Sharks Taking One Game at a Time

By Mary Walsh

The San Jose Sharks had a shootout against Washington, a shutout against Florida, and a wide-open nine-goal game with two hat tricks against Tampa Bay. Just like that, the Sharks have won three in a row after not being able to win more than one in a row for seven games. Perhaps the tide has turned. Perhaps the Sharks have really settled in and are doing what every team says they want to do, must do: take one game at a time.

Those three wins were not against the toughest opponents for the Sharks, even if they hadn’t beaten the Panthers in years and years. The Lightning are doing well in the East but the Sharks had already beaten them once this season. The difference this time was that the team was missing Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl and Martin Havlat. That inflates the importance of Saturday’s win, and all three wins.

It is a good winning streak, the Sharks have lost to worse opponents, with and without their big guns. Now the team will have to keep their feet on the gas.

Matt Nieto has been a boon to the team. 13 points in 37 games might not seem like that much, but as the Sharks have been looking for more scoring, from anyone, those are life support points. He might not be the solution to the lack of production from the lower six, but he is making the best of his time on the second line now.

Speaking of the bottom six, it seemed unutterably cruel that the fourth line’s goal was waived off on Saturday. Just about any other line could have spared it more readily. Having come so close to a goal there showed that Sheppard, McCarthy and Hayes can keep play in the right end of the ice, but it would be nice to get more points for their trouble.

Will Alex Stalock actually get more starts than any Sharks backup in recent history? I doubt it. He is on track to get just about as many starts as Greiss ever did. Whether he should get more starts, whether Antti Niemi should be forced to rest more before playoffs, it doesn’t appear that Todd McLellan will allocate the workload any differently than he has in previous years. He has said he will give Stalock more starts, but he might just mean more starts than he might have given a first year NHL backup goaltender in a non-Olympic year. It doesn’t mean Stalock will get 20 starts this season.

File that in the same box of mysteries as the Los Angeles-San Jose home ice advantage.

The Sharks are just eleven points behind the Ducks now. That’s a fairly enormous gap, but as Dan Boyle told the Mercury News last Tuesday:

We haven’t had to deal with such a significant gap, but we’ve got to believe we can get it done. You have to aim high, right?

The Sharks don’t have to catch the Ducks, they don’t even have to stay ahead of the Kings to be in the playoffs. Staying ahead of the Kings is probably more important than finishing first in their division. Whether it’s a haunting or a curse or a superstition or just two darn close teams, there is no point in testing that San Jose-Los Angeles home ice advantage. Psychologically, far better to be chasing the Ducks than the Kings.

There is no doubt that home ice would be good against the Ducks too, but even if you aim high, hunt one ghost at a time.

Stalock Shuts Out Panthers, Sharks Win 3-0

By Mary Walsh

Thursday, the San Jose Sharks defeated the Florida Panthers for the first time in head coach Todd McLellan’s tenure. The final score was 3-0, with goals from Joe Thornton, Matt Nieto and Joe Pavelski.

Alex Stalock earned his first NHL shutout, stopping 24 shots from the Panthers. The Sharks limited Florida’s “Killer Bs” to three shots on net. Those Bs are Brad Boyes, Sean Bergenheim and the second overall draft pick of 2013, Aleksander Barkov.

As of puck drop on Thursday, the Sharks had not beaten the Panthers since 2006, well before Todd McLellan became their head coach. They hadn’t played the Panthers a whole lot either (only four games) but that was an unexpected statistic.

While he remains the points leader for the Sharks, Joe Thornton still finds a way to make scoring a goal surprising. At the end of the second period, he broke away from the Sharks’ blue line, getting a step on several nearby Panthers, and gave himself room to beat one of the craftiest goaltenders in the NHL.

The obvious way to beat a goalie like Tim Thomas is to get enough traffic in front of him, force rebounds and hope to clean up some garbage. Do all that, or send a fellow veteran ex-Bruin in to outfox him one on one.

Before the start of the third period, CSN asked Sharks assistant coach Larry Robinson to confirm that Joe Thornton displayed excellent hands for that first goal of the game. Robinson chuckled:

Well, not bad, but he gave the puck away four or five times on the power play, so I was wondering where his hands went.

That described well how the game went for the Sharks. With four power play opportunities, including a minute and 29 seconds of five on three, the Sharks did not score a power play goal. Their penalty kill was much better, giving them some short-handed chances as well as preventing the Panthers from scoring on three power plays.

The Panthers started out with a flurry of shots on Alex Stalock. He kept them out of the net and the rebounds weren’t dangerously placed but he didn’t hold on to any of those shots, and the Sharks had their hands full trying to get the puck out of their zone.

Once they did get it out, the top line of Thornton, Brent Burns and Pavelski had better luck holding the puck in the Panther’s zone and putting some shots on net. Florida goaltender Tim Thomas didn’t let that go on for very long before catching hold of one of those shots.

After four minutes, the teams had a combined eight shots on net, three of those for the Sharks, two of them from Brent Burns. Three minutes later, the Sharks had taken the lead in shots at 9-6. That early push from Florida had not disconcerted the Sharks.

The Sharks’ first power play came at 10:55 of the period, when Barkov went to the box for hooking. With 1:29 left in power play, Bracken Kearns drew a high sticking call against Marcel Goc, giving the Sharks a lengthy five on three. San Jose was too tentative about moving the puck, letting Florida clear the puck several times, even five on three.

Not long after the penalties expired, San Jose’s Tommy Wingels went to the box for an illegal check to the head. With more review than referees are allowed, it was hard to see where Wingels made contact with Upshall’s head. The Sharks killed it off anyway.

Through the first period, the Sharks registered 21 shots on goal. The Panthers only added two more over the second half of the period.

3:20 into the second, Bergenheim escaped the San Jose defense and drove to the net to meet Stalock one on one. Stalock closed the door and held on through a few extra whacks and jabs before the whistle blew. That was an important save but it didn’t motivate the Sharks right away. A few minutes later, the Sharks had to kill a penalty when Brad Stuart was called for cross checking Tomas Kopecky.

The Sharks survived that penalty, and followed it up with a foray into Panthers territory, but almost eight minutes in to the period, the Sharks didn’t have a shot on goal, while the Panthers had six. The Sharks got their first shot at 12:08 of the period, from John McCarthy.

