Sharks Finish Road Trip with 4-2 Win Over NJ Devils

By Mary Walsh

The San Jose Sharks ended a three game road trip with a 4-2 win over the New Jersey Devils on Sunday. They picked up two wins in five days to close the gap between the Sharks and the Division-leading Ducks to five points in the standings.

Sharks goals were scored by Joe Pavelski, Raffi Torres, Matt Nieto and Patrick Marleau. Alex Stalock turned in a very good performance with 21 saves in his second win in a row. Devils goals were scored by Adam Henrique and Patrick Elias.

The first star of the game was Matt Nieto. Of Nieto, Sharks coach Todd McLellan said:

He played an excellent game, he seized the opportunity, played really well, was effective penalty killing, was very good on that line, obviously scored the winning goal.

What about Nieto sitting out the last game?

In his case it wasn’t so much sending a message it was getting some other people into the game who had to play. It was nice to see that he handled it properly and was ready to go today.

Nieto replaced Brent Burns on the top line Sunday. McLellan explained that decision:

I thought Burnzie had a good game but it’s been a long time since he produced and scored on that line. And just like everybody else we’ve got to to hold him accountable. Brent will work his way back.

The game was the first time the Sharks had played against ex-teammate Ryane Clowe, and he welcomed them to town with four hits. He gave one each to Justin Braun, Dan Boyle, Tommy Wingels and Jason Demers. During the second intermission, he was asked if those hits had a little extra energy behind them for his ex-teammates:

You’re right, you lean into them a little more. It’s something where obviously they’ve had a core together for a while, you know all those guys. It’s a little bit of me is trying to play physical, probably trying to play a little more physical against those guys.

But it’s also part of the game, I think we’ve got to get on our D and play physical against that D who skate well, who move the puck well, but we’ve got to make them defend.

The first period ended scoreless, with just one penalty call in the last minute of play. That call went to the Sharks. The shots were very close, just 10-8 for the Sharks.

New forward lines for the Sharks’ were clearly trying to find their way, most notably the line composed of Brent Burns, James Sheppard and Martin Havlat. How McLellan had never put those together is a mystery, as McLellan can be relied on to try everything at least once, and those three can provide some skill and scoring. How to communicate smoothly after not playing together is another matter. The line did not get credit for any shots on goal in the first period but did spend more time in the offensive zone than defending.

The other lines were adjusted accordingly, putting Tommy Wingels on a line with Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau. Matt Nieto came back into the lineup, on a line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski. The fourth line was made up of Raffi Torres, Andrew Desjardins and Tim Kennedy. That line did not have much trouble sorting themselves out, and were generating good chances for themselves early in the game.

The defensive pairings had also been changed since the game in Buffalo two nights before: Matt Irwin was with Dan Boyle, Marc-Edouard Vlasic was paired with Jason Demers, and Justin Braun was with Scott Hannan. Finally, Alex Stalock was in net.

The first goal of the game came early in the second period. The Sharks’ Tommy Wingels screened the goalie for a Jason Demers shot from the point that was tipped by Patrick Marleau. The shot created a small rebound that came out to Couture who was sliding in near the post. Assists went to Marleau and Demers.

The second goal came from the Devils’ Adam Henrique to tie the game. What looked like a fairly manageable two on three fell apart for the Sharks when Henrique came down the slot and received a pass from Steve Bernier, who had escaped Tyler Kennedy along the boards. Sharks defenseman Justin Braun did not get back across the ice quickly enough to tie up Henrique. Assists went to Bernier and Eric Gelinas.

The Devils also scored the third goal, during another incident of missed coverage. Patrick Elias scored that, with assists going to Jon Merrill and Henrique.

The next goal tied the game again. This time a neutral zone pass from James Sheppard went to Raffi Torres, who went in to the Devils’ zone in a two on one with Joe Pavelski. Torres passed it to Pavelski, who passed it back. Torres had an open net and scored his third goal in two games this season.

The second period ended with the Devils on a power play after Marc-Edouard Vlasic was called for tripping Travis Zajac. The shots were 18-14 for the Sharks, the score still 2-2.

The Sharks killed off the last 30 seconds of the penalty without incident. Sharks’ goaltender Alex Stalock had to make some good saves on Jaromir Jagr and Ryane Clowe in the first minutes of the period.

A little over six minutes into the third, the Sharks had a scare after a giveaway in their offensive zone. A relentless attack from the Devils required several good saves from Stalock. The Sharks finally cleared the puck and executed a line change, putting the Thornton line on the ice. One quick pass from Joe Pavelski to Matt Nieto gave the Sharks the lead again.

The Sharks went right to the penalty kill when Jason Demers went to the box for tripping. The Sharks killed that off very effectively, as they had the two previous penalties. The Sharks spent a good deal of the penalty kill outside their own zone.

The Sharks went to the penalty kill yet again with less than six minutes left in the game. Justin Braun was called for hooking. The Sharks did not allow the Devils to spend much time in the offensive zone, but iced the puck shortly after the penalty expired. Sharks coach Todd McLellan took his timeout with 3:22 left in the period.

