Sharks Defeat Ducks 3-1 in 4th Preseason Game

By Mary Walsh

SAN JOSE– Saturday, the San Jose Sharks defeated the Anaheim Ducks 3-1 in their fourth preseason outing. The game featured a preposterous number of penalties from the Ducks and yet another good showing from the line of Barclay Goodrow, Chris Tierney an Nikolay Goldobin. They earned all three stars. Two of the goals were Goodrow’s.  Goldobin picked up assists on both of those, and Tierney had an assist on one. The third Sharks goal was Logan Couture’s, while the lone Ducks goal was scored by Matt Beleskey.

Saturday, the Sharks again started with a jump ahead on the shot clock, but the gap was not so big. Midway through the first period, the shots were 6-2, the Sharks were working on their second power play and a 0-0 tie. Unlike last night’s squad, these Sharks also grabbed the lead on the scoreboard, during that power play. That goal was scored by Logan Couture and a power play unit of Demers, Irwin, Marleau and  Nieto. A few minutes later, Barclay Goodrow scored to give the team a two goal lead. The assist went, of course, to Goldobin.

The Sharks started the second with an early power play that quickly turned into a five on three with a delay of game penalty coming just four seconds in. Into the second minute of that power play, I was still looking to see who the second power play unit was. The first unit would not get off the ice, since the Ducks could not clear the puck. The top unit did not score either, but with 40 or so seconds left, Anaheim goaltender John Gibson stopped the puck and gave his penalty killers a rest. The Sharks’ second unit finally appeared: Barclay Goodrow, Chris Tierney, Nikolay Goldobin, with Matt Tennyson and Mirco Mueller on the blue line. It took them a few seconds but they scored, Goodrow’s second of the game. Assists went to Tierney and Goldobin.

The power play units got some more practice with yet another Ducks penalty. Just a shift or two had gone by when Nicolas Kerdiles was called for tripping. This time the first unit left almost a minute for the second unit to work with.  The second unit included DeMelo instead of Mueller this time.

At 8:42, San Jose’s Taylor Doherty and Anaheim’s Matt Belesky went to the box for matching slashing minors. That was kind of an unusual call.

In the last minutes of the first, Stalock made a save on a wraparound attempt that was very impressive. He does not look like someone trying to get up to speed. He looks more like someone competing for a spot, which, of course, he is. It may not be a spot in San Jose, he has that. But he is certainly capable of challenging Niemi for the starter’s role. No time like the preseason.

The first Ducks power play came at the end of the first period. The second Ducks power play came at the end of the second period. Both times, Melker Karlsson was in the box. In the first period it was for holding the stick. In the second it was for tripping. It was not his night.

The Sharks got another 5 on 3 power play, 1:16 long at 18:48 of the second period. That brought the Ducks to ten penalties, if you do not count the two matching minors. McLellan did not change anything on the first unit, and continued sending them out first. They seemed to need the practice.

It was not Jason Demers’ best night either. He could not seem to get a handle on the pucks sent his way during those many power plays. He spent a lot of time on the left side of the net. That looked like an awkward spot for him.

The third period started with the score at 3-0 Sharks and the shot count at 24-10 Sharks.

One of those rule changes made an appearance about seven minutes in to the third period. The officials called Anaheim’s Nicholas Kardiles for hooking, and gave a matching minor to Goldobin for embellishment. As if the call threw them off, the Sharks gave up a goal 1:38 in to the four on four. It was a fair case of the goalie being beaten by a good shot from an open player. Matt Belesky scored his first of the preseason with assists going to Marc Fistric and Kevin Gagne.

Shortly thereafter, Taylor Doherty fought Clayton Stoner. Stoner got an additional two minutes for roughing, but the Sharks’ power play did not score.

Final score: 3-1, shot count 33-17 Sharks. Attendance announced as over 16, 000.

Saturday’s roster:
Forwards: Andrew Desjardins, Patrick Marleau, John Scott, Logan Couture, Melker Karlsson, Freddie Hamilton, Eriak Hayes, Nikolay Goldobin, Matt Nieto, Barclay Goodrow, Daniil Tarasov, Chris Tierney

Defensemen: Jason Demers, Mirco Mueller, Matt Irwin, Dylan DeMelo, Taylor Doherty, Matt Tennyson

Alex Stalock was in net with Grosenick listed as backup.