The Sharks were back on the penalty kill at 9:12, when Bracken Kearns was called for high-sticking. The Panthers’ power play was more dangerous this time, registering several shots in the first minute.

The Panthers lost the last 15 seconds of their power play to a high stick of their own, a questionable call on Scottie Upshall. The Sharks didn’t waste a lot of time starting their attack, but the Panthers cleared the puck and attacked short-handed in the first minute of the Sharks’ man advantage.

The last 30 seconds of the power play showed more urgency from San Jose but didn’t produce. Upshall gave them another chance less than three minutes later, with a hooking call. This call was less dubious as he hooked his stick securely around Sharks defenseman Justin Braun.

Upshall sat in the box for the full two minutes, as the Sharks’ power play did not score.

As the period wound down, with the game still scoreless, Stalock had a close call with Jonathan Huberdeau right up in his lap. After a brief scuffle along the boards, Joe Pavelski and Brent Burns got control of the puck and sent it up ice, where Joe Thornton was making a break. With Florida’s Mike Weaver and Dmitry Kulikov chasing him, Thornton pulled away and lifted the puck gently over Thomas to break the zero-zero tie. Assists went to Burns and Pavelski.

Early in the second period, Matt Nieto tried that. The breakaway was less surprising sice Nieto is known for his speed, but he tried to go five hole. Tim Thomas wasn’t likely to let the rookie get the better of him so soon after Thornton had beaten him. Thomas is notorious for luring players into shooting five hole, and disappointing them. A quick study, Nieto wouldn’t make the same mistake twice.

Back in the Sharks’ zone, Dan Boyle made the curious decision to put his stick shaft down on the ice to prevent a pass from getting to Upshall in front of the net. That didn’t work at all, and cost him seconds to get back in position. Nieto was all over Upshall, which gave Stalock just barely enough time to get a leg back across the crease and block the shot.

Tim Kennedy went the other way after that, where he drove the net and took an awkward-looking shot. Patrick Marleau and Matt Nieto were in hot pursuit and when the rebound popped out with Tim Thomas off balance, Nieto was able to get a quick shot over the Florida goalie. Assists went to Kennedy and Marleau.

Seven minutes later, the Sharks took a 3-0 lead when Pavelski took advantage of Thomas’s aggressive style. Thomas came out of the paint to cut down the options for Brad Stuart as he took a shot from the blue line. Brent Burns tipped that shot, but Thomas blocked it. Unfortunately for Thomas, Pavelski was there too, almost behind him, to pick up the rebound and knock it in. Assists initially went to Stuart and Braun, but were changed to Burns and Stuart, confirming the tip.

The Sharks outshot the Panthers in that final period 11-5, and 39-24 in the game.

The Sharks will play their next game on Saturday at 11am Pacific Time, in Tampa Bay against the Lightning.

Roster notes:
Martin Havat came off of the injured reserve list Thursday but did not play. Scott Hannan went on the list with what is likely a head injury, but is still described as only “upper body.” Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl, Raffi Torres and Adam Burish remain on the injured list.

Sharks Defeat Capitals in Shootout

By Mary Walsh

It could be hard to remember when the Sharks struggled in the shootout, since they have now won in five in a row. Their defeat of the Washington Capitals on Tuesday was not a dominant one, but it was worth two points. It was also worth pride points, as the Sharks extended their current winning streak against Washington to six, and 17-1 since 1999.

After the win, Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan described the game in subdued terms:

It was important for us to start the trip off the right way. [It was] kind of a back and forth affair: they had some momentum, we gained it back. Close game, two pretty good teams that played pretty well.

The modest 2-1 final score was a good indicator of the kind of game it was: a tough defensive game that didn’t leave the star shooters a lot of room to meneuver. The goals were scored by Tyler Kennedy for the Sharks and Alex Ovechkin fo the Capitals, with Patrick Marleau scoring the shootout winner. The final shot count was 36-29 for the Capitals. Each team had one power play, neither gave up a power play goal.

Patrick Marleau spoke during the post game for CSN:

Coming out east we took a little while to get warm, into the game.

They hemmed us in early on but we stuck with it. We were able to get our forecheck going in the first kind of went back the other way in the second, but we came in with a good effort in the third and in overtime.

Washington had 5 shots to the Sharks’ 1 in the first five minutes of the game. The first slip-up came during a line change that let Alex Ovechkin enter the Sharks’ zone with only three players defending. That seemed to set off an offensive flurry for the Capitals.

A very fast fight between Mike Brown and Aaron Volpatti at 11:39 broke up the game, and shortly thereafter Tyler Kennedy scored the first goal of the game.

At 13:30, when Tommy Wingels went off for a change, Kennedy went to the middle of the ice and got to the net in perfect time to deflect a shot from Jason Demers. At intermission, Kennedy described the play:

He made a great change in the offensive zone, and I tried to get out there. And JD made a great pass … that’s a world class pass there and I just tried to get it on net.

By the end of the period, the shots stood at 11-10 Sharks.

Going in to the second period, the Sharks’ weak spot lately, San Jose was lucky to not have worse luck to go with their inefficient puck management.

It took the Capitals almost thirteen minutes to tie the game up in the second period. The goal came from Alex Ovechkin, who took a fast shot from a bad angle and put it up the into the far corner. It was his first shot of the game, off a pass from Karl Alzner. The puck blew past Brad Stuart and Antii Niemi before anyone had time to react.

Nieto and Pavelski changed places on the top two lines at the end of the second period. In a last-second flurry of offense, Brad Stuart scored just after the buzzer. The goal was quickly reviewed but the period ended with the teams still tied.

The second period ended with the shots at 11-9 Washington.

The third period opened with some pressure from Washington, but that fizzled quickly with the first penalty of the game, a tripping call against Nicklas Backstrom.

The Sharks started their power play with a clean breakout and a quick shot on net, but Capitals’ goaltender Philipp Grubauer suffocated the shot and stopped play. After the faceoff, the Sharks had some trouble getting out of their own end, and the next zone entry produced just one shot on net.

The teams traded chances after that, with each taking long turns on the attack. In the first seven minutes, the shots for the period were 5-3 Sharks.

