Sharks Beat Blues in Final Seconds

By Mary Walsh

SAN JOSE– The San Jose Sharks won a nail-biter of a game Saturday, defeating the St. Louis Blues in overtime 3-2. The game went to the last minute of overtime before a Brent Burns blast from the blue line ended it. Andrew Desjardins and Marc-Edouard Vlasic also scored for the Sharks, while Steve Ott and Patrik Berglund scored for the Blues. It was the Sharks’ fifth win in a row, and eighth home win in a row.

It took the Sharks more than thirteen minutes to get a shot on goal against St. Louis. That shot came off of Barclay Goodrow’s stick. The Sharks saw several shots blocked, but the Blues also kept the Sharks hemmed in their zone for faceoff after faceoff, not allowing the Sharks to make much of the zone time they did get. For all the zone time the Blues had, they did not get all that many shots on net either. They were at four when the Sharks’ first shot registered.

Nonetheless, the Shark saw the Blues take the first penalty of the game at 13:31, for too many men on the ice. The Sharks did not get a shot on goal through the power play. Their second shot came in the last two minutes, from Patrick Marleau.

McLellan must have liked the way the Sharks started the first period, since he put exactly the same guys out to start the second: James Sheppard, Melker Karlsson and Barclay Goodrow up front, with Brent Burns and Brenden Dillon on defense. Whatever the plan was, it looked like an improvement. The Sharks tripled their shot count before three minutes elapsed in the second period.Five minutes in, the Sharks were outshooting the Blues 5-1. Shots came from Goodrow, Tye McGinn, John Scott, Marleau and Logan Couture.

The Blues took a second penalty, at 5:47 of the second. Jori Lehtera went to the box for high sticking. While the Sharks had trouble sustaining an attack, the power play was an improvement over the first period one. They had four shots through the two minutes, and a few very good chances. The Sharks took over the shot lead at the end of the power play.

Still, the teams remained tied 0-0.

Andrew Desjardins changed that at 10:47 of the middle frame. He carried the puck in and shot from a bad angle for his second of the season. Assists went to Justin Braun and Tye McGinn.

It took them several minutes but the Blues answered with a goal from Patrik Berglund at 14:29. The puck came off the back boards pretty hot, and Niemi stopped the resulting shot but he delivered the rebound right to Berglund and could not recover to stop his shot. Assists went to Alex Pietrangelo and Dmitrij Jaskin.

The Blues took the lead with 2:39 left in the period. After some very good pressure form the Sharks, the Blues got out of their zone by way of a breakaway for Steve Ott. His shot went under Niemi and assists went to Ian Cole and Maxim Lapierre.

The Sharks finished the period with some wild chances in the Blues’ zone but could not even the score. They did, however, get credit for 17 shots in the period.

The third period was mired in heavy mud, with the Sharks racking up shots and the Blues stopping them. By the end of the period, the Blues had only added three to their game tally, while the Sharks got credit for nine. In the final minutes, the Sharks were attacking furiously, but it was only in the last 20 seconds that they finally tied the game.  The goal was Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s fourth of the season, with assists to Joe Thornton and Melker Karlsson.

With three minutes gone in the five minute overtime, neither team had recorded a shot on goal. Thirty seconds later, Patrick Marleau took the first, after a spectacular rush up the ice that showcased his exceptional speed.

With 1:03 left in overtime, Alexander Steen was called for hooking, giving the Sharks a man advantage for the final minute. They did not need the full minute. A few touches, several passes, and Brent Burns shot it in from the blue line for the win. Assists went to Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture.

Patrick Marleau led the Sharks in shots with 5. Tommy Wingels led the team in hits with 8, and Brent Burns had the most ice time among San Jose skaters with 26:07. Burns laso led the team in blocked shots with 4. Antti Niemi made 18 saves on 20 shots. The Sharks’ power play went 1/3 and they took no penalties.

David Backes led the Blues in shots with 4, and blocked the same number. Steve Ott led them in hits with 7. Jay Bouwmeester led the Blues in ice time at 26:03. Barret Jackman led his team in blocked shots with 5. Jake Allen made 27 saves on 30 shots.

The three stars of the game went to Brent Burns, Jake Allen and Andrew Desjardins.

The Sharks’ next game is in Anaheim on Monday against the Ducks at 7:00 PT.

