Sharks Trade Sheppard, Waive McGinn

By Mary Walsh

The San Jose Sharks have traded forward James Sheppard to the New York Rangers for a 4th round pick in 2016. The Sharks acquired Sheppard in 2011 from the Minnesota Wild. After a lengthy recovery from a knee injury sustained before coming to the Sharks, Sheppard gradually became a regular in the lineup, playing 67 games last season and 57 this season. He had 5 goals, 16 points this season and was -3 and 50% in the faceoff circle.

The Sharks also put Tye McGinn on waivers. McGinn saw relatively little playing time with the Sharks after being acquired last offseason from the Flyers. He had 1 goal and 5 points in 33 games. He is a +1 so far this season. McGinn is still a Shark as of Sunday evening, but waiving him does show a willingness to part with him for very little compensation.

The NHL trade deadline is Monday. There is still time for Sharks GM Doug Wilson to make a more significant move, but in light of the “no equity” claim at the beginning of this season, these moves are underwhelming. If in fact no Shark gets a pass based on seniority, how are Sheppard and McGinn the first to go? Neither move is very surprising or detrimental in itself. Neither player had the sort of impact the team probably hoped for this season. For James Sheppard, the trade is a positive one as he joins a very exciting group in this season’s Rangers. But such moves hardly send a message to the rest of the Sharks, unless the message is that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

That said, these changes leave some holes in the lineup, and the Sharks have cap space to fill those holes. Maybe they are precursors to something very exciting. If so, it is probably too late for us to see the benefits this season. Per David Pollak:

@PollakOnSharks: Wilson also said players he’s eyeing for future pick-up not really available now, so #SJSharks acquisitions probably wait till summer.

Sharks Defeat Stars 5-3, Score 4 Goals in 3rd

By Mary Walsh

In a 5-3 victory over the Dallas Stars, the San Jose Sharks turned some early season habits upside down. So far this season, the Sharks played many strong first periods, only to struggle in third periods. Saturday, despite a hat trick from Tyler Seguin in the first two periods, the Sharks came back with four goals in the third period.

Brent Burns scored twice, James Sheppard scored to extend his goal scoring streak to three games. Patrick Marleau scored, after being without a goal for nine games. Logan Couture earned three assists in the game. Al Stalock made 37 saves on 40 shots for the win, after sitting as backup for five games.

After the game, Sharks head coach Todd McLellan talked about the third period recovery:

We talked between periods about checking well, not giving them anything else, power play being ready in case we got one, it was. We just stuck with it, we didn’t go away. The way the League is this year, we’ve seen it with our group, there is no lead that’s safe, and you’re never out of it when you’re coming from behind.

Not unlike the Sharks, the Stars have been having trouble with third periods. Also like the Sharks, Dallas has a bad record at home this season. They have only one win in eight home games.

In response to the suggestion that the Sharks knew the Stars are vulnerable in the third period, Logan Couture said:

I didn’t know that, no. In this dressing room we’re worried about our own game. We’ve got to start playing better and we know that so we’re not looking at the other team. We believe that if we play our game we’re able to beat any team any night so we’re worried about ourselves in here.

The first Dallas goal started as a shot from Sergei Gonchar at the blue line. The puck bounced off the skate of Adam Burish, then off the chest of Tyler Seguin and past Stalock. About two minutes later, Seguin shot the puck around Matt Irwin and past more traffic in front of the crease.

James Sheppard salvaged the Sharks’ spirits with a hard-working goal after he corralled a rebound at 17:14 of the first period. After the game, Sheppard said:

It really does happen fast, just trying to get pucks on net. Fortunately there was an open net so I didn’t have to beat a goalie, just get it in there. So it was just a good job by our line.

The second period featured two penalties to Tyler Kennedy and a power play goal for the Stars. Kennedy went to the box for goalie interference 12 minutes into the period, then again for tripping at 15:18. On their second power play of the period, Tyler Seguin finished his hat trick, taking advantage of a big rebound and plenty of space.