Ten minutes in to the third period, the Sharks were spending a lot of time in their own zone. Niemi had to make a point blank save on Eric Fehr, after he was left to saunter out from behind the net and shoot at will.

That seemed to wake the Sharks up and spur them back onto offense. Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski had the best chances of that shift when they each took a try, Marleau’s shot hitting the post and Pavelski’s ending up in Grubauer’s glove.

After the game, Marleau spoke about the team’s improved play in the third period:

I think we got a lot more time in their zone so it was just trying to get to those loose pucks after we got shots from our point. I think the D played really well tonight, moving the puck back and forth and getting the shots through.

It would be nice to find a couple of those rebounds and put them in but for the most part, we’ll take the two points.

During the last four minutes of the game, McLellan made another lineup change, moving Marleau to the line with Thornton and Nieto, or so it seemed. Thornton was right back out with Burns and Nieto a couple of shifts later.

With a minute and 15 seconds left, the Capitals got their first power play when Marleau was called for hooking Grabovski. McLellan mentioned that after the game:

We almost got it to the point where we didn’t take a penalty, using our legs to check instead of our sticks or our hands. Worked until that last minute but the penalty kill did a good job.

Regulation ended in a tie, with the shots for the third period standing at 13-8 for Washington.

As the game went to overtime, the Capitals had 45 seconds remaining on the man advantage.

Two faceoff wins helped the Sharks kill that off, and the four on four play moved very fast after that. Good chances for Marleau and then Fehr came to naught, turnovers and takeaways kept attacks brief for both sides.

With just over a minute left in overtime, Marc-Edouard Vlasic pestered Jason Chimera relentlessly in the Sharks’ zone, staying with him all the way around the ice and behind the net, until Chimera lost an edge and went down. Still Vlasic kept after him, jostling him so he couldn’t get to his feet. Chimera finally did get up, and on the way he clocked Vlasic in the face with a quick left hand. No penalty was called, though Vlasic was clearly unsettled by the punch.

The teams survived the next minute without scoring and went to a shootout.

Of the six shooters, only Patrick Marleau scored:

I was just trying to use Logan’s move a little bit. He’s had some success with it so I just did that, went to the backhand a little bit then quick to the forehand.

Roster notes:
Matt Irwin back in the game after missing two games with injury. Scott Hannan sat, as did James Sheppard and Matt Tennyson.

The Sharks next play on Thursday in Florida against the Panthers. Puck drop at 4:30 pm PT.

A Quick Look at the Worcester Sharks’ Record

By Mary Walsh

Tyler Kennedy and Tommy Wingels are back in the lineup, so the San Jose Sharks aren’t quite so reliant on the recently arrived or inexperienced players they turned to back in Nashville.  More players should return soon, but it speaks volumes for the organization that they could weather this rash of injuries to key players at all.

At second intermission of the Nashville game, Joe Pavelski talked about the younger players suddenly so numerous in the Sharks lineup:

Obviously they’re excited to be here playing, and you … give them a tip or two here or there. You know they’re good players, they’re here for a reason and they’ll learn on the job and, you know, just get out there and do it.

Those young players did bring a lot to the game. Freddie Hamilton played well, despite the quick round trip off and back on the roster. Matt Nieto showed outstanding composure in the last minutes of the game, puck-handling in the offensive zone and ultimately finding Patrick Marleau for a last-minute goal.

It is important not to think of the guys who came out from Worcester as anything but professional hockey players. As Pavelski points out, they shouldn’t need a lot of prep, and in theory the coaching staff in Worcester has taught them the fundamentals of the Sharks’ systems.

Saturday, the Worcester Sharks won 5-1 against the Norfolk Admirals.  Friday, they won 3-1 over the Hartford Wolf Pack. The wins stand out because the Worcester Sharks have had a lot of trouble scoring goals this season. They have scored more (8 back on December 6) but mostly not.

Right now, their 81 goals have them tied for last in goal scoring in the AHL. Last season, they finished ahead of three teams in goals. The season before that, in 2011-12, five teams had fewer goals. In 2010-11, three did. Back in 2009-10,  only one team in the AHL scored more than the Sharks’ 275 goals.

Wait, what? There were a lot of familiar names on that roster: Logan Couture scored 20 of those 225 goals. John McCarthy scored 15, Andrew Desjardins 19. Jamie McGinn was also on that team, as were Jason Demers and Justin Braun. Well, Braun only played three games that season, but he came away with 3 assists. You get the picture.  It was one heck of an AHL roster. Since then, scoring goals hasn’t been so much what the Sharks’ AHL team does.

What about defensively? This season, nine teams have given up fewer than the Worcester Sharks’ 97. Last season, 23 teams gave up fewer goals than Worcester.  Oddly, only three gave up more goals, as Worcester was one of three to give up 228. In the short view, that is a significant improvement.

In 2011-12, 17 teams gave up fewer than Worcester’s 218. In 2010-11: 18 gave up fewer than the Sharks’ 245 goals against. 2009-10: 17 gave up fewer. So it is safe to say that this years’ Sharks are better defensively than the team has been in a while. Maybe the goaltenders are to blame for those bad seasons?

This season, their goaltenders are Harri Sateri and Troy Grosenick.
Sateri has played three full seasons with Worcester, 20 or more games in each season. His save percentage is down this season from the prior two, at .890.

Grosenick has played 15 games this season, with a save percentage of .920.

Alex Stalock played 30 or more games in 2010-11 and 2012-13, with save percentages of .907 and .912 respectively. He also played 61 games in the 2009-10 season, his first with the team. He had a save percentage of .908 that season.

Tyson Sexsmith played 34 games in 2011-12. His save percentage was .916.

Carter Hutton played 22 games with Worcester in 2010-11. His save percentage was .902.

Goaltending doesn’t jump out as the issue with the Sharks’ goals-against problem from 2011-13. Seems like too many shots were getting through.

This could be the Worcester Sharks’ best season defensively in quite a while. Offensively, the improvement isn’t there. Do the Sharks lack scoring depth? Or is the system in Worcester slanted for defense?

Either way, if the Sharks really want more offense from the NHL club, it probably won’t come from Worcester. Not this season anyway.

