Stars Hand Sharks Third Straight Loss

By Mary Walsh

AP photo: The Dallas Stars Mattias (13) Janmark was on the mark finding the back of the net twice Saturday against the San Jose Sharks here he goes for a victory lap with teammates after his second period goal

SAN JOSE- The Dallas Stars beat the San Jose Sharks by a score of 4-2 on Saturday afternoon. It was the Sharks’ third straight loss, all on home ice. It also leaves them still waiting to clinch a spot in the playoffs. It was a disappointing follow up to Thursday’s defeat at the hands of the Edmonton Oilers, but Sharks head coach Pete DeBoer saw some positives in Saturday’s game:

I think we played a pretty good game tonight. Obviously we didn’t win. It was one of those nights where every mistake we made ended up in our net and we couldn’t buy one at the other end for a couple periods. You gotta be careful and make sure you keep the proper perspective. Obviously we want to be winning every game his time of year but we’ve won a lot of games over the season where we played like that. So we just gotta build on the positive.

Sharks goals came from Joel Ward and Tomas Hertl. Sharks goaltender Martin Jones made 13 saves on 16 shots. Two Dallas goals came from Mattias Janmark, and one each from Patrick Sharp and Jamie Benn. Antti Niemi made 34 saves on 36 Sharks shots. The shot discrepancy is not unfamiliar to the Sharks. After the game, Sharks defenseman Brenden Dillon said: “The last couple games I think we’ve been doing a pretty good job. That’s one of the top scoring teams in the league and we limited them to 17 shots against so obviously we can’t be satisfied when we still lose the game and get no points.”

The Stars’ Antoine Roussel was a conspicuous participant in the first six penalties of the game, including a fight with Tommy Wingels. His antics did slow the game down. After the game, Wingels said:

I don’t get it. It’s embarrassing, I don’t think that stuff belongs in the game. Every shift after that you’re going to try to fight again. The rest don’t want that, the players don’t want their teammates… the fans don’t want to see after every whistle you have to be broken up.

Those Roussel penalties were not the only ones in the game. In all, the Sharks had six chances on the man advantage, but did not score. Sharks captain Joe Pavelski said, of their power play:

You give our PP unit that much time, we’ve got to get one, you know. We’ve got to really find a way to produce, not just chances but goals. And we didn’t do a good enough job there. There were a few looks we had, we still need to be a little cleaner I think but this time of the year PKs are hard, they’re aggressive. You got to make those entries count, you got to make the faceoffs count, I didn’t win enough of those draws. They’re all parts where they really add to that momentum throughout the PP. Could do a better job, sure.

Missing from the Sharks lineup was Joonas Donskoi. He did skate in the warmups, which may indicate that his absence will not be a long one. Matt Nieto and Marc-Edouard Vlasic both missed their fifth games since injury on March 17. Dainius Zubrus moved up to the Couture line, and Micheal Haley played on the the fourth.

The Dallas Stars have sustained several significant injuries this season. They are presently without perpetual scoring threat Tyler Seguin and regular blue-liner Jason Demers. John Klingberg, talented young defenseman, recently returned from injury, giving his team a needed boost.

The first period was going by scoreless, with a penalty per team and a couple of scuffles. Brenden Dillon took a roughing minor against Antoine Roussel. Roussel then took a slashing minor against Micheal Haley. Roussel and Tommy Wingels finished with fighting majors around the 14 minute mark. At 15:28, the shot count was 12 to 3 Sharks. On the Stars’ fourth shot, the puck went over Martin Jones’ pad for Mattias Janmark’s 14th goal of the season. His shot from the blue line got a little help from passing traffic. Assists went to Jordie Benn and Ales Hemsky.

The Stars added to their lead 4:22 into the second. A miscalculation from Jones left him too far from the crease and the net open for Janmark. Tomas Hertl made an attempt to stop the goal, but he lacks experience as a goaltender. Assists went to Jason Spezza and Stephen Johns.

The first penalty of the game that did not involve Antoine Roussel came 6:40 into the second. The Sharks did not score. Joe Pavelski went to the box at 13:41 for boarding against Johnny Oduya. During the ensuing power play, Jason Spezza made a pass from below the faceoff circle across the ice and back. Patrick Sharp took the shot quickly and cleanly. Assists went to Spezza and Klingberg.

The Sharks had a late power play, at 15:35. Stephen Johns went to the box for elbowing Roman Polak. With four seconds left in the period, Klingberg was called for roughing, and Thornton received the same.

Seventeen seconds into the third, Stars captain Jamie Benn was called for hooking Joe Pavelski. As a result, the teams payed four on three for 1:40. The Stars went right to the man advantage when Dylan DeMelo was called for slashing, just as the Sharks power play expired.

Before the DeMelo penalty expired, Joel Ward put the Sharks on the board with a short-handed goal. Antti Niemi handled the puck behind the net and he made a pass up the wall. After the pass, Joel Ward skated in behind him and seemed to nudge him from behind. Niemi went down and was thus unable to get back to his crease before Ward could put the puck in an open net.

The Sharks closed the gap further at 5:48 with a goal from Tomas Hertl. Taking advantage of busy traffic in the slot, Brent Burns made a pass to Pavelski, who carried it a bit and tried a backhand shot. Hertl skated in behind him and caught the rebound for his 19th goal of the season. Assists went to Pavelski and Burns.

Alex Goligoski was caught hooking at 10:09, putting the Sharks back on their thus-far ineffective power play. It was not effective.

The Stars took another penalty at 13:24, this time to Mattias Lanmark for tripping DeMelo. Still no power play goal.

The Sharks took their time out with 1:35 left in the game, and set up for an offensive zone faceoff with their net empty. Dallas wont the faceoff and iced the puck. The Sharks made better use of the next faceoff and moved the puck around in the Dallas zone, but with 1:08 left in the game, the Stars’ Patrick Sharp took control of the puck, passed it to Jamie Benn and Benn put it in the empty net.

