Steve Bernier had a goal and an assist, and Milan Michalek had three assists for the Sharks, who earned their third straight road win. Vesa Toskala made 35 saves and improved to 4-0 against Los Angeles. Alexander Frolov, Brian Willsie and Sean Avery scored for the Kings, who have won only three of 15 games and have allowed 22 goals the last four games.
San Jose scored its first four goals during a 5:14 span of the opening period against Mathieu Garon, who has surrendered 12 goals on 43 shots over his last two starts.
The Sharks, who came in with an NHL-best 24.5 percentage on the power play, converted the first time they had the man advantage after Garon was given a tripping penalty during a goal-mouth scramble. Marleau tied it 1-1 at 11:25 of the opening period after Garon failed to control the rebound on a one-timer by Christian Ehrhoff.
Bernier put San Jose ahead to stay at 14:00 with a short backhander.
Ehrhoff made it 3-1 at 16:23 with a screened slap shot from the slot after Garon tried to clear the puck behind the net and Patrick Rissmiller intercepted it.
Cheechoo, who led the league last season with a franchise-record 56 goals, then completed a 2-on-1 rush and scored into an open net 16 seconds later after Garon committed himself to Rissmiller at the left of the crease.
Marleau made it 5-2 at 10:15 of the second period when he converted Michalek's pass from behind the net. He push the lead to four goals just under 8 minutes later, completing his second career hat trick.
Notes: Marleau, the Sharks captain, had his other NHL hat trick on April 6, 2002, against Detroit. ... San Jose coach Ron Wilson became a grandfather when his daughter gave birth to a girl early Thursday morning. ... Marleau had six goals in eight games against the Kings last season. Cheechoo had nine. ... The Kings honoured D Rob Blake for playing his 1,000th NHL game. Blake, in his second stint with the Kings, reached the milestone on Nov. 4 at Phoenix. ... Cheechoo's longest stretch without a goal last season was eight games. ... Michalek has 18 points in 17 games. He had 35 points in 81 games as a rookie last season.
The Blues face a tough decision with pending UFA defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk -- keep him and try to make a playoff run, or trade him at the deadline.
St. Louis Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk was the subject last summer of considerable trade speculation. For weeks, there was talk that Blues GM Doug Armstrong was shopping the 27-year-old rearguard, who's eligible this July for unrestricted free agency.
Armstrong apparently set a expensive asking price for the puck-moving blueliner: From the Boston Bruins, both of their first-round picks in the 2016 draft plus right winger David Pastrnak. The Detroit Red Wings, meanwhile, spurned Armstrong's request for promising left winger Dylan Larkin.
Unable to find any takers, Armstrong opted to retain Shattenkirk for this season. The trade chatter eventually faded. But with the March 1 trade deadline less than six weeks away, the rumors are resurfacing.
Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman wonders if Armstrong might shop Shattenkirk as a rental player to a playoff contender and use the cap savings to address other roster issues. With the Blues carrying Alex Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko as right-shooting defenders, Friedman feels they've got sufficient depth to handle that move.
By peddling Shattenkirk to a playoff contender, the club getting him gets a boost while he bolsters his value in this summer's free-agent market. Friedman acknowledges Armstrong's previous high asking price, but wonders if he might lower it and use the cap savings to bring in something that helps the Blues now.
The Edmonton Oilers were linked to Shattenkirk last summer, but it's believed he was reluctant to go there. Friedman wonders if he'll reconsider joining them in a short-term situation.
TSN's Frank Seravalli also ponders the possibility of Shattenkirk becoming a playoff rental. He notes the Blues aren't as strong as they once were. With the Oilers in playoff position and considered buyers at the trade deadline for the first time in years, Seravalli proposes offering up a conditional first-round pick to the Blues.
Seravalli's colleague Darren Dreger suggests a “trade and extend” scenario could boost Shattenkirk's trade value. In other words, he gets dealt and signs a contract extension with his new club.