Deja Vu Puts Sharks Up By Two

By Mary Walsh

SAN JOSE- Sunday, the San Jose Sharks defeated the Los Angeles Kings to take a 2-0 series lead in the Stanley Cup Quarter Finals. The game winner was scored by Justin Braun, Antti Niemi made 24 saves for the Sharks, and Jonathan Quick made 33 saves for the Kings on 40 San Jose Shots. Though the Kings scored first, the Sharks’ dominance through the second two periods was a repeat of an unexpectedly dominant Game One victory.

After the game, Mike Brown said:

Games like this, you don’t stop playing, you don’t give up. That’s how the whole series is going to go and you see what happened when we didn’t stop.

We’re planning on low-scoring games and we gotta play solid defensively. So we can’t really look at these two games and think that the series is gonna go this way.

After a 6-3 victory in Game One series, everyone knew that the Sharks would not have to navigate the mental burden of a five goal lead again. It turns out that everyone was wrong. The Sharks defeated the Kings Sunday by a score of 7-2, scoring seven unanswered goals in the second and third periods. They not only took the five goal lead, they held it until the end of the game.

Talking after the game, Sharks captain Joe Thornton summed up the Sharks’ success thus far:

To do that two games in a row… We’ve been working hard for our goals, and the fourth line just brought this game back in grip for us. But scoring seven tonight… it was… was just a weird night.

That fourth line was the clutch factor in the game. The combination of Andrew Desjardins, Raffi Torres and Mike Brown scored the first two Sharks goals of the game, bringing the Sharks back from a deficit to a tie game in the space of five minutes. After the game, Logan Couture said of the trio:

They got us going, they generate a lot of energy in the building, a lot of energy on our bench. You can tell when they’re out there that they’re going to forecheck hard and if I was a d-man I’d be scared of those guys bearing down on me all the time. So they’ve done a great job in this series.

The Kings opened the scoring under two minutes in. A Jake Muzzin shot from the point went past Sharks goalie Antti Niemi with some help from a screen set up by Marian Gaborik. Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar were awarded the assists.

The Sharks responded with a good chance of their own but Kings goalie Jonathan Quick had time and space to see the shots and stop them.

After an extended spell in their own zone, and numerous takeaways for both teams, the Kings struck again. Kings forward Jeff Carter got the puck away from Sharks defenseman Jason Demers and sent it in front of the net where Trevor Lewis tapped it in the far corner. Carter got credit for the lone assist.

By the half way point of the first period, the shots favored the Sharks 10-6, but the score was all Kings, 2-0.

One of the Sharks’ better shifts came from an offensive zone attack that included Tomas Hertl, Tommy Wingels and Scott Hannan, with about six minutes left in the first. As the shot clock indicated, the other lines were spending time in the Kings’ zone but they did not make life very uncomfortable for Quick. Many of their shots were completely unscreened.

Mike Brown gave the fans something to cheer about with some solid hits in the final four minutes, and the Thornton line joined in with a scrum in front of the Kings’ crease. Two penalties came out of that: two minutes each for roughing to Slava Voynov and Brent Burns.

The Sharks ended the first period with a two-goal deficit and a reduced lead in shots, with 15 to the Kings’ 10.

Early in the second period, Tomas Hertl took the ice with Joe Thornton and Brent Burns, after taking a shift with Burns and Desjardins moments earlier.

That did not seem to do much, but the Sharks avoided being scored on for almost five minutes, then reversed the dismal trend with a goal of their own. It was Mike Brown’s first playoff goal. Andrew Desjardins centered a pass that found Brown skating into the Kings’ zone. Brown’s shot beat Quick fair and square from the slot.

Moments later, the Sharks got their first power play of the game. That produced a few good chances but did not add to the scoresheet.

It was near the half-way mark of the game when Raffi Torres scored his second of the series. After skating through traffic alongside Desjardins, he found an opening and tied the game. Assist to Andrew Desjardins.

About a minute later, Los Angeles got their first power play after Jason Demers was called for charging. It took the Sharks over 90 seconds to clear the puck for the first time in that penalty kill, but when they did they were rewarded by some inattention from the Kings that lead to an icing. With under 20 seconds left in the penalty the faceoff was in the Kings’ end. That was that and both teams remained perfect on the penalty kill.

The Sharks kept the pressure on. With 5:15 left in the period, James Sheppard won the puck along the boards and put it on net from a bad angle. The rebound went to the wall and Justin Braun, who shot it back in from the point. His hard shot flew by Tommy Wingels and Jonathan Quick to give the Sharks their first lead of the game. Assists went to Sheppard and Pavelski.