Shotrly after play resumed, the Devils made a fatal mistake, letting Patrick Marleau get off on a break away to score the Sharks’ fourth goal of the game. Tommy Wingels helped the Devils make that mistake by going ahead and driving for the net to take away a Devils defender and distract Cory Schneider.

The Devils pulled their goaltender with a little less than two minutes left, but even with the extra attacker the Devils could not score again.

Final score: 4-2 Sharks. The Sharks killed four of four penalties, Alex Stalock made 21 saves on 23 shots. The Devils killed one penalty, Cory Schneider made 18 saves on 22 shots. The teams were even in faceoff wins with 24 each.

The three stars were Matt Neito, Adam Henrique and Joe Pavelski. Justin Braun lead the Sharks in ice time with 21:03, Joe Thornton lead in shots with four.

The Sharks next play at home against the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday at 7:30 pm.

USA Men’s Hockey, Falters, Falls Short

By Mary Walsh

USA hockey fans watched their women lose to Canada last Thursday, by one goal, in overtime, during a 5 on 3 penalty kill. It was disappointing, heartbreaking. The men followed that up on Saturday with a loss so stunning it left me more baffled than emotional.

In my short time here I’ve realized that there’s big momentum swings with this team and … we just got to stay calm… When other teams come back on us like that, we know we have the firepower to score off the rush. We have a pretty good offensive team when we get going.

Something like that would have been nice to hear from someone on USA’s men’s Olympic hockey team Saturday. They didn’t say that. Riley Brace said it, after what turned out to be the last game the SF Bulls played at the Cow Palace. The team was gone a week or so later.

There was no national audience watching that game.  There were no big contracts on the line. The players had good reason to suspect they might be on the move soon. They didn’t have their country’s pride to uphold. They were just playing one ECHL hockey game, one night in San Francisco. Still, they took pride in a lead, they came back after falling behind, they played the game to win. They believed they could score. It doesn’t matter what level you are at, belief is necessary for getting a job done.

“Stay calm… We know we have the firepower to score off the rush…” No one on team USA said anything like that on Saturday after they were blown out 5-0 by Finland. You could argue that it is harder to score in that company. You could also argue that if you are in that company you can probably score against them.

Zach Parise said he was embarrassed, Jonathan Quick said they weren’t good. Both are warranted and truthful understatements.

I read one column that eviscerated Patrick Kane for his performance. I thought he was one of the few players really fighting until the end. When you are outnumbered you tend to make mistakes, but at least he was making something. He was shooting, he was getting break aways, he was engaged. I didn’t see that from many on his team. So he missed the penalty shots. How many skaters score those? Besides, that he drew the calls is more proof that he was trying to do something while the rest of his team was… not.

Is it easier to score when there’s no pressure? Perhaps. Many questioned how young teenage girls would cope with the pressure of Olympic figure skating. I think they were too young to grasp the full scope of that pressure, they might have been partly unaware of it.

But NHL players? Grown men, professionals used to playoffs? Surely they have some coping tactics in their satchels. Surely they were not knocked off their feet by the bright lights of the world stage.

So did they just not care enough? Did they not face enough adversity leading up to the last two games? Did they enter the contest with a “gold or nothing” mindset? Did some of them spend too much time with the Austrians? Did they believe too much, have too much confidence, not worry until it really was too late?

In the end it was just one game. Not one of seven chances, but one lone chance to avoid coming home empty-handed. Someone was going to lose, but to lose like that has to sting. Perhaps some of those players will return to the NHL with something to prove. Or maybe it was just one game, badly played.

To Be Or Not To Be On The World Stage: Olympic Hockey

By Mary Walsh

Should the NHL allow players to participate in future Olympics? Should Women’s ice hockey be in the Olympics at all? Those two questions keep being asked and not answered, perhaps because they are only really asked every four years or so. Or perhaps it is because they are silly questions.

It seems like the NHL has been saying it for a long time, that this will be the last time they send their players to the Olympics. They have good, solid business reasons for not liking the interruption to their season. Players risk injury outside the risks they are under contract to take. The NHL schedule is disrupted and condensed, viewership is not guaranteed, especially when the games take place at 4:30 am for some of the audience. The benefits of being seen at the Olympic party are difficult to calculate. Perhaps the money is better spent promoting the Stanley Cup Playoffs or a dozen outdoor games.

Hogwash.

Even the most lukewarm sports fans notice the Olympics, but they might not notice the NHL’s absence from them. That is not the Olympic committee’s fault, that is the NHL’s fault. The NHL has work to do, markets to grow. It is preposterous for the NHL to not want to be on the most global of stages.

Hockey is one of the few team sports in the Winter Olympics. Technically, bobsledding, curling and relays are team sports, but it is not the same. The bobsledders don’t have to contend with other bobsledders ramming them off the track. Most of the Olympic “teams” compete primarily with themselves, a clock, or a judge’s opinion. They take the stage in very small groups or as individuals.

