Barracuda Fall 4-2 to Condors

By Mary Walsh

photo credit: San Jose Barracuda–The Barracuda lose to the Bakerfield Condors 4-2 on Valentines day at SAP

SAN JOSE– The San Jose Barracuda fell to the Bakersfield Condors by a score of 4-2 Sunday. The game winner was scored by Ryan Hamilton. Anders Nilsson was in net for the win, making 21 saves on 23 shots. For San Jose, Aaron Dell made 22 saves on 25 shots faced. Both Barracuda goals were scored by Ben Smith.

San Jose and Bakersfield were playing for third place in the division on Sunday. When the game started, the Barracuda had a two point lead over the Condors but had played one more game. With the win, the Condors jumped the Barracuda for third place in the AHL’s Pacific Division.

I remember when the Bakersfield Condors wore grey and burgundy and had the names of local businesses on the tails of their jerseys. That was when they were an ECHL team last year. Now the Condors look pretty much like the Oilers, especially from a distance far enough to not see the emblem. They wear the same colors but they differ in one important respect: they are doing well in their division this season.

The Barracuda were first on the power play, into the first period. Bakersfield was called for too many men on the ice and Anton Slepyshev served the penalty at 11:47. San Jose did not score. Instead, Bakersfield scored at . Barracuda goaltender Aaron Dell stopped the first couple of shots during a Condor attack during which the Barracuda could not clear the puck out. Andrew Miller’s shot went over Dell’s shoulder from the slot to give the visitors the lead. It was Miller’s twelfth of the season. Assists went to Rob Klinkhammer and Jujhar Khaira.

The Condors kept the Barracuda on their heels for the rest of the period. With San Jose defenders stuck in their zone, they were lucky to make it to intermission down by just one.

At the end of the period, the teams were tied on the shot clock but the home team trailed by one.

The second period was marked by a lot of hits and questionable stick use. By the ten minute mark, the Barracuda had added two shots and the Condors just one. Near the eleven minute mark, the game’s first fight broke out behind the Barracuda goal line. The scuffle landed Andrew Miller and Joakim Ryan in the box with roughing minors. Miller got an additional two minutes, so Slepyshev joined him in the box and a Barracuda power play commenced.

San Jose still could not score, but they did keep the Condors on the defensive. And defend they did. The Baracuda had very little time to take the shots they got credit for and many that just missed the net. With six minutes left, Bakersfield still only had one shot in the period but they still had a one goal lead.

The Condors got their first power kay with 4:13 left in the second. San Jose’s Julius Bergman went to the box for slashing. During their power play they finally got a few shots on goal. Half way through the power play, Karl Stollerysent the puck out of play and was called for delay of game. San Jose managed the three on five penalty kill and the minute of four on five that followed.

At the end of the second, the score was still 1-0 Condors and the shots were 17-15 Condors.

The third period started with an early chance for the Condors that hit a post. That seemed to wake the Barracuda up and they responded with several good shifts in the offensive zone. When the Condors pushed back, they were wrapped up in extended board battles and had few chances to score again until the middle of the period.

At, the Condors extended their lead. A neutral zone breakdown gave the Condors a two-then-three on one with Julius Bergman as the one. Jujhar Khaira scored the goal with assists going to Andrew Miller and Griffin Reinhart.

The goal unsettled the Barracuda and inspired the Condors. The orange and blue attack continued with the Barracuda scrambling defensively.

The Barracuda recovered somewhat in the second half of the period. At 12:05 they scored after John McCarthy and Ben Smith combined to win the puck off the boards. McCarthy carried it behind the net and tried a wraparound. That did not work but Smith was on the other side of the crease to catch the puck and put it in. It was his seventh goal of the season in eleven games played with the team. McCarthy received the lone assist.

The Condors did not let that go and stretched their lead back to two with 3:40 left in the game. Entering the zone fast two one two, Ryan Hamilton and Tyler Pitlick gave the Condors their third goal of the game.

The Barracuda made a game of it with just over a minute left. A good four skater rush through the neutral zone and some give and go between Smith and Bryan Lerg resulted in another goal for Smith.

Barracuda coach Sommer opted to pull his goaltender after that and with 26.2 left in the game, the puck escaped the neutral zone and only the Condors’ Klinkhammer was near enough to catch it. He put it in the Barracuda net.

Final score: 4-2 Condors.

