each time the window appeared ready to close on the Sharks, Wilson would pull a rabbit out of a hat, drafting gems like Logan Couture or trading for key players such as Brent Burns.

Sharks seem stuck

Unfortunately, the 2019-20 season might represent Wilson running out of magic.

Strangely, the Sharks are so stuck that they might just be better off sticking with Wilson, though.

An incoming GM would only be able to do so much about an aging, expensive defense and other concerns. So, again, hoping Wilson has some tricks up his sleeves ranks as an understandable gamble.

Back on Jan. 13, The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun reported (sub required) that the Sharks are looking more at a “reset” than a tear-down, trades-wise. LeBrun points to sensible pieces to auction, such as defenseman Brenden Dillon and defensive-leaning forward Melker Karlsson.

Maybe Wilson could pull off a sequel to getting a bucket of picks for marginal players, like he did with Ryane Clowe and Douglas Murray in 2013? If anyone can pull that off again, it’s Wilson.

The Sharks see little incentive to tank since Ottawa owns their 2020 first-rounder anyway. Taking baby steps seems like the only reasonable option, really.

How Wilson must succeed where he once failed

For all of the smart (and/or “smart at the time”) moves Wilson made, goaltending continues to doom the Sharks. Navigating that problem with better results should be Wilson’s top priority, even if it’s a tricky challenge.

Martin Jones served as a nice answer for a while, but the Jones – Aaron Dell tandem has been a disaster for some time. The Sharks could no longer outscore such problems in 2019-20. Jones and/or Dell show up on the wrong end of far too many charts like this GSAA one from Charting Hockey:

Jones, 30, stands as one of the more cringe-inducing Wilson contracts. He’s been abysmal, has a no-trade clause, and the $5.75M AAV runs through 2023-24. (You just cringed, didn’t you?)

(Did I mention that a different GM would face a huge mess if they wanted to blow this up? Yeah, it’s a dicey situation.)

Whether it’s making life easier for Jones or finding a different answer in net, the Sharks need to fix this. Doing so quickly is crucial, too, with an aging core.

Honestly, many of us — probably Wilson included — figured that this team would hit a wall eventually. It’s just that the wall popped up faster than expected, and the Sharks went splat.

It’s up to Wilson to make sure that the Sharks leap over that hurdle next time around, kind of like a … well, a killer whale.

Otherwise it could be, you know, crushing.

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.

Why things might get even worse for already-grim Sharks

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The San Jose Sharks look like they’re sinking. Unfortunately, most signs are pointing toward things getting even worse in 2020.

Boughner calls out unnamed Sharks who are probably Meier and Labanc (and maybe others)

Head coach Bob Boughner slammed unnamed players following Friday’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Kings. He wondered how you could dress 12 players when only “eight or nine” showed up. Again, Boughner didn’t mention anyone by name, stating only that they know who they are.

Boughner made the sort of comments you’d hear from a coach when their team is … well, in a tailspin.

The Athletic’s Kevin Kurz pointed out that Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc were benched for more than half of the third period, so they likely rank among those Boughner was hinting at.

No doubt, Labanc and Meier have been a bit disappointing this season, with Meier mired in a four-game scoreless drought, and Labanc at five games.

When your team is 1-8-2 in its last 11 games, there’s usually plenty of blame to spread around. Frighteningly, the Sharks’ schedule hints at things getting even worse, to the point that it may only matter so much even if efforts improve.

Sharks schedule could make a bad situation worse

Saturday ends a grim seven-game homestand for the Sharks where they’ve only managed three of a possible 12 standings points (1-4-1). Closing out a back-to-back set against a rested Flyers team that’s on a four-game winning streak won’t be easy.

Win or lose, the path only gets bumpier from there, with eight of the Sharks’ next 10 games on the road.

