Sharks And Kings Preview: Playoff Remix 2016

By Mary Walsh

photo credit San Jose Sharks Joe Thornton and teammates will be in L.A. to try and take the Kings out of the first round of the playoffs starting Thursday

The San Jose Sharks will face the Los Angeles Kings Thursday, in game one, round one of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs. They say that lightning does not strike twice. A lot happens in a hockey game, and a playoff series can produce the same result in many different ways. But it is probably safe to predict that the Sharks will not win three games in a row and then lose four. The odds of that happening again are very slim indeed, and I don’t need to be a math genius to know that.

The Los Angeles Kings are probably the best first round opponent for the San Jose Sharks. The Kings are not only a “must play” for any team trying to get through the western conference, they also have a special place in San Jose’s heart. The last two seasons have been dark for San Jose, starting with their humiliation at the hands of the Kings two seasons ago. While the meek of heart would probably want to avoid Los Angeles entirely, few professional hockey players can be described as meek.

Two seasons is long enough to see any team change, even if change is not their objective. The Sharks have made several changes. Head coach Pete DeBoer brings a new angle to the Sharks’ game. The Kings have seen DeBoer’s Sharks several times this season, but they are nowhere near as familiar with them as they were with Todd McLellan’s team. DeBoer has coached against the Kings in the playoffs, when the New Jersey Devils faced them in the 2012 Stanley Cup Final. That was a long time ago, and he has a very different team now, except in one respect: the Kings are still the favorites to win.

Those expectations are a little bit strange. Even though the Sharks were embarrassed by their lost 3-0 lead in 2014, they did beat the Kings three times before losing. The Sharks also won the 2015-16 regular season series 3-2, going 3-1-1. The Kings have a terrible habit of starting slowly, in the regular season and the playoffs. That is a habit that is bound to trip them up eventually. It is far from unlikely that the Sharks could win this series.

The Kings have the home ice advantage over the Sharks, but that advantage has proven to be less and less significant over the past few seasons, not only for the Sharks but for most playoff teams. What has been true for the Sharks over the past couple of seasons is that they play better on the road. It is not a stretch to say that the Sharks have the “road advantage” in this series.

Wherever they play, the Sharks have every reason to be hungrier and angrier than the Kings. The Kings have won two Stanley Cup Championships. The Sharks have not gotten to the Final yet. If NHL parity is not a myth, it is the Sharks turn for a shot.

Both teams have made significant changes to their rosters since 2014. For the Sharks, Martin Jones and James Reimer are a more formidable goalie tandem than Antti Niemi and Alex Stalock were. Jones’ star is rising. He proved this season that he can be a reliable presence in net, and can even steal a game here and there. James Reimer has proven that he can gut out some pretty gruelling playoff games, and he has already turned in some very impressive performances for San Jose.

With Martin Jones in net, the Sharks are starting the goalie who carried them through most of the season with only a few hiccups. That he used to play for the Kings should not be much of a factor, since any familiarity the Kings have with Jones will be matched by his knowledge of their skaters. Jonathan Quick is not exactly an unknown quantity for the Sharks, either. The Sharks know him well from many meetings.

The Sharks have Matt Nieto and Marc-Edouard Vlasic coming back from injury. The last time the Sharks appeared in the playoffs, also against the Kings, the collapse began with the loss of Vlasic to injury. The Sharks have added a couple of veteran defensemen since then, in Paul Martin and Roman Polak, but Vlasic’s importance cannot be understated. The Sharks played pretty well down the stretch without him but they will need all their best blue liners to go far in the playoffs.

The Sharks also have some added depth in the scoring department, in Joel Ward and Joonas Donskoi. Ward is a seasoned veteran of playoff games, and scored timely goals for Washington. Donskoi is going into his first NHL Playoffs, but he has some experience with championship games from his time in Finland. Both players were consistently helpful during the regular season, and as additions to a group that has been to the playoffs together many times, they could be difference makers for San Jose.

Melker Karlsson joined the team last season and showed that he could contribute in the scoring department. He has spent a lot of time this season on the fourth line, but DeBoer’s fourth line is very different from the fourth line that Todd McLellan would put together. It is reasonable to expect more offense and fewer penalties from the likes of Karlsson and Dainius Zubrus.

If there is an x-factor for the Sharks, I would say it is Joel Ward or James Reimer. Any of the rookies could surprise the Kings and all have to contribute to get the Sharks through the first round. But Ward and Reimer both have enough playoff experience to do some heavy lifting. Even if Reimer does not play, he provides an added sense of confidence and security that should permeate the team’s mental game.