Dreger said the Blues defender is willing to consider several options. Among them, the Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Rangers, Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings, San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks and even his former club, the Colorado Avalanche.
Of those on Dreger's list, all but the Sharks and Ducks need a top-four defenseman. San Jose is already solid on the right side with Brent Burns and Justin Braun. Anaheim's overstocked with good young defenseman and need scoring depth at left wing.
Pierre LeBrun believes the Blues could entertain offers for Shattenkirk. However, that doesn't mean they're keen to move him.
Trading a pending UFA would be an uncharacteristic move by Armstrong. He usually retains those players to help his club in the post-season, despite the likelihood of losing them for nothing to free agency in the summer.
Still, trading Shattenkirk before the deadline could be worthwhile to bolster a weakness elsewhere. While not as strong as in recent years, the Blues remain a playoff club. A significant move that addresses their weak points could improve their championship hopes.
If Armstrong moves Shattenkirk to a contender for a high draft pick, he could bundle that pick with a prospect and attempt to pry a quality player from a non-playoff club.
The Blues must improve at center, where the depth drops noticeably beyond Paul Stastny. If Armstrong wants a rental player, he could pursue Martin Hanzal of the Arizona Coyotes. If his preference is someone with term on his contract, Matt Duchene of the Colorado Avalanche could be an option.
With goaltender Jake Allen struggling of late, perhaps Armstrong could use the freed-up cap room to bring in a reliable starter. The Pittsburgh Penguins are a playoff team, but they could attempt to move Marc-Andre Fleury to protect Matt Murray in June's expansion draft.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
2016 second-round pick Rasmus Asplund is getting valuable experience with Farjestad back home in Sweden, but he's looking forward to teaming up with Alex Nylander in Buffalo.
The best thing about the prospect world? There are very few “dog days.” The world juniors is in our rearview mirror, but here comes the CHL Top Prospects Game! I’ll be in Quebec City for the festivities on Monday, so stay tuned for coverage next week. As for bad news, while Hamilton, Oshawa and Regina make their bids for the 2018 Memorial Cup, the 2017 hosts from Windsor just found out key defenseman Logan Stanley (WPG) will be out long-term due to knee surgery, putting his participation in jeopardy. In the meantime, let’s take a look at some of the players with brighter storylines right now.
Rasmus Asplund, C (Buffalo): Though his world juniors ended with another disappointing fourth-place finish, overall it’s been a pretty good year for Asplund. Not only is he one of the top junior-aged scorers in the SHL, but the world juniors gave him another chance to hang out with Alex Nylander, his fellow Buffalo draft pick.
“It’s always fun to be on the same team as Alex,” Asplund said. “He’s an outstanding player and a good guy in the room, too. And now we’re both Sabres.”
Asplund was taken 33rd overall by Buffalo this summer and while it’s always fun to be drafted by the team hosting the event, the talented two-way center was getting approached for autographs the day before he was picked, giving him a preview of how knowledgeable the locals are.
“I was there for two months this summer and it’s an amazing hockey town,” he said. “Everyone is crazy about hockey so it’s going to be exciting to get there soon.”
Asplund is currently playing for Farjestad back home in Sweden. The squad is mid-table in the SHL, but for a young player with NHL dreams, Asplund is getting a golden opportunity to grow his game right now.
“It’s been a really good year for me,” he said. “I’m playing almost 19 minutes every game and in all situations, so the development has been outstanding. I’m taking steps every day.”
While Asplund and Nylander played on separate lines at the world juniors this year, they had chemistry at the tourney in 2016. And with the Sabres rebuilding and both players looking promising for the future, the two Swedish nationals could be starring in different shades of blue and gold very soon.
Mathieu Joseph, RW (Tampa Bay): It’s been a huge year for Joseph, who took silver at the world juniors with Canada. But the talented and energetic winger’s most lasting legacy may be his new franchise record point streak. Joseph has now gone 23 games without missing the score sheet, breaking QMJHL Saint John’s franchise record, which had belonged to Zach Phillips.