Predators Bring Down Sharks 3-2

By Mary Walsh

Amid the hubbub of Olympic roster announcements Tuesday, the San Jose Sharks had a game to play in Nashville. They lost 3-2, but made a game of it despite yet more changes to their lineup, including the loss of Logan Couture to injury. Couture is scheduled for surgery, and is expected to be out for three to four weeks.

The Sharks were still without Tommy Wingels (upper body), Martin Havlat (lower body), Tyler Kennedy (flu) and Tomas Hertel (knee). No reinforcements were coming from the old list of injured, no Raffi Torres, no Adam Burish. Freddie Hamilton had just been sent down to Worcester, while Matt Nieto, Bracken Kearns and Eriah Hayes stayed with the big club. Hamilton was called right back up.

The game was an opportunity for new players to step up. One always wants a win, but it is not surprising that recently-arrived players in new positions, with new linemates, will probably need more than one practice to get in sync. Seeing the team find some cohesion as the game wore on should make the loss a little more palatable.

A failure to call goaltender interference in the second period made the Predators’ game winning goal count. The official explanation was that Marc-Edouard Vlasic had pushed Colin Wilson into Antti Niemi. Todd McLellan said a few words about that after the game* (from CSNCA broadcast):

Even if there was a touch of contact there, you’re not allowed to jump on top of the goaltender. We all know that, there’s a lot of people that understand that, but… it happened.

The game started out inauspiciously, when Joe Thornton was called for hooking just ten seconds into the game. The Predators’ power play was ranked 7th in the league. The Sharks’ penalty kill was ranked 14th. The Sharks killed the penalty, despite some failures to clear.

At 8:57, Matt Cullen was called for interference on Jason Demers, putting the Sharks on the power play.  It was an unspectacular power play. They only mustered one shot with that man advantage.

Possibly the Sharks’ best chance of the period came in the final minute, when Matt Nieto passed the puck from the blue line to Patrick Marleau in the slot, with Joe Pavelski in range of a rebound. Apart from that, the first period was a grind, at least for the Sharks.

The Predators kept them well to the outside whenever they gained the offensive zone. At the end of the period, the Predators led 10-7 in shots on goal and 9-4 in faceoffs.

At 6:11 of the second, David Legwand opened the scoring to give the Predators the lead. Joe Thorton and Jason Demers were both trying to move the puck away from Craig Smith but the puck got through both of them. Legwand got behind Demers and put a shot past Antti Niemi on the far side. It was Legwand’s first goal in 11 games. Assists went to Smith and Shea Weber.

The Sharks answered a few minutes later with a power play goal, after Mattias Ekholm was called for delay of game at 6:11. Joe Pavelski tipped a Dan Boyle shot from the blue line to tie the game. It was Pavelski’s 19th goal of the season, his 10th in the last 14 games. Assists went to Boyle and Demers.

Less than a minute later, the Predators retook the lead. Despite good pressure from Justin Braun, Ekholm got a backhand shot off, with good traffic in front of Niemi. The assist went to Legwand. It was Ekholm’s first NHL goal.

The Predators’ third goal came after Colin Wilson fell across Niemi’s right leg, pinning him in place and leaving the net wide open for Nashville defenseman Roman Josi’s shot. Officials apparently believed Wilson was pushed by Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Assists went to Weber and Wilson.

The Sharks didn’t score on their next power play, when Nick Spaling was called for holding the stick at 13:38 of the second. Nevertheless, the Sharks’ third power play was miles better than their first. The new lines seemed to be finding a groove.

The Predators outshot the Sharks through the second period as they had done in the first, 13-10.

Brent Burns drew a hooking call on Shea Weber with a driving play that gave the Predators a scare at 4:05 of the third period. The Sharks held the zone for about 45 seconds before the Predators could push the first power play unit out of the zone. The next good chances fell to Bracken Kearns on the second unit. The Sharks had four shots on that power play.

With under two minutes left and the Sharks’ net empty, Nieto found Marleau in front of the net for a tip in to make it 2-3. Assists went to Nieto and Demers. Todd McLellan used his time out shortly thereafter, but the Sharks ran out of time.

The Sharks outshot the Predators in the third, to bring the final count even at 28. Nashville won 32 faceoffs to the Sharks’ 20. The Sharks got credit for 12 takeaways to the Predators’ 9. The Sharks’ power play finished 1/4, the Predators’ 0/1.

Brent Burns led the Sharks in shots with five, and Patrick Marleau had four.  Ryan Ellis and Roman Josi each had five for Nashville. Mike Brown led the Sharks in hits with five, while Rich Clune and Kevin Klein led the Predators with four each.

————————————

*More of what McLellan said about that non-call:

Does it make it tougher? That’s a blown call, and we played 44 games, I go back to the Buffalo blown call in overtime, I go to the blown call in Winnipeg. I go to one against Minnesota, and I go to another one tonight, and that’s one in every eleven games. And I understand mistakes, because I make a lot of them behind the bench. But when you get an explanation from a group of people and it didn’t happen, it’s disappointing. It really, really is disappointing. And there’s also a protocol to follow in our league. That protocol is you get together and you discuss it. That didn’t happen either. So obviously I’m not very happy with it.

The lines McLellan started with, and pretty much kept in place through the game were: Burns-Thornton-Pavelski, Nieto-Marleau-Kearns, Hamilton-Desjardins-Sheppard, and Hayes-McCarthy-Brown. Defensive pairs were Stuart-Demers, Boyle-Vlasic, and Braun-Irwin. The only healthy scratch was Scott Hannan.

Avalanche Win 4-3, Block Sharks Comeback

From NHL.comBy Mary Walsh

DENVER- The Colorado Avalanche did not run roughshod over the San Jose Sharks, on their way to a 4-0 lead Saturday. What they did for a brief spell early in the second period was run around them. The Sharks looked to be in control of the game several times, except for their opponent’s scoring opportunities. Those squeaked through at first, then flowed as from an open spigot.

The game seemed all but over when the score reached 4-0, after the Avalanche scored three times in just over one minute in the second period. The Sharks scored twice in the same period, with the help from some power plays. A third tally from Logan Couture early in the third pulled a comeback within reach, but the Avalanche held on to win 4-3.

The Avalanche had two very good chances early in the game, getting the puck and bodies to the net. Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi made the saves but the Sharks seemed to start out a step behind the speedy Avs.