This makes hockey stand out. The spectacle of uniformed groups in active, face to face competition contrasts sharply with the other Winter Olympic events. If the NHL does not see how valuable this is to growth in their market, they are very foolish.

Perhaps the NHL will never have the resources to expand to a global market, but that is no reason to snub the rest of the world.

The NFL doesn’t do Olympics. Major League Baseball doesn’t do Olympics. Basketball and hockey do. Is that why they are smaller than the other two? Is the secret to success to take an isolationist position?

Throw the other football into that mix, the fanatical, globally thriving market that is called soccer here, and the US market looks like small potatoes. Yes, football and baseball have the biggest piece of the local pie but there is more pie, bigger pies to be had. Perhaps the NHL should be thinking even bigger than the big American fish.

Pro soccer goes to the Olympics, after a fashion. Their refusal to allow all professionals to compete equally has resulted in unimpressive Olympic records for some of the historically strongest soccer nations. That is what the NHL could look forward to, which would be good news for Slovenia, Latvia, Switzerland and Germany. Maybe France could finally get a shot at a spot in the tournament, even a medal.

If the NHL did pull their players from the Olympics, would it be worth alienating some players for the sake of one interruption every four years? What if Alexander Ovechkin insisted on going, no matter what the NHL said? Would they suspend him? How many players could they suspend? It could make for a very interesting, different kind of interruption to the season.

For women playing hockey at the Olympics, the question is different. The utter lack of parity between North America and the rest of the world makes the tournament somewhat predictable and less interesting for any audience outside Canada and the US. Or does it?

Does a nation like Japan take pride and interest in their team, even if they have next to no chance of winning a game? Watching the Japanese women bow to each other after scoring a goal, how could anyone suggest that they did not belong there? It is an enormous thing to have more women, in more places, playing hockey. It is bigger than the sport. We have a moral imperative to promote the expression of women’s achievements in all fields right next to those of men.

No matter what the NHL decides to do, no one is talking about dropping men’s hockey from the Olympics. Yet they do discuss dropping the women’s tournament. Hockey for women is still in a fledgling stage in most countries. This is only the fifth time women have played hockey at the Olympics. If countries are prepared to send teams to World Championships and qualifying tournaments, it would be outrageously petty and mean to not let them compete at the Olympics. If the NHL, as the biggest advocate for hockey, is serious about growing interest and its audience, they cannot ignore half of the population.

Many women will watch even if they do not play, just as men who do not play still watch. But if many people prefer to watch sports they also play, there is no reason that should be less true of women than of men. Professional contact sports for women are not likely to make money any time soon. Today, the Olympics are as far as a woman can go in hockey, so let them go. Let them play too, and dream of big games, and enjoy watching the NHL all the more.

Sharks Need Will Power to Keep Moving

By Mary Walsh

The Sharks go in to the Olympic break in a good position. They are among only five teams with 80 or more points. They are just seven points behind the Division, Conference and League leaders, the Anaheim Ducks. They expect Logan Couture and Raffi Torres back after the break. They got bonus performances from their backup goaltender, Alex Stalock, and John McCarthy finally scored a goal in Friday’s game against Columbus. What more could you ask of the team?

More. The team will have to find more when the season resumes. Being in a good position is not all it is cracked up to be. The Sharks faced three very hungry teams last week. The Flyers, the Stars and the Blue Jackets all went into the break scrapping for playoff spots, and they were all close enough to smell the cookies. They all played better than their records would have you expect. The Sharks still beat two of them, one almost resoundingly. Before the Dallas game, Sharks head coach Todd McLellan explained that the Sharks needed to motivate themselves:

Well the first decision we have to make is whether or not we want to work, because we didn’t make that decision against Philly. And I know it’s a different day and a new opponent. But until that decision is made and we decide we all want to compete together for a full 60, it really doesn’t matter what else we have as far as game plan goes.

It is very easy to decide to work if you are hungry. There is no way to synthesize hunger, yet a team that is in a good position needs to find a substitute motivator. Is there such a thing?

That’s a loaded question because every team is hungry. You start the year at the starting gate, all thirty teams are there. Even the teams that fall to the bottom, they’re hungry teams. They want to win, they have a lot of pride. So hunger is one thing. Skill, talent, the ability to play together as a team, those all come into play as well. If it was just about hungry, we’d all be tied for first.

So the big dog stays fat while the little dog stays skinny, not because the big dog is hungry all the time but because he’s the big dog and he gets what he wants. Maybe he is meaner or stronger or smarter or maybe the little dog only has three legs. The end result is the same: the big dog stays big.

In the case of hockey teams, you don’t have that sort of disparity. They are all big, they all want to win, they all have skill. It will be those hungry teams that steal the Sharks’ meals now and then, which will impact the larger battle for Conference dominance. They will probably sneak in when the Sharks aren’t feeling especially grumpy or greedy and snatch away the points.

That is the way it usually goes, the way it went for many teams leading up to the break. It does not have to be so. Occasionally, a team will take off for no obvious reason and go on a massive winning streak, like last season’s Blackhawks. What kept them going? What possible motivator was there that kept them going full steam so early in the race? Was the will to win enough to trump hunger? Was pride enough? Were they even facing very hungry teams so early in the season? Which teams had played enough games to even know they were starving for points?

