Feature: Sharks In Desperate Need of More Power Play Opportunities

Photo credit: @SanJoseSharks

By: Peter Elliott

CHICAGO–Peter DeBoer’s squad was deprived of something other than a win on Friday night: opportunities on the power play.

The Sharks only had one chance to execute on the man advantage in their 3-1 loss to the Blackhawks. It lasted 22 seconds.

San Jose’s only time on the ice with less than five red sweaters was during the third period, when Chicago defenseman Connor Murphy was booked to the penalty box with an interference minor. 22 seconds later, Brent Burns was sent off to the Sharks penalty box on a holding minor, offsetting the Sharks’ 5-on-4 upper hand. If I haven’t stressed it enough, 22 seconds is not enough time to type a tweet, much less let alone score a goal.

The power play had been a strength for the Sharks all season and a reason for their high offensive benchmarks. But lately, not so much.

The team is suffering through a scoreless 0-19 stretch in the power play category, an unusual drought for a team that has been so stellar on the man advantage for the majority of the season. The Sharks still remain among the best in the league in the category, up there with division leaders Nashville, Pittsburgh, and Tampa Bay. But if their recent struggles continue, they surely won’t keep up with that company for very long.

“We need to get a little bit of that confidence back, stepping over the boards and understanding that it can win us some games,” said Sharks captain Joe Pavelski of his team’s power play scoring skid, per Kevin Kurz of The Athletic. “We need to be better there. Bottom line is we need to execute, make another play, stick one in the net.”

As noted, it’s absence has been sorely missed on the offensive side of the ice recently. Especially on Thursday night during a 7-1 blowout at the hands of Nashville, in which DeBoer’s squad failed to net on a single goal during their five power play opportunities. The Sharks undoubtedly just need both more opportunities and repetitions with the power play. 

Success will come soon.

The power play magic that has helped the Sharks postseason aspirations is currently M.I.A., but luckily for the Sharks, they’ll have time to re-discover it before a Sunday evening game against Minnesota. The Wild boast a pedestrian penalty kill percentage of 80.8%, which makes the playoff contending Wild a ripe target for a power play resurgence.

San Jose has been able to maintain a 6-5 record in the month of February, although that is not ideal for a team in the middle of a tight playoff race. A stronger showing on the man advantage certainly could have alleviated some of those deficits.

The Sharks are set to square off against the Blackhawks again on March 1 in San Jose. Maybe then, the Sharks can get a power play that lasts a whole 30 seconds.

Meier scores lone goal in Sharks’ 3-1 loss to Blackhawks

Photo credit: @SanJoseSharks

By: Ana Kieu

CHICAGO — The San Jose Sharks somewhat proved they were lethal on the road as they carried a three-game winning streak to the Music City, but it came to an end in a 7-1 blowout by the Nashville Predators, who annihilated the visiting team at Bridgestone Arena Thursday night. The Sharks, however, brushed off the tough loss and traveled to the Windy City to play some Friday night hockey with the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center.

Sharks goalie Martin Jones was a huge factor in the opening period as he made a lot of notable saves to keep the Blackhawks’ shots from entering the net. The period ended in a scoreless tie and the shots were 15-11 in favor of San Jose.

Hawks defenseman Jan Rutta broke open the scoreless deadlock with a goal–his sixth of the season–that was initially set up by left winger Anthony Duclair and center Nick Schmaltz at 5:46 of the second period.

Sharks defenseman Joakim Ryan was called for hooking late in the period. As a result, the Hawks received their first power play of the night. Unfortunately, Chicago was unable to capitalize with the man advantage.

The Hawks carried a 1-0 lead to the locker room after two periods of play. Shots were 25-24 in favor of San Jose.

Schmaltz gave the Hawks a 2-0 lead with his 17th goal of the season at 2:01 of the third period. Anthony Duclair picked up the lone assist.

The third period got fairly chippy for both teams. The rather negative action started as soon as an on-ice official was struck by a puck and was down on the ice in pain. Fortunately, the official was able to pick himself up off the ground after a brief moment of disbelief for the majority of fans. The Hawks received a penalty as Connor Murphy was called for interference at 5:33 of the period. The Sharks then received a penalty after defenseman Brent Burns was called for holding the stick just 32 seconds later. Unfortunately, neither team capitalized with the man advantage.

The Sharks managed to cut the lead in half as right winger Timo Meier scored his 15th goal of the season at the 12:09 mark of the period. Burns and captain Joe Pavelski provided the assists on Meier’s goal.

“It’s frustrating, just to lose,” said Burns. “When you bounce back after a tough night, it’s something…We didn’t win, so it’s tough.”