Zoom out and you’ll realize that the Flyers bookend what could be a nightmare two months, actually:

Dec. 28 vs. Philadelphia
Dec. 31 @ Detroit
Jan. 2 @ Pittsburgh
Jan. 4 @ Columbus
Jan. 5 @ Washington
Jan. 7 @ St. Louis
Jan. 9 vs. Columbus
Jan. 11 vs. Dallas
Jan. 14 @ Arizona
Jan. 16 @ Colorado
Jan. 18 @ Vancouver
Jan. 27 vs. Anaheim
Jan. 29 vs. Vancouver
Feb. 1 vs. Tampa Bay
Feb. 4 @ Calgary
Feb. 6 @ Edmonton
Feb. 10 vs. Calgary
Feb. 14 @ Winnipeg
Feb. 15 @ Minnesota
Feb. 17 vs. Florida
Feb. 20 @ New Jersey
Feb. 22 @ Rangers
Feb. 23 @ Islanders
Feb. 25 @ Philadelphia

Over their next 24 games, the Sharks play eight at home and 16 on the road. Yikes.

The Sharks have played five more games at home (22) than on the road (17) so far in 2019-20, so while things even out a bit from late February through April, this perilous stretch lines up almost perfectly with the Feb. 24 trade deadline. The Sharks’ 6-9-2 road record doesn’t portend happy times, either.

A grim long-term future

The Sharks parallel the 2018-19 versions of their hated rivals the Kings in uncomfortable ways.

Like Los Angeles with Drew Doughty, the Sharks made a massive bet on an aging defenseman (in their case Erik Karlsson), figuring that short-term gains would justify likely long-term pains. In both cases, the pain instead essentially kicked in right as those contracts began.

Looking at the Sharks’ scary salary structure at Cap Friendly, they look mostly stuck. It’s not just Karlsson (29, $11.5M AAV through 2026-27) and Brent Burns (somehow already 34, $8M AAV through 2024-25) whose aging curves prompt indigestion. Marc-Edouard Vlasic‘s play has plummeted, and the 32-year-old’s $7M AAV only expires after 2025-26. With Logan Couture at 30 and Evander Kane at 28, plenty of other core members are older than some might realize, too.

Should Sharks make trades?

Yes, that’s a very grim, remarkably Kings-like outlook. And, really, the Kings are a few promising prospects ahead of their disliked neighbors, to boot.

Looking at the few shorter-term contracts — assuming the Sharks are smart enough not to turn heel on a very good, if struggling, winger in Timo Meier — there are a few possibilities.

  • It would be odd to see the Sharks trade Kevin Labanc after he signed that sweetheart one-year, $1M deal. That said, he’s clearly in the doghouse, and maybe a contender would pay a pretty penny for such a cheap rental? Either way, he’s a pending RFA; even if this continues as a disaster season, he’s likely due a raise. Would San Jose really want to pay up if they keep fading?
  • Brenden Dillon is 29 and will see his $3.27M AAV expire. Elliotte Friedman already mentioned Dillon as a rental candidate in the Dec. 18 edition of “31 Thoughts,” and it’s easy to see why some teams would be interested in the pending UFA. That’s especially true if San Jose retained some of that salary.

Don’t get too tank-happy, though, Sharks fans. The Senators own the Sharks’ 2020 first-round draft pick, so while San Jose has incentive to stockpile futures, they don’t have the same incentive to lose as many games as possible as, well … the Senators do.

***

Overall, the Sharks’ outlook is troubling. Maybe things go swimmingly and they turn things around, but it seems far more likely that the Sharks will sink.

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: Hats off to Duclair; Staal one point away from 1,000

NHL Scores Eric Staal Minnesota Wild
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Three Stars

1. Anthony Duclair, Ottawa Senators. This had to be a satisfying game for Duclair. He showed John Tortorella and the Columbus Blue Jackets that he does, in fact, know how to play the game by scoring three goals in a 4-3 win for the Ottawa Senators. That performance includes the game-winning goal in overtime. The 24-year-old Duclair now has 18 goals in 33 games this season and is on pace for more than 40 goals this season. Read all about his day here.