No one can know what the other team is going to do. Every player and coach says they can only control their own game. So it does come down to that: deciding. Deciding to work, deciding to be prepared and deciding you want to win, not because you are hungry or desperate but because you want to.

It sounds so easy. Easy as pie for someone on a diet.

Sharks Need to Remember When

By Mary Walsh

Many hockey players say that a short memory is an asset. Let the last game go, win or lose. It is better not to dwell on the past, but sometimes a short memory isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Sometimes remembering back before the unpleasant thing that just happened is better than simply forgetting everything as quickly as possible.

Saturday morning, Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews was asked about teammate Bryan Bickell, who has been in and out of the Chicago lineup lately. Toews said:

It’s not easy for a guy like that. We’re always trying to remind him what he’s capable of doing as a player. I think anyone can forget sometimes, when things aren’t going your way, it just seems to snowball in the wrong direction.

That sounds like something the San Jose Sharks could be saying to themselves and each other after the last few games.

The last time the Sharks played Chicago, Logan Couture was still in the lineup. The Sharks won, in a shootout, with a goal by Couture. Since he left the lineup, the Sharks have won seven of twelve games, including a nice little six game winning streak that recently ended with a three game losing streak. It isn’t a normal three-game losing streak. They went almost three games without a goal, and in the last two losses they lost by three goals. Lady Three is clearly not happy. The Sharks had better find out what she wants and give it to her.

Do the Sharks just miss Couture? They played nine games without him before they completely lost their scoring ability. Why would it take so long for them to notice that they missed him and were incapable of putting the puck in the net without him?

@SharksStats: Sharks with / without Logan Couture: Goals/gm 3.14 / 1.92, Shots/gm 36.1 / 31.8, PP Pct 18.9 / 13.8.

Did someone tell them they should not be capable of scoring, never mind winning, without Logan Couture in the lineup?

Certainly Couture is a very valuable piece of the San Jose scoring machinery, but it is preposterous to think that one guy missing would cause a such a dry spell.

The Sharks are not the only top team that is stumbling right now. Yes, even in the thick of this gaudy losing streak with the double-zeros in the score column, the Sharks are still in the top five or six in the NHL standings. Their neighbors at the top have been having some issues as well.

The Anaheim Ducks have lost two of their last three home games– that home, the one where they were undefeated to the chagrin of stats trackers everywhere– to Winnipeg and Minnesota.

The St. Louis Blues lost to Carolina on Friday, 3-1. Their 7-1 loss to New Jersey still looms large over the subsequent wins. SEVEN to ONE. They will have to win a lot of games to make up for that.

The Pittsburgh Penguins apparently didn’t get the memo that top teams should schedule their most tedious losing streaks for the pre-Olympic time period. Someone should let them know.

Chicago lost four in a row before finally pulling a win out of Vancouver last Wednesday. The four teams they lost to were Detroit, Winnipeg, Minnesota and Calgary.

What is it with Calgary?

In essence, this is a feeding frenzy for teams on the outside of the playoff picture. Dallas, Nashville and even Winnipeg are getting wide-eyed and ambitious.

Is this just a normal let down from the frantic first half of the season? If a team starts well, is it inevitable that they will hit a wall half-way through? Does it have anything to do with the imminent Olympic Games?

Blackhawks veteran and ex-Shark Michal Handzus said:

I thinks it’s coincidence it’s in the same time, … but you cannot go at that ridiculous pace the whole season. Especially Anaheim, St. Louis and us, were playing very well from the beginning pretty much til now. Obviously it happens over the course of the season, … It’s just the schedule is very tough and it’s so many games in a short period of time and it’s going to catch up to you some time.

Two teams in the top six of the NHL standings, as of Saturday, have not snapped out of their funk yet: the Sharks and the Blues. The Sharks have only lost three in a row. Their threshold is higher than that but it would be grand if they could find a way to cut the losing streak short, with or without Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl, Raffi Torres, or Adam Burish.

Going back to Saturday morning Toews, here is what it sounds like when you get back on track after being embarrassed a few times. Of the team’s recent win in Vancouver, Toews said:

Most of all the guys just really wanted to win that one and we did what we had to do to win. I think going forward we can take a lot of those things that we did and try to implement that on a consistent basis. Kind of remind ourselves of what we were like before this … little skid … try and get back to that same way tonight.

Kings Beat Sharks 1-0, Stalock Sets New Shutout Record

By Mary Walsh

SAN JOSE- The San Jose Sharks lost 1-0 to the Los Angeles Kings at SAP Center on Monday night. It was the first game in 15 between San Jose and Los Angeles that went to the visitor. In the middle of the loss, Alex Stalock broke Evgeni Nabokov’s franchise record for shutout minutes, set back in 2009. Stalock has reset the record at 178:55.

Did Stalock know he was on the verge of breaking that record?

