Sam Bennett

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Flames, Sharks meet as battle for Pacific heats up

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Thursday night’s game between the Calgary Flames and San Jose Sharks offers plenty of intrigue. They are the top two teams in the Pacific Division, and they are also the two highest scoring teams in the Western Conference. And after their most recent meeting on December 31 – an 8-5 Flames win – the scoreboard might not be the only place we see fireworks this evening.

In the final 41 seconds of that game, the two teams combined for 66 penalty minutes, including a match penalty for Sam Bennett after he concussed Sharks defenseman Radim Simek with a questionable hit. There was no supplemental discipline for the play, which the Sharks called “gutless” and “predatory” afterwards, so one wonders whether there will be any retribution sought by the Sharks on Bennett.

Close watch should also be kept on Evander Kane and Matthew Tkachuk, who each picked up 10-minute misconducts in a brawl just prior to the Bennett hit. There are fewer Kanes and Tkachuks in today’s NHL – both in terms of their style on the ice and their unfiltered remarks off the ice – which makes the build up to this game even more interesting. However, neither would fully take the bait when asked about things carrying over from December:

“I know what you’re asking, I know what you’re trying to get me to say. We’ll see,” Kane said via The Mercury News. “It’s something that, hopefully, everybody in this room remembers because it doesn’t matter who you are, whether you’re a skill guy, a big guy, a tough guy or a small guy, it’s on each and every person in this room to stick up for one another. We’ll see.”

Said Tkachuk: “I’m don’t think I’m going to be the guy who’s going to give you what you want on that quote. Those games are fun to play in. I love those games. Our whole team’s thriving in those games this year. We have guys that can play that style, too. (Kane) is a good player. They’re a really good team. It’s going to be a great game.”

Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer was much more definitive in downplaying the revenge factor, telling reporters yesterday, “We know where everybody is in the standings, so that’s first and foremost. This isn’t about settling scores. This is about trying to close the gap on these guys in the division. There’s going to be a lot of emotion. It’s going to be physical. That stuff takes care of itself.”

He is right about the importance of this game in the standings. Since that New Year’s Eve meeting, the Flames have not lost to a Western Conference opponent, and they now have an opportunity to create a six-point cushion over the Sharks. Considering these teams play only once more during the regular season – and not until March 31 – this may be San Jose’s best opportunity to chip away at that deficit.

It would be an even bigger boost for the Sharks considering they will be without Erik Karlsson (lower body) for a sixth straight game, however he could return on the team’s current road trip. It should be noted that in the middle of this absence, Karlsson did participate in the NHL All-Star Game.

Regardless of the outcome tonight though, it is safe to say these are two of the most complete teams in the conference. Bill Peters is a Jack Adams candidate in his first year behind the bench for the Flames, and fellow former Hurricane Elias Lindholm has joined with Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau to form one of the most potent lines in hockey. The Sharks are dangerous up and down their lineup, with a pair of Norris Trophy caliber defensemen, as well as five different forwards with 19+ goals – the most such players in the league.

San Jose and Calgary have not faced each other in the playoffs since 2008, but if they keep up their play from the first four months of the season, this could wind up being a high-scoring, hard-hitting, and headline-grabbing second round Stanley Cup playoff matchup.

The Buzzer: Bergeron’s big night, Sens win again, Avalanche in a playoff spot

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Players of the Night: 

Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins: Bergeron came into Saturday three points shy of 700 for his NHL career. He reached that mark in the first period, scoring twice and adding an assist as the Bruins put up five against the Carolina Hurricanes. He then put his stamp on the night, burying his hat trick goal in the second frame for good measure. Not bad, Patrice. Not bad.

Ryan Dzingel (and the rest of the Ottawa Senators, really): Dzingel had two goals in the game, giving him four over the past three games. Matt Duchene scored for the third time in two games and the Senators took down the best team in the NHL, a 6-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning after coming from behind for a 6-5 win on Friday night. Not too shabby on the back to back. The Sens blew a three-goal lead in this one as well.

Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov, Dallas Stars: The Dallas Duo each had three points as the Stars eased past the Edmonton Oilers 5-1.

Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers: Not only did he score a but goal, Giroux had three points to help the Flyers to a 6-3 defeat of the St. Louis Blues in Brayden Schenn‘s return to Philly.

Highlights of the Night:

It’s never too late to score a game-winner:

Two-on-one. Seguin and Radulov. Only one way this ends:

No video here, because this one doesn’t need any:

Factoids of the Night:

Henrik Lundqvist moved into eighth on the all-time win list with this save on a point-blank clapper in the shootout.

MISC:

Scores:

Flyers 6, Blues 3

Stars 5, Oilers 1

Bruins 7, Hurricanes 1

Maple Leafs 3, Canucks 2 (SO)

Senators 6, Lightning 3

Rangers 2, Coyotes 1

Avalanche 7, Wild 2

Flames 3, Ducks 2

Predators 4, Kings 3


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

Sam Bennett is a bad man

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Maybe Sam Bennett can’t do a pull-up.