2. Bryan Rust, Pittsburgh Penguins. With Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Brian Dumoulin, Nick Bjugstad, and Patric Hornqvist out of the lineup the Penguins have more than $35 million in salary cap space sitting in the press box at the moment. They still keep finding ways to win. They picked up a 5-4 shootout win over the Los Angeles Kings in Saturday thanks to another huge game from Rust. He scored two goals and picked up an assist in regulation, then scored the game-winning goal in the shootout. Rust now has 12 goals and 22 total points in only 19 games this season for the Penguins. He has always been one of their most versatile — and valuable — players, and he is showing why this season.

3. Eric Staal, Minnesota Wild. Staal has been on a roll for the Wild and thanks to his two-goal effort in Saturday’s 4-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers, he now has six points in his past five games and is up to 999 for his career. That means with one more point he would become only the 89th player in NHL history to hit the 1,000 point milestone. The Wild are one of the league’s hottest teams since the start of November with a 12-3-5 record in their past 20 games. They were 4-9-0 before in October.

Other notable performances from Saturday

  • David Pastrnak extended his lead in the NHL goal-scoring race with a pair of goals in the Boston Bruins’ 4-2 win over the Florida Panthers. He now has 28 goals on the season and is five ahead of Jack Eichel.
  • Warren Foegele scored two goals for the Carolina Hurricanes, James Reimer stopped all 32 shots he faced and Dougie Hamilton scored against his former team in a 4-0 win over the Calgary Flames.
  • Anthony Beauvillier was the overtime hero for the New York Islanders as they topped the Buffalo Sabres.
  • The New Jersey Devils gave Alain Nasreddine his first NHL win as a head coach while the Taylor Hall watch continues. Read all about it here.
  • Frederik Andersen stopped 36 out of 37 shots as the Toronto Maple Leafs sent the fading Edmonton Oilers to their fourth consecutive defeat. It is the 200th win of Andersen’s career.
  • Jonathan Bernier backstopped the Detroit Red Wings to their second consecutive win as they hold off the Montreal Canadiens.
  • Mika Zibanejad‘s two goals are not enough for the New York Rangers as they drop a 4-3 shootout decision to the Anaheim Ducks.
  • Ben Bishop turned aside 37 out of 38 shots to help the Dallas Stars crush the Nashville Predators.
  • Evander Kane and Logan Couture both record two points as the San Jose Sharks get a much-needed win over the Vancouver Canucks. It is the first win for Bob Boughner as head coach of the Sharks.
  • Tyler Bozak scored two goals as the St. Louis Blues stunned the Chicago Blackhawks. Read all about it here.

Highlights of the Night

Timo Meier finishes a great passing play for the San Jose Sharks with an absolute rocket of a shot to beat Jacob Markstrom.

Jonathan Quick has really struggled the past two years, and it came in a losing effort in Pittsburgh on Saturday, but this series of saves in overtime is pretty ridiculous.

Garnet Hathaway score with some style for the Capitals.

Give this fan a contract

This is a $50,000 shot between periods in Montreal.

Factoids

  • The Blues’ comeback is just the second time in franchise history they erased a three-goal third period deficit to win. [NHL PR]
  • Zibanejad’s first goal for the Rangers came just 10 seconds into the game, the fastest goal for the Rangers since the 1985 season. [NHL PR]
  • Jack Eichel extended his point streak to 16 consecutive games, making it the fourth longest in Buffalo Sabres franchise history. [NHL PR]
  • The Wild have earned a point in 12 consecutive home games, the second-longest streak in franchise history. [NHL PR]
  • Brad Marchand hit the 50-point mark for the season, the first Bruins player since Adam Oates during the 1995-96 season to reach that mark in 34 or fewer games. [NHL PR]
  • Marc-Edouard Vlasic played in his 1,000th career game on Saturday night, making him the 340th player in NHL history to reach that milestone. [San Jose Sharks]
  • Foegele’s two goals for the Hurricanes both came while shorthanded, making him the fifth Hurricanes player to ever accomplish that in a game. [NHL PR]