Other than [Logan Couture] reminding me every single day, but… I don’t know what it was at.

It was 171:18.

The game was one of the hardest fought low-scoring games the Sharks have played in a long while. That was exactly what Sharks head coach Todd McLellan had expected:

We got the game we thought we’d get from both teams really. It was a very tightly contested game, not a lot of chances at either end. They buried their one opportunity and we had a couple that we didn’t. That’s probably the end of the story. I thought that eight minutes of penalty kill time didn’t help us at all and to nullify a couple of power plays by taking penalties.

The game was noteworthy as a third start for Stalock in six games. McLellan has expressed an intent to start Stalock more, to compensate for the added wear and tear that Niemi might incur going to the Olympics. He appears to be sticking to that plan.

The Kings started the game with a long spell in the Sharks’ zone. They got credit for two shots before play went the other way.

When the first penalty was called, just over five minutes had gone by and only four shots had been recorded, three from Los Angeles. The penalty went to San Jose’s Brad Stuart for holding. Kings didn’t get more than a shot on the power play.

A few minutes later, LA’s Colin Fraser decided that punching Brent Burns would be a good idea. No one else thought so and the pair were separated quickly. Both went to the box with matching roughing minors.

The Sharks finished the four on four time in the Kings’ zone, but the best chance they had was a quick shot from Pavelski that went just wide. With 4:52 left in the period, the shots were 7-3 for the Kings.

By the end of the period, the Kings led in shots 8-4.

Early in the second period, Robyn Regehr went to the box for interference, giving the Sharks their first power play of the game. The Kings did an excellent job of keeping the Sharks away from shooting lanes, which is essentially what they had been doing all game.

The Sharks didn’t have to wait long before they were on the penalty kill, as Dan Boyle went to the box for holding. The Sharks penalty killers, didn’t allow the Kings to spend much time in their zone at all, several times turning them back entirely before they could cross the blue line. the Kings managed one or two good chances but their power play wound up being even less effective than the Sharks’.

With 11:08 left in the second, the teams got another shot at four on four, when Joe Thornton and Anze Kopitar went to the box for hooking and roughing respectively. As before, neither team could sustain any offensive pressure.

After such a hard-fought thirty-plus minutes, Stalock’s shutout streak ended with a quick shot from Anze Kopitar, off a pass from Jeff Carter. Anze Kopitar slipped around the Sharks defense and Carter sent a carefully-timed pass right to him. After the game, Stalock explained what he saw:

It was kind of a two on one and a half I guess. We had a guy coming back, and he passed it across. We got a stick on it, maybe it slowed it down and bought him a little time and he ended up beating me on a one on one play.

The Sharks drew a penalty in the final minute of the second period, a hooking call on Willie Mitchell. The Sharks didn’t get a shot on that power play, in the second or third period.

The shots at the end of the second period were 13-8 for the Kings.

Early in the third period, the Kings’ Slava Voynov went to the penalty box for cross-checking Bracken Kearns, but just 17 seconds later, Joe Thornton went to the other box for hooking. It was the third time the teams had played four on four in the game.

With 10:13 left in the period, the Sharks finally drew even on the shot clock, but the Kings were keeping those shots hurried and unscreened.

With 9:52 left, Joe Pavelski went to the penalty box for four minutes after high-sticking Kopitar in the mouth. The penalty kill started out inauspiciously. The Sharks had a short-handed chance but a minor collision between Stalock and Brad Stuart followed, and then a pile up of bodies on top of Stalock in the Sharks’ crease. The referee talked briefly to Stalock and play resumed.

The Sharks had time to get their penalty kill together. Tommy Wingels described that successful kill as a chance to build momentum:

Hard-fought, that’s for sure. I think our penalty kill at the end there gave us a chance to win the game. When you kill off a four minute penalty there, you get some momentum off it and I think we did. Ultimately with your penalty kill you want to keep yourself in the game and I think in the third there we did a good job with it.

The Sharks did get the puck cleared at regular intervals, keeping their penalty killers fresh. As the last minute of the kill started, Marleau and Wingels broke away for a decent chance, but the Kings’ defenders held Wingels up enough to prevent him getting a good shot off.

By the end of the penalty, the teams were still tied in shots, 20-20. A timeout and three shots later, the Kings had broken through the visitors curse by holding on to win 1-0.

Alex Stalock made 20 saves on 21 shots. Bracken Kearns lead the Sharks in shots on goal with five, Matt Irwin getting credit for four shots. Tommy Wingels and Mike Brown lead the Sharks in hits with five each, while Jason Demers and Brad Stuart lead the team in bockled shots with three apiece.

Jonathan Quick made 23 saves for the shutout. Jeff Carter and Anze Kopitar lead the Kings in shots with four each, Matt Greene led the Kings in hits with five, Greene and Willie Mitchell lead the Kings in blocked shots with four each.

Three is Prime: Sharks Keep Stars in Place

By Mary Walsh

The San Jose Sharks really like the number three. They needed three goals to win their sixth in a row Saturday night. All three goals were scored by the Sharks who just signed three year contract extensions: Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau.

