Proteau’s Blog: Grier’s extra gear

• He was a force of nature for the Buffalo Sabres last spring and Mike Grier already is having the same positive effect with the Sharks a year later. The big winger had a goal and two points and made life miserable for the opposition’s forwards in San Jose’s 5-4 overtime win over the Nashville Predators.

The Sharks won’t win or lose on the strength of Grier’s contributions, but he is precisely the kind of role player who makes a huge difference over four playoff series.

• Wow, did the Pittsburgh Penguins appear overmatched and overwhelmed Wednesday night against Ottawa. Panic penalties, a panicked goaltender and a tentative forward unit left coach Mike Therrien looking like he wished he was back with Wilkes-Barre of the American League.

The Senators, on the other hand, were focused, driven, and looked every bit the A-list Stanley Cup contenders they are. You never like to jump the gun after one game, but this series could be over sooner than I imagined.

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• My game picks for tonight: Buffalo and New Jersey in regulation, Atlanta in overtime and Calgary in double-OT.

• I guess the Coyotes’ ownership has had its fill of giving Wayne Gretzky carte blanche. Clearing out every management type except the coach/part-owner certainly sends an unmistakable message to the hundreds upon hundreds of the team’s fans.

However, with Gretzky already on record as saying Phoenix won’t be a major player in the unrestricted free agent market this summer, there’s little likelihood the ‘Yotes will be front-of-the-pack Cup favorites in 2007-08.