The Sharks pulled their goalie (Jones) for an extra attacker with 1:50 left in regulation. That, however, only made the situation worse. Hawks center Artem Anisimov scored his 17th goal of the season on the empty net with 31 seconds left. Rutta and Tomas Jurco provided the assists on Anisimov’s insurance goal.

The Sharks lost to the Hawks 3-1 on the road. J.F. Berube stopped 42 of 43 shots for Chicago. Jones made 33 of 35 saves in a losing effort for San Jose.

“We had the shots, we had the looks, but we didn’t have enough time to get bodies to the net,” said Pavelski. “But we’ve been addressing that (issue) lately.”

“We didn’t have the bounces that we should’ve,” Sharks right winger Kevin Labanc said. “I mean, every game from here on out is going to be a playoff type of hockey. You just gotta be good defensively on the power play…We gotta score. We gotta improve defensively.”

“Not enough to win,” Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer. “That’s the bottom line.”

Notes
Sharks’ starting lineup: Joe Pavelski (C), Joonas Donskoi, Timo Meier, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Martin Jones.

Hawks’ starting lineup: Tomas Jurco, Artem Anisimov, Jan Rutta, Erik Gustafsson, Patrick Kane and J.F. Berube.

Tonight’s attendance was 21,906.

Up Next
The Sharks head to Minnesota to take on the Wild on Sunday night at 7 pm CT.

Barracuda Left Winger Brandon Bollig – Profile

Photo credit: NHL.com

By Alexandra Evans

SAN JOSE—First generation hockey player to Stanley Cup Champion. Not even Brandon Bollig himself could fathom such an accomplishment growing up.

Born and raised in St. Charles, Missouri, Bollig picked up hockey at the drop of a hat, making every team he tried out for in his youth.

The left winger, who is 6 feet 3 inches and 220 pounds, took his skills to the Lincoln Stars of the USHL, with whom he spent three years (2005-2008). Bollig then went on to play hockey for St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York. In 2010, after his sophomore year, he signed with the Chicago Blackhawks as a free agent and appeared in three games with their minor league affiliate, the Rockford IceHogs, that season (2009-2010).

Bollig was called up for his NHL debut with Chicago on February 29, 2012 against the Toronto Maple Leafs. He also made four playoff appearances that season.

With his hometown so close to St. Louis, Bollig grew up supporting the Blues, one of the Blackhawks’ biggest rivals.

“I got a lot of crap from my family and friends when I signed with Chicago,” Bollig laughed. “Whenever we played the Blues, they would always say, ‘We are rooting for you and only you. We hope you score some goals, but we want a Blues win.’”

Aside from the rivalry, Bollig’s family was immensely supportive. Around 50 members of his family would attend every Blackhawks vs. Blues game at home. His family would also travel from St. Charles to Chicago to watch Bollig play at the United Center.

Bollig’s greatest accomplishment was his Stanley Cup win with the Blackhawks in 2013.

“That was indescribable,” he noted. “It’s something you imagine a million times as a kid. Once you finally do it, it is better than you ever thought.”

Following the Stanley Cup win, Bollig played one more year with the Blackhawks before he was traded to the Calgary Flames at the start of the 2014-2015 season. He still received the same familial support when the Flames would visit St. Louis, though he noted that deep down, his family still hoped for Blues’ wins.

Most recently, Bollig played for the Stockton Heat, the Flames’ AHL affiliate, in 2016-2017.

Bollig’s objective for each game is to play one that is “sound.” His playing style focuses heavily on tending to the defensive zone, and on physical presence (Bollig does not have any fear of fighting). Putting up numbers, to him, is an “added bonus.”

San Jose closed a one-year deal with Bollig on July 4, 2017, three days after the free agency market opened. Thus far, it has been a pleasant experience for him. Off the ice, Bollig and his fiancee enjoy the friendly Northern California vibes, sunny weather, and various downtown San Jose activities, including those on Santana Row.

Sharks Earn “Good Point” in 4-3 Loss to Blackhawks

By Mary Walsh

photo credit: nhl.com San Jose Sharks Marc Edouard-Vlasic

The San Jose Sharks fell 4-3 to the Chicago Blackhawks in overtime Sunday. It was the Sharks’ second loss in a row on this road trip, but it was a much better performance from the Sharks than we saw on Friday. Without several key players, the Sharks took the lead twice and hung in there against a formidable opponent. With this loss, the Sharks fell to 3-7-1 in their last 11 games against Chicago.

Sharks goals were scored by Joonas Donskoi, Tommy Wingels and Joe Pavelski. Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic scored his 200th career point in his 700th career game. Blackhawks goals came from Artem Anisimov, Patrick Kane, Andrew Shaw and the game winner was scored by Jonathan Toews. Chicago’s Corey Crawford made 33 saves on 36 shots.