With those contract extensions, the Sharks propped open that window people talk about, the one that is supposed to be closing on them. Whether or not they also extend Dan Boyle, the team has locked up most of its most productive players for at least three years.

One piece the Sharks do not have locked up, and are not likely to have before the summer if at all, is associate coach Larry Robinson. It is safe to say that there is little if any negotiation involved there: it is a decision Robinson will make when the time comes. Any NHL team in their right mind would want Robinson to stay as long as possible.

The arrival of Robinson and Jim Johnson was a boon. Whether it was a matter of continuing development, as with Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun, or getting a player back on track as with Jason Demers, the new coaches have had an enormous impact on Sharks defensemen.

If Robinson does not stay, his influence will remain in what he is teaching Sharks players, but in some things it is good to be greedy. It would be very regrettable if the Sharks could not convince Robinson to stay on.

On the player front, the Sharks should retain Dan Boyle, but numerically they have the majority of their top skaters in place until 2017: Brent Burns, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Vlasic, Braun, and now Thornton and Marleau. That isn’t a whole hockey team but it is a fine collection of centerpieces.

That is why signing those three year contracts made sense for Marleau and Thornton too. It is a situation that offers as much chance of success as they would be likely to find anywhere else. Anyone can argue that there is something wrong in San Jose that they have never won the Stanley Cup after so many trips to the playoffs. But there’s many a slip twixt a cup and a lip, even more slips on ice with a bunch of guys trying to jostle your hand. No outcome is certain in the playoffs, except one: you can’t win if you miss the second season.

Maybe the Sharks need to finish the playoffs every which way they can before they win it: swept out, four games to one loss, game seven OT funny bounce loss… Maybe they have a few more exits to try before they find the right door. Not keeping their top players at this point won’t help them find it any sooner.

The notion of rebuilding right now is preposterous, with Couture and Vlasic and Braun and Tomas Hertl locked up. When you have promising players like Tommy Wingels, Matt Irwin and Matt Nieto playing as well as they are right now in the NHL, when you have a few more like Eriah Hayes and Matt Tennyson in the picture, and you might have a dark horse or two lurking in Worcester, now is not the time to trade everyone away and start over.

Alex Stalock is vying for more attention than Sharks backups usually get. Unless the Sharks will give him enough work to really test his potential as a starter, they may not reap the full benefit of his skill. That Stalock got two starts in four games is a step forward here. Maybe McLellan is ready to force some rest on his starting goaltender.

That isn’t a serious problem, and it certainly would not be solved by the acquisition of another player. The team doesn’t have any gaping holes, any glaring need of another big money player- actually or figuratively.

That is why the Sharks should try to keep Dan Boyle. The Sharks don’t need a significant disruption. Boyle probably wants a multi-year contract. Why wouldn’t he? Who doesn’t? What kind of salary he wants is probably the hold up. Doug Wilson has shown that he can get players to sign for less than they would be worth on the open market. That is partly because most players would rather not hit the open market, but also because the Sharks are perennial contenders.

I would guess that Boyle stays with the Sharks. If his salary requirements are reasonable, which would be significantly less than he is presently earning, I think Wilson is likely to offer him three years. He has given as many and more to players who are less central to the team’s core. With Thornton and Marleau at three years, it would be indecent for Boyle to expect more.

I would not put money on that guess. Boyle is at the point in his career where he is deciding how and where he will finish his playing career. Wilson has more cap space to work with than he might have after signing Marleau and Thornton, but he is not swimming in it.

Wilson might need some room to keep Jason Demers.  While Demers has been in and out of the lineup for a few season, he is clearly coming into his own now. He will probably have some suiters calling if the Sharks don’t secure him early.

While other teams are giving their masthead names seven years to stay, it is a sign of confidence from Marleau and Thorton that they accepted three. A 34 year old can’t expect seven years, but players of Thornton’s and Marleau’s stature could certainly get five somewhere. 37 isn’t a great age to be looking for a new contract, but those two are willing to take the risk. If they really think San Jose is the place to be, maybe it is.

Sharks Extend Streak to 5, Another Shutout for Stalock

By Mary Walsh

SAN JOSE- The San Jose Sharks won their fifth game in a row, defeating the Winnipeg Jets 1-0. Goaltender Alex Stalock got his second shutout in a row, the first being on January 16 in Florida against the Panthers.

Sharks head coach Todd McLellan was glad to see the Sharks play a much better game than they had Monday:

It was a tight game, I thought both teams played that way. Not many chances at either end. And when there were, both goaltenders played well. We’re lucky enough that [Pavelski] batted one out of the air and [we] got away with the win.

Good to see our team play a tight game. I thought against Calgary we weren’t any where near that, we were sloppy. Great to see Alex [Stalock] get another shut out. We’re excited for him. Some good things tonight.

As well as keeping their own zone in order, the Sharks also outshot the visitors. An imbalance on the shot clock was all but predicted by Jets head coach Paul Maurice, after the morning skate:

A huge, huge challenge in here tonight… in terms of their quickness and speed on the puck and the time that they take away from you when you have the puck it’s a huge challenge for the back end.