The Kings took a third penalty to finish the second, putting the Sharks on the power play to end the middle frame. It was an uninspiring power play, with the Kings ejecting the Sharks very effectively from their zone more than once before San Jose could get set up.

The period ended with shots 27-17 and the score 3-2 Sharks.

Tomas Hertl stayed on the Thornton line, with Pavelski playing third line center. The next goal did not come from either of those lines. The Sharks’ fourth goal came off a brilliant rush from the second line at 1:08 of the period. Matt Nieto centered the puck perfectly for Patrick Marleau who carried it as far as the opposite faceoff circle to put it by Jonathan Quick. Nieto and Logan Couture got the assists.

A nice neutral zone poke check from Scott Hannan started the next rush, sending the puck in for James Sheppard. Sheppard and the third line held the zone well, but it took a second neutral zone takeaway and another rush to put the Sharks up by three. Joe Pavelski scored that, after Dan Boyle  got the puck to him at the Kings’ blue line. The Kings were in the middle of a line change when Boyle snatched away that puck. Assists to Boyle and Wingels.

At 11:42 of the period, Marleau carried the puck in along the wall and passed it to Couture. Couture skated around two Los Angeles defenders to beat and unscreened Quick, who was moving across the crease.

6-2 Sharks. Assists to Marleau and Nieto.

A scrum at the Kings’ net resulted in a few penalties being doled out. Four minutes to LA for roughing, and two to San Jose for roughing. The offenders were Kings defenseman Matt Greene and Sharks’ forward Raffi Torres. Once again on the power play, the Sharks would not score in the five on four advantage, but just 30 seconds in to that penalty, Jarret Stoll gave the Sharks a two man advantage by high-sticking Joe Thornton and going to the box for two minutes.

After some nice passing around the perimeter, Thornton was left holding the puck in the right faceoff circle, with just Jonathan Quick between him and the Sharks’ seventh goal.

7-2 Sharks. The seventh goal assists went to Pavelski and Boyle. It was the Sharks’ first power play goal of the game.

With just over five minutes left, more hostilities broke out, sending several players to the locker room early and putting the Sharks on the power play again. For LA, Kyle Clifford got two minutes for roughing and a ten minute misconduct, Dustin Brown got a ten minute misconduct. For San Jose, Desjardins received a ten minute misconduct and Mike Brown got the same. Finally, the Kings’ Mike Richards went to the box for four minutes, confined for spearing.

As expected, Todd McLellan did not alter his lineup for Game Two from the group that won Game One. The scratches were Martin Havlat, Tyler Kennedy, Bracken Kearns, Matt Irwin and Adam Burish. He did exercise his right of misdirection by putting Havlat out for warmups but that was all we saw of Number 9 on Sunday.

The Sharks and the Kings meet for Game Three on Tuesday in Los Angeles.

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.

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 Need a Quick Reset

By Mary Walsh

The Sharks lost two games in a row. How tedious of them. The Pittsburgh Penguins are having a fine season, so losing to them isn’t something to be completely ashamed of. The Carolina Hurricanes, however, should not have defeated the Sharks 5-3, even if the Sharks’ backup goaltender was in net, even if the Sharks were on the second half of back to back games with travel. The Hurricanes had matching travel issues, and San Jose didn’t give Cam Ward enough work for goaltending to be the difference.

Yes, the Sharks should be thoroughly disappointed with themselves for losing to Carolina, especially after being blown out the game before. How awful to respond to a bad loss by losing again, giving up an early two-goal lead, and being outshot 35-25. Three goals and 30 saves would normally be enough for a Sharks win this season.

Despite all that, it would be unreasonable for anyone to get too excited about that lost pair. The Sharks have a record to be proud of, 19-5-5 on the season and 7-3-0 in their last ten. Still, San Jose has a responsibility to make sure that little pair doesn’t grow up to be a great big panic-inducing streak of losses.

To that end, the Sharks made some roster moves. Matt Pelech, who didn’t play on the road trip, was sent to Worcester, while Matt Nieto and Freddie Hamilton have been called up. Mike Brown was placed on injured reserve, for injuries initially described as almost negligible.

