By Stu Hackel
The Sharks stopped the Kings' six-game winning streak last night, looking faster and stronger than their SoCal foes -- strange because of how fast and strong the Kings looked over that stretch of Ws, five of which were played at home.
What worked especially well for the Sharks -- especially with the man advantage -- was getting pucks to the net and banging away, as on this power play goal early in the third period that Dan Boyle shot...
...and Patrick Marleau finished to give the Sharks a 4-2 lead. It took only five seconds from the start of the power play. Later in the third, they did it again, this time from the right side...
...with Joe Pavelski putting it behind Jonathan Bernier in the Kings' goal only seven seconds after the penalty, the final tally in the Sharks' 6-3 triumph that had the fans at the Shark Tank chanting "Beat LA!" just as the fans up by McCovey Cove do when the Giants play the Dodgers. L.A. is now 4-4 on the road this season.
The Kings return home, where they are undefeated in eight games, to play the surprising Blue Jackets on Wednesday, then they embark on a four-game Eastern swing that begins in Buffalo on Friday. It will be interesting to see how they do on their road test.
Speaking of Buffalo, Sabres fans have waited for Thomas Vanek to develop into the consistent star his talent indicates he can be, and following last night's 4-3 victory over Vancouver, during the Sabres postgame show over MSG, analyst Mike Robitaille said that Vanek may have played his best game as a Sabre.
Just hours before, as Mike Harrington reports in The Buffalo News, Vanek's wife gave birth to twins. Then he went out and had a pair of assists, including this bit of slick skating on Buffalo's third goal...
...but no one seems terribly upset about that. Vanek whacked the stick of defender Dan Hamhuis from behind to force the turnover that went right to Myers. Vanek had seven shots in the game and now has four points in his last two games with a pair of goals, including this great one, against the Caps on Saturday...
...to win the game in, as Rick Jeannerette says, "Ooooooovertiiime."
... but also a Gordie Howe hat trick -- a goal and an assist and a fight. The patient, crafty play by Brandon Dubinsky set up Callahan, who called it (quoted by Jesse Spector in The NY in Daily News "the easiest goal I've scored in the NHL."
It was an exciting ending with the Rangers and Henrik Lundqvist trying to preserve a 1-0 lead late in the third, when the Penguins struck twice, only to have Marc Staal tie the score while shorthanded (assisted by Callahan and Dubinsky) with less than a minute and a half remaining in regulation.
The Rangers' young players continue to play impressive hockey, quite a change from their annual overspending on over-the-hill veterans who manage to limp to the end of the season and then vanish if the team makes the playoffs. They've still got some shortcomings, especially on the defensive side of the puck, but this is the most interesting Rangers team in a while.
Windy City woe: The Blackhawks have lost 11 of their first 20 games and Chris Kuc in The Chicago Tribune reports that captain Jonathan Toews is taking these losses hard. "Toews can usually be found sitting in the dressing room staring intently at nothing in particular as he assesses what just occurred," Kuc writes. "His stoicism goes beyond his years and never is his nickname of 'Captain Serious' more apt than in those situations."
"His mantra and his leadership haven't changed or wavered with his ability to practice what he preaches," goaltender Marty Turco, 35, told Kuc. "His leadership at these moments is more important than any other time. When things are going well it's easier, but when times are tough is when it counts the most, and he's been there for us."
Tonight's Top Game: The hot Habs (16 of a possible 22 points in their last 11 games) host the very hot Flyers (19 out of a possible 20 points in their last 10 games) tonight in Montreal. It's the second game in two nights for Philly, who won 5-1 in Ottawa last night. The status of Canadiens defenseman Andrei Markov, who was injured on Saturday after returning a few weeks ago from knee surgery, was tweeted today by Montreal radio Team 990's Tony Marinaro, as "Partial tear ACL graft right knee, associated bone contusions, large radial tear lateral meniscus, moderate knee joint defusion." Still no official word on how long Markov will be out, although one Quebec news agency speculated yesterday he was done for the season.
In a piece posted yesterday, SI.com's Darren Eliot has a view on what's making the Flyers go.
And finally, the courtship of Donald Fehr by the NHLPA, which David Shoalts of The Globe and Mail writes "seemed almost as long as the one between Barney Fife and Thelma Lou," is nearing conclusion, with the ballots from the last two teams to vote, the Canucks and Islanders, due to arrive at the NHLPA's Toronto office this week.