After the game, Sharks captain Joe Pavelski said:

We gotta stay with it. We gotta stay with it ’cause we played a pretty good game. You know, it wasn’t good enough, that’s a good team over there and they find ways and we needed to find a way tonight and we didn’t.

Sharks head coach Pete DeBoer said:

That’s a good point for us, considering the circumstances. Coming in here, Karlsson went down just before the game, so we’re a little shorthanded. Played a lot of, you know, gave the young guys a lot of good minutes and they held up.

Of the team’s resilience after the second tying goal, he said: “We played a real solid game, I was real proud of our group and the effort top to bottom.”

The Sharks went into the game without forwards Joel Ward and Melker Karlsson. Joel Ward’s injury occurred in the final minute of Friday’s game in Ottawa, when Mark Borowiecky pushed him into the boards. Ward has historically been a very durable player, so for him to be injured bodes ill. After the game, DeBoer said that Karlsson had the flu.

Of Ward’s absence, Tommy Wingels said:

He’s a guy that plays big minutes for us, big situations, plays power play, penalty kill and a lot of five-on-five minutes. I think the guys did a good job of filling his minutes but we’ll see and we hope that he’s ready to go for the next game.

Still without Logan Couture, the team dressed seven defensemen after sending Barclay Goodrow back to the AHL Sunday. Just off of injured reserve, Ben Smith was in the lineup to face his old team. Dylan DeMelo was also dressed to fill out the bench, though the Sharks were still short one forward.

Of all the missing players, DeBoer said:

It’s not just Joel Ward. You know, Joel Ward’s a big missing piece, but when you add Couture and Karlsson to that, it’s a… you know… a second… first/second line for us that’s out of the lineup. It’s a big hole for us but I thought everybody stepped up and did a good job.

The Blackhawks were without forward Marian Hossa and had played the night before.

The Blackhawks took an early lead when Paul Martin lost the puck much too close to the Sharks net. Martin was hooked, causing him to bobble the puck instead of clearing it out of danger, but the officials did not agree. Really, Patrick Kane used his stick in such a way that had the hook on MArtin’s hands been missed, it could have beena tripping call since the stick that touched Martin’s hands was also between Martin’s legs, prying up one knee. The goal went to Artem Anisimov at 4:18.

Joonas Donskoi tied the game just over three minutes later, Patrick Marleau won a faceoff in the defensive zone, kicking the puck to Marc-Edouard Vlasic by the goal line. Vlasic tapped it to Justin Braun, who gave it right back as Vlasic went behind the net. Vlasic carried it around behind the net and sent a pass almost to the Chicago blue line, where Donskoi caught it for a breakaway. Donskoi escaped two pursuers and drew Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford out of position, then put the puck home to tie the game.

At 8:25 of the period, Mike Brown and Brandon Mashinter had a scrap. While they sat in the box, Andrew Shaw was called for interference, giving the Sharks the first power play of the game.

The first unit of Marleau, Pavelski, Hertl, Burns and Thornton did not have much luck, but the second unit of Donskoi, Wingels, Vlasic, Nieto and Marleau gave the Sharks a lead. A pass from Vlasic at the point got to Vlasic aboe the faceoff circle. Wingels sent a shot through traffic, including a good screen by Donskoi, right into the top corner. Assists went to Vlasic and Donskoi.

The lead did not last long. Under two minutes later, Duncan Keith took a shot from the Sharks’ blue line. Martin Jones stopped it, and then stopped another shot from Dennis Rasmussen. He could not stop Patrick Kane as he picked up the puck by the post and bounced it gently off of Jones’ back, into the net. The Sharks challenged the play as offside, but the goal held up and the Sharks lost their timeout. Assists went to Rasmussen and Keith.

The first ended with some minutes of back and forth, all chances being snuffed out early. Neither team managed to get very close to the other’s net.

About six minutes into the second period, Joonas Donskoi blocked a Duncan Keith slapshot with his right kneee and was slow to get up. He stayed on the ice, finally got to his feet and moments later blocked a Niklas Hjalmarsson shot with his left ankle. That got the puck out and he was finally able to get off the ice.

After that, Tomas Hertl took a shift in Donskoi’s spot on a line with Marleau and Nieto. Hertl turned up on various lines throughout the game, as the most-moving piece with only eleven forwards available.

With 5:15 left in the second, Paul Martin took a shot from the blue line, which Joe Thornton slowed down with a touch of his stick. The puck carried on towards the net, where Joe Pavelski stopped with his stick. This aloowed him to slide the puck around the goaltender for his seventh point on the road trip. Assists went to Joe Thornton and Paul Martin.

During the last 12 seconds of the period, Patrick Marleau was called for interference after he skated backwards into Corey Crawford.