John McCarthy led the Barracuda in shots on goal with five. Mirco Mueller, called up to the Sharks briefly after Brenden Dillon’s recent injury, was back with the AHL squad in time for Sunday’s game.

Raffi Torres, still on the Barracuda roster, did not play for the second game in a row. He has played five games with the Barracuda this year.

The Barracuda hit the road next week and will face the Heat on Saturday and Sunday in Stockton.

Barracuda Defeat Reign For First Home Win

By Mary Walsh

SAN JOSE– The San Jose Barracuda defeated the Ontario Reign 4-2 for their first home win of the season. San Jose goals were scored by John McCarthy, Mirco Mueller, Jeremy Langlois and Nikolay Goldobin. After a long break between games, the Barracuda were very well-rested. The last time San Jose played was October 24, and that was a 3-0 loss to the Reign in Ontario. The break gave them a chance to practice and made the win all the more important. After the game, Barracuda head coach Roy Sommer said: “It’s big for us. The mood of the practices, everything’s going to be upbeat, their Halloween party’s tonight. So they can go have some fun, we have a day off tomorrow so it fits in good.”

Of the time between games, Sommer said that they had made good use of it: “I thought they had a good week of practice… I thought they went hard and everything was about going to the net and that’s where our goals were from tonight.”

The Reign were far from well-rested. Sunday’s game was their third in three days. The fatigue factor was something the Barracuda knew they should take advantage of. After the game, San Jose forward John McCarthy said:

They had a tough weekend, a lot of travel and we talked about kind of taking advantage of that in the first period, coming out… Because we know how it feels to be that team on the road. You come in after a long road trip and when a team’s all over you right away, it messes with your head.

Aaron Dell was in net for the Barracuda, with Peter Budaj at the other end for the Reign. Ontario has opted to use veteran goaltenders this season, with NHL veterans Budaj and Ray Emery playing as a tandem.

John McCarthy started the scoring for San Jose, 2:45 into the first period. Three Barracuda entered the Reign zone, with just two Ontario players defending. McCarthy went to the net and Trevor Parkes got the puck to him with a pass from the boards. Assists went to Parkes and Nikolay Goldobin.

The Barracuda also got the first power play, 7:44 into the period. Michael Mersch, Ontario’s leading goal scorer, went to the box for tripping. Just before that penalty expired, Nikita Jevpalovs went to the box for high-sticking. With 30 seconds left in the penalty, Mersch tied it up for the Reign. Assists went to Sean Backman (the Reign’s points leader) and Valentin Zykov.

Jevpalovs also took the Barracuda’s second penalty, this time it was hooking at 12:47.

The Barracuda were trailing by three shots at the end of the first period, and by the middle of the second they had only added four. The second period was far from shot-heavy, with the Reign only taking three by the ten minute mark. No penalties were called until the fourteen minute mark. The call was for holding and it went to Ontario’s Vincent LoVerde.

It only took Mirco Mueller four seconds to put a shot on net from the blue line. His shot went between two Barracuda skaters as they passed in front of the net and gave the Barracuda the lead. An assist went to Scott Timmins. It was the first goal from a Barracuda defenseman.

The Reign took the goal right back. Justin Auger won the puck behind the net and tried to wrap it around with a backhand. When that did not work, Ryan Horvat picked up the rebound and tossed the puck between Dell’s shoulder and the post. Dell’s vision was obstructed by his own defender and also Auger so he really did not have a chance. Assists went to Auger and Jonny Brodzinski.

The Barracuda had another power play chance at 15:34, when MacDermid went to the box for cross-checking. Nothing came of that, and the Barracuda shortly found themselves on the penalty kill when Patrick McNally went for hooking. That Reign power play did not last long, because Nic Dowd shoved Timmins face first into the glass. That evened the numbers up and put Dowd in the box for boarding.

The period closed with the teams tied at 2, and the Reign leading in shots 22-19.

The third period started with the teams playing four on four for a minute and one second. A 32 second power play for San Jose followed but did not produce a goal.

One of the Barracuda’s better chances came when Karl Stollery found himself in the slot with a clear view of the net. Unfortunately for him, his stick broke and the shot went wide. Seven minutes in and the Barracuda were keeping the Reign on their heels but Budaj was alert and preserved the tie with several saves.

The Barracuda were back on the power play at 9:38 to go, when Ontario’s LoVerde went for hooking. The resulting power play did not start especially well. The Barracuda spent several seconds chasing down the puck in their own zone and keeping it away from attacking penalty killers. The rest of the power play was broken up by stoppages and clears that limited scoring chances.