The Sharks next play on Monday against the visiting Los Angeles Kings at 7:00 PT.

Sharks Beat Stars 4-3, Home Win Streak at 3

By Mary Walsh

photo credit: San Jose Sharks facebook page: Sharks Tomas Hertl scores and celebrates the game winner over the Dallas Stars on Saturday

SAN JOSE- The San Jose Sharks defeated the Dallas Stars 4-3 Saturday, in overtime. The Sharks finally came back to win after giving up the first goal, on home ice. The Sharks’ record when giving up the first goal on home ice was 0-18-1 going into Saturday’s game. The Sharks now have a three-game winning streak on home ice. It is possible that the 2015-16 Sharks have found their groove at last. Their power play got perfect results, as did their penalty kill.

Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic scored two goals Saturday, while Tomas Hertl scored the overtime game winner and Chris Tierney gave the team its first lead by scoring a power play goal in the second period. The Sharks’ two power play goals broke another recent pattern of icing a feeble power play. Joe Thornton earned his 926th assist, tying him with Stan Mikita for 17th place on the NHL’s all-time assists list.

The Sharks and the Stars played an almost perfectly balanced game. In shots, faceoffs, blocked shots, and goals, the Sharks and the Stars stayed neck and neck from start to finish. The teams traded one-goal leads, their shot counts were very close, and where one led in the second period, the other team led in the third. the Sharks led in hits and takeaways, but

The game started with plenty of offense. The teams stayed neck and neck on the shot clock until past the eleven minute mark, when an unfortunate bounce gave the Stars that critical shot: the first goal. Dylan DeMelo was trying to clear the puck out along the boards but instead it bounced out into the slot, where Ales Hemsky waited to put it past Martin Jones. Assists went to Mattias Janmark and Antoine Roussel. It was Dallas’ tenth shot of the game, where the Sharks had nine.

With 3:19 left in the first, the Sharks took the first penalty of the game, a goaltender interference call to Joonas Donskoi. It was an odd incident. Donskoi lost his balance just enough so that the lightest push from a Dallas defender caused him to fall over Antti Niemi. The Sharks killed it off, and by the end of the period the teams were still close in shots, with the Sharks leading 15-13. Many of those shots went off the post, on good chances, but the score was still 1-0 Dallas.

The teams started the second with the same energy as they started the first, keeping the goalies busy and everyone’s feet moving. It was on the Sharks’ 17th shot of the game that Marc-Edouard Vlasic scored on a nice rush from Tomas Hertl and Joe Thornton. Hertl caught up to the puck just as it came into the Dallas zone, protect the puck long enough to find Thornton on his way to the slot. Instead of taking a shot, Thornton made a pass to Vlasic, who was coming down the left side. Vlasic wasted no time as the puck came to him and put it under Niemi’s left pad. It was Vlasic’s sixth goal of the season, with assists to Thornton and Hertl.

Near the midpoint of the game, Alex Goligoski was called for interference on Tomas Hertl, giving the Sharks their first power play of the game. The power play was as anemic as it has been lately, including one very confident pass to an empty corner. Seconds before the penalty expired, Matt Nieto skated into the Stars zone, avoiding defenders with some nifty stick handling. He got the puck to Tommy Wingels, who handed it off to Chris Tierney. Tierney did not dawdle and put it over Niemi’s shoulder. It was Tierney’s of the season. Assists went to Wingels and Nieto.

The second period ended with the Sharks leading 2-1 and 30-21 in shots.

One of those leads evaporated in the first minute of the third period. 37 seconds into the period, Tyler Seguin caught the puck in his skates on a failed clear by the Sharks, then beat Martin Jones from the slot. Assist to Jamie Benn.

The Stars kept coming after that, and had the Sharks in such a fluster that they took a too many men on the ice penalty at 1:49. They killed the penalty off, despite a pretty well-orchestrated power play from Dallas. Martin Jones was especially sharp.

The Sharks took another lead at 7:51 of the period. Jamie Benn went to the box for interference on Joe Pavelski. Vlasic, on the second power play unit, put the puck over Niemi’s arm during the second minute of the penalty. Assists went to Dylan DeMelo and Joonas Donskoi.

The goal was challenged by Stars coach Lindy Ruff, for a missed offside call. The goal stood up and 12 seconds after the announcement, Jason Spezza tied it back up with a spin-o-rama off a pass from Jamie Benn. Assists went to Benn and Seguin.

The teams continued tied up until overtime, when the Sharks’ second three-man unit ended the game. Overtime was probably the only time in the game when one team dominated the other, but it only lasted one minute and 12 seconds, so perhaps it did not break pattern. The goal came after Vlasic made a try for a hat trick, shooting into Niemi’s pads from near the goal line. The shot was well-timed and placed, because he was able to collect his own rebound and take it around behind the net for another try. But it was not to be, as Tomas Hertl scored the game-winner, bringing an end to the “score first or lose” home ice curse that has haunted the Sharks since the start of the season. Assists went to Vlasic and Logan Couture.

The Sharks will finish this home stand on Monday, against the visiting Ottawa Senators at 7:30 PT.

Sharks Lose 5-3 to Stars Despite Special Teams Improvements

By Mary Walsh

AP photo of Antoine Roussel scoring third period goal on Sat

The San Jose Sharks lost on the road to the Dallas Stars 5-3 on Saturday. Special teams overshadowed even strength play: power plays and penalty kills were central to scoring, though not always in the usual fashion. A wide array of power play and penalty kill results were on display from both teams. Sharks goals were scored by Joe Pavelski, Matt Nieto and Joel Ward. Alex Stalock made 20 saves on 24 shots. Dallas goals were scored by Vernon Fiddler, Patrick Sharp, Jason Demers, Antoine Roussel and Tyler Seguin. Antti Niemi made 26 saves on 29 shots for the win.