Who will sit now? The switching of  Joe Pavelski and Andrew Desjardins at the end of the last two games could indicate that the coaching staff will focus their adjustments on the bottom six. Pavelski always seems like an unlikely candidate for the press box. Tyler Kennedy’s minutes have been slipping. Will he sit? Was that line juggling a demotion of both Kennedy and Havlat to the fourth line? Will they both sit? Or will Hamilton, a center, be in for Desjardins? Will Nieto or Hamilton replace McCarthy, he of the two penalties in Pittsburgh? Would any of that be enough?

The problem in both losses was defense. Not defensemen per se, but this creeping habit the Sharks have of giving up goals in bunches. In Toronto and Pittsburgh, the leak seemed to be confined to the second period. San Jose patched that, only to see the Hurricanes tear open a four-goal breach in the third. It is hard to see exactly how those failures can be solved by changes to the third and fourth lines. There isn’t a lot you can do when you are not on the ice.

On his first stint with San Jose, Nieto played on the top line. If McLellan really wants to mix things up, the lines may look nothing like they did in these last three games, and the winning streak that preceded them. It sounds like overkill to throw all of the forward lines into flux over two measly losses, but waiting to see how bad it can get isn’t a good plan either.

The team’s best hope won’t be found in the defensive instincts of two call-ups. Even if they are perfect, they can’t compensate for a team-wide meltdown. A change to the lineup might focus the team, make them more cautious and attentive to communication and execution. The refreshed, reset Sharks’ mantra has been speed. That is all well and good, but if you are heading into a wall, you don’t want to get there faster. It might be time for the Sharks to slow down, at least mentally.

The Sharks Got What They Need

By Mary Walsh

SAN JOSE- If the 2013-14 Sharks had to come up with a wish list right now, I believe it would take a lot of thinking. They are 2-0 against the top-ranked team in the league now. They might have a case of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” though Todd McLellan is probably making some adjustments to his fourth line today. Nothing drastic, nothing GM Doug Wilson would have to get involved in.

Saturday morning, Ducks’ Head Coach Bruce Boudreau had some thoughts about what the Sharks need:

You give these guys space, they’re gonna burn you. They can skate, they’re big, they’re strong, so you have to play a perfect game or San Jose is going to eat you up.

Space. That doesn’t seem like too much to ask, and it is the kind of thing everybody appreciates. Good call, Coach Boudreau.

The Sharks do have some good space-makers. Most conspicuous of these is Brent Burns. He isn’t a new addition to the team but he is in a relatively new role. He has had some frustrating injury troubles in the last couple of seasons, and he was missed. If he can finally be a mainstay as a forward, he almost counts as a new acquisition.

Brent Burns isn’t what Doug Wilson said he wanted when he traded for him:

“Brent is an elite first-pairing defenseman that is just coming into his prime,” Wilson said. “We feel that he gives our blueline tremendous depth and versatility… -SJ Sharks press release

So Burns has not become the defenseman Wilson wanted then, but he is what the Sharks need now. The team wins more, scores more, does better with Burns the forward in the lineup. He is fast, strong, aggressive and unpredictable on the ice, and he brings intangibles that might be less obvious to the naked eye.

Of playing with him, Joe Thornton said:

He’s so big and so strong and he has such a good shot… and he just has so much fun out there. It’s so fun being a part of his line, you know I just have a smile on my face most of the game because the stuff he does is amazing.

Without Burns in the lineup, the team has scoring punch and can win plenty of games, but they do score more with him. He makes space and incites chaos that San Jose’s considerable offensive talent can take advantage of. Apparently he puts people in a good mood too.

I always say the same thing, I never want a lineup to change, but this year, I think I might finally be right. The Sharks shouldn’t need any more pieces to make this their most effective season to date. The have depth and experience on the blue line that must make most NHL teams green with envy. They have to sit defensemen that other teams would gladly play into the ground.

San Jose has a wealth of talent on their forward lines. It is safe to call the third line overqualified, with Martin Havlat, Joe Pavelski and Tyler Kennedy settling in there. The only lingering doubts are which wingers to use on the fourth line, which McLellan seems to answer on a game by game basis. Despite being a natural center, John McCarthy has been very effective as a winger there. The Sharks give Andrew Desjardins the edge as a center, but McCarthy has the experience to slide over if needed, since that is where he mostly played in Worcester and college.

Still, it is fun to play the “what piece would make the difference? There must be someone to add, shopping season is coming!” Some of those pieces are already in place in the form of a retasked Brent Burns, Tomas Hertl the wonder-rookie, and the evolution of Tommy Wingels’ game.