The Sharks killed off the penalty, most of it in the third period. 2:15 into the third, Matt Nieto drew a holding the stick penalty. The Sharks did not convert on the power play, and had another chance at 4:35. Patrick Kane went to the box for high-sticking Vlasic, as he followed Vlasic into the corner.

Again, the Sharks did not score and just seconds after the power play expired, Andrew Shaw tied the game. After thwarting a three on one, the Sharks saw Shaw escape Paul Martin in the corner and then put the puck up over Jones’ shoulder.

The second half of the third period was so fast as to make overtime seem redundant. They went to the three-on-three session anyway, since no one scored in the mad scramble that was then end of regulation.

The overtime period was a good one. Where the first overtimes were helter-skelter, and some of the later ones have been too conservative, this one struck a nice balance of speed and defensive awareness. It was still a setting for unexpected situations, like the one that ended the game. The period saw several two-on-ones at both ends, until finally Matt Nieto was the one against Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. Kane had just come on the ice as Toews crossed the blue line. The pair made two passes to get around Nieto and then Toews beat Jones on the far side.

Joe Pavelski led the Sharks in hits with 11. Patrick Marleau led in shots with 9. Martin Jones made 28 saves on 32 shots.

The Sharks next play on Tuesday against the Kings in Los Angeles at 7:30 PT.

Sharks Fall to Blackhawks 6-2

By Mary Walsh

SAN JOSE– The San Jose Sharks lost to the Chicago Blackhawks by a score of 6-2 on Saturday afternoon. Losing to one of the top teams in the league is not the worst thing a team can do but the Sharks cannot afford to give up any point if they have any hope of making the post season. The game winner was scored by Brandon Saad for Chicago, with Patrick Sharp chipping in with two, Bryan Bickell, Duncan Keith and Marian Hossa scoring for the balance. Corey Crawford made 33 saves on 35 Sharks shots. Sharks goals were scored by Melker Karlsson and Joe Thornton, with Antti Niemi making 24 saves on 29 Chicago shots.

The Sharks played well through the first 40 minutes, but could not take the lead over Chicago. After the game, Joe Thornton said:

We played a solid two period game and the third goal is a heartbreaker and you think you can get back into it and the fourth one just puts it out of reach. Yeah, we played good for 40-some odd minutes tonight just not good enough.

Every player and coach the media spoke to after the game was asked whether Thornton Gate had been a distraction leading up to this game. Logan Couture answered it as follows:

No, no, no. Our job is to come here and play hockey, that’s what we did. Guys showed up, played hockey, I thought we played pretty well. Go home, get ready to go to practice on Monday and play again.

No, no, no, is pretty much what everyone said about whether the Wilson-Thornton comments were a distraction. If the team really thinks outside fuss is not a distraction then they are kidding themselves. Even if they do know it is a distraction, they won’t share any more of what goes on behind closed doors than has already been said.

Sometimes a distraction is not a bad thing– see their start to Saturday’s game. Sometimes an irrelevant noise can improve performance. How all of these parts are working together now for the Sharks we are not likely to learn. The truth today is that the Sharks lost when they need to win.

Blackhawks took the first penalty, Bickell for holding the stick. It took the Sharks five seconds to put the puck in the net but since Joe Pavelski had just fallen in the Chicago crease, the goal was called back.

As soon as the penalty had expired, the Blackhawks went the other way. More specifically, Patrick Sharp went the other way. He got one shot off in a near breakaway, and Niemi stopped that one. But the rebound came back to Sharp as he crossed the red line and he put it over the sprawling Sharks goaltender. Assists went to Antoine Vermette and Brent Seabrook.

To that point, the Shark were outshooting the Blackhawks 10-3.

Just past the midway point of the first. Melker Karlsson was called for holding the stick. The Sharks’ penalty kill was quite effective, ejecting the Blackhawks from the zone at a rate of roughly once every 30 seconds without giving up any good chances.

The Sharks continued shooting and outshooting their opponent, but it took almost eleven minutes before a couple of now familiar things occurred: Matt Irwin shot the puck, and a falling Melker Karlsson put the rebound into the net. Joe Pavelski was by the net too, and it hit him before coming to Karlsson. The assists went to Joe Pavelski and Matt Irwin.

End of period, shots were 14-9 Sharks, with the score tied.

An interference call at 1:08 went against Antoine Vermette to give the Sharks an early second period power play. The power play did not start well, including an almost leisurely short-handed breakaway for Jonathan Toews. Niemi stopped that and the Sharks finally reacted to bring the puck back the other way. The Sharks got credit for two shots on the power play but spent most of the two minutes in their own zone.

