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March 30, 2017 | 5:01pm ET
Sharks need to surface
As the games remaining in the NHL season dwindle to single numbers and tragic numbers abound, some shots on playoff teams traveling in different directions, a revival in the prairies and a future Hall of Famer.

LOS ANGELES, CA -- The team with the largest divisional lead in the NHL just a few weeks ago has gone on a run that is usually reserved for the post-season sans last season.

With the Pacific Division crown thought, be theirs, the San Jose Sharks went on a losing streak we haven't seen since 2011. The team that we all thought had exorcized their demons with last season's run to the Stanley Cup Final looks to have reverted to the team that can't win the big one. But unlike past seasons, I still believe that with Peter DeBoer behind the bench, his cool demeanor will help San Jose right the ship before Game 83.

While calmness from your coach will help, it's heat from the players that a necessity. Much has been made of Brent Burns' lack of production down the stretch and while it's a major factor for this skid, it's an indictment of his teammates more than the team member. Not only was Burns the front-runner for the Norris Trophy, but some had suggested he could be Hart Trophy nominee given his 60-game production that few had ever posted.

Perhaps a little too much reliance on one of the Teal Bearded One's from both a player and front office perspective, lured the franchise into a false sense of security.

Even with Patrick Marleau (26G in 75 games) fashioning a fantastic bounce back season that puts GM Doug Wilson into a big spot when deciding on how to play his impending free agency, the Sharks offense has been ordinary at best -- 18th in goals per game and 24th in power play execution.

Entering the Rangers game on Tuesday, the roster had only four players who registered double figures in goals (the currently injured Logan Couture and the always reliable Joe Pavelski are the other two). So when the only move at the trade deadline was to add a depth player in Jannik Hansen -- a player who is on my nightly watch list courtesy of some wiseguys in Vancouver who insisted he was a difference maker -- he may have underestimated the strength of his forward wall.

For San Jose fans, the better news is that your team may have hit bottom, their 4-3 victory against the New York Rangers although really messy featured the depth scoring that has been missing all season and the end of the cruel goalless streak Brent Burns has endured.

It's true that once they drop the puck for real in Game 1 of the post-season things can and do change. Not every Cup-winning team closes with a big regular season close and carries it forward to the playoffs, but the Sharks are clearly a team that must surface in the final two weeks of the regular season.

On the Anaheim Ducks:

At least there's one good-news story in Southern California hockey down the stretch.

The Anaheim Ducks have caught fire and took advantage of the Sharks struggles to get into position for a fourth consecutive division title. Another team that has struggled through 60 games to score has suddenly become a juggernaut.

Patrick Eaves, acquired at the deadline from the Dallas Stars, has exceeded expectations and makes the conditional second round that General Manager Bob Murray surrendered look like a significant overpayment. Even with Corey Perry struggling to eclipse the 20-goal mark, Eaves has partnered with Ryan Getzlaf and Rickard Rakell to pot five goals in his last five games and seven in last 12.

We've learned that Rakell is one of the best snipers in the League with his 32-goal performance this season, although it's a bit of a precautionary tale given his 19.4 shooting percentage that ranks him sixth for players who have appeared in 50+ games. Even if his production falls off a bit next season, he's locked up five more seasons at a comfy $3.79M cap hit.

But as it is with successful teams in the salary cap era, it's the ones with the depth that emerges over 82 games and although it took far long than expected, here are some examples of why if the Ducks play to current form they'll be the two seed in the West:

  • The play of defenseman Brandon Montour has made people forget about Shea Theodore, once thought of as the next man up if the Ducks either traded or lost a defenseman to the expansion draft. Head Coach Randy Carlyle gave both defenseman the opportunity to catch consistent minutes and Montour seized the opportunity to move his stable-mate down the depth chart.
  • Staying along the blueline, the emerging play of Josh Manson makes the Ducks expansion draft list exercise even more difficult. Once looked at as more a raw talent as a sixth-round pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, his reliable steady play will cushion the blow if the Ducks decide to move an established defender for another scorer.
  • While Montour and Manson are nice development stories, the play of Jonathan Bernier in the absence of John Gibson has been stunning. Entering the League as a No.1 draft choice of the Kings in 2006, Bernier always showed good technical form but never could emerge as THE guy in Los Angeles or Toronto. With the injury bug hitting Gibson again, Bernier has been in essence impregnable over the past month and giving an inkling that he and not Gibson could be the future for the Ducks in between the pipes. Over his last 12 starts, Bernier has a .946 save percentage.

Yet, despite their big run and home ice advantage until the conference final within their webbed grasp, Carlyle is not yet satisfied.

Historically a tough grader, he believes there is further room for improvement even after a dominant performance against an overmatched Vancouver Canucks team Tuesday.

"We can play a lot better, Carlyle said. "We're not playing the full parts of our game yet. We have spots we can clean up, the powerplay being one."

On the Alberta Daily Double, the Calgary Flames & Edmonton Oilers:

Even a New Yorker living in Southern California realizes that the more Canadian teams in the playoffs is better for the hockey business, so I'm glad to see both the Flames and the Oilers in the same post-season.