The Sharks had a couple of early shots, first from Andrew Desjardins and James Sheppard, and then from Matt Nieto on a line with Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau. After the five minute mark, the Sharks picked up their game and started racking up the chances. By the ten minute mark, the Avs had gone for six minutes without a shot.

Colorado finally did make a push the other way and Niemi had to glove a shot from John Mitchell to halt play. A moderate ruckus in front of the net ensued, with Andrew Desjardins in the middle of it. Cody McLeod caught the linesman with a stick but no penalties came out of it.

The Sharks took the game back after that, putting relentless pressure on the Avs, leaving Niemi with little to do except be ready for the occasional and very fast Colorado incursion. One such drew a penalty against the Sharks, when Justin Braun was called for hooking Matt Duchene, at 14:44 of the period.

It took the Colorado power play almost a minute, but they did make that power play pay off at 15:28. Andre Benoit shot the puck at the net from the blue line, and Nathan McKinnon tipped it in. Assists went to Benoit and Paul Stastny.

Shots for the period were 10-8 San Jose.

The Sharks started the second period with two dump-ins but no extended control of the puck, and then Sharks Captain Joe Thornton took an interference penalty on Ryan O’Reilly just 23 seconds in. The Sharks penalty killers minimized Colorado’s chances and survived the early setback.

The Sharks seemed to be getting their act together when a series of mistakes in their own zone created an opportunity for Jamie McGinn to score his ninth of the season, extending his goal streak to three games. Assist to Matt Duchene. That goal seemed to leave Niemi unsettled, and when a bouncing shot came down from the blue line and went by him 52 seconds later, Sharks Coach Todd McLellan replaced him with Alex Stalock. The goal went to Erik Johnson, with assists to Gabriel Landeskog and Paul Stastny.

Right off the faceoff, McKinnon sped into the Sharks zone and put a shot past Stalock, giving the Avs three goals in a minute, six seconds. The next faceoff started with a fight or two. Desjardins, Bracken Kearns and McLeod ended up in the box, giving the Avalanche a five-on-four power play.

37 seconds into the power play, Logan Couture drew a roughing call against Matt Duchene, putting the teams at four on four. 25 seconds later, Jan Hejda was called for slashing Joe Pavelski, giving the Sharks a brief five-on-three. While the Avalanche were busy knocking Couture down repeatedly in front of the blue paint, they missed Pavelski coming in to fire on an open net. That put the Sharks on the board with a minute left in the power play. Assists went to Marleau and Thornton. That penalty expired but seconds later, as Alex Stalock flew to the bench during a delayed penalty, Patrick Marleau came on to the ice and his quick shot brought the Sharks within two.

A chance in front of the Avalanche net ended with the net off its moorings and Desjardins fighting Max Talbot in the corner, after the linesman did make an effort to restrain them. Desjardins quickly took the upper hand in that one. While he and Talbot sat in the box for the fighting major, the Sharks put together some good time in the offensive zone, but the Avalanche kept them from finishing.

With just a minute and 46 seconds left in the period, Alex Stalock was penalized for delay of game after he played the puck over the glass. The Sharks kept the Avalanche power play from scoring before the end of the period.

The shot count for the second period was 13-9 San Jose.

The Sharks finished off the penalty kill to start the third period, and the game proceeded at a subdued pace. With five minutes gone, the Sharks were having trouble maintaining possession of the puck. After playing catch with the Avs in the neutral zone for nearly a minute, the puck finally landed on Couture’s stick so he could carry it into the zone with Marleau. A pass back to the blue line gave Scott Hannan a chance to shoot. Marleau couldn’t get the first rebound in but Couture was there to grab the second one, and put it past Varlamov. That cut Colorado’s lead to one at 5:44 of the third period. Assists went to Marleau and Hannan.

The Sharks had a power play at of the third, when James Sheppard and Jan Hejda collided in front of the Avs net. The refs called Hejda for interference. The Sharks couldn’t score on that power play, despite many close calls. A series of failures to keep the puck in burned seconds off that power play. With about a minute and a half left, McLellan pulled Stalock for the extra attacker, but the Sharks still couldn’t sustain pressure in the offensive zone. The Avalanche held on for the 4-3 win.

Patrick Marleau was the game’s points leader with a goal and two assists. Joe Pavelski led the Sharks in shots with seven, Erik Johnson led the Avalanche with five. The Sharks’ power play went 1/3, their penalty kill 3/4. Antti Niemi stopped 11 of 14 shots, Alex Stalock stopped 6 of 7 for the Sharks.

Roster Notes:
Eriah Hayes made a difficult trip through a storm to get to Denver from Boston, but he did not crack the Sharks lineup. Mike Brown, hit twice by friendly fire at the end of the game against the Oilers in San Jose, was good to go. Tommy Wingels, however, was still not able to play and has been placed on IR for an upper body injury, not a head injury.

Two Milestone Goals Lift Sharks Over Ducks

By Mary Walsh

SAN JOSE- In a 3-1 victory over the Anaheim Ducks, one Shark scored his first NHL goal, another scored his 100th, and the Sharks-Ducks home ice advantage grew a little more. In seven of the last eight games between the two, the win has gone to the home team. The Sharks’ win was tarnished, however, by an injury to Tommy Wingels. Wingels left the game in the first period and did not return.

Logan Couture’s recent trouble scoring goals might be explained in hindsight by the fact that it was his 100th he was trying to score. Such a milestone is bound to play a little hard to get. Bracken Kearns was chasing his first, though he hadn’t had may chances to score it. The audience at SAP Center was suitably appreciative of the occasion, and continued to respond enthusiastically every time Kearns turned up on the video screen.

The Sharks’ best line of late tore into the Ducks defense early, pelting Andersen with shots and staying just a step ahead of the Ducks defenders. Andersen did well to stop as many as he did but finally Brent Burns put one past him from just a few feet in front of the blue paint. The first goal of the game was scored just over a minute in. Assists went to Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton.

Pavelski was called for interference at 6:48. The second penalty killing unit to get on the ice included Andrew Desjardins, Joe Thornton, Justin Braun and Marc-Edouard Vlasic. The unit set up a good short-handed chance for Thornton and Desjardins, who made their way into the Ducks’ zone two on one and managed a couple of shots on Anderson, even after the Ducks’ defense caught up with them.