The Blackhawks looked like a team that knows where their teammates were going to be, what to expect and anticipate from their linemates. This is the sort of familiarity that breeds success. It is a hard formula to compete with when you have a lot of players who are new to the team or even their linemates. For the Sharks to hang with them as well as they did was a good sign for things to come.

The second penalty of the period was called against Dillon, again for interference, at 7:35. It was enough to make a conspiracy theorist think the penalties had been chosen and counted in advance, with the same call going against each team in each period.

With their first shot of the power play the Blackhawks retook the lead. Duncan Keith took a shot from the top of the circle, beating Niemi in the top right corner, as the goaltender was moving left. Time of the goal: 8:45, with assists to Marion Hossa and Brandon Saad.

With 8:33 left in the second, Jonathan Toews was called for tripping. The Sharks were not going to score in the first few seconds, but Brent Seabrook helped them out with a perfect tip of a Joe Thornton shot from the blue line. Assist went to Logan Couture and Brent Burns.

The second period ended with shots at 26-13 Sharks and the score tied again. The shots for the period were 12-4 Sharks.

The tie only lasted the intermission plus 1:21, when Mirco Mueller tripped near his own blue line and let Brendan Saad get by him. Saad took the puck all the way in and shot it by Niemi. Assists went to Teuvo Teravainen and Corey Crawford.

The next Chicago goal came after a prolonged defensive struggle by the Sharks. Several passes and attempts to clear went awry, and when Matt Irwin failed to catch the puck along the boards behind the Sharks net, Marian Hossa Brad Richards took it and had time to pass it to Bryan Bickell right in front of the net. He did not miss. Assists to Richards and Michal Rozsival.

The Sharks barely escaped giving up a fifth goal near the seven minute mark. Niemi came out to meet the shot but wound up down and out of his crease with Joe Pavelski sprawled behind him. The puck ended up under Pavelski until reinforcements could close in.

With 8:35 left in the period, Joe Thornton went to the box for hooking. The Sharks’ penalty kill started well, allowing no shots in the first minute and spending plenty of time in the Chicago end. In all, Chicago only had a couple of good chances, but the Sharks followed up with a second penalty, a tripping call to Barclay Goodrow. The penalty killers made a valiant effort but with just 17 seconds left in the period, Patrick Sharp let one rip from the blue line and it sailed right in to make it 5-2. Assists went to Brent Seabrook and Antoine Vermette.

The empty net goal was scored by Marian Hossa.

Melker Karlsson led the Sharks in shots with six. Tommy Wingels outdid himself with eight hits. John Scott led in blocked shots with three. Brent Burns led the Sharks in ice time with 22:42.

Patrick Sharp led the Blackhawks in shots with six. Andrew Desjardins led the Blackhawks in hits with two. Brent Seabrook led Chicago in blocked shots with four.

The Sharks next play on Tuesday in Winnipeg against the Jets. That game will start at 5:00pm 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.

 

Sharks Fall 5-2 in Chicago

By Mary Walsh

Three quick first period goals from Blackhawks’ defensemen were too much for the San Jose Sharks to overcome in a 5-2 loss Sunday. Two goals from Joe Pavelski gave the Sharks life in later periods but they could not catch the skilled Chicago team.

After the loss, Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic summarized the Sharks’ performance: “We didn’t play well in the first period, we didn’t do anything right and fell behind three-nothing. It’s tough to come back against a team like that.”

Before Sunday, the Blackhawks had lost three home games in a row. Of that fact, Sharks forward Joe Pavelski said:

I don’t care if they’ve won three in a row or lost three in a row, you’re going to get a team’s good game at home and we didn’t get the start we wanted. We didn’t do hardly anything right in that first.

Despite losing by three goals, the Sharks did make a game of it in the second and third periods. That was little consolation right after the game. Of the Sharks’ strong second and third periods, Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi said: “It’s obviously better than losing it all the way, losing it every period but it doesn’t give much satisfaction in the end because we didn’t get any points.”

The first period started out free-wheeling, with turnovers and takeaways preventing either team from setting up or maintaining pressure. Near the half way mark, the Blackhawks took control. Of the first period as a whole, Sharks head coach Todd McLellan detailed the things that went wrong for his team: “We can’t give the puck away like we did, we gave up three on twos, two on ones, we lost faceoffs. We were unengaged the whole period, everybody.”

Between the 12:00 mark and 14:34 of the first, Chicago defensemen scored three even strength goals. The first was a slapshot from Trevor Van Riemsdyk, his first NHL goal. That came off of a pass from Jonathan Toews. The second came from Brent Seabrook, deflecting off of Andrew Desjardins’ skate. Assists went to Brad Richards and Peter Regin. The third goal was from Niklas Hjalmarsson, with assists to Marian Hossa and Marcus Kruger.