But man, the kid knows how to throw his fists around.

After Mike Smith was upended by Derek Grant behind his own net, somehow Bennett and Josh Manson (quite the physical specimen) came together.

The Vegas line would have heavily favored Manson. Bennett was clearly the underdog.

But then Bennett did this (keep your eye on the fight to the right):

What a scrap, indeed.

Not only can Bennett throw, his ability to evade punches is quite remarkable.

Bennett’s not afraid to chuck ’em. He had this spirited scrap with Winnipeg Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba at the tail end of last season.


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

Report: Teams are calling Flames about Sam Bennett

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When the Calgary Flames drafted Sam Bennett fourth overall in 2014, they expected him to develop into an impact player. Unfortunately for Bennett, the 2017-18 season hasn’t gone that way (at all).

Through 15 games, Bennett is still looking for his point of the season. Over his first three years, it’s concerning to see that his numbers have been trending down instead of up. In 2015-16 (his first full season), the 21-year-old accumulated 18 goals and 36 points in 77 games. The following season, those numbers dropped to 13 goals and 26 points.

“I’m not used to starting a season like this. It’s never happened before,” Bennett said, per the Calgary Sun. “Obviously, as much as you try to tell yourself, ‘Don’t worry about it,’ it’s still going to be there. So I’ll take one however I can get it.”

Finding Bennett a position has also been difficult for Calgary, as he’s struggled to play center at the NHL level. His struggles all over the ice haven’t gone unnoticed by people around the league. When things aren’t going well for a young forward with upside, that’s usually when other GMs try to pounce.

According to TSN hockey insider Bob McKenzie, Bennett’s slow start has prompted other general managers to pick up the phone and check in on his availability.

On the most recent Insider Trading segment, McKenzie stated that the Flames don’t want to part ways with Bennett, but they also aren’t hanging up when other teams call about him.

Although a change of scenery might do him some good, it doesn’t sound like any team is offering enough assets to get him.

Unless something changes, he’ll have to play himself out of this funk in Calgary.

Calgary Flames ’15-16 Outlook

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For the most part, there should be optimism in Cowtown.

After a great ’14-15 campaign in which they exceeded all expectations, the Flames had themselves an equally successful summer. GM Brad Treliving struck the perfect chord of adding to his upstart team without sacrificing youth or prospects; Dougie Hamilton came aboard at the expense of three draft picks while Michael Frolik joined in free agency, much like Karri Ramo, who was brought back to recreate last year’s successful goalie tandem with Jonas Hiller.

The Flames didn’t lose much, either.

Spare veteran parts like Raphael Diaz, David Schlemko and Brian McGrattan walked in free agency, and with good reason; the postseason emergence of youngsters like Micheal Ferland, Sam Bennett and Tyler Wotherspoon made the older guys expendable.

The real excitement in Calgary, though, is the prospect of putting everything together. Up front, the dynamic trio of Johnny Gaudreau-Sean Monahan-Jiri Hudler will be back for another go-round, only this time they’ll have depth behind them: Frolik, a full season of Bennett, a full season of Mikael Backlund (remember, he missed 30 games last season) and a real wildcard in Ferland, who showed flashes of being a havoc-wreaking power forward in the playoffs.

On defense? Imagine if that all comes together too. Adding Hamilton, getting Giordano back, building off the excellent playoffs from T.J. Brodie, Dennis Wideman and Kris Russell — the Flames could have one of the better bluelines in the Western Conference.

So yes, Calgary certainly has momentum heading into ’15-16, but momentum can be a fickle thing. Especially when you’re trying to carry it from one year to the next.

What the Flames won’t have going for them is the element of surprise. It’s fair to say they snuck up on some few opponents last year, especially during their 17-8-2 start, but that’s unlikely to happen again. They’re a tough out, and the rest of the NHL now knows it. Upon being introduced to the Calgary media in July, Frolik, the former Winnipeg Jet, acknowledged part of his reason for signing in Calgary was recognizing how good the team was — and will be.

“With me and Dougie, I think that [expectations are] just going to be higher and higher,” he explained, per the Herald. “With what the guys did last year, the goal is for sure to make the playoffs.”

Calgary will also likely need to improve on its puck possession and shot-based metrics — we touched on that earlier today — but those improvements have a good chance of happening thanks to the new roster additions, and the maturation of incumbent youngsters.

Put it all together, and it’s easy to see why the organization’s already thinking about another boisterous postseason in front of the Sea of Red.

“Players want to be in a good situation, they want to have a chance to win,” Treliving said. “In the playoffs, seeing the atmosphere in the building, seeing this city come alive, seeing the support and the passion that our fans have, makes players excited.”