It was a good challenge for the Sharks, as the Stars were 8-2-0 before Saturday’s win. The Sharks’ only win in the last five games came against the struggling Carolina Hurricanes. The Sharks had their chances on Saturday but were disappointed again, for the fourth time in five games. After the game, Sharks captain Joe Pavelski said:

We were right there, we had our chances, power plays right at the end. It definitely was better, gave us that chance. Special teams too. It was there for us, but it’s been there for us, the last few games, throughout this little bit of losing streak we’ve had, games have been there. We’ve got to get a little bit more, out of each and every guy. We’ve got to win these games or… It’s what the league is. You play so many one goal games and you’re in tight spots and teams are good. You gotta find yourself on the right side.

The Sharks faced two former teammates, goalie Antti Niemi and defenseman Jason Demers. Sharks’ defenseman Brenden Dillon was also facing former teammates, as he came to the Sharks in a trade from Dallas for Jason Demers. The game was also a chance for Sharks goalie Alex Stalock to face Antti Niemi.

The first period began with an early goal from Stars forward Patrick Sharp. Stalock stopped an intial shot from Jason Demers, but he could not cover the puck before Sharp got a stick on it and put it over Stalock’s outstretched pad. Tyler Seguin was part of the four on three that set up the goal, and his pass found Demers right in the slot. Assists went to Demers and Seguin.

The first penalty of the game went to the Sharks, for too many men on the ice. This pitted San Jose’s 16th ranked penalty kill against Dallas’ 2nd ranked power play. Several short-handed chances for the Sharks turned those rankings on their heads. The Sharks penalty killers were successful in that first try and the next, when Joonas Donskoi went to the box for interference late in the period. The Sharks finished the period down by a goal but not by a power play goal. The Sharks also looked pretty good on the shot clock, trailing Dallas just 10-9, despite the power plays.

The second period expanded on those special team numbers. The Sharks’ first power play of the game came early in the second, when Jordie Benn went to the box for holding Tommy Wingels. Where the Sharks penalty kill had over-achieved, their power play did not look ready to do the same. They could not get organized to begin, and only managed one shot on goal during the man advantage. The Sharks got another chance a couple of minutes later when Alex Goligoski went to the box for interference on Marc-Edouard Vlasic. The second power play started even less well, with an odd man rush against and a short-handed goal by Stars defenseman, ex-Shark Jason Demers. Assists went to Antoine Roussel and Vernon Fiddler. It was Demers’ first NHL short-handed goal.

The power play was not yet over, and not done behaving unpredictably. The Sharks finally got on the board with a goal from Joe Pavelksi. Brent Burns took a couple of shots from the point and on his second try he hit Pavelski’s moving stick just perfectly for a deflection. Antii Niemi did not see it coming because Patrick Marleau was right in his eyes.

The next penalty went to Justin Braun not long after that goal, for closing his hand on the puck. The Sharks did a good job of clogging up the neutral zone against the Stars attackers, and made some space for a short-handed attack by Tommy Wingels and Matt Nieto. Wingels stripped the puck from Jason Spezza and only John Klingberg was able to get back to defend. Wingels made a slick pass under Klingberg’s stick to Nieto. Niemi could not get across in time and Nieto shot it into the far corner of the net. It was Nieto’s second goal of the season. An assist went to Wingels.

The Sharks killed off the rest of the penalty. The score was tied 2-2, and so were the shots at 15 apiece.

With five minutes left in the period, Vernon Fiddler gave the Stars another lead. Brent Burns fell with some help from Roussel and slid behind the net. Fiddler escaped ahead of the wreck with the puck and Sharks defenseman Brenden Dillon was trapped behind Burns, unable to pursue Fiddler as he went around the net and roofed it for his first goal of the year. A well-deserved assist went to Roussel.

The Sharks answered a couple of minutes later with a power play goal. After several seconds to warm their power play up during a delayed call, the Sharks tied the game again. A Thornton pass from the side boards was sent to the net by Patrick Marleau. Joel Ward’s stick stopped the puck in front of Niemi, then pulled it to him and popped it into place. Assists went to Marleau and Thornton.

Tomas Hertl drew another penalty for the Sharks. On what could have been called a breakaway, Hertl was hooked by Stars defenseman Jyrki Jokipaka. The Sharks only had 45 seconds of the second period left.

The Sharks did not score on that power play, in either the second or third periods. Where the second period had been littered with whistles, the third period did not see a penalty called for the first 15 minutes. It did see the Stars take back the lead, again, when three Stars crashed the net. Antoine Roussel got the goal, with assists to Klingberg and Fiddler.

The Sharks opted to challenge the goal using the offside option. It looked very close but the call on the ice stood up and the Stars had a 4-3 lead with 6:27 left in the game.

The first penalty of the period went against the Sharks with just 1:49 left. The penalty was against Brent Burns for interference. DeBoer pulled Stalock to even it up. A long shot from Tyler Seguin missed the net but seconds later, he tried again from the blue line. His shot went between Vlasic’s legs and in to give the Stars a 5-3 lead.

To make matters worse, Chris Tierney was called for holding before the Burns penalty was up.

The Sharks next play in Denver against the Colorado Avalanche on Sunday at 11:30 PT.

A’s turn the tables, pull one out late in Cleveland

By Morris Phillips

Nothing like a twist on the prevailing theme after 90 games of the 2015 season.

This time the A’s saw one of their former mates commit the critical error, and the A’s pulled out a close one with the late rally, not the other way around.

The A’s three-run, eighth inning rally punctuated by Brandon Moss’ throwing error pushed them past the Indians, 5-4, ending a three-game losing streak.  Billy Butler’s double chased home two baserunners and broke a 2-2 tie.  Moss’ error on the play allowed a third run to score on the play and that turned out to be the difference after the Indians rallied back in the bottom of the inning.