More four on four play commenced at 12:02 when Jordan Samuels-Thomas and Julius Bergman sat for two minutes. Samuels-Thomas was sent away for embellishment, while Bergman did time for tripping. Neither team profited from the penalties.

Back at even strength, San Jose’s Joakim Ryan escaped an attacking Ontario player in the Barracuda zone, then took the puck all the way to Reign territory. With Ontario defenders closing on him, he used a backhand pass to give the puck to Jeremy Langlois. Langlois carried it around behind the net before scoring with a wrap around.

Another four on four session began when Mirco Mueller and Ryan Horvat were confined with matching roughing minors. Neither team scored.

The Reign pulled their goalie in the final two minutes and it took the Barracuda nearly a minute to clear the puck out. Nikolay Goldobin followed it out and scored an empty-netter. Assists went to McCarthy and Peter Emanuelsson. With that goal and his assist, Goldobin had his first two points of the season in one game.

Final score: 4-2 Barracuda.

No Barracuda had more than three shots, but four had three: McCarthy, Ryan Carpenter, Patrick McNally and Goldobin. For Ontario, Mersch led in shots with six. San Jose’s Aaron Dell made 32 saves on 34 shots, while Peter Budaj made 25 saves on 28 shots.

The Barracuda next play on Saturday, November 7th against the San Diego Gulls in San Jose at 1:15 PT.

Sharks Reduce Training Camp to 27

By Mary Walsh

The San Jose Sharks have reduced their training camp roster to 27 players, they announced Monday.

Timo Meier, the Sharks’ first round pick in the most recent draft, was assigned to his junior club, the Halifax Mooseheads. In the Sharks press release, Peter DeBoer said:

“Timo had an impressive camp. He showed everyone why we selected him where we did,” said Sharks Head Coach Peter DeBoer. “He has a nice blend of power, speed and skill and he has a really bright future.”

San Jose Barracuda camp starts today. The Sharks assigned nine players to the new AHL club on Monday. The forwards are: John McCarthy, Bryan Lerg, Micheal Haley and Ryan Carpenter. The defensemen are: Mark Cundari, Karl Stollery and Gus Young. The goalies are Troy Grosenick and Aaron Dell.

The moves leave Al Stalock and Martin Jones as the goaltenders the Sharks will start the season with.

The Sharks also put forward Frazer McLaren on waivers. His status will be determined after the waiver period expires.

NHL Free Agency Opens

By Mary Walsh

The start of NHL free agency 2015 has been unusually busy for the San Jose Sharks. Just after the draft, they acquired goaltender Martin Jones (3 years at $3m AAV). On Day One of free agency, they signed veteran defenseman Paul Martin (4 years at $4.85m AAV). They have re-signed defenseman Brenden Dillon (5 years at $3.75m AAV). Defenseman Matt Irwin has not been re-signed and seems to be testing the free agent market. As reported by Elliotte Friedman, the Sharks also hired Johan Hedberg as goalie coach.

Over 13 seasons, Hedberg played in 396 NHL games in regular season and playoffs. He played for the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Dallas Stars, the Vancouver Canucks, the Atlanta Thrashers and most recently the New Jersey Devils. His last NHL game was April 27, 2013. Such a career suggests that he has seen a good number of changes in goaltending and has worked with a number of goalie coaches, including Warren Strelow. After retirement, he worked as a scout for the Devils in 2013-14, and spent last season as goaltending coach for the Albany Devils of the AHL. He should be a good addition to the Sharks coaching staff.

The Sharks have also signed John McCarthy and Bryan Lerg to one year two-way contracts. McCarthy was drafted by the Sharks in the seventh round of the 2006 draft. He spent last season with the St. Louis Blues organization. He was moved in an AHL trade to the Worcester Sharks but was unable to play in the Calder Cup playoffs due to injury. The Sharks also re-signed Bryan Lerg to a one year two-way deal. He played two games with the Sharks, and 68 games with the Worcester Sharks, earning 41 points last season.

Other moves around the NHL:

Former Los Angeles King forward Justin Williams, noted for his success in playoff game sevens, will be leaving the West for the Washington Capitals. Short of adding him to their own roster, this had to be the best outcome for teams in the Western Conference.

One high profile move was Pittsburgh’s acquisition of formidable goal scorer Phil Kessel from the Toronto Maples Leafs. While the move will certainly impact the Penguins, presumably for the better, it is only significant for the Sharks because it means Kessel is not coming west.