Mitch Vande Sompel, D (NY Islanders): I get the feeling Vande Sompel is in his element with the OHL’s London Knights. The offensive defenseman was acquired at the trade deadline from Oshawa and he already has seven points in six games for his new squad.
Daniel Sprong, RW (Pittsburgh): Injuries have devastated Sprong’s young career, so it’s good to see the kid back with Charlottetown and doing what he does best: putting up offense. Sprong has nine points in eight QMJHL games for the Islanders since returning from shoulder surgery.
Dakota Joshua, C (Toronto): It didn’t take long for Penn State to get knocked down a peg. Joshua and his Ohio State mates did the damage with two wins on the weekend and the hardworking center had four points in that span for the Buckeyes, who are climbing in the Big Ten.
2017 Draft Stars
Ian Scott, G – Prince Albert Raiders (WHL): It’s not often you hear a goaltender lauded for his leadership qualities, but that’s what some scouts see in Scott, whose big frame has won the Raiders games they shouldn’t have. Scott will get a chance to show off his stuff at the Top Prospects Game.
Dylan Samberg, D – Hermantown Hawks (Minn. HS): Scouts are having a lot of fun watching Samberg, a big, mean D-man in the Minnesota high school ranks. Along with his physicality, the University of Minnesota-Duluth commit is also a great skater – further boosting his stock.
Artyom Minulin, D – Swift Current Broncos (WHL): Along with forward Aleksi Heponiemi, Minulin is providing the Broncos with great value from their imports. A smart, two-way defenseman, Minulin leads the Swift Current blueline in points with 34 through 48 games.
Isaac Ratcliffe, LW – Guelph Storm (OHL): Ratcliffe showed deft hands in tight on a game-winner against Windsor on the weekend and at 6-foot-6, his mitts are impressive. The big left winger has seven points in his past eight games and leads the Storm in scoring.
Cameron Crotty, D – Brockville Braves (CCHL): A shoulder injury kept him out of the spotlight for a while, but Crotty is back and has three points in his past three games. The Boston U. commit is a puckmoving defenseman with good size and great skating ability.
2018 Draft Star
Bode Wilde, D – U.S. NTDP (USHL): There was a lot of hype around Wilde, who was seen as a potential No. 1 pick for the OHL before he committed to the NTDP. But the big defenseman has lived up to expectations, using his bomb shot and elite skating to get results. Wilde is committed to Harvard and Saginaw owns his OHL rights.
The usual suspects -- Bergeron, Kopitar, and Toews -- appear to be out of the discussion for the Selke Trophy. Here are five names that seem to have the best chance at stepping in.
When it comes to handing out hardware at the NHL Awards, the Selke hasn't been all that tough to figure out in recent seasons. For the last five years, the same three players have dominated the voting. Patrice Bergeron, Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Toews have accounted for all five wins, as well as eleven of the fifteen finalist spots.
But this year is shaping up like it could be different, with all three players slumping offensively. Maybe that shouldn't matter, since the Selke is supposed to be a defensive award. But over the years, it's morphed into a trophy that recognizes two-way play, which means you need to be scoring to get much consideration. If you pro-rate the lockout year, nobody has won the Selke with fewer than 55 points in the salary cap era. None of the Big Three are on pace to get there this year.
With half a season left to play, that could still change. And it's always possible that in the absence of a slam dunk candidate emerging somewhere else, voters could opt to play it safe and go back to one of the old familiars. But for the first time in years, the Selke really does seem up for grabs.
So who has a shot? Assuming that Bergeron, Toews or Kopitar don't take the trophy home this time, here are the five names that seem to have the best chance at stepping in.
Ryan Kesler, Ducks
The case for: The veteran is having his best season since 2011, and is on pace for about 65 points while playing tough minutes for a first-place Ducks team. His advanced stats won't blow anyone away, but they're good enough that the analytics guys shouldn't push back too hard, and everyone loves a good comeback narrative.