On the Los Angeles side, defenseman Alec Martinez and forward Marian Gaborik have returned from late season injuries. The team has confidence in their readiness to play, as they recently reassigned forward Nic Down and defenseman Kevin Gravel to the AHL. Other changes to their roster over the last season include the addition of Milan Lucic, and the losses of Justin Williams and Jarret Stoll. The last two were historically problematic for the Sharks, if in very different ways. Lucic combines some of both of those, as a cagey and tough competitor.

The Kings also picked up some scoring depth in Vincent LeCavalier. LeCavalier is nothing if not streaky but he should not be ignored. He has a lot to prove after his dismal stay with the Philadelphia Flyers. Since he is supposed to retire after this season, he can be expected to give it his all.

For the Kings, I would not identify particular players as x-factors. Rather, their tendency to start slowly should be seen as the critical factor. If they let the Sharks get ahead of them, they might not catch them again. If the Sharks can avoid having key players injured early, the Kings might not need to spot them the lead. They might just take it fair and square.

Sharks Come Back in Third to Beat Predators

By Mary Walsh

AP photo: San Jose Sharks Tomas Hertl celebrates his third period goal against the Nashville Predators on Saturday night

Thanks to two goals from Tomas Hertl and a shootout winner from Logan Couture, the San Jose Sharks came back in the third period to defeat the Nashville Predators 3-2. The win puts the Sharks just three points out of first in the Pacific, but with only three games remaining, the chances are slim that they will catch Los Angeles or Anaheim.

After the game, Sharks goaltender James Reimer talked about how the win bodes well for the playoffs:

It’s good to see. Obviously, sometimes things aren’t going to go your way in the playoffs and so …I’m sure they’ve been doing it all year, but to have the confidence that you can come back from being down two goals in the last twenty, it’s nice to see and another good building block leading up to the playoffs.

With their 27th road win this season, the Sharks tied a franchise record. The last time the Sharks won 27 road games in a season was 2007-08. The Sharks have just one more chance to break the record, on Tuesday against the Minnesota Wild.

The third period comeback featured a 13-4 shot disparity in favor of the Sharks. San Jose also made an impressive showing in the faceoff circle, winning 71% of the draws in the game.

The first goal came 8:07 into the first period, after a neutral zone turnover from Chris Tierney that ended up on Roman Josi’s stick. His pass found Mike Ribeiro near the far boards. He waited for Weber to cross the blue line and set him up for one of his phenomenal slap shots.

Before the first period ended, Ryan Johansen seemed to score a power play goal for the Predators, but officials determined that time had run out before the puck crossed the line. The difference was razor thin.

The second Nashville goal came early in the second period. Johansen took the puck into the zone and held onto it long enough to find James Neal in the slot. Neal took a shot that bounced off of Jarnkrok’s skate and into the net. Brenden Dillon had Jarnkrok tied up but he could not control the puck’s trajectory as it went through their skates.

Just over two minutes into the third period, Joe Thornton gained control of the puck just below the Nashville blue line and made a quick pass to Joe Pavelski as he bore down on the net. Pavelski’s shot came back out in a rebound but Hertl was there to pick it up and put it back in for his 20th of the season.

Just past the ten minute mark of the third, Hertl tipped a slap shot from the blue line courtesy of Brent Burns. The play before that was fairly dazzling, as Thornton and Paul Martin moved the puck up and down the boards before Thornton found Burns with a quick pass.

The Sharks could not end it in overtime despite a power play 50 seconds in. A broken stick for Pavelski certainly had something to do with that. The Sharks managed five shots in overtime, while only allowing one to the Predators.

In the shootout, Logan Couture shot first for San Jose and scored with a quick release that went under Hutton’s pad. Joonas Donskoi shot second for the Sharks but missed. James Reimer stopped shots from Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen and Craig Smith to win it.

Penalty kills were perfect for both teams, as the Sharks power play went 0-3 and the Predators power play went 0-2.

The Sharks next play in Minneapolis against the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday at 5:00 PT.