The A’s won for only the eighth time in 30 one-run ballgames which made the late surge that much sweeter.

“Sometimes you need a big hit to help you break out.  We’ve been having trouble with that,” Butler said.

Chris Bassitt was recalled to make the start in place of Jesse Hahn, and he was just as effective as he was in two starts on the previous homestand.  Bassitt pitched into the seventh inning allowing two runs and his timing couldn’t have been better.  Nearly 75 people from Bassitt’s home in nearby Toledo were at Progressive Field to cheer their guy on, including his mom, who Bassitt said he could hear screaming throughout.

Hahn was placed on the 15-day disabled list due to a strained forearm, and Bassitt was a call away, recalled from AAA Nashville.

Of course, after breaking the tie score late, the A’s didn’t make it easy.  Manager Bob Melvin called on four relievers to get the A’s through the eighth, punctuated by Carlos Santana’s homer that brought the Indians within 5-4.  Eric O’Flaherty retired two batters in the seventh to earn the win, and Tyler Clippard got the final four outs to earn his 17th save.

Sonny Gray takes the mound Sunday as the A’s try to earn a split of their six-game trip preceeding the All-Star break.  Gray returned from salmonella poising on Tuesday, in a start at Yankee Stadium in which he allowed three runs in six innings.

Sharks Sign Brenden Dillon

By Mary Walsh

The San Jose Sharks have signed Brenden Dillon to a five year contract. The contract was first reported by Katie Strang of ESPN.

Dillon was acquired last fall from the Dallas Stars in exchange for defenseman Jason Demers. Dillon played 60 games on the Sharks’ blue line, earning nine points. Before joining the Sharks, he played two seasons with the Stars.

The Sharks also traded defenseman Konrad Abeltshauser to the St Louis Blues in exchange for a conditional seventh round pick in 2016.

To wrap up the recent trade for negotiating rights, the Dallas Stars announced that they have signed former Sharks goalie Antti Niemi to a three year contract with a 4.5 million cap hit.

2015 NHL Stadium Series: This Will Be a Big Game

By Mary Walsh

Saturday’s NHL Stadium Series game will be more than a spectacle, it will be an important game in terms of playoff standings. As of Wednesday night, the Kings, who were on the verge of being written out of the playoffs, have supplanted the fast-falling Sharks for the last wild card spot. The Sharks have one more game to play before Saturday, but it is clear that these teams both need a win Saturday.

Make no mistake, the first outdoor NHL game to be played in Northern California will be a unique spectacle. Performances from Melissa Etheridge, John Fogerty, Kris Allen and Symphony Silicon Valley are scheduled for the pregame show and intermissions.  Those performances will include a special cell phone show that will rely on audience participation. The NHL described it as follows:

During the pre-game show and intermission, fans will be asked to use their mobile device to activate a special section of the Levi’s® Stadium App that will connect everyone’s phone. Once connected, the phones will blanket the stadium with a  synchronized, multi-colored visualization of the live musical entertainment on the field. During the first intermission, there will be a special laser light show accompanying Fogerty’s performance.

The pregame show will feature a tribute to California hockey and former Sharks players. The tribute will include over 100 youth hockey players from the Bay Area. The former Sharks expected at the celebration are: Jamie Baker, Murray Craven, Jeff Friesen, Igor Larionov, Rick Lessard, David Maley, Bryan Marchment, Kyle McLaren, Owen Nolan, Tom Pederson, Mike Rathje, Mike Ricci, Steve Shields, Mark Smith, Marco Sturm and Scott Thornton. Additionally, the NHL press release noted that the Sharks are forming their first formal alumni association for their 25th season next year.

The NHL recently announced that tickets to the Levi’s Stadium game are sold out. Of course, tickets are probably still available through resale. Last season, the NHL scheduled six outdoor games, including the Winter Classic in Michigan, and two games in New York. Without saying that six was too many, the NHL scheduled just this one outdoor game and the Winter Classic this season. They have already announced two stadium games and a Winter Classic next season, so perhaps the NHL is experimenting with how many games the market can stand.

The game at Levi’s Stadium will not present the challenges that the Winter Classic in Michigan did. There will be no blinding blizzard, no strong winds to tilt the ice. There may be ice problems if it is too humid, and it will probably be warmer than players are used to working in. Glare has been a problem for some fair weather games but since this will be an evening event, it should be a good showcase for how hockey can work, indoors and out, in warmer climates.

It is a local but unfamiliar setting for the Sharks. The Kings played Anaheim last season in their outdoor game, the Sharks have not done it before. To call it a home game for the Sharks seems a little bit unfair. Odd games like this one, and strong competition like the Kings is exactly why those bad losses to not very strong teams hurt so much earlier in the season. Those games were bound to come back to bite the Sharks, and here they are.

As the Sharks plummet out of the Pacific Division top three, the Kings are making a late climb in the standings. Such behavior is not uncommon for Los Angeles, it has almost become a habit for them to claw their way into the playoffs and then go on a deep run. With two games in hand on the Sharks, a win on Wednesday put the Kings in the Sharks’ wild card position and bump the Sharks out.

The Kings are 6-4-0 in their last ten games and as of Wednesday night are on a six game winning streak. The Kings’ leading goal scorer is Tyler Toffoli (19g), with their points leader Jeff Carter (18g, 45p) right behind him. But they are pretty evenly balanced as Marion Gaborik, Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams are tightly packed in the goal-scoring count. The Kings have not been their formidable defensive selves this season and are ranked 10th in the league in goals against. The Sharks, on the other hand, are down at 23rd in that category.