Line combos:
Nieto/ Couture/ Marleau, Tierney/ Goldobin/ Goodrow, Hamilton/ Karlsson/ Tarasov, Hayes/ Desjardins/ Scott
Later in the game, Nieto and Hamilton swapped lines

Tennyson/Irwin, Demers/DeMelo, Mueller/Doherty

Power play units:
Marleau, Couture, Nieto, Demers, Irwin
Godolbin, Goodrow, Tierney, Tennyson, Mueller/DeMelo

Sharks: Stalock, Brown Returning, Remenda Out

By Mary Walsh

The San Jose Sharks announced three moves Tuesday. Two players were resigned to two year contracts: forward Mike Brown, acquired at the trade deadline from the Edmonton Oilers last season for a fourth round pick in this year’s draft, and goaltender Alex Stalock. The third move was to let broadcaster Drew Remenda go. No particulars have been released by the team about this last decision.

According to CapGeek.com, Mike Brown’s two year contract will pay $1.2 million per year. His previous contract was for three years at an average of $736,667. Brown played in 56 games last season (48 with the Sharks) and six playoff games. He finished the regular season with two goals and three assists, and had a goal and an assist in the playoffs.

Stalock’s contract will pay $1.6 million per year. His previous one-year contract was for $625,000. He started 19 games last season and one in the playoffs. In the regular season he went 12-5-2 with a .932 save percentage.

Stalock was expected back, and said he expected to be back. Brown was said to be in talks with the team last week. If ice time in the playoffs is any indication, the coaching staff liked what he brought to the team. Of the moves, the third is by far the most surprising. In various radio and web interviews since the announcement, Remenda described the parting as “amicable.”

The tandem of Randy Hahn and Drew Remenda had grown in popularity beyond Shark Territory. Their team had been recognized numerous times by the Bay Area Emmys, including this year’s On-Camera Talent-Sports/Play by Play/Analyst. Even to hockey fans from other regions, they were recognizable. They occasionally did national broadcasts of other teams’ games, with the same energy and conviction they displayed covering Sharks games. There is no word yet on who will replaced Remenda. It seems most likely that it will be one of the other familiar faces from the broadcast team.

A friend once asked me if Remenda was as likable in person as on television. I think he is. To me he always was. His energy and candor will be missed.

Lose-Lose Game 5 for Sharks

By Mary Walsh

Just one win. It felt like a must-win game for the Sharks, even though the Kings were the ones on the verge of elimination. The Sharks were healthy and confident.

All the Sharks needed was one win after a tight overtime victory on the road in Los Angeles. Instead, they lost two in a row, giving a resilient Kings team more than enough confidence to push through two more wins.

Additionally, the Sharks lost Marc-Edouard Vlasic for two periods and possibly longer. Statistically, the only consolation for that would be if Jarret Stoll were suspended for taking him out. That could help the Sharks with their faceoffs anyway. If Vlasic is out for one or more games, it would not be a fair trade but it would be something.

Did the Sharks approach these last two games like they had four tries to get it right? Does this mulligan theory come into play? I doubt it. The Kings just have more urgency since their season is at death’s door. But that does not explain losing 3-0 at home, even playing with five defensemen.

The lone bright spot in Saturday’s shutout loss was a stellar performance from Alex Stalock. He faced 22 shots and stopped them all. He came in early in the second period after 3 of 19 shots got by Antti Niemi.

Still, the team in front of Stalock could not seem to help him out. He did more than his part, distributing the puck well, making the saves and even drawing a penalty. But the Sharks couldn’t score to save their lives even when they had some chances at the end of Saturday’s game.

That might be unsurprising after the amount of puck luck they had in the first two games. Their lack of composure in the rest of the game was not a matter of puck luck. The Kings’ early goals seemed to dismantle any confidence the Sharks started with. Hurried passes turned into giveaways, too-slow decisions hampered the power play. The only thing the Sharks did well were some of their penalty kills.

Two goals against should not send a team into a panic, not in a series that has featured such high scores. Letting the game get away from them like that is cause for panic. Now they go back to Los Angeles with an opponent on a roll and still fueled by desperation.

Maybe the Sharks can borrow some of that desperation before they are looking at a seventh game, tired and banged up and in no shape to dominate a next round– if they make it that far. Sharks fans can but hope.