We loved the gritty effort in Anaheim, it was fantastic but the facts at the end of the day were our goalie made 40 saves and we blocked 36 shots. We didn’t have the puck enough, and I’m not complaining about our effort. So that tells you they were pretty good. I’m expecting to see that from San Jose.

The Sharks delivered, outshooting the Jets 32-20, with Winnipeg blocking 16 more shots. That was a closer margin than the Jets saw in their last game.

Thursday morning, Todd McLellan had predicted the first period to a tee, when asked what he expected from the game:

Tough game, probably a fast game when you look at their lineup and the way they’ve been playing the last four or five games. We know our opponent is confident, fast, they can play an aggressive game so I think we’ll see that type of night.

Bold plays abounded from both sides, the Sharks made quick, short passes through the neutral zone. The puck was bouncing much like it had the game before but the Sharks looked like they were used to it now. No matter how many times the puck hopped over a stick or went shooting into the air unexpectedly, they looked calm about waiting for it to come back into line. After the game, Joe Pavelski didn’t want to give the ice too much credit for either game:

I think it was a little better. You can’t put it all on the ice… You can make one play where the ice probably doesn’t affect it, and then there’s another play where it might make a difference.

It wasn’t a tough period in terms of physical play, but it tested the focus of both teams, with long stretches between stops. Neither team was able to execute or finish elaborate plays.

Pavelski went to the box at 3:33 of the first for holding the stick. That got some boos from the crowd and the Sharks killed the penalty off without giving the Jets much to work with.

The second penalty also went against the Sharks, this time to Tommy Wingels for tripping at 12:38. More boos from the audience, still no joy for Winnipeg.

The boards were unusually lively, as demonstrated by a Winnipeg shot that went wide, only to bounce back at the net. It missed the outside of the post, bounced off of Stalock, and across the blue paint. Luckily for the Sharks, the bounce was unlikely and fast, and no Jets players were in position to take advantage of it before the Sharks were on it.

The period ended with the teams even in shots at 11 each.

The second period was not so fast. The middle of the period was bogged down with pucks out of play and offside calls. The shot clock ticked along but neither team maintained lengthy attacks.

Finally, after a pile up in front of the Winnipeg crease, Olli Jokinen was called for holding.

It took the Sharks less than ten seconds to put the puck in the net, but the referee waived it off. Joe Thornton was on top of Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec when the puck crossed the line. That he was pushed there by Winnipeg’s Mark Stuart did not make a difference. The game remained scoreless, and the power play did not change that.

Shortly thereafter, Mike Brown helped Winnipeg’s Jacob Trouba into the end boards. He didn’t hit him with a full body check but he gave him a distinct push from behind and Trouba hit the glass awkwardly. Brown went to the box for charging. The Sharks killed off their third penalty of the game. They did not allow the Jets a shot on goal.

The shots for the second period were 11-4 San Jose.

The Jets had a scare to start the third period, when a shot from Brent Burns stung Ondrej Pavelec. After consulting with the trainer, Pavelec stayed in.

The Sharks earned their second power play of the game when Matt Nieto drew a hooking call on Bryan Little. The Sharks couldn’t convert on that one either.

The score finally got to change after Justin Braun cut a path to the slot and threw a backhand on Pavelec. Braun described the shot after the game:

I just kind of put it on my stick there. Maybe I should have shot it right away but it kind of worked out: soft backhand, Pavs made a nice play, whacked it out of the air.

Pavelski did knock it out of the air, but described it as if it happened in slow motion:

It’s one of those that’s just kinda, well it’s hovering there. You’re going to the net just hoping for something like that.

In case anyone was still wondering if Pavelski is in the zone, if he’s seeing pucks hovering while the rest of us see them not at all, yes, he is officially in the zone. That is a good thing for the Sharks, a good thing for Pavelski, and dare I say it? Sure, it’s a good thing for America too.

Alex Stalock made 20 saves in the shutout win, Ondrej Pavelec made 31 saves for the Jets. The Sharks and the Jets both had perfect penalty kills on three chances each.

Braun, Andrew Desjardins, Brent Burns and Matt Irwin each had four shots on goal. Brad Stuart led the Sharks with five hits, followed by Eriah Hayes with three. Olli Jokinen led the Jets in shots, with 5. Jacob Trouba led the Jets in blocked shots, with four. The Sharks won 45 of 69 faceoffs.

The three stars were Alex Stalock, Ondrej Pavelec and Joe Pavelski.

The Sharks next play on Saturday at SAP Center. They will host the Minnesota Wild at 7:30 pm.

Statement from SF Bulls CEO Angela Batinovich

SAN FRANCISCO- Press release from SF Bulls CEO Angela Batinovich:
 

“Thank you for your support during this time, we appreciate all of the encouragement from our fans.
 
“During the ECHL Mid-Season Meeting, the Commissioner and Board of Governors granted our request for additional time to complete negotiations that would allow for the transfer of the San Francisco Bulls to a new ownership group. 
 