The Sharks are 3-5-2 in their last ten games and, going into Thursday’s game against Dallas, have lost their last two. The onus really is on the Sharks to pull their game together. Joe Pavelski leads the team in points and goals, and here the gap between best and next best is a little greater than with the Kings. Pavelski has 31 goals, while Logan Couture is second with 21. On the plus side, the Sharks points leaders have better numbers than their Los Angeles counterparts, with Pavelski at 53, Couture and Joe Thornton both at 51. Yes, the Sharks can score, the question remains: can they remember how to defend?

In goal, the Kings’ Jonathan Quick has been raising his game with his team. He made 44 saves in Denver Wednesday. One has to wonder about the Sharks’ Antti Niemi. When the Sharks went down 3-1, in Nashville, one would have expected head coach Todd McLellan to replace his goaltender with Niemi, no matter whose fault the goals were. Changing goalie is a classic way to shake a team up. Instead, Stalock finished the 5-1 loss. Niemi’s last game was Sunday’s 5-2 loss to Tampa Bay. In short, neither San Jose goaltender is on a roll right now.

The Kings will be coming off a two day layoff, after a dominant win over the struggling Colorado Avalanche. The Sharks lost Tuesday to the top-ranked team in the NHL. What they do in Dallas could give us a clue to their state of mind, but as we have seen, the Sharks are unpredictable.

With some of their best players returned to the lineup (Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Justin Braun and Tommy Wingels have all made their way back from injury), the Sharks are clean out of excuses, real or imaginary. San Jose has reached a new level of inconsistency this season. Their good games have been really good, while their bad games have been shocking. Is it time for a new coach? Are they just not good enough? Are those wins against top teams just their opponents playing down to them, as they do to weaker teams? Have they just found a new level of underperforming?

Sharks Struck Down By Lightning

By Mary Walsh

SAN JOSE– The San Jose Sharks lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Sunday, by a score of 5-2. The loss was badly timed, right in the middle of a tight divisional race . But as losses go this season, it was not one of the Sharks’ worst. Brent Burns and Logan Couture scored the Sharks’ two goals. The game winner was scored by Tampa Bay’ Ondrej Palat, a back breaker of a goal only ten seconds into the third period. Antti Niemi made 28 saves on 32 shots for the Sharks while Tampa Bay’s Ben Bishop made 33 saves on 35 shots for the win.

Tampa Bay came into San Jose ranked second in the Atlantic Division, with Detroit just two points behind them with a couple of games in hand. The Sharks were second in the Pacific Division, with Vancouver just one point behind with a couple of games in hand. It was a game that was set up to be close and in some ways it was, but not on the score sheet.

Logan Couture expressed how frustrating losses like this are for the Sharks:

The mistakes we’re making are things that we work on, things that we do in practice, things that we watch on video. I mean nobody’s going to be perfect in a hockey game but when you’re constantly making the same mistakes every single night that’s when you need to take a look in the mirror, you know, wonder what you’re bringing, if you’re mentally prepared every night, if you know what you’re supposed to do.

Todd McLellan had a more layered assessment of the team’s performance:

We thought we did some good things tonight, but not enough of them. That’s probably what Cooch is talking about. There were moments where details got away from us and you don’t beat first place teams like that. You have to be alert all the time. A couple of the goals were, in particular the third one, a bounce off skates but we win a draw and seven seconds later it’s in the net. That’s a tough pill to swallow.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic was back in the lineup. That good news merited a front page mention in the game preview at After the game, the media spoke with both Vlasic and Burns, but neither had such harsh words as Couture shared with us.

Vlasic saw some positives in the Sharks’ game, while acknowledging that they cannot give up five goals and expect a win: “Even in the third we had some good looks too. The first two periods were really good, it’s too bad we didn’t come out with the lead.”

Burns said: “It’s the game of hockey. There’s mistakes on every goal. I think we played pretty hard. I think it’s going to happen, it’s a game of mistakes.”

The Sharks were not very sharp to start the game. It showed in little bounces, just-missed passes, a sign that their timing and focus was off by just enough to thwart clean zone entries or exits. Plagued as they were by such miscues, it was like a boon when Joe Pavelski finally caught a puck in his skates at the Tampa Bay blue line. Instead of getting a scoring chance, he was hauled away from the puck and Ryan Callahan went to the box for hooking.

The Sharks power play was as frustrating as their even strength play. One shot seemed to rim around the net opening, as if touching all three bars before bouncing back out. The Sharks did not look like a team that was not trying. If anything, they looked like a team trying too hard and playing tense.

Past the half way mark of the period, this puck luck seemed to change. The change was signaled when Joe Thornton won an offensive zone faceoff, then made a clean pass across the ice, though his stick was outstretched in one hand. It looked so awkward but was so precise. Sharks passes started connecting, they started intercepting Tampa Bay passes and getting a little lucky with bounces.

None of this resulted in a goal for the Sharks. On the contrary, Steven Stamkos scored at 19:44 of the period to give the Lightning the lead. During a delayed penalty, his shot deflected off of Tommy Wingels’ stick. Assists went to Anton Stralman and Valtteri Filppula. By the end of the first, the teams were almost tied on the shot clock with the count 12-11 Sharks.

At 7:12 of the second, another fit of failure to control the puck left the Sharks trapped in their own zone. Marleau, Couture and Nieto, with Hannan and Dillon, could not clear the puck and Tampa Bay made them pay. The goal was scored by Andrew Killorn from the slot, where he had a moment to pick a corner and beat Niemi. Assists went to Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman.

The forward line of Chris Tierney, Tommy Wingels and Tomas Hertl came out after the goal and had a couple of good shots but could not score. A couple of line changes later, the Couture line came out and cut the lead in half. From below the goal line, Matt Nieto found Couture high in the slot and wide open.

At 10:57 Patrick Marleau went to the box for delay of game. The Sharks penalty kill was so effective that one could only complain that they could not get a good short-handed rush going.

The Sharks held their own for the rest of the period and in the last minute they hurled the puck at the net at least half a dozen times in a row but could not make any more progress on the scoreboard.