The third period turnaround started with a power play goal from Patrick Marleau. Marleau came up from behind the goal line to grab a rebound off a shot from Joe Pavelski.

A couple of minutes later, while the teams were playing four on four, Logan Couture and Brent Burns went in two on one to tie the game. Couture chose to pass and Burns shot before Lindback could get across.

With almost ten minutes left, while the Sharks’ third line of Sheppard, Hertl and Kennedy wreaked some havoc in front of the Dallas net, a rebound popped out for Burns, who put it away to give the Sharks the lead.

The last couple of minutes were hectic. The Stars were pressing and Stalock had to make some very impressive saves. Discipline broke down, and in the last 90 seconds overlapping penalties came after Stalock shot the puck out of play and then got hit in the face by Antoine Roussell. A number of scuffles followed, including a cheap shot on Justin Braun. Of the last, McLellan said:

What disappoints me is when a guy is vulnerable and being held and he gets punched. That’s the disappointing thing. I don’t think anybody in our league, the 750 players and coaches want to see that. So, just not a classy moment.

McLellan did not have any more information about Braun’s status.

Regarding the hit on Stalock, Logan Couture said:

I’ll have to see the video, I didn’t really see it. I saw it quickly, Roussell’s kind of known for that, so watch it on the video and see what really happened.

After the referees sorted that out, the teams finished the game four on four. The Stars pulled their goalie for a man advantage but Couture and Thornton escaped through the neutral zone and Thornton scored into the empty net.

The Sharks scored on one of two power plays, and killed four of five penalties. The Stars led on the shot clock through the game and in every period, for a total shot count of 40-29.

Brent Burns and Patrick Marleau led the Sharks in shots with four each, Tommy Wingels led the team with four hits, and Burns led the team in time on ice with 22:21.

Anders Lindback made 24 saves for the Stars. Shawn Horcoff and Tyler Seguin led Dallas in shots with five each, Ryan Garbutt led the team with five hits, and Alex Goligoski led the Stars in ice time with 24:43.

The three stars of the game were Brent Burns, Tyler Seguin and James Sheppard.

The Sharks continue their road trip Sunday at 4:00 PT, against the Blackhawks in Chicago.

Sharks Clinch Playoff Berth, Get Burned in Shootout

By Mary Walsh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Have the Sharks Figured Out Who’s On Third?

By Mary Walsh

Before last Thursday’s game in San Jose, Anaheim Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau was asked about the difference between playing the San Jose Sharks and the Los Angeles Kings. He said:

They’re a little further north? I think LA is more of a harder team as far as bigger and more physical, where these guys play physical but they’re a better skating team and have more depth in their scoring. I mean, if they ever get completely healthy and they have Pavelski back on the third line, that’s… that’s pretty deep. They’re as deep as any team in the NHL I think.

That comment echoes a sentiment held by most Sharks observers from the start of the season. The team is still missing Tomas Hertl and Raffi Torres, but will they need to move Joe Pavelski back to the third line at all? Or has the Sharks coaching staff finally found a new third line that doesn’t need the team’s second best scorer at its center?

The present third line includes two players who have been used most erratically through the season. Martin Havlat and James Sheppard have spent time on just about every line, including the fifth. Their performance has been accordingly inconsistent– maddeningly so– until now. Seeing them in the lineup and in the same position with some consistency is gratifying. Both players bring skill to the team, and the team will need it on a regular basis.

The budding stability of that line is somewhat dependant on the top six. Asked about the Sharks’ top line on Saturday, Washingon Capitals coach Adam Oates said: “Well first of all, which one’s their top line? They got two…”

If you look at ice time per game, you certainly don’t find a season-long indication of which Sharks make up a top line. The usual suspects are there, the top three forwards being Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski, in that order. Yet they do not make up one line. The next three forwards in even strength ice time are Brent Burns, Logan Couture and Tommy Wingels. So in terms of time on ice, which points to coaching staff expectations, the top six have been a fluid group all season.