The Sharks managed to stop the bleeding with a goal from Joe Pavelski just under a minute later. A Justin Braun shot from the blue line went off the inside of Pavelski’s stick, then bounced off his hip and into the net. The assists went to Braun and Joe Thornton.

At the end of the period, the Blackhawks led the Sharks in shots 20-9, as well as 3-1 in goals.

For the second game in a row, the Sharks had a four minute power play to work with. 2:57 in to the second period, Joe Thornton took a stick to the face that drew blood. Andrew Shaw went to the box for that and the Sharks went to work against the NHL’s leading penalty killers. It took them almost two minutes but Joe Pavelski scored his second of the game to bring the Sharks within one.

In their shift after the power play expired, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun went on a shooting frenzy, firing as fast as the forwards could get the puck back to them. The sequence did not change the score but it seemed to ramp up the momentum for San Jose.

With eight minutes left in the period, Barclay Goodrow had a clean breakaway but he could not beat Corey Crawford. His linemate, Adam Burish, was right behind him and though they did not convert, it was a very good chance for that line and it kept the Sharks’ momentum going.

Chicago is not a team to wilt easily and they came back with their own series of attacks in the Sharks’ zone. Antti Niemi had to be quick and the Sharks had to work hard to push the Blackhawks back out. The last six minutes of the period were a more refined version of the first period, with play going back and forth fast, but without the sloppiness.

The Sharks led the Blackhawks 13-6 in shots for the period.

Early in the third period, the Sharks had to kill their first penalty of the game. Jason Demers went to the box for a high stick to Bryan Bickell. The Sharks’ penalty kill was very effective, with Patrick Marleau spending a good deal of time in Chicago’s end of the ice interrupting their attempts to get through the neutral zone and set up.

Half way through the third period, the Sharks were rescued from a two on one by a late whistle as David Rundblad was called for holding James Sheppard, as Sheppard and his linemates buzzed the Chicago net.

With under five minutes left, the Bryan Bickell escaped Mirco Mueller behind the net and was able to put a quick shot past Niemi to give the Blackhawks a two goal lead. With just over two minutes left, Joanathan Toews scored into the empty net.

A couple of fights followed, one between Kris Versteeg and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, the other between Adam Burish and Jeremy Morin. Of his encounter with Versteeg, Vlasic said after the game: “He was just holding my stick. I didn’t know he was going to drop his gloves, he kind of got the advantage on me. But I know what to expect for next game.”

An extra roughing penalty to Adam Burish put the Sharks on the penalty kill for the final minute and a half. During that penalty kill, Brent Burns was called for tripping, putting the Sharks down by two men and three goals. Seconds later, Scott Hannan was called for boarding.

Out of men to remove from the ice, and out of time to extend the power play, officials could only note the penalty in the record. Andrew Desjardins, Justin Braun and Jason Demers had the honor of finishing that penalty kill. It was not the prettiest way to end the game, but killing the five on three salvaged something of the Sharks’ game.

Antti Niemi made 32 saves on 36 shots. The Sharks’ power play went 1/3, their penalty kill was perfect. Joe Pavelski led the team in shots with five. Brent Burns led the team in hits with five. Marc-Edouard Vlasic led the team in ice time at 22:41.

Corey Crawford made 32 saves on 34 shots for the win. Brandon Saad led the Blackhawks in shots with five. Marion Hossa led his team in hits with three. Niklas Hjalmarsson led his team in ice time at 25:32.

Tye McGinn, Matt Irwin and John Scott were the Sharks’ scratches.

The Sharks next play on Tuesday at 4:40 PT in Sunrise Florida against the Florida Panthers.

 

The Best in the West To Finish Sunday

By Mary Walsh

As the NHL Scouting Combine is under way, and draft rankings and reviews are cropping up all over Twitter and hockey sites, it is hard to focus entirely on playoff games that don’t involve the local team. Still, the Los Angeles Kings and the Chicago Blackhawks have done their darndest to keep us entertained with a pretty good Western Conference Final.

It has already been called one of the best series, certainly in these playoffs, maybe one of the best ever. Los Angeles and Chicago are still slugging it out, so to speak, neither heavyweight willing to concede. That will end Sunday in Game Seven. What impresses most about these games is the speed that they are playing at. Even in double overtime, they seem to play faster instead of slowing down like any reasonable person would expect. But how are they playing, compared to how they played in the regular season?