Logan Couture got off the schneid with panache, carrying the puck through the neutral zone, skating around two Ducks defenders and stick-handling his way to the net to score his 100th career goal with a backhand. The goal put the Sharks up 2-0, at 10:07 of the period. Assists went to Brent Burns and Jason Demers.

With a little over five minutes left in the first, the Ducks had a series of good chances in the Sharks’ zone, while the Sharks were caught mid-line change and unable to get the puck out. Finally Niemi was able to glove it. Kearns, Brown and Kennedy took the ice for the defensive zone draw with Stuart and Demers on defense. Kearns won the faceoff and got the puck back to Demerws but Demers couldn’t clear it the first time. They had to try again. The third line managed to move play into the Ducks’ zone, where the Couture line took over, but the Ducks quickly drove them into the neutral zone.

Todd McLellan moved Matt Nieto to the second line when Tommy Wingels went awkwardly into the boards early in the first. Wingels appeared for another shift but then went to the dressing room and would not return to the game.

First period ended 2-0 Sharks, with shots on goal at 14-13 Anaheim.

Almost ten minutes elapsed in the second, including the end of a San Jose power play to start the period, when Andrew Desjardins carried the puck behind the Ducks’ net. Under pressure he managed to pass the puck out in front where the late-arriving Bracken Kearns picked it up in the slot and scored his first NHL goal. Assists went to Desjardins and Mike Brown.

With 7:50 left in the second, Daniel Winnik was caught in the face with the butt end of a Shark’s stick. He stayed down for some time and got up with blood near his eye but no penalty was called. Logan Couture represented the Sharks in a brief conference with the referee at center ice. It did appear to be incidental contact, but Winnik and the Ducks were understandably agitated about it.

The second period ended with the Ducks still ahead on the shot clock, 24-19, but the Sharks ahead 3-0 on the score board.

The Sharks got their second power play of the game at 8:47 of the third period when Corey Perry went to the box for a high hit on Brad Stuart. The Sharks’ power play didn’t pay off and a successful penalty kill energized the Ducks. It still took them a few shifts to score.

Antti Niemi’s shut-out bid ended at 11:32 of the third, when a quick pass from behind the Sharks’ net found Patrick Maroon with no one in front of him. A shot just indside the far post brought the score to 3-1. Assists went to Corey Perry and Cam Fowler.

The game ended without any further scoring and the Sharks won 3-1. The final shot count had the Ducks still on top with 31 to the Sharks’ 23.

The Ducks’ shots leaders for the game were Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Kyle Pamieri, credited with three each. For the Sharks, Brent Burns led the team with 5 shots. Mike Brown led the Sharks in hits with five, followed by Kearns with four. Mark Fistric and Patrick Maroon led the Ducks with five hits each.

The three stars of the game were Brent Burns, Antti Niemi, and Bracken Kearns.

Back Where They Belong: Unchange the Sharks

(Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports)
(Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports)

By Mary Walsh

At the first intermission during the Sharks game Saturday, Jamie Baker said the Sharks seem to be missing something, possibly their mojo. If the Sharks have lost their mojo, it might be buried in Todd McLellan’s higgledy-piggledy line adjustments. It could be time to unchange all those lines.

Or maybe they found their mojo Saturday, in the process of being outshot 46-39 by the Dallas Stars, who average 31.6 shots a game. Maybe the Sharks found their mojo and that is how they survived going down by two goals, made it to a shootout and won 3-2. They won. That is important. But if a 4-2 victory in Toronto foretold of a losing streak to come, it isn’t likely that the Sharks will rest on those Dallas shootout laurels.

The Sharks started the season outstandingly well. To get back to that could be impossible, but to get back to winning more than losing is a reasonable goal. The key is to put the pieces back where they belong and leave them there for at least as long as they have been out of place. That would be nine games or so.

The Sharks’ coaching staff spent a lot of time thinking up forward lines during the off-season and training camp. The lines they started with might have some merit, even if you account for the insertion of players who came and went due to injury. During the ten game experiment the team just completed, only the Hertl-Thornton-Burns and Couture-Marleau connections lasted.

Those were dismantled Saturday against Dallas, beyond replacing the injured Hertl. John McCarthy took Pavelski’s spot as third line center, Pavelski moved to a new line with Thornton and Marleau, and Burns to Couture’s line with Havlat.

Putting McCarthy at center is not wrong per se. He played there in college and also in the AHL. But he’s been in San Jose for most of this season, playing wing. Maybe tossing him back to the middle isn’t the best way to stabilize the team.

When the Sharks started this rough patch after Toronto, San Jose started making line adjustments. Eventually, they made every line adjustment there was to make, until finally Martin Havlat was skating on a fourth line with Andrew Desjardins. The experiment may have provided some as yet unseen benefit to the team, but it certainly didn’t generate many wins.

Obviously, the inquiry into whether or not a pass can connect between Havlat and Desjardins was answered with an unequivocal “no.” But what about all those other adjustments? What about moving Pavelski to the wing? Pavelski is a perfectly capable winger, but moving him away from center punched a hole in one of the team’s most coveted qualities: daunting depth through center.

The decision to sit Tyler Kennedy for a game, then put him back in on the fourth line looked a lot like the path Havlat followed back to the second line. It’s all well and good to make a player watch a game to sort things out, then have him come back in with limited ice time.

Except it really isn’t well and good. Using the fourth line as a gateway back into the game can thoroughly handicap the fourth line if said player is not accustomed to fourth line duty. It’s hard enough for the energy line to do its job with limited ice time and the continuous changing of their membership.

When the rotation included McCarthy, Sheppard and Brown as wingers for Desjardins, at least it was just those four. They could get a feel for each other. Tossing Havlat and Kennedy in there didn’t do them any favors. They have to work fast and hard, they’re not a rehab service for top niners.

It wasn’t ideal for the top niners either. Martin Havlat, before Thursday’s game, was preparing to skate on a line with Couture and Marleau, the third line he’d played on in as many games. Despite playing all over the lineup, did Havlat think his game was becoming more consistent or not?

Not, but like you said, I’ve been all over the place. So we’ll see. I played with these guys half of the year last year at the end and it was great. So we’ll see how it is.