While the Flames have tasted the playoffs recently, even their fan base should have a smidgen of joy for their cousins to the north, ending a 10-year journey in the NHL nether regions. In a league froth with parity, a decade long absence from Game 83 is a stunning failure, but with the presence of the next generational talent in Connor McDavid and some major roster construction work by GM Peter Chiarelli, a deserving and more importantly exciting Edmonton team now gets a chance to see how they stack up when the games really count.

The Flames ride into the playoffs on the back of an Albertan Phoenix, Brian Elliott, who has risen from the ashes of a poor late Fall performance -- a seven game losing streak in October and November to the heights of a stellar 19-3-1 stretch that was the primary reason the Sea of Red will see mid-April games.

At Game 83 both teams are playing with house money -- Calgary was written off after the season's first quarter and Edmonton, well, if even if they were swept out of the first round, the season has been a rousing success when you pair the on-ice product with the magnificent Rogers Arena that sits downtown.

With Calgary and Edmonton season deemed successes, I want to see if they can further elevate their game.

From a Flames standpoint, it's not fair to think that Elliott can continue at his current pace, so it's likely the task to support him will lie with an offense that has won by committee. Unless Sean Monahan finishes strong, they lack a 30-goal scorer, but damn if they don't have balance -- an even dozen Flames have registered double-digits in scoring.

The Oilers don't need a committee when you have the one man gang that is McDavid and the teams are as different as the cities they represent save for the men who play between the pipes.

Like Elliott, Cam Talbot is a major reason additional playoff cash flow will run through that spanking new building. Talbot has had to put in far longer hours than Elliott his stabilizing of the net, similar to what Martin Jones did in San Jose had to be present to support McDavid and the band creating a new bright chapter in the Edmonton history books while closing a dark and dreary one. Cam has played more games (68), logged more minutes (almost 4,000) and made more saves (1829) out of necessity due to the lack of a reliable backup goaltender, so we're about to find out if the recent adage of needed two quality goaltenders to be successful playoff team is accurate.

The good times should rightfully be celebrated but the fans in both cities should more eager to see how their favorites perform in a few weeks.

How does Calgary respond if they get a poor performance in net from Elliott in Game 1? And like it or not, there's enough history in his post-season performance to make the question a legitimate one (under .500 record, 2.49 GAA in the playoffs).

If the Oilers draw the Ducks at some point, what happens if Ryan Kesler is at his dastardly worst (or is it best) against McDavid and the Oilers come home for Game 3 licking their wounds from an 0-2 start?

The air is about to get rarified for two teams that rarely fly at this altitude, so the intrigue around the Albertan Daily Double has yet to begin.

On Jarome Iginla:

One of the few positive takeaways from the Kings dreary final weeks is the addition of Jarome Iginla, acquired in a deadline day deal with Colorado for one final push towards the playoffs.

From a selfish standpoint, it's great to get to see him carry himself in a way that few who have ever played the game have.

What you see is him giving thoughtful, composed interviews win or lose. What you don't see is what I do -- as he leaves the arena, he never turns down an autograph request or a quick selfie opportunity.

To add to his grace and class, he's been one of the most productive Kings in their failed playoff run, potting five goals in 13 games and three game winners with the one in the Calgary victory his 100th, only the seventh player in League history to achieve this plateau. And when you put into the bargain Iginla dropping the mitts against tough guy Deryk Engelland in part deux of l'affair de Tkachuk all you can do is cherish every game he straps on the skates

But when the suggestion is made about the possibility of Iginla returning for a 22nd campaign at 40 years old, it shouldn't be with the Kings.

The mere fact that Iginla has succeeded in this stretch tells you that the roster needs significant change. He was a non-entity through 61 games in Colorado and yes, the state of the Avalanche weighs heavily on his lack of production there, but for a team that is ranked 25th in offense to bring back a player who has scored five even strength goals all season would be another misstep for a team trending in the wrong direction.

To further the argument, peek at Iginla's time on ice in Colorado and Los Angeles -- he's playing more than two minutes a game more with the Kings (16:56 v 14:44) and while that's more on the coach than the GM to play Iginla more than Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson in do-or-die games, you can't compound it by bringing him back for what would primarily be a farewell tour.

It seems that the same people who were clamoring for the Kings to play their kids just days ago are now advocating an Iginla return.

If the supporting argument is to add leadership to the room, that's a huge indictment of the team's still sizable core that wear two Stanley Cup rings.

Yes, some quality individuals have left the room in the past three seasons -- Willie Mitchell, Justin Williams, Robyn Regehr, Matt Greene and probably soon a few more, but to choose to be nostalgic and bring back Iginla as opposed to using the roster spot to help make this team more competitive in an age where skill and speed reigns, it means this franchise is in far more trouble than they currently appear to be.

Dennis Bernstein is the Senior Writer for The Fourth Period. Be sure to follow him on Twitter.




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