The Kings, as several opposing coaches have observed now, are playing well above their regular season level. In the regular season, they were 26th in goals per game, with an average of 2.42. In these playoffs, they are first, averaging 3.4. Defensively there has been a predictable drop off. In the regular season they were first in goals against, averaging 2.05. They gave up the fewest goals at even strength, but their penalty kill was only 11th, with a success rate of 83.1%. In the playoffs they have now given up an average of 2.8 per game, putting them 8th among playoff teams.  Their penalty kill is also weaker, ranked 9th among playoff teams at  82.7%. It is hardly surprising that their defensive numbers have taken a beating, since they were playing playoff teams in fairly long series. On top of that, to make such a jump offensively they have to take risks. Obviously, those risks have paid off so far. They are just one win away from a return to the Stanley Cup Final.

The Blackhawks, on the other hand, have not seen much of a change in their scoring or defensive numbers. In the regular season they averaged 3.18 goals per game, good for second in the league. Their power play had a success rate of 19.5%. In these playoffs, they have averaged 3.00 goals per game, with their power play chugging along at 19.2%. Defensively they have slipped only slightly, allowing an average of 2.78 goals per game, compared to their regular season average of 2.58. They have seen an uptick in their penalty kill, killing 84.1% in the playoffs, compared to 81.4% in the regular season.  In general, despite the changed conditions that come with a playoff schedule, they have remained pretty consistent.

The Kings are described as a team that is built for the playoffs. Maybe that is a way of saying they don’t hit their stride until playoffs, but if the Blackhawks had made an offensive jump for the playoffs akin to the one the Kings made, they would probably not be playing a seventh game. Is Chicago tapped out? Did they burn all their reserves during the regular season compensating for injuries to key players? Were they ever a better team than the Kings? That they are meeting in the Conference Final for the second season in a row suggests there is not much to choose between them, outside the regular season. The Kings have won two games by more than two goals and the Blackhawks have won only once by more than a goal. That certainly weighs in the Kings’ favor, but a win is a win. You can’t read too much into how much the team won by. Heck, maybe the Blackhawks are due a a big lead.

It is hard to imagine the New York Rangers beating either of these teams, except that the Rangers seem to have finally found their depth. Additionally, the Kings and the Blackhawks are doing a good job of taking the edge off each other. Fatigue will be a slightly bigger issues for the Kings, as this is their third seven game series. Chicago hasn’t had a much quicker trip, with two six game series before this one. It still seems like a stretch that a team so reliant on their goaltender could beat teams who have come so far despite some erratic goaltending. Still, it might be an entertaining Final, which is good since it will probably attract a lot of viewers. Broadway versus Hollywood has obvious appeal but Chicago can bring a sizeable audience as well. The NHL must be humming a gleeful tune.

Playoff Hockey: Underdogs, Upsets and Staying the Course

By Mary Walsh

It has been a busy few days in playoff hockey. Thursday, the Montreal Canadiens pushed back to stop the New York Rangers from taking a 3-0 series lead. That show starred Montreal’s rookie goaltender Dustin Tokarski. Friday, the ECHL’s Bakersfield Condors won their first Conference Final game at home. Saturday night, the Los Angeles Kings took a 2-1 series lead over the Chicago Blackhawks.

Now that the Kings have taken a lead in a series, and scored dozens of goals against the daunting Blackhawks (actually only 11 so far), is it safe to say that maybe the 2013-14 Sharks were not that far from their goal, if they were able to beat Los Angeles three games in a row? No. The Kings have proceeded at an erratic pace but they built up momentum in each progressive series. A strong start does not make up for a weaker finish, so the Sharks can’t take too much comfort in the Kings’ success thus far. The Kings are making a habit of giving up leads only to take them back, but that doesn’t mean there were not a lot of holes in the Sharks roster and strategy. Can the Sharks seal up those holes?

The good news, the biggest and best news from Shark territory so far, is that Larry Robinson has agreed to stay on. His new title is Associate Coach and Director of Player Development. If his title was “Guy Who Does Whatever He Feels Like Doing Today In The General Vicinity San Jose” it would still be a good deal. He is that helpful. It can also be seen as a positive indicator for the team: if Robinson thinks that staying on will not be a futile waste of his time, perhaps fans should have a little faith too.

Thursday on Yahoo! Sports Talk Live, Doug Wilson said that he does not have specific plans to acquire a big name free agent this summer. He did not rule it out but he did not say it was a goal. He also said that missing the playoffs for several seasons starting next year was not his plan. He does not plan to move his best young players. This makes me think that, despite pressure from the fan base and many sources of common sense, he could be planning very little in the way of major roster moves. I do not think that is a bad thing, but I am sure it would be unpopular.

Popular or not, moving big names to shake the team up is an enormous risk. How do you trade away Joe Thornton and/or Patrick Marleau, and avoid slipping badly in the standings, unless you pick up another very high-end forward to replace them? Do you get that player via trade? Who do you get them for if you want to keep your young roster? Do the Sharks have the picks to land such a player? As Wilson mentioned Thursday, however you bring someone in, you need to consider the impact that player will have on your younger players. He needs to not only be productive in his own right but supportive of your development plan.