Wingels is clicking at a higher rate and more consistently than ever before. He hits, he shoots, he grinds and crashes, all with increasing polish and precision. He has moved flawlessly up and down the lineup, fitting in an scoring on all top three lines.

If additions and improvements like that don’t make enough difference, then the team is hopeless. If you still need more, remember the team has Raffi Torres in the shop, and they sent Matt Nieto back to Worcester. This is why the Sharks need space: they have a lot of players playing well, and reserves in the hold.

Not Quite Right: Sharks Fall to Kings in OT

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By Mary Walsh

LOS ANGELES-

We don’t like the way things ended last year, and we want to try and set things right tonight. -Patrick Marleau, to CSNCA during warmups

It looked like the Sharks were ready to do just that when Logan Couture found Marc-Edouard Vlasic pinching in deep, after getting a quick look at the play. Vlasic’s goal gave the Sharks a lead just 13 seconds into the game. The Sharks looked poised to play a slippery, unpredictable game. In the end, the Kings won in an entirely predictable fashion for them: by taking away the Sharks’ time and space with relentless physical play. After trailing by a goal three times, the Kings won 4-3 in overtime.

At 2:32 of the period, a miscalculation by Matt Irwin in the Sharks’ zone ended with a failed breakout. Justin Williams took advantage and sent the puck back up to Drew Doughty, who tied the game with a snap shot.

The game was Martin Havlat’s first back with the team after a lengthy recovery from off-season surgery. He started on a line with Joe Pavelski and Tommy Wingels. That line produced the Sharks’ second goal. As the Kings were exiting their zone, Pavelski and Wingels converged between Kings, stole the puck, and a quick back and forth between them ended with a patient shot from Pavelski to give the Sharks a 2-1 lead. Wingels and Havlat had a 2 on 1 chance on their next shift. The line looked very much in sync.

The Sharks started the second period with several good chances from the Pavelski and Desjardins lines, but on the Kings’ first good shift of the period, the Kings took the puck from Sharks defenseman Brad Stuart with a hard hit. The home team took over and Jarret Stoll scored off a deflected shot from Slava Voynov.

Antti Niemi added a little surprise move when he came out above the faceoff circle to prevent a dangerous breakaway by the Kings’ Stoll. Near the Kings’ blue line, James Sheppard tried a pass to the slot, but Stoll blocked it and went other way. He had a step on everyone. Niemi’s pass moved the puck to safety, though it bounced meekly back into the Kings’ zone. That pass was more successful than half the Sharks’ passes in the second. Good pressure from Los Angeles rushed the Sharks skaters and led to several giveaways.

Neither team allowed many good second chances, though the Sharks’ fourth line had a few in the middle period. A lot of physical play was the key, and Mike Brown certainly helped there when he got near the net.

A too many men penalty with just over six minutes left punctuated a lack of poise from the Sharks. That penalty kill seemed to help the Sharks briefly regain their focus.

The Sharks caught a break in the form of a goalie interference call against Kyle Clifford at 17:22 of the second period. After some rapid-fire puck movement from the Sharks’ power play, Logan Couture gave San Jose the lead.

The fourth line followed up with a very good shot from Desjardins that just trickled wide of the Kings’ net. Play went the other way, and the Kings answered with a great steal off Justin Braun by Dustin Brown just ahead of the goal line. The Sharks collapsed to the slot before he could get a shot off.

The Kings got their own goalie interference power play not long in to the third period. The Sharks had some close calls and had to make several very quick adjustments to protect their lead while Tommy Wingels was in the box for falling over Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick.

By the middle of the third, the Kings looked like the fresher team, though they had played the night before. The Sharks were scrambling and were called again for too many men on the ice. A beautiful play by Anze Kopitar was too much for San Jose’s penalty kill, and Justin Williams tied the game again.

Momentum shifted when Kings forward Dan Carcillo hit Logan Couture from behind and went to the penalty box for boarding. The ensuing power play for San Jose was fiercely defended by the Kings. There would be no extended passing plays now. The Sharks adjusted, coming up with some fast plays and faster shots, but still didn’t score.

The Sharks stretched out the last seven seconds of the period by icing the puck again and again. The clock ran out and the teams went to overtime.

Less than a minute into overtime, the Sharks went back on the penalty kill. The Kings had a relentless shift in the offensive zone, which ended when Justin Braun hooked LA’s Jeff Carter, possibly preventing a shot puck but taking the penalty. Neither team looked especially fresh during the four on three power play, but the Kings had plenty of room to work with. With 22 seconds left in the four on three power play, Anze Kopitar slapped the puck in from the blue line to give the Kings the win.