The case against: While it wouldn't be held against him by voters, Kesler doesn't really fit our "new blood" theme; he was the last player to win the award before the Bergeron/Toews/Kopitar trinity took over, and he finished third in the voting last year.
More importantly, there's at least an argument to be made that linemate Andrew Cogliano deserves the award, too. If that line of thinking catches on, the two could end up splitting votes and knocking each other out of the running.
Mikko Koivu, Wild
The case for: While it's meant as a single-season award, voters tend to like to treat the Selke as more of a career achievement; it's rare for somebody to win the award without having built up a resume over the years. That works in Koivu's favor, as he's been considered a strong defensive forward for a decade now, finishing as high as fourth in the Selke voting back in 2009. He hasn't come especially close since, but he's had votes every year.
New coach Bruce Boudreau has leaned heavily on Koivu in the defensive zone, and his ability to handle the duties has been a big part of Minnesota's unexpected success. With the Wild emerging as one of the one of the year's best surprises, voters will be paying attention.
The case against: Koivu's all-around numbers are good but not great, and he's benefitting from a sky-high on-ice save percentage and PDO that's unlikely to continue. With Devan Dubnyk looking like the Vezina favorite and Boudreau having a shot at the Jack Adams, voters might figure that their ballots are already getting crowded with Wild names.
The case for: Backlund seems to have emerged as a trendy dark horse pick in recent weeks. It's well-deserved: his numbers are excellent, and he's posting them in tough minutes for a young Flames team that asks a lot of him. His offensive numbers aren't jaw-dropping, but he's leading the team in scoring, and that should be enough to satisfy those "two-way" demands if he can keep it up.
The case against: While Backlund's been an underrated defensive player for a while now, he's never received a Selke vote. Again, you can argue that that shouldn't matter, but history has shown that it does. That could make it tough for him to get enough votes to win outright.
Aleksander Barkov, Panthers
The case for: At 21, Barkov would fit the new blood narrative perfectly. And he's already on voters' radars after finishing sixth in last year's balloting. He checks most of the boxes that voters tend to look for, posting solid offensive stats and strong possession numbers. And in a season where the biggest story has been the emergence of the next generation of star players, you could see the voters turning to one of the best young two-way forwards in the game.
The case against: Barkov is hurt right now and has already missed two weeks, so if he's not back soon he probably falls out of the running. He's also been playing a more offensive role this year under new coach Tom Rowe, which may be good for the Panthers, but probably not for his Selke chances. And given how things are turning out in Florida this year, voters may not be interested in having many Panther names on their ballot.
Nicklas Backstrom, Capitals
The case for: If building up enough support to win the award is a long-term process, this could be your guy. Backstrom generated plenty of Selke buzz last year, but finished just outside the top ten for the second straight year. It helps that he's putting up the sort of big offensive number that voters like to see. And after years of largely playing in Alex Ovechkin's shadow, he seems to be settling in as one of those guys that everyone in the hockey world decides has been underrated for too long. What better way to make it up to him than with some awards ballot love?
The case against: In terms of pure numbers, you could make a good case that Backstrom's defensive game was better last year than it is now. That won't necessarily hurt him with voters who feel like he's finally due, but it could keep him from getting the kind of widespread groundswell of support that would help push him past a strong candidate like Kesler.
Honorable mentions (and why they won't win):
- Brad Marchand (Bruins): He's getting some buzz, and has earned votes in the past. But has he really become a better option than Bergeron right now? And if not, how can you win the Selke when you're not the best defensive forward on your own team?
- Nazem Kadri (Maple Leafs): He's a relatively new candidate who'll face the same uphill climb as Backlund, with the added disadvantage that plenty of people don't seem to like him.
- Sidney Crosby (Penguins): He's been underrated in his own end for years, and you could see him getting some consolation ballots if voters decided to break for Connor McDavid for the Hart. But right now, the Crosby focus is still on the MVP race.