The third period started less well. Right off the faceoff, Tampa Bay pushed into the Sharks’ zone and made a beeline for the net. Ondrej Palat added to the Lightning lead only ten seconds into the period.

To their credit, the Sharks went the other way after the next faceoff and spent a good long shift attacking the Tampa Bay net. It took the Lightning over a minute to get back in the Sharks zone.

Melker Karlsson drew an interference penalty, being sent head first into his own net at by Jonathan Drouin at 3:36. The Sharks power play was not as formidable as their penalty kill had been and it ended without a San Jose shot on goal.

They had another chance on the power play at 10:26, a high-sticking call on Nikita Kucherov. The Sharks’ third power play started better than their second. They held the zone nicely, were just ejected the one time by a tired crew of penalty killers. On their second tour in the offensive zone, the Sharks looked almost trapped along the left wall with three of them playing catch around Lightning defenders. Finally, Patrick Marleau shot the puck hard at the net and found the stick of Brent Burns for a deflection. The Sharks were back within one.

It did not last long. Cedric Paquette and Valtteri Filppula outmaneuvered the Sharks at their blue line and Paquette took a quick shot from the top of the circle. The puck went over Niemi’s shoulder and in to give the Lightning their two goal lead back.

McLellan pulled Niemi for an extra skater almost immediately, with over three minutes left in the game. It did not take long for Callahan to take advantage of that and give the Lightning a three goal lead. The Sharks spent the rest of the period mostly in their own zone. A brief scuffle in front of the net sent Jonathan Drouin and Marc-Edouard Vlasic to the box for roughing at 19:19.

Brent Burns led the Sharks in shots with seven (though Marleau was right behind him with six.) Tommy Wingels led the team in hits with six.

The Sharks play their next game on the road in Nashville against the league-leading Nashville Predators on Tuesday. Their next home game will be a home game in name only, as it will be played Saturday at Levi’s Stadium.

Sharks Lose 5-4 to Hurricanes

AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

By Mary Walsh

SAN JOSE– Saturday, the San Jose Sharks fell to yet another non-playoff team. This time they lost 5-3 to the Carolina Hurricanes who came into San Jose 18 points out of a playoff spot. They left San Jose a little closer, but still out of the running. This after the Sharks defeated the Vancouver Canucks 5-1 just last Thursday. The game winner was scored in the final two minutes of the third period, by Victor Rask. Carolina netminder Cam Ward made 23 saves on 27 shots for the win.

Why do the Sharks have so much trouble beating teams they should beat? Logan Couture tried to answer it, not for the first time:

We’re an inconsistent team. That comes with youth I think, although tonight our younger players played very well. We’re an inconsistent team this year. We’re going to need to fix that going forward.

As Couture said in a previous postgame interview, if they knew why they do that, they might stop doing it.

Tomas Hertl scored two of the Sharks’ four goals. His resurgence and a very good game from Chris Tierney might not have been expected by all but were no surprise to Couture and teammates:

They’re good players, you expect them to go out and score. So it’s really not a surprise when they go out and score. That’s what they’re expected to do as well. For us to be successful, we’re going to need everyone to go out and produce offense on different nights. So we weren’t surprised by seeing them score.

The Sharks lineup faced a few challenges Saturday night. Not only were they facing a non-playoff team (their Achilles heel this season) but they were also missing a season high of key players: Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Justin Braun and Tommy Wingels. Braun and Wingels are both on IR, while Vlasic was a last-minute scratch with what the team has called an upper body injury. Of all these, the low ranking of the Sharks’ opponent was probably the biggest hurdle to overcome.

Carolina came out swinging for the net and had three shots on goal in the first two minutes. In the third minute, the Hurricanes’ Ron Hainsey took a hooking penalty. The Sharks’ power play featured a few good chances for the Sharks, and a very good shift for Tomas Hertl. He looked more confident and assertive than he has looked in a while, both in front of the net and along the boards.

Most of the Sharks’ power play shots were blocked by Hurricanes, and after five minutes the shots were 6-2 Carolina. Niemi was facing a lot of good chances. Six and a half minutes in, Matt Tennyson went to the box for high-sticking. The Sharks killed the penalty off and during the second half of the first they gained some ground on the shot clock.

Just as the announcer was calling out “One minute left to play,” a wide shot from Jiri Tlusty came off the boards for Eric Staal to push in behind Niemi’s skate blade before the Sharks goaltender could close the gap. Assists went to Tlusty and Jordan Staal.

The Hurricanes finished the period ahead by one goal and five shots.

Where the first goal was a little fluky, the second goal of the game was not. It was the product of a very nice pass from Alex Semin to Andrej Nestrasil, and some inattention from the Sharks. Nestrasil skated between Hertl and Sheppard before he shot the puck over Niemi’s right shoulder. Assists went to Semin and Andrej Sekera. The 23 year old Czech was claimed by the Hurricanes on November 20 after the Detroit Red Wings waived him. It was his second goal of his NHL career.

The Sharks finally got on the board when Chris Tierney chased the puck around behind the net and sent it back out in front to Hertl. Hertl put the puck past Cam Ward without hesitation. Assists went to Tierney and Andrew Desjardins.

The Sharks went from that goal to killing a hooking penalty to Matt Nieto. The Carolina power play did not last long. Justin Faulk deked at the blue line to put Pavelksi out of position, then gave the puck to Elias Lindholm, who shot through a screen of Mirco Mueller and Jiri Tlusty to make it 3-1.

At 12:53, Tomas Hertl went to the box to serve a too many men on the ice penalty to the Sharks. The Sharks killed that off but seconds later were back on the penalty kill when Barclay Goodrow went to the box for roughing against

This time the Sharks showed more creativity with their penalty kill, challenging the Hurricanes and keeping them from getting set up as they had several times before.