What about points? Same list, though in a slightly different order: Thornton, Pavelski, Marleau, Couture, Burns and Wingels. But those players are not all playing in the top six now, and the top three on both lists are not the top line, with the second three being the second line: it has been Thornton centering Burns and Pavelski, while Couture centers Marleau and Matt Neito. The performance of the top six forwards has been so even that they are hard to tell apart in terms of stats.

The Sharks are deeper than they have ever been. This is precisely why, at the start of the season, the general assumption was that the Sharks could afford to not have Joe Pavelski in the top six, that he could center an over-fortified third line. Despite that depth and due to an unprecedented number of injuries for the team, the coaching staff struggled through most of the season to find a third line that worked. The current stretch of five games in a row with the same three players there looks like a record for the 2013-14 Sharks.

The third line of Havlat, Sheppard and Wingels is not the only thing that has been fixed for the last five games. The top six have also been steady, and only one winger on the fourth line continues to rotate. This is surely a function of being in the home stretch- the team needs stability to get ready for playoffs. But it is also a sign that the coaching staff likes these lines. Otherwise, the rotation of players would probably accelerate.

Before Thursday’s game against the Ducks, Sheppard said:

I think our whole team is playing well, that helps. Everyone’s moving the puck and kind of getting into a rhythm so I think all the lines kind of benefit from that. We want to keep it simple with a little bit extra, because I think we can do both: get pucks deep and make sure we don’t turn pucks over at the blues, but at the same time we can make plays like we did in New York.

Though it isn’t the only unit settling in, the third line still jumps out at me as being a “final piece” of this team. Havlat and Sheppard have not had a chance to find their game in such a consistent situation all season. Both have been scratches, both healthy and not quite healthy. Both have played all over the board with every linemate on the the team. Until recently, their play was inconsistent at best. Wingels has done the same marathon line swapping, but he has thrived. It takes all kinds.

Much of the success of this third line can be attributed to Sheppard’s improved play. Where Havlat’s play has consistently been better when he has time with the same linemates, Sheppard’s path to a regular spot in an NHL lineup has been rocky. It was littered with enormous early pressure, an intractable injury, and finally a long road back. For him to perform consistently is not surprising given the original assessment of his skill: he was a first round draft pick and his first NHL coaching staff believed he should and could be ready to play in the NHL at 19 without any time in the AHL. They say that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. That looks to be true of James Sheppard.

If Raffi Torres comes back sooner than later (which looks increasingly unlikely), will the lines shift again to move Pavelski to the third line? Will he end up there in the playoffs? If both Torres and Tomas Hertl come back, probably there will be another significant line shuffle, but there is no rush. Tommy Wingels has shown that he can be as versatile as Pavelski, and Havlat and Sheppard are finally finding their game. The line is strong enough to not justify pulling a top scorer out of the top six.

Third Line Hot: Sheppard, Havlat Picking Up

By Mary Walsh

The San Jose Sharks started this season with an unprecedented number of injuries, some that occurred before the season and some that happened early in. One of the casualties of those injuries was a reliable third line. The team had trouble generating steady scoring without moving Joe Pavelski up to the top six, though it had been widely presumed he would be most valuable centering the third line. With just 14 games remaining, the Sharks may have finally solved the third line conundrum. The combination of James Sheppard, Martin Havlat and Tommy Wingels could be the line the team has been looking for.

The trade deadline came and went without any moves for the big club, apart from most of the injured players returning to the lineup. Some of those players are still adjusting to game speed, others have been adjusting to new linemates again and again for most of the season. Martin Havlat and James Sheppard fall into that second category. Good games from those two have been a significant factor in the team’s recent winning streak, currently at five in a row.

Tommy Wingels, of course, has balanced the trio perfectly. His consistently effective and smart play is no surprise. Of course he does well there, as he does well anywhere from first to fourth line. He is the perfect compliment to two players who have been all over the map thus far, two players the team needs to get more from.

