What we learned from the last week of play in the National Hockey League:
They’ve fallen — can they get up?
The Minnesota Wild and San Jose Sharks have been in freefall just when they should be building for the playoffs. Minnesota is 3-10-1 in March and has been passed by the Chicago Blackhawks for the Central Division lead, and Coach Bruce Boudreau proclaimed he was embarrassed by a 4-2 home loss to Vancouver last week. Fans made their displeasure known with loud jeers during the second period, and Boudreau didn’t blame them.
“To me, if I were the fans, I would be booing even more because they pay good money for this and to see an effort like that?” he told the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
Meanwhile, the Sharks have lost the Pacific lead to the Ducks after losing six straight and getting pummeled in their last two games, a 6-1 loss to Dallas and a 7-2 loss to Nashville.
“Right now we should be just tightening up everything,” Sharks defenseman Brent Burns told reporters in Nashville. “You’ve still got to fight, you’re fighting for your lives. We’ve got to figure it out pretty soon.”
It’s all in the timing
The Ducks picked a good time to put together a four-game winning streak, their longest this season and part of an 8-1-1 tear. Their success and the Sharks’ slump have combined to lift the Ducks to first in the Pacific Division, though Edmonton is close behind.
The Ducks have gotten a huge boost from goaltender Jonathan Bernier, who stepped up when John Gibson came back too soon from a lower-body injury. Bernier is 8-0-1 in his last nine appearances since March 7, with a 1.64 goals-against average, .944 save percentage and one shutout. Center Ryan Getzlaf has found another gear, earning seven assists in three games to surpass 50 assists in a season for the seventh time in his career.
Living the dream
On Friday night, forward Brock Boeser played for North Dakota in its double-overtime loss to Boston University in the NCAA hockey West regional semifinals. On Saturday, he signed an entry level contract with the Vancouver Canucks, who had drafted him in 2015. A few hours later, he made his NHL debut against the Wild in his home state of Minnesota and he scored the winner in the Canucks’ 4-2 victory.
Kudos to the Canucks for allowing his parents to come into the locker room before the game to announce the starting lineup, which included their son. The kid’s only problem might be how to top all of that.
Pittsburgh Penguins’ depth is being tested
Another game, another player lost to injury for the Penguins. On Sunday, first-line left wing Conor Sheary needed medical attention after suffering the dreaded lower-body injury. He joins fellow forwards Evgeni Malkin (shoulder), Jake Guentzel (concussion) and Carl Hagelin (lower body) on the sidelines, along with defensemen Kris Letang, Ron Hainsey, Olli Maatta and Trevor Daley. That’s a long list, even for a team as deep as the Penguins, and it might prevent them from overtaking Washington and Columbus for first in the Metropolitan Division.