Sharks Shut Out Coyotes 3-0

By Mary Walsh

AP photo: The San Jose Sharks Tomas Hertl scores a second period goal and goes to the Sharks bench for a brief victory lap Sunday

SAN JOSE– The San Jose Sharks defeated the Arizona Coyotes by a score of 3-0 Sunday. James Reimer made 25 saves for the shutout. It was his second shutout in four starts for the Sharks. Sharks goals came from Joel Ward, Tomas Hertl and Joe Pavelski. Brent Burns picked up an assist on Pavelski’s goal, setting a new record for most points by a Sharks defenseman in a season with 65.

The Sharks owed the Coyotes a good performance after their unimpressive loss last Thursday. The Sharks also needed a win against a non-playoff team, if for no other reason than to get one. Their recent record is littered with losses to the wrong teams, and wins against top tier opponents. This is not a problem that is likely to come up during the playoffs, but selective competing is not something the Sharks want to fall back into. For this reason, beating the Coyotes was a very good thing for the team.

Near the 14 minute mark of the first, Logan Couture blocked a shot and ended his shift a little early, but he did not leave the game. Justin Braun took the first penalty of the game, an interference penalty at 14:07. The Sharks were able to clear the puck twice in the first minute of the Coyotes power play, and allowed just one shot in that minute.

1:21 into the penalty, Patrick Marleau was called for high sticking and the Coyotes had a five on three for 39 seconds. The Sharks killed off the five on three, but had their hands full. The Coyotes added another shot before Braun came out of the box, but no more after that.

At 18:20, the Sharks took the lead with a goal from Joel Ward. He deflected Brenden Dillon’s shot from the point, a one-timer on a pass from Joonas Donskoi. Donskoi made the pass from below the blue line, for his 22nd assist of the season. It was Ward’s 20th goal of the season and Dillon’s seventh assist.

At the end of the first, the shots were 13-7 Sharks.

2:26 into the second, Brent Burn went to the box for tripping. The Sharks killed it off and finished the kill with a short-handed chance.

The Sharks had their first power play at 5:48, a holding penalty to Klas Dahlbeck. The Sharks power play had some difficulty establishing themselves in the Arizona zone. Eventually they did get set up, but the power play did not generate a goal.

They had another chance at 11:05, when Boyd Gordon went to the box for holding Melker Karlsson. the Sharks’ first unit again looked somewhat disorganized and the second jumped in for a faceoff and went right to work. In the space ofa few passes, they had the puck in the net. This time they got a little lucky as Hertl’s attempted pass to Ward hit Arizona’s Murphy and bounced back under Mike Smith. The goal went to Hertl, with assists to Donskoi and Paul Martin.

The Sharks went right back on the power play at 13:50, when Kevin Connauton was called for delay of game after sending the puck over the glass, but did not score. The Sharks finished the period on a penalty kill, as Nick Spaling was called for interference. The shots at the end of the second were 22-18 Sharks.

The Sharks completed the penalty kill to start the third period, and 13:10 in they had another power play. The Coyotes took yet another penalty at 17:55, a hooking penalty to Michael Stone.

The Coyotes pulled their goaltender with just over a minute left and briefly threatened in the Sharks zone. It was quite brief, and then Brent Burns took control of the puck in the neutral zone and passed it to Joe Pavelski for the empty net shot. It was Pavelski’s 34th goal of the season. Assists went to Burns and Joe Thornton.

The Sharks next play on Tuesday at 7:30, hosting the visiting St. Louis Blues.

Matt Nieto and Marc-Edouard Vlasic missed their second game after being injured last Thursday.

Sharks Fend Off Bruins in 3-2 Win

By Mary Walsh

AP photo: The Sharks Logan Couture (39) battles with the Bruins Ryan Spooner for the puck during a second period face off on Tuesday night

SAN JOSE– For the second time this season, the San Jose Sharks defeated the Boston Bruins. The score was 3-2, with Sharks goals from Joonas Donskoi, Melker Karlsson and Brent Burns. With his 26th goal, Brent Burns tied the Sharks record for goals scored by a defenseman in a season, set by Sandis Ozolinsh. With 11 goals and 31 points, Donskoi is the highest scoring Sharks rookie since Logan Couture.

James Reimer made 21 saves on 23 Boston shots for the win. David Krejci and Loui Eriksson scored for the Bruins, with Tuuka Rask making 24 saves for Boston on 27 San Jose shots.

Melker Karlsson opened the scoring for the Sharks at 8:44. After winning the puck along the boards, Karlsson dropped it to Logan Couture and went to the front of the net. Couture sent the puck behind the net to Donskoi, who passed it ahead for Karlsson to put away. Assists went to to Donskoi and Couture.