- Joe Thornton (Sharks): He gets votes every year and finally had his first top five finish last season, so the timing seems right. But his offensive numbers are down this year.
- Ryan O'Reilly (Sabres): He's been in the mix before. But the Sabres' disappointing season may doom him; there's never been a first-time Selke winner from a team that didn't make the playoffs.
- Jordan Staal (Hurricanes): He'd face the same hurdle as O'Reilly if the Hurricanes miss the playoffs, although these days that seem less and less likely. He may have the best case of anyone in this section.
Sean McIndoe has been writing about the NHL since 2008, most recently for ESPN and Grantland. He spends most of his time making jokes on twitter, where you may know him as @downgoesbrown. He appears weekly on TheHockeyNews.com.
The Oilers are very likely bound for the playoffs for the first time in a decade, and former No. 1 overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will be crucial to their success.
Without a doubt, the resurgence of the Edmonton Oilers this year is being driven by Connor McDavid. The sophomore phenom is in position to win the Art Ross or the Hart or both, while his team is firmly locked in a playoff position for the first time in more than a decade.
I feel at this point we're past talking about if the Oilers will make the post-season and can move on to what they will do once they arrive there. Because as great as McDavid has been for the offense, the Oilers will need balance. And that’s where Ryan Nugent-Hopkins comes in.
Remember the Nuge? He’s not exactly obscure, being a No. 1 overall pick overall. But like fellow Edmonton lifer and linemate Jordan Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins has toiled in Alberta for years without playoff hockey. That’s about to change and for a player who has largely been out of the limelight for some time, Nugent-Hopkins will be crucial to Edmonton’s long-term success this season.
Right now, Nugent-Hopkins is below his usual career offensive clip, but the Oilers are also winning a lot more and have a healthy McDavid in the lineup ahead of him.
“Every team in the league has two or three scoring lines now, it seems,” Nugent-Hopkins said. “Obviously Connor’s a great player and I want to produce offensively as well, but I have to be a 200-foot player and grow my defensive game.”
Nugent-Hopkins is a decent possession player and is better on faceoffs than McDavid, though neither is great. The Nuge can take on tough defensive assignments and that will be important going forward, unless the Oilers bolster their forward corps with a trade for another responsible center.
It’s interesting to see where Nugent-Hopkins is at this point in his career. He was the top prospect in the 2011 draft, though it wasn’t a fever year in that regards – while Adam Larsson and Gabriel Landeskog were also thought of highly, the best players to date from that class are probably Johnny Gaudreau (104th overall), Nikita Kucherov (58th) and Mark Scheifele (seventh).
Nugent-Hopkins was seen as a slight player with incredible vision who may have needed one more year of junior before hitting the big time, but he bucked those predictions and went straight to Edmonton, earning All-Rookie Team honors in the process.
Unfortunately, in the center’s six NHL seasons, he has already had six coaches with the Oilers. That’s one of several factors that have kept Edmonton out of the playoff picture and undoubtedly hurt the development of some players (Nail Yakupov comes to mind). But with Todd McLellan now in his second year with the squad, Edmonton has a coach who has seen a fair share of playoff games and owns a Stanley Cup ring from his days as an assistant coach in Detroit.
“He’s been great,” Nugent-Hopkins said. “He’s definitely an experienced guy, being in San Jose for a lot of years. He brought that to us – we were a younger team and we still are. He keeps us accountable and definitely teaches us, so it’s good.”
The next step will be the most fun and the most daunting. All of a sudden, there are expectations for the Oilers outside of Northern Alberta. We all want to see how this team will handle playoff hockey and while McDavid is the head, he can’t be expected to go it alone. Cam Talbot must be great in net and the defense will have to hold up. If Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle can be that secondary scoring threat while also playing sound 200-foot hockey, the Oilers will be more than just a nice story in the post-season.