Havlat returned from the injured list long before the Olympic break, but still sat for many games. He played 28 of a possible 59 before the Olympic break, putting him ahead of Raffi Torres and Adam Burish in playing time, but still behind the ball in terms of catching up with the rest of the team. In all, Havlat has 14 points in 35 games played this season. Since the Olympic Break, he has played seven of nine games, scoring three goals and earning an assist. Just before the break, he earned two points, meaning that six of his season points and four of his seven goals have come since February 1. His game looks to be on the upswing.

James Sheppard, who has been on the third line with Havlat for a couple of games now, has played 53 games, eight of nine since the break. In those last eight, he has seven points, including two two-point games. Like Havlat, he has earned a sizeable chunk of his 15 season points since February 1: nine in his last ten games, to be precise.

Martin Havlat and James Sheppard have had a couple of good games together now. Todd McLellan, a habitual line-juggler on a normal day, has outdone himself where Havlat is concerned, moving him all over the board. Nonetheless, Havlat’s game was lining out even before the break, without the benefit of seeing the same linemates from game to game. Whether it is a function of improved communication or confidence, passes were connecting, shots were coming, he was playing more games. That is not to say McLellan was wrong to move Havlat around, hindsight is not really 20/20. Havlat is playing well now, but that doesn’t mean he would be playing better if he had not moved so much between lines or played more. Perhaps the mad formula worked, perhaps it didn’t. In any case, Havlat’s game is strong now and that is all that matters.

How much of Havlat’s absence from the lineup has been due to health and how much to dissatisfaction with performance is unclear. In any case, McLellan seems to have found a balance he likes in terms of how much to play Havlat. As for where to play him, the jury is still out. Perhaps he has found a spot he likes him in now, but it is too early to tell. It might depend on James Sheppard.

James Sheppard is the surprise of the month. All season, the team’s observers (myself included) have assumed that the Sharks needed Joe Pavelski centering the third line to be at their best. Pavelski’s stellar performance on the top line was something that would do until the team was healthy again and he could be put back where the team really needed him. James Sheppard is the first player to really knock a hole in that assumption. Is he finally the guy to solidify that third line? Can Pavelski stay on the wing?

It is early still, only two games in to the Havlat, Sheppard, Wingels line. Unquestionably, if a line is going to work it will work better with more practice. As the regular season winds down to the playoffs, it would be a good thing for this third line to get more time together. All three have the talent to play in the top six, all three have spent some time on the fourth line. Whatever the reasoning for ever putting them on the fourth line, as a third line they could very well be the key to rolling over future opponents. Considering how long both Havlat and Sheppard have been wearing question marks over their heads, that would be a truly satisfying outcome as plot lines go.

Raffi Torres could be the line buster there. So far, McLellan has used him primarily on the fourth line, presumably to ease him back in to the game. I think it is likely that McLellan is being proactive in avoiding injury, or extra-cautious with his response to any little symptom. Some have called him over-cautious keeping Torres out after just a couple of games with limited minutes. How can you be over-cautious with a player who just returned from a long layoff? The reason people avoid surgery is that it creates more injury on top of the initial problem. It does take longer to recover when you cut the patient up. Before his return, Torres said:

I’ve done enough off the ice, I feel as good as I’m going to feel, I need to play games now I think. Ultimately I put a lot of pressure on myself to be a force out there and to be on my game. But I understand it’s a process and it takes some time and I’m cool with that.

That isn’t the same as saying that he was 100%- it only meant that the next step in his recovery was to start playing. He’s cool with that process. At the rate he has put up points in the few minutes he has played (five points in five games), everyone should be cool with it.

The Sharks would like to catch Anaheim but their spot in the playoffs is secure now. They will need every resource available to them when the post season arrives. Keeping players like Havlat and Torres ready but not tired looks like a solid plan. The time for heroics is yet to come.

Game of Firsts Keeps the Sharks on Top

By Mary Walsh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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