Scores

Ottawa Senators 4, Columbus Blue Jackets 3 (OT)
New York Islanders 3, Buffalo Sabres 2 (OT)
Anaheim Ducks 4, New York Rangers 3 (SO)
Carolina Hurricanes 4, Calgary Flames 0
Dallas Stars 4, Nashville Predators 1
Toronto Maple Leafs 4, Edmonton Oilers 1
Minnesota Wild 4, Philadelphia Flyers 1
Detroit Red Wings 2, Montreal Canadiens 1
Washington Capitals 5, Tampa Bay Lightning 2
Boston Bruins 4, Florida Panthers 2
Pittsburgh Penguins 5, Los Angeles Kings 4 (SO)
New Jersey Devils 2, Arizona Coyotes 1
St. Louis Blues 4, Chicago Blackhawks 3
San Jose Sharks 4, Vancouver Canucks 2

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.

PHT Face-Off: Board of Governors tackle Code of Conduct; NHL’s best meet

It’s the start of another week, so that means it’s time for the PHT Face-Off to look ahead to some of the trends and topics that will dominate over the next seven days.

• Board of Governors meets this week

The NHL’s Board of Governors will meet this week in Pebble Beach, Calif. with plenty to discuss. But one agenda item that was recently added was discussing a Code of Conduct in light of the Akim Aliu accusations and the other abuse allegations that have surfaced in the last two weeks.

Aliu met with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly last week in Toronto and in a short statement afterward said that “big change is coming.” The league currently does not have a Code of Conduct in place for players, coaches and team officials, but one is certainly coming and we’re likely to hear this week what kind of policy could be implemented. Per TSN, “In order to encourage more diversity and inclusion in the sport and for fans, the NHL is aiming to ‘break the culture of silence,’ according to a person familiar with the discussions.”

If “big change” is to be implemented, the league would have to work together with the Players’ Association to add it to the current Collective Bargaining Agreement; so whatever comes out of this week’s BOG meetings likely won’t be instituted right away.

• NHL’s best meet on Wednesday Night Hockey

The Bruins and Capitals are the league’s top two point-getters as of Monday and both head into this week winners of eight of their last 10 games. They’ll meet on Wednesday Night Hockey (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN) in Washington. Boston has dropped their last two entering tonight’s game in Ottawa, and had their run of success playing from behind come to an end in their defeat to the Avalanche.

But Saturday’s loss to Colorado — who has handed them two of their four regulation losses this season — could be viewed as a good thing for the group, and act as a bit of a wake-up call.

“You can’t continue to get down by a couple goals, especially with really good teams,” said Brad Marchand. “Teams like that really know how to keep a lead, and regardless of how many times we’ve come back in the past, eventually it’s going to catch up to us like it did tonight. Unfortunately, it is good to lose every now and again, it’s good to be able to right the ship again, so maybe this is that game.”

Both teams will be getting back key pieces this week as Patrice Bergeron will return for the Bruins and Nicklas Backstrom re-enters the lineup Monday for the Capitals, who are riding a six-game winning streak.

NBC Sports has announced it has flexed into the Thursday, Dec. 19 matchup between the Islanders and Bruins (7 p.m.; NBCSN.)

Kevin Hayes used to ref, ya know?

What’s coming up this week?
• When Joe Thornton takes the ice Thursday against the Rangers he’ll become the 12th NHL player to play in 1,600 career regular season games. If he plays in each of San Jose’s final 50 regular season games he’ll move into the eighth spot all-time in the category. Jumbo’s teammate Marc-Edouard Vlasic will hit the 1,000-game mark Saturday when the Sharks host the Canucks.

• With a goal Saturday night in Detroit Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin moved to within one of 400 for his career. He’ll have three chances this week as Pittsburgh begins a three-game homestand against the Canadiens, Blue Jackets and Kings.

NHL ON NBCSN
• Blues at Sabres, Tues. Dec 10, 7:30 p.m. ET.

WEDNESDAY NIGHT HOCKEY
• Bruins at Capitals, Wed. Dec. 11, 7 p.m. ET
• Flyers at Avalanche, Wed. Dec. 11, 9:30 p.m. ET

————

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.