It went pretty well, better than other lines that night. It was the only line to score a goal and finish without a minus by their names. Tyler Kennedy was the only other skater without a minus.

Whether he sees it or not, Havlat’s game has been getting stronger. It may be taking longer than it would if he’d been left consistently with the same line-mates. While his game has suffered along with the team’s, he has at least maintained some defensive equilibrium. McLellan commented on that after the win in St. Louis last Tuesday:

When we look at Marty, I think since he’s been back in the lineup, he’s only been a minus player three nights. That’s pretty darn good. There’s not a lot of other guys that are in that situation. Would we like more offense from him? I think it’s coming.

Havlat isn’t the only player who might profit from a consistent line configuration. Kennedy did better than Havlat on the fourth line. He even got an assist in his second game there. Maybe all he needed was a little more time with his new linemates, a second game?

In Los Angeles, it looked like McLellan was ready to put the old bands back together, with Havlat and Marleau flanking Couture, and Pavelski back at center with Wingels and Sheppard. When Hertl went down, emergency changes had to be made, but otherwise the team was taking a familiar shape again.

Those lines did not win that game, but wins have been scarce for the kaleidoscope of line formations before and since. Those won three of eight games. Perhaps if McLellan gives the old lines a chance to find their footing again the team can reverse this losing trend.

Sharks Lose to Kings 4-1, Hertl Injured

By Mary Walsh

LOS ANGELES- It appears that the Visitor’s Curse still haunts the San Jose Sharks at Staples Center. The mischievous spirit might even be getting more violent. Thursday night, the Sharks lost to the Kings by a score of 4-1. They also lost star forward and rookie Tomas Hertl to a knee-on-knee hit from LA’s Dustin Brown. How long the team will be without Hertl is not yet clear.

The fact that the Kings won was not at all out of the ordinary for these teams, the home team has won going back 15 games now. What was unusual was the score: 4-1. It has been some time since a game between these two ended with such a lopsided result. Patrick Marleau, playing his 1200th NHL game, scored the only Sharks goal.

McLellan made a couple of lineup changes for Thursday’s game, including moving Martin Havlat to the second line with Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau. He put Scott Hannan back in, paired with Brad Stuart. He also put Tyler Kennedy in, on the fourth line with Mike Brown and Andrew Desjardins.

The first penalty of the game went to the Kings at 3:25, to Drew Doughty for holding. The Sharks had several good chances, a couple that looked like dead certainties (one for Couture, another for Irwin) but they missed. The Kings had a good short-handed chance late in the penalty but Niemi gloved it.

The Sharks lost a lot of races to the Kings in the first period. Dump-ins were about as effective as turnovers. As a result, the Sharks were outshot through most of the period, though by the end of it they were only behind 13-11.

With a minute left in the period, the Kings’ Dustin Brown collided with Tomas Hertl just inside the Sharks’ zone. The knee-on-knee hit earned him a five minute major. Hertl left the ice hobbling. During the ensuing delayed penalty, Brent Burns earned a penalty for interference. The teams finished the period playing 4-on-4. James Sheppard was tapped to fill in for Tomas Hertl on the Thornton line.

The second period started with the teams still at 4-on-4, and when Burns’ penalty expired the Sharks still had over 2:30 left on the man advantage. The Sharks finally found a way to sustain pressure, but two good chances in close and an Irwin shot off the post were all the Sharks had to show for the power play.

The Kings’ goaltender Martin Jones was very good, but the Sharks were unable to take advantage of the second chances they did create. As McLellan said before the game, how well Jones has played was not the Sharks’ biggest challenge:

I think for our group it’s more about preparing to face six players rather than one goaltender. The five others that are on the ice do a tremendous job for them defensively and they position themselves well around the net, it allows the goaltender to feel comfortable and make a lot of saves. They’ve been successful playing that way. It’s not just the guy wearing the pads, it’s the other five that you’ve got to beat as well.

The first goal of the game came at 5:26 of the second, scored from above the left circle by the Kings’ Alec Martinez, with an assist to Tyler Toffoli. The goal came from a shot made possible when the Sharks failed to clear the puck or control it despite several tries. At least three, maybe four Sharks touched it in the defensive zone before Martinez got it.

Joe Thornton was called for holding against Anze Kopitar at 9:03. Despite starting in their own zone, the Sharks’ penalty killers (including Mike Brown now) cleared the puck five times and even got a couple of short-handed shots off. As soon as the power play expired, however, Slava Voynov made a clean pass from the Kings’ zone, right onto Tyler Toffoli’s stick at the Sharks’ blue line. He skated in and put a shot in the far corner to give the Kings a 2-0 lead.

An impressive series of saves by Martin Jones was punctuated by three inexplicably failed shots from Sharks Joe Pavelski and Tommy Wingels. Wingels even tried from both sides of the net, and he almost poked it in behind Jones but the rookie goaltender twisted around and stopped it with his glove.

During the second period, the teams were even in shots at ten, with total shots being 23-20 for the Kings. Of course, the 2-0 score was more significant, especially since the Kings had not lost when leading after the second since March 30.

Instead of challenging that pattern, the Sharks gave up another goal 36 seconds into the third period. Jeff Carter was given far too much time in the Sharks’ zone, and an ill-advised slide to block a shot left Niemi alone with one of the better shots in the league. Assists went to Dwight King and Robyn Regehr.

The Sharks drew another penalty when Jake Muzzin pushed Martin Havlat into the boards from behind. From camera distance, Havlat didn’t appear injured but he was certainly shoved from behind. He was out playing a shift later on the second power play unit.

The Kings killed the penalty off, and then they scored again. This time it was Dwight King’s goal, with the assists going to Carter and Regehr.

The Sharks got another chance on the power play when Mike Richards went to the box for high-sticking at 6:37. As soon as the penalty expired, the Kings went the other way 3 on 2, but didn’t score.

With just over two minutes left in the game, San Jose’s second line made it in to the Kings’ zone and Marleau scored his 16th of the season. A lone assist went to Martin Havlat.

The final shot count was preposterously even at 32 for each team. The Sharks’ power play went 0-4, their penalty kill was 1-0.

The Sharks play their next game at home on Saturday against the Dallas Stars. Puck drop at 7:30 pm.