Sharks Clinch Playoff Berth, Get Burned in Shootout

By Mary Walsh

The San Jose Sharks clinched a playoff spot for the tenth season in a row with a shootout loss to the rebuilding Calgary Flames. Goals from James Sheppard for the Sharks and Joe Colborne for the Flames sent the game to overtime. Mike Cammalleri scored the only goal in the shootout to give the Flames the extra point.

In addition to losing the game, the Sharks lost Logan Couture after an injury he sustained in the first period blocking shots. Per Todd McLellan after the game, Couture would be fine, though he could not say if he will play Tuesday. On the positive side, Brad Stuart looked very good in his return to the lineup.

The Sharks’ power play has been a sore point for some time now, but their penalty kill has been very effective. In Calgary, it seemed to lift the team more than once and launch them on the attack after each successful kill.

Sharks coach Todd McLellan left his starting lineup much as it had been in the last five games, except for the return of Brad Stuart from injury. He replaced Scott Hannan on the blue line next to Justin Braun. The oft-changing fourth line was made up of Andrew Desjardins, Tyler Kennedy and Adam Burish. Additionally, Alex Stalock was back in net for the first time in five games.

1:57 into the first period, Joe Thornton was called for hooking, putting the Sharks on the penalty kill. The kill was successful but the Flames had several chances and gave Stalock a good opportunity to get in the game.

At 9:56, the Sharks earned a power play when Joe Colborne went to the box for hooking. The Sharks made a ferocious start of it but Calgary goaltender Karri Ramo was very sharp and the Flames did a good job of keeping the Sharks out of his way.

The Sharks went back on the penalty kill when Dan Boyle took a hooking penalty to stop a scoring chance by Mike Cammalleri. Logan Couture and Tommy Wingels punctuated the penalty kill by blocking some stinging shots.

The Sharks killed the penalty and a post-kill line of Matt Nieto and James Sheppard broke the other way. Nieto found an open lane for a shot, which found Sheppard in front of the net. He corralled the bouncing puck and put it past Ramo. Assists went to Nieto and Dan Boyle.

Couture went to the dressing room before the period ended, and Desjardins took his spot between Nieto and Patrick Marleau.

The first period ended with the Sharks ahead by one goal, and dominating on the shot clock, 18-8.

Couture did not return to start the second period, was back on the bench by the midpoint but only took one shift before leaving again.

To begin the second, it was Tyler Kennedy on the second line, then Wingels, and so forth. A very good shift from Martin Havlat with Adam Burish and James Sheppard preceded another good shift from Desjardins, Wingels and Marleau. The forward lines had turned into a merry-go-round but the team adapted with alacrity.

The Sharks did not occupy the Flames’ zone in the second period as they had in the first. The Flames were outshooting the Sharks 9-3 when Calgary defenseman Ladislav Smid hit Tyler Kennedy. That Sharks’ power play was possibly their worst performance in a long time, with numerous passes to the point missing the mark and clearing the zone for the Flames.

The Flames did not let up after killing the penalty, and kept the Sharks on their heels until finally Joe Colborne scored to tie the game at 18:00.

The second period ended with the game tied on the scoreboard and almost on the shot clock, with the Sharks leading only 22-20. During the second period, the Flames lead in shots 12-4.

The Sharks started the third period with a quick penalty as Thornton went to the box for hooking just ten seconds in. The Flames power play was more effective than the Sharks’ last had been, but the Sharks’ penalty killers limited the Flames’ power play to just one shot.

The Sharks seemed to have regained their composure when Pavelski, Havlat and Wingels went on a tear in the offensive zone at the midpoint of the period. Repeated chances were thwarted by Ramo and the post, but still the game was tied.

It stayed tied and the Sharks clinched their tenth consecutive playoff spot by making it to overtime. The teams skated right through the extra period without scoring again.

Mike Cammalleri was the third Flames shooter, and the first to beat Alex Stalock in a shootout. That goal held up for the win as Karri Ramo stopped Marleau, Pavelski and Sheppard. In all, he made 33 saves in regulation and overtime. Alex Stalock stopped Joe Colborne and Jiri Hudler in the shootout and made 26 saves in the game.

The three stars were Karri Ramo, James Sheppard and Tyler Wotherspoon. The Sharks shot leader was Dan Boyle with five and Jason Demers lead in ice time with 25:34. The Flames shot leader was Curtis Glencross with six, TJ Brodie lead in ice time with 25:28. No player in the game got credit for more than two hits.

The Sharks next play the Oilers in Edmonton on Tuesday at 6:30 pm PT.

 

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.

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.

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.