The first really good attack from the Sharks came from the line of Tierney, Hertl and Sheppard in the last minute of the period. They mustered several shots and maintained possession in the offensive zone for a good long shift.

The Sharks came out for the third with some grit. It took them a couple of minutes but after a couple of shots and a lot of tenacity, the Tierney-Hertl combination paid off again. This time it came by way of a Scott Hannan shot from the blue line, caught and shot in by Hertl. Assists went to Hannan and Tierney, bringing the Sharks back within one goal.

The tying goal came from a quick spin shot by Logan Couture off a pass from Matt Tennyson, just 82 seconds after Hertl’s second goal.

Melker Karlsson was hit by a puck and went to the dressing room. He was back before the period ended but was gone long enough to give fans a scare.

Carolina’s fourth goal went in off of Brenden Dillon’s skate. Niemi stopped the initial shot, but the rebound hit Dillon. The goal was given to Justin Faulk.

The Sharks pulled Niemi with just under two minutes left. It took the Hurricanes two tries but they managed to put the puck in the empty net.

The Sharks got one back in the final minute, with the goalie pulled. Patrick Marleau’s wrist shot fond its way through, with assists going to Joe Thornton and Tomas Hertl. That made for an exciting last minute, but the game ended 5-4 Carolina.

Couture summed up the game fairly well, talking about that fourth Carolina goal:

It’s tough, I mean, I don’t know if we deserved to be in it at that point in the game, but we found a way to get back. It’s tough to get a bounce like that with four minutes left. You kind of get what you deserve though, it’s kind of the way this game works.

Scott Hannan led the Sharks in shots with five, and in shots blocked with four. According to the stat sheet, Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau were the only Sharks with more than one hit, and they only had two each. Brent Burns led the team in ice time by a hefty margin, at 25:25. Antti Niemi made 25 saves on 29 shots faced.

Eric Staal led the Hurricanes in shots with five. Tim Gleason led the team in hits with five. Justin Faulk led in blocked shots (3) and ice time (23:06). Cam Ward made 23 saves on 27 shots faced.

The Sharks next play at home against the Calgary Flames, on Monday at 7:30 PT.

Sharks Shut Out Blackhawks 2-0

By Mary Walsh

SAN JOSE– In a 2-0 victory against the Chicago Blackhawks, the Sharks’ number 31 made 31 saves for the 31st shutout of his career, on January 31. In glaring obstruction of symmetry, it was not Antti Niemi’s 31st birthday, but he is 31. He was facing another goalie named Antti, Antti Raanta of the Chicago Blackhawks. Niemi faced nearly twice as many shots as Raanta did. Niemi was certainly the player of the game. Did Niemi feel like it was one of his best? “Not only having shutout, but the way I felt, patient and calm and relaxed, I felt really good,” Niemi said after the game.

Brent Burns praised Niemi’s performance Saturday and in general: “He’s real sturdy back there. We feel good when he’s there, we know he’s there to back us up if they get a good chance. He showed it tonight.”

All things considered, the rest of the team did pretty well despite missing Tommy Wingels and Justin Braun from their lineup. To defeat Chicago with those two out was a feat to be proud of regardless of how they got there.

It wasn’t always pretty but we committed to playing defense for the most part. You look at the shot clock, they lead the league in shots on goal, they shoot from everywhere. We knew we had to have a little bit of composure at times when they would get to roaming around in our end.

No matter who gets the most credit for the win, it was the third in a trio of impressive wins against formidable opponents. Continuing this season’s trend of playing very well against very tough teams, the Sharks don’t have much time to revel in this streak.

Monday, the Edmonton Oilers come to town to test the flip side of the Sharks’ pattern this season: how badly they have played against lower ranked teams. Sharks head coach Todd McLellan did not put it that way, but he did warn against celebrating this victory too much:

We play Edmonton [next] so we’ll see what happens. It’s great to have won games and we’ll enjoy tonight and I’m sure the guys’ll all watch the Superbowl but come Monday it’s right back to work. We’re not in a position to celebrate victories over first place teams. We’re in a position where we have to move on nightly and get better and prepare for the next opponent.

The Sharks took an early lead in a game that was, symbolically at least, very important. Two Chicago defenders tried to stop Melker Karlsson as he pounced on a rebound from a Matt Irwin shot, but he poked it by them and in. Assists went to Irwin and Joe Thornton.

The Blackhawks took the first penalty of the night, when Marion Hossa interfered with Brent Burns sufficiently to make Burns drop his stick. The Sharks did not score and actually had a bit of a scare at their own end when Jonathan Toews jumped on a turnover. Antti Niemi was stick-tapping to signal the end of the power play when he had to drop, mid-tap, to face the incoming Chicago captain.

Andrew Shaw and Joe Thornton received matching slashing penalties in the last minute of the period.

The period ended with the Sharks leading 1-0, and the teams tied on the shot clock with seven apiece.

The teams started the second period four on four, just as they ended the first.

Less than 30 seconds after the four on four expired, Matt Tennyson went to the box for high-sticking. The Blackhawks had the advantage by then in shots, taking the lead 13-7. The Sharks escaped unscathed from that penalty kill, actually showing more aggressiveness than they had four on four. The Blackhawks gave the power play back just after theirs expired, by taking a penalty for too many men on the ice. The Sharks power play held the zone for almost a minute before the vaunted Chicago penalty killers pushed them out. San Jose managed to get back on the attack but only for the final seconds of the penalty.

The Blackhawks added to their penalty lead at 12:58 of the period, when Michael Rozsival went to the box for hooking. Jonathan Toews had a complex short-handed chance, during which two Sharks defenders and Antti Niemi could not seem to get the puck away from him. Niemi, to his credit, stopped his shots repeatedly before the whistle blew. It isn’t clear why the whistle blew, and Toews objected heartily. The Blackhawks killed off the rest of the penalty without further incident.

The second period ended with the Sharks being outshot almost two to one.