Do Thornton and Marleau not fit that mold? There is no indication that either one of them undermines or stifles growth in their teammates. Their presence may be growing stale but change for change’s sake rarely pays off.

James Mirtle and Justin Bourne had a Twitter conversation about the high number of minutes being given to fourth lines in the Eastern Conference Final. It makes perfect sense, especially when teams have played a seven game series already, or more, to spread minutes around. But this means that you do need versatile players on that fourth line. You need guys who are reliable in the faceoff circle, tough along the boards, good shots, and reasonably able playmakers. As I said last week, you don’t need Mike Richards on that line but you do need someone who brings a lot more than energy and toughness.

Not so long ago people recognized that space on the bench could no longer be spared for designated fighters who could not do more than fight. Now the bar has been raised still higher: you need four lines that can play more than ten minutes and be better than “not a liability.” Your top six should not need more than 25 minutes per player to get the job done, and your fourth line should merit more than ten. Energy efficiency is about more than Gatorade.

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Dustin Tokarski. Folks who actually follow the Habs probably were not very surprised to see him chosen over Peter Budaj. Putting a rookie goaltender in a high pressure playoff situation is not unheard of, it just doesn’t often work out so well. A rookie comes in with some intangibles in his favor. Even if he has been scouted as much as possible, he simply has not played enough to be thoroughly scouted so the opponent won’t know how to beat him right away. That advantage fades fast. Another benefit can be that his team will rally around him, tighten up on defense to protect him. Or they might let him get shot to pieces like the Habs did in the first period of Game 3. That is where the real surprise was lurking, when Tokarski held the Habs in the game despite a 14-4 shot advantage for the Rangers. Tokarski may not be ready to steal a series but he certainly silenced the death knells in Montreal for now.

I find the Eastern Conference Final much more compelling than the Western, but I like upsets and underdogs. Both the Canadiens and the Rangers are sort of underdogs who achieved upsets. They are good teams, but the Canadiens were not supposed to beat the bestest team ever, aka the Bruins, because winners are supposed to play a big bruising game like the Bruins do. The Habs won anyway, and they did it their way.

The Rangers were not supposed to beat the Penguins because the Penguins have high performance superstars like Malkin and Crosby, while the Rangers had so many underperforming superstars like Nash, Richards and St. Louis. On top of that, the Rangers had to muscle through a brutal schedule to get where they are, and they did so anyway. Personal tragedy is getting a lot of credit for their turnaround, but they had all of these pieces from the get go. It is satisfying to see them go ahead like a dark horse people forgot about.

Speaking of dark horses, the Condors’ Friday win gave them a 2-1 lead in the series against the Alaska Aces. Saturday, the Aces thumped them 4-1 and tied the series back up. That is not very surprising. The Aces are aces. Nonetheless, the Condors are making a little Central Valley history this weekend. That the Condors ever took a lead in the series is impressive and inspiring. This is their first appearance in a Conference Final, and they have held their own. They have earned the nickname “Cardiac Condors” with numerous comebacks thus far and the Aces would be foolish to back off now. If the Aces come back tomorrow and stomp them like they did tonight, Condors fans have still gotten their money’s worth from a team that made an amazing turnaround in a season. After so many years of being perpetual playoff also-rans, this is a mighty accomplishment for Bakersfield.

Sharks beat Champs in shootout

By: Phillip Torres

SAN JOSE-The San Jose Sharks (35-15-6) defeated the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks (33-10-14) 2-1 in a shootout at the SAP Center in San Jose on Saturday night. Another sellout crowd at SAP witnessed a tough physical battle against the defending champions. There was no score until the third period.

The first two period of the contest was a defensive struggle as both teams remained scoreless. The game was a tough physical contest with hard hits coming from both respective teams. Both teams had there chances to score but could not come up with a goal to take an early advantage.

The first score of the game came from the Sharks’ Joe Pavelski, his 29th goal of the season. Scott Hannan assisted on the score. Pavelski’s goal came at 6:10 in the period as he broke away on a short handed goal to take the 1-0 advantage.

It came as no surprise that Chicago didn’t take long to tie up the game as Brandon Saad scored past Antti Niemi 1:03 later to tie the game at one. Kris Versteeg and Marian Hossa assisted on the game tying goal.

After a scoreless five minute overtime period, the game went into a sudden death shootout. The Sharks converted all three shootout opportunities against Chicago’s one to take the 2-1 victory. Pavelski, Patrick Marleau, and Joe Thornton scored in the shootout.

The Sharks will be back on the ice on Monday as they will host the Philadelphia Flyers. The puck will drop at 7:30 PM.