“We are hopeful that these negotiations will be completed within the allotted time, and we currently have no intention to cancel any games.”

Sharks Underwhelm in 3-2 Win Over Calgary

By Mary Walsh

SAN JOSE- The San Jose Sharks defeated the Calgary Flames Monday night. With a final score of 3-2, the game was distinctive for seeing three goals scored in a minute and 14 seconds. There was only one penalty called in the game, and the third period was scoreless. It was a muffled ending to a game that started with a bang.

Sharks head coach Todd McLellan was similarly underwhelmed by his team’s performance:

Well, the win is important. Obviously when we start the night, that’s what our goal is. When you look back and evaluate the game, that’s where it gets a little bit disappointing.

We weren’t very good obviously. I didn’t think we skated well, we didn’t move our feet, and then we tried to pass standing still and those [passes] were errant. Had no rhythm or tempo in the game and really didn’t establish a forecheck game other than the first four or five minutes of the game…

We’ve got to regroup here. If we continue to play like that we won’t be winning.

That is a fairly gloomy assessment of a win. On the bright side, there was Justin Braun:

Another Justin Braun game. That’s probably the best way to put it. One of the few guys that had legs and used them properly, made the right play at the right time, blocked some shots when it was important. So he’s Mr Consistent right now for us.

How Braun escaped the sweeping bad marks on Monday night is a little mysterious, in view of the first goal of the game. It isn’t as if that goal was Justin Braun’s fault, but he was there too.

Sharks captain Joe Thornton described a game from which no one really escaped with an unblemished performance:

I think it was just a tough night for everybody. It was one of those weird nights, we were thankful to get two points out of it.

The first goal of the game was scored by Calgary, on their second shot of the game. Three Flames entered the zone, with only two Sharks to defend. Bracken Kearns got back quickly but not quickly enough to stop Jiri Hudler as he slipped away from Braun and Brad Stuart in the corner. He faked a shot at the side of the net that fooled Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi, then skated around him. By then, all he had to do was sweep the puck in, and he did. Assists went to TJ Brodie and Mark Giordano.

It looked like the period would be a slow one after that. Instead, after the half way mark, the teams scored three goals in 1:12.

It took the Sharks several minutes to repair that damage, but finally, with a beam of a shot from the blue line that bounced up and over Karri Ramo, Joe Pavelski tied the game. Assits to Justin Braun and Brent Burns.

While the SAP announcer was saying “Sharks goal…” Tommy Wingels collected the puck along the wall and threw it on net. It hit Ramo’s pad, and bounced over into the net. Assists to Patrick Marleau and Brad Stuart.

The Flames answered right back after that one. A play through the neutral zone had the Sharks a little off track, and Brian McGrattan carried the puck in and shot it off Niemi’s pads. The rebound was there for Kevin Westgarth to pick up. Matt Irwin was close but couldn’t stop the shot. It may have even gone off of his stick, sneaking just around Niemi.

And that was it for the first period. No penalties, no additional goals. There weren’t even a lot of shots in the last three minutes. There may have been three total, one for the Sharks and two for Calgary, for a period total of 10-8 Sharks.

Tyler Kennedy had five of those shots for the Sharks.

With six minutes gone in the second period, the Flames had only one shot for the period and the Sharks only had three.

At 11:51, Matt Nieto took a puck to the face and went down briefly. Play stopped and he went to the room.

Eriah Hayes came up from the fourth line to take Nieto’s spot with Marleau and Wingels. That line drew the only penalty of the game, against Matt Stajan for interference on Hayes. That was at 14:28 of the second period.

26 seconds into that power play, Joe Thornton took a shot from above the faceoff circle and Joe Pavelski tipped it in. The “USA” chants took a minute or so to get going but go they did, for Pavelski’s second goal of the game.

James Sheppard made a noteworthy save a couple of minutes later. First he stopped a shot with this stick, then dove to clear it out of the reach of the shooter until it could be sent out of the zone.

The Flames ended the period with an extended stay in the Sharks’ zone. They didn’t take a lot of shots, they may not have taken any, but they played a solid game of keep away. It looked like a Calgary power play, without the actual man advantage. Why they passed up a few chances to take a shot, when they were down by a goal anyway, was not clear.

The shot count for the period was 11-4 San Jose.

Nieto returned for the third period. The Calgary Flames’ offense also returned. After four and a half minutes, the Sharks only had one shot on goal and the Flames had taken six.

The Flames pulled their goalie in the final minutes but couldn’t score.

Final score 3-2 Sharks. Final shot count 27-23 Sharks. The Sharks scored on their only power play of the game, and did not have to kill a penalty.

The Sharks shot leader was Tyler Kennedy with six shots. Eriah Hayes had four. Three Flames had three shots apiece: Dennis Wideman, Sean Monahan and Jiri Hudler.

Antti Niemi made 21 saves on 23 shots for the win. Karri Ramo made 24 saves on 27 shots for the Flames.

The Sharks next play on Thursday at 7:30 pm. They will host the Winnipeg Jets at SAP Center.