SF Bulls Make 4 Goal Comeback Against Stockton Thunder

By Mary Walsh

SAN FRANCISCO- Saturday, the San Francisco Bulls came back from a three-goal deficit to defeat the Stockton Thunder in a shootout. It was the third meeting of the season for the two teams. The first period ended tied at one, the second period ended 4-2. The teams went to a shootout tied at five goals apiece. Two of the Bulls’ goals were scored by Steven Tarasuk, his first two goals of the season. Also, there were teddy bears, lots of teddy bears tossed on the ice.

After the game, Head Coach Pat Curcio said:

From the beginning of the game tonight, we were much better than last night. I think our fans had a lot to do with it, it just gives our guys so much more energy and life out there. I thought in the second period, a couple of the mistakes that we made, it [was] unfair for us to be down 3-1. Obviously Scott Langdon got us on the board there, gave us some life and the guys just thought “if they scored three that quick, we can score three that quick.”

The game was a lot like the last game San Francisco played against Stockton: San Francisco was outshot, they fell behind by three goals, they pulled J.P. Anderson out and put Tyler Beskorowany in net mid-second period. The games were just alike, apart from four San Francisco goals scored in the second half of the game, three by defensemen.

Three and a half minutes of the first period went by before either team got a shot on goal, and then it was San Francisco’s shot. Stockton answered back quickly with two of their own, and then play was interrupted by a hit from Adrian Foster that left a Stockton player down for several seconds. A boarding call put the Bulls on the penalty kill. Stockton had two more shots on the power play but the Bulls’ penalty kill kept the game scoreless.

After 9:50, the Bulls still only had one shot on goal. This wasn’t an accurate reflection of zone time or scoring chances, which looked more even.

The Bulls also took the second penalty of the game, again to Foster, this time for high-sticking. At 14:03 of the first, Stockton scored on their eighth shot, a power play goal by Joey Martin from Corey Trevino and Matt Berglund.

At 13:29 of the period, Tyler Gron tied it up when three Bulls got the jump on the Stockton defense. The teddy bears flew, a significant improvement over last year’s teddy bear toss, when the Bulls didn’t score until the third period.

With 2:50 left in the period, Stockton’s Ryan Constant was called for cross-checking Dale Mitchell. The power play started out well enough, with a series of good chances during a long shift for San Francisco. The Bulls finally lost control of the puck and Stockton kept them from setting up again in the last few seconds of the penalty.

The period ended tied at one, with shots 10-8 for San Francisco.

During that first intermission, the Bulls thanked one of their most loyal fans, Misty. She will be moving to Florida this month and the Bulls aren’t likely to travel there often. The Bulls played a thank you message on the video cube.

The second period started quietly enough. With nearly four minutes gone in the period, Dale Mitchell and Stockton’s Mike Dalhuisen were called for roughing, putting the teams four on four. Neither team scored then, but at 6:31 of the period, Stockton’s Andrew Clark did, with a shot from the faceoff circle that beat Anderson on the far side. Assists went to Greg Miller and Garet Hunt. 33 seconds later, Stockton scored again. Goal by Alex MacLeod, unassisted.

In the next minute, the Bulls got a power play out of an interference penalty called on Larson. As the penalty expired, Stockton went the other way to put the puck in the net for the fourth time. James Henry’s shot got by Anderson but the goal was called off for goaltender interference.

The Thunder had to try again for that fourth goal a few minutes later, which Clark scored with another shot from the faceoff circle, beating Anderson on the far side. In both cases, Anderson had a player in front of him, but that was still four goals too many. Bulls Coach Pat Curcio replaced Anderson with Beskorowany.

A couple of minutes later, Scott Langdon scored his third of the season to make it 4-2. Assists went to Mitchell and Ouellet.

The period ended 4-2, with shots at 25-18, Stockton leading on both counts.

The first few minutes of the third dragged a bit, but at 3:57, Brett Findlay skated straight up the slot in the Thunders’ zone and shot the puck past Phillips to make it a one goal game. Assists went to Jordan Morrison and Steven Tarasuk.

Play picked up then, the teams trading aggressive forechecks, the goalies getting some work. Finally, Dylan King sent the puck along the blue line from one point to the other, where Tarasuk was waiting to slap it to the net. It made it through with help from a screen set by Chris Crane and Magomed Gimbatov. Assists went to Gimbatov and King.

The Bulls earned another power play with just under eight minutes left: a boarding call against James Henry. Half way through the power play, the Bulls gave up a short-handed chance but regrouped in time to go the other way again. A shot from the point gave the Bulls their first lead of the game. It was Tarasuk’s second goal of the game and the season. It was only the Bulls’ tenth shot of the period, and their third goal. Assists went to Kalvin Sagert and Gimbatov.

With under three minutes to go, Stockton tied it again and the game went to overtime tied 5-5. The goal was Mike Dalhuisen’s, with an assist from Clark.

A fast overtime period flew by without many whistles or breaks in play. The shootout went five rounds, with Dean Ouellet and Brett Findlay scoring for San Francisco and Joey Martin scoring for Stockton. Final score: 6-5 San Francisco.

For full game stats, visit the ECHL website.

Roster notes:

The last time the Bulls met the Thunder, Stockton won 5-1. Since then, the Bulls have lost Mark Lee to injury, but regained Dale Mitchell and acquired Tyler Gron. That isn’t unusual in the ECHL: roster turnover is pretty high, especially since they have to contend with a roster limit and salary cap.

Nonetheless, it is worth pausing to consider how many players have come or gone from the Bulls’ lineup since November 20. Kyle Bodie, Josh Kidd, Damon Kipp, Riley Emmerson and Rob Linsmayer had been traded away or gone to China. In their places, the Bulls acquired Kalvin Sagert, Adrian Foster, Magomed Gimbatov, and Berkley Scott. In short, the team has replaced almost one third of the roster. Half of the Bulls who scored against Stockton are not playing: Lee and Linsmayer. Worth noting, Tyler Gron did score against the Thunder this season, as a member of the Idaho Steelheads, on November 24.

For Stockton’s part, two players arrived December 11 from the AHL: defenseman Mike Dalhuisen and left wing Nick Larson. Dalhuisen played seven games with the Thunder this season, this was Larson’s first game in the ECHL.