Talking about what he needed to do in his first game back, Havlat mentioned a couple of things that the whole team might have done to improve the outcome Wednesday night:

I just have to keep it simple, not try to do too much… I’m just trying to focus on the little things and not think too much. -Martin Havlat to CSNCA during first intermission

The Sharks next play on Saturday, back home at SAP Center in San Jose.

Game of Firsts Keeps the Sharks on Top

By Mary Walsh

OTTAWA- Sunday, the San Jose Sharks defeated the Ottawa Senators 5-2 with goaltender Alex Stalock making his first NHL start. Stalock had played in 2 NHL games before, but always in relief. James Sheppard and Andrew Desjardins also scored their first goals of the season, bringing the number of 2013-14 Sharks with goals to 16. The Sharks are now 10-1-1 this season.

After the game, Stalock spoke on CSNCA‘s television broadcast:

Being there before, going in in relief is a little bit easier, because you don’t have all day to think of it. But you’re thinking about it all night– I found out yesterday– and thinking about it all day today. But it was nice to have a five o’clock game, a quick turnaround, didn’t have much time to think, just go and play.

Stalock stopped 38 of 40 shots from the Senators. The Sharks had not allowed more than 31 shots in a game before Sunday. The Senators’ quick, persistent forecheck was one reason they had so many shots. The Sharks’ energy level was inconsistent, almost sluggish at times. That could be because Sunday’s game followed a very quick turnaround.

The Sharks’ game in Montreal had ended a mere 17 hours earlier. Only two San Jose players had not played the night before: Stalock and forward Mike Brown. Other changes to the lineup included moving James Sheppard to the top line with Joe Thornton and Tomas Hertl. Sheppard had been a healthy scratch two games earlier. Matt Nieto was out, though he had been expected to play. After the game started, news came that he was not a healthy scratch.

The Sharks didn’t look especially weary to start the game. Tomas Hertl reminded everyone that he bears watching when he elluded the Senators defense and slid the puck by Craig Anderson just 1:16 into the game. Andrew Desjardins followed at 6:35 with a quick, hard backhander that surprised everyone. Desjardins had to look over his shoulder to follow his shot, since his back was to the net. That gave the Sharks a two goal lead.

The Sharks played with that lead for just over four minutes. At 11:07 of the period, Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson cut the lead in half with a shot from the point, while Cory Conacher screened Stalock.

With under three minutes to go in the period, San Jose’s Mike Brown was called for interference on Kyle Turris. With Brown in the box, Logan Couture initiated a short-handed rush off a pass from Tommy Wingels. Couture’s shot was stopped, but Anderson went down to stop Couture’s shot. Before he could recover, Wingels pounced on the puck for a shorthanded goal.

It was during the second period that the Sharks looked weary. With very little zone time, they still managed 11 shots, but the Senators outskated them at every turn. Karlsson’s first period goal served as a model for the Senators’ second goal, the only one scored in the second period. Near the midpoint of the period, with traffic buzzing in front of Stalock, Marc Methot‘s slapshot from the blue line brought the Senators back within one.

The Sharks came out refreshed for the third period. It took Joe Thornton under 90 seconds to get behind the goal line with the puck. James Sheppard, just arrived in front of the net, took Thornton’s pass and put the Sharks back up by two.

A little over six minutes later, Justin Braun and Joe Pavelski executed a play that should show up on the week’s highlights. Tommy Wingels picked up a mishandled puck from Senators defenseman Jared Cowen, carried it out of the Sharks’ zone and passed it to Pavelski who was just crossing the Senators’ blue line. Pavelski sent the puck to Justin Braun, who entered the zone at a good clip. Each player had pressure to contend with. The Sharks’ defenseman continued almost to the corner, drawing defense away from Pavelski and Anderson far out and to the side of the net. Anderson slowed Braun’s shot but it got by, sitting behind the goalie for a beat before Pavelski came flying in to put it home. Pavelski finished by crashing into the goal post. The goal was reviewed in case it had gone off of his skate. The goal held up as Pavelski had his stick well in position on the way in.

Each team had 3 power plays in the game, neither scored on any of those. The Sharks return to California tonight, finishing up their road trip on Wednesday, against the Kings in Los Angeles.