The Blackhawks have been outscored badly in third periods lately. That bugaboo reared its head at the start of the third period Saturday, with the Sharks steadily closing the gap on the shot clock. In the last three minutes or so, the Blackhawks could hardly get across the red line without the Sharks stripping them of the puck. Finally, Chicago pulled their goalie. That got the Blackhawks across the red line but only long enough for the Sharks to take the puck away. Melker Karlsson saw Thornton and got the puck to him in the neutral zone. Thornton scored into the empty net to close the game out.

Of Melker Karlsson, Thornton said: “He just works hard every night. He’s a smart player, he made a great play to me, sprawling out. I love playing with him, we think the game the same way and it’s been fun.”

Matt Irwin led the Sharks in shots on goal with 4. John Scott led the team in hits with 6, Marc-Edouard Vlasic led the team in ice time with 24:01.

Jonathan Toews led the Blackhawks in shots with 5, Bryan Bickell led the team in hits with 4. Antti Raanta made 18 saves on 19 shots.

The Sharks next play on Monday night against the Edmonton Oilers.


Pavelski controls the heat

(Photo by Debora Robinson/NHLI via Getty Images)

By Pearl Allison Lo

ANAHEIM — San Jose evened up their holiday series with the Ducks, avenging their loss before Christmas with a New Years’ Eve shutout Wednesday, 3-0.

Emotions were high both on and off the ice as sticks were thrown and slammed and the crowd booed the refs in person and online during “Ducks ‘80s Night”. Anaheim had at least three penalties each period.

For the Sharks’ part, Coach Todd McLellan said on team performance, ”Much better energy tonight. The formula is right there for the group. We had to have a discussion about what makes us successful and we brought it again.” He added, “Discipline, composure, whatever word you want to use. I thought we had a good dose of it when we needed it.”

Joe Pavelski continued his streak of scoring against the Ducks this year, with his first two-goal game against them. Pavelski now has four goals in his last four games.

It was Antti Niemi’s third shutout of the season as he made 28 saves. Niemi said, “It was a tough start for me, not getting too many saves in the first.” Tommy Wingels added, “He was on tonight, he was seeing pucks. He had really good rebound control.”

The Sharks also earned the win without Joe Thornton since midway in the first period and with the return of Anaheim’s Corey Perry from injury. When asked about Thornton’s status, Coach McLellan responded, “Jumbo’s fine. He’s going to be okay. He played three minutes and still found a way to get on the score sheet, which is a credit to him, and after that, the way the group responded. There was a lot of juggling going on at the bench, and everybody was alert…We won as a team tonight.” It is unknown though, yet, whether or not Thornton will play the next game.

San Jose scored first when Pavelski redirected a pass from Marc-Edouard Vlasic at the blue line along the boards. Thornton also aided on the goal 4:33 into the game.

Andrew Desjardins almost made it 2-0, but the goal was taken back after Micheal Haley made incidental goalie contact with the Ducks’ Frederik Andersen.

Anaheim’s Patrick Maroon had an up front opportunity when a Sharks player fell down in the Ducks’ end. In San Jose’s end, Maroon took a pass from Ryan Getzlaf, but Maroon’s shot went wide diagonally behind Niemi.

The Sharks had three power plays in the span of just over five minutes.

Both Getzlaf and Thornton left during the first power play. Getzlaf was helped off the ice after blocking one of Brent Burns’ shots and came back during the second power play. During the power play, Tomas Hertl tried to put in the puck on Andersen’s left, but was denied. Hertl then went around the net to pass to James Sheppard, but Sheppard’s shot was gloved by Andersen.

San Jose ended the first with a 14-3 shot advantage. Seven of their attempts were blocked and Anaheim won the faceoff battle throughout the game.

The Ducks got their first power play at 3:49 of the second and the Sharks were lucky Anaheim did not score after a giveaway near the net.

Maroon was once again at the side of the net later, but the pass missed him.

With 4:53 left in the period, it looked like after missed opportunities, Emerson Etem would finally tie the game. However, the referees dealt Anaheim a wave off of a goal as well.

The physicalness between the Pacific Division rivals came to a boiling point at the end of the second period. Perry made a pass alongside the boards and after the horn, Wingels knocked Perry into the boards and Perry retaliated. All were issued two minute penalties. Wingels was called for interference and Perry and Ryan Kesler got roughing.  After the announcement, Getzlaf threw his stick exiting the ice and received two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct. He commented after, “These are two great hockey teams on the ice, so we shouldn’t be standing here talking about the refs at the end of the game. That’s the frustrating part. I accept full responsibility for my role in that.”

San Jose nearly squandered their new 5-on-3 power play opportunity, but Pavelski scored his second goal one second before the power play ended.

The teams then traded penalties, but both of the Ducks’ power plays were cut short by their own penalties.

Anaheim had a shot that hit the post during their second power play.

The fourth power play of the period came at 11:55. Justin Braun seemed to be holding Perry at the net. When the referee declined to make a call, the “ref you suck” chants increased.

The last penalty of the night went to Anaheim’s Sami Vatanen, who slammed his stick against the ice and received an unsportsmanlike conduct.

Andersen left the net at 2:18 and Logan Couture scored an empty netter at 17:55 to seal the game. It was Couture’s first goal since December 18.

McLellan added that he thought, “Patty Marleau was excellent. He’s frustrated because he’s not scoring, but he did so many good things on the ice surface today, with his legs, with his body, faceoffs, you name it.”

The Ducks outshot the Sharks 15-5 in the third.

Game notes: San Jose has scored at least one power play goal in all games against Anaheim this season, breaking an 0-for-6 hole post-Christmas break. Against the Ducks, they are 15-16 on the penalty kill. Haley had his first fight at 3:02 against Tim Jackman. The Sharks start the new year at home on the 3rd, hosting Saint Louis Saturday at 7:30pm.