The Bruins answered back at 11:26. David Pastrnak got by the Sharks defense and took a shot into Reimer’s pads. Reimer kicked the puck back out but right in David Krejci’s wheelhouse. His quick shot went under Reimer to tie the game. Assists went to Pastrnak and Torey Krug.

The first penalty of the game came with just 2:54 left in the first period. It was a hooking call against Jimmy Hayes. The power play did not go very well for the Sharks, and 39 seconds in, Boston scored short handed. Loui Eriksson broke away,and it was the second Boston breakaway in that power play, to beat Reimer and give the Bruins the lead.

The Sharks had one second of five on three, and then the rest of the period five on four against Boston. At the end of the first penalty, David Krejci finished up another breakaway with a slash to James Reimer, after the whistle blew.

The period ended with the Bruins up 2-1 and the Sharks ahead in shots 12-10.

The Sharks finished the remainder of that power play to start the second period. They did not give up another short handed goal and they did add a couple of shots to their tally.

At 11:46, Brent Burns tied the game. Burns made a pass through the slot in the direction of Thornton, but instead the puck hit Ryan Spooner and bounced into the net.

The game winner did not come until the third period, during the dying seconds of another Sharks power play. Jimmy Hayes was in the box for an illegal check to the head of Sharks defenseman Justin Braun. The Sharks’ first power play unit had been unsuccesful, allowing another short-handed chance, this time to Brad Marchand. Marchand also made some little extra contact with Reimer after his shot was stopped. That drew some reaction from the Sharks. The second unit came on with 1:22 left in the power play, with Tomas Hertl taking a defensive zone draw. The Sharks controlled the puck but after their first dump-in the Bruins pushed the puck back out quickly.

Donskoi dumped the puck in on their next entry and the Sharks retrieved the puck along the end boards. A pass from Vlasic to Burns wound up on Burns’ skate. Burns moved the puck from skate to stick, and found Joel Ward on the far side of the slot. Ward waited a beat and picked his shot. Donskoi was in front of the net, with his stick on the ice in front of Rask. The deflected shot went just under the diving goaltender and in the net. Assists went to Ward and Burns.

The Sharks took their first and only penalty at 10:20 of the third period. Donskoi went to the box for holding the stick, but the Bruins power play did not change the score, and the Bruins did not get any shots despite a couple of good attacks.

Back at even strength, the Bruins made a push in the final minutes of the game but the Sharks held them off for the win.

The three stars of the game were Joonas Donskoi, Melker Karlsson and David Krejci.

Sharks forward Tommy Wingels was off IR Tuesday, but did not play.

The Sharks next play on Thursday in Arizona, against the Coyotes at 7:00 PT.

Sharks Acquire James Reimer and Jeremy Morin

By Mary Walsh

photo credit: goaltender James Reimer dealt from the Toronto Maple Leafs to the San Jose Sharks will not be joining the team on Sunday night in Vancouver

The San Jose Sharks have acquired goaltender James Reimer and forward Jeremy Morin from the Toronto Maple Leafs, in exchange for goaltender Alex Stalock, forward Ben Smith, and a conditional fourth round pick in the 2018 NHL draft. The move is a good one for San Jose. It adds depth up front and experience in net that the team needed, in exchange for players who were not getting much ice time with the Sharks.

From today’s press release:

“James is an experienced NHL goaltender who will help add to our depth at that position as we head down the stretch run of the season,” said Wilson. Jeremy gives our group another versatile forward and a player that our coaching staff is familiar with.  We’re excited to add them both to our organization.”

Reimer, 27, has played in 207 NHL games with Toronto, posting a .913 save percentage and 2.83 GAA. He has 11 shutouts and played in seven playoff games in 2013.

Morin, 24, has played this season with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies, and previously played 82 NHL games with the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Chicago Blackhawks. He was drafted by the Atlanta Thrashers in 2009 and played under Sharks assistant coach Steve Spott with the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL.

Goaltender Al Stalock played in 62 games for the Sharks and posted a .911 save percentage and a 2.37 GAA for a record of 24-19-7.  Ben Smith was acquired last Spring from the Chicago Blackhawks and scored two goals and three assists in 25 games. Of the departing players, the press release said:

“Alex and Ben have both been important members of our team on the ice but even more importantly, they are both tremendous teammates and first-class individuals,” said Wilson. “They will be missed and we want to thank them for everything they have  given to the San Jose Sharks organization and our fans.”