The Chicago Blackhawks are in the situation everyone knew they would be in, having to shed salary to meet cap requirements. They were unable to come to terms with Brandon Saad and traded him to the Columbus Blue Jackets. They also let Brad Richards walk, and he walked to Detroit. They did sign Viktor Tikhonov, who has returned from the KHL, and signed Artem Anisimov after acquiring him in the Saad trade from Columbus.

Coyotes do go home after all: Arizona (re)acquired Zbynek Michalek and Antoine Vermette, and signed goaltender Anders Lindback. Michalek was traded to the Blackhawks at the trade deadline last season, and returns to Arizona with a Stanley Cup ring. Michalek was traded at the same time, to the St. Louis Blues. Lindback spent last season with the Dallas Stars, and could be a significant improvement over prior Coyotes backups. Arizona also added forwards Boyd Gordon (another returning Coyote), Brad Richardson and Steve Downie, and defenseman Nicklas Grossmann.

The Los Angeles Kings signed goaltender Jonas Enroth, an interesting move as it breaks with their tradition of having less well-traveled backups for Jonathan Quick. Enroth played very well for the Stars last season, when their regular starter Kari Lehtonen was out with injury. The Kings had already acquired forward Milan Lucic from the Bruins during the draft, in a trade that led to the Sharks being able to get Martin Jones from the Bruins.  Lucic is the sort of forward everyone needs to keep an eye on. The Kings also terminated Mike Richards’ contract but gave no further details about the breach the termination was based on.

The Anaheim Ducks acquired defenseman Kevin Bieksa from the Vancouver Canucks and signed forward Shawn Horcoff. They added goalie Matt Hackett, formerly of the Minesota Wild and the Buffalo Sabres. They also hired former Senators coach Paul MacLean as assistant coach. During draft weekend, they sent Emerson Etem to New York in exchange for Carl Hagelin and picks.

The Vancouver Canucks signed defenseman Taylor Fedun, who played seven games with the Sharks last season, after being acquired from the Edmonton Oilers. Vancouver traded  Zach Kassian to the Montreal Canadiens for Brandon Prust. They signed goalie Richard Bachman, and defenseman Matt Bartkowski.

The Edmonton Oilers won the Cam Talbot sweepstakes, trading three drafts picks and receiving one in return with the coveted goaltender. They then signed two veteran skaters: defenseman Andrej Sekera and center Mark Letestu.

The Colorado Avalanche signed defenseman Francois Beauchemin to a three year contract, and forward Blake Comeau. They traded ryan O’Reilly and Jamie McGinn to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for defenseman Nikita Zadorov, forwards Mikhail Grigorenko and J.T. Compher, and a 2015 2nd-round pick. They did not re-sign Jan Hejda, Daniel Briere or Ryan Wilson.

Other moves of note for Sharks fans:

Thomas Greiss signed a two year deal with the New York Islanders. The Kings and others had inquired, according to Pierre LeBrun. Defenseman Sena Acolatse signed with the Florida Panthers.

Back Where They Belong: Unchange the Sharks

(Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports)
(Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports)

By Mary Walsh

At the first intermission during the Sharks game Saturday, Jamie Baker said the Sharks seem to be missing something, possibly their mojo. If the Sharks have lost their mojo, it might be buried in Todd McLellan’s higgledy-piggledy line adjustments. It could be time to unchange all those lines.

Or maybe they found their mojo Saturday, in the process of being outshot 46-39 by the Dallas Stars, who average 31.6 shots a game. Maybe the Sharks found their mojo and that is how they survived going down by two goals, made it to a shootout and won 3-2. They won. That is important. But if a 4-2 victory in Toronto foretold of a losing streak to come, it isn’t likely that the Sharks will rest on those Dallas shootout laurels.

The Sharks started the season outstandingly well. To get back to that could be impossible, but to get back to winning more than losing is a reasonable goal. The key is to put the pieces back where they belong and leave them there for at least as long as they have been out of place. That would be nine games or so.

The Sharks’ coaching staff spent a lot of time thinking up forward lines during the off-season and training camp. The lines they started with might have some merit, even if you account for the insertion of players who came and went due to injury. During the ten game experiment the team just completed, only the Hertl-Thornton-Burns and Couture-Marleau connections lasted.

Those were dismantled Saturday against Dallas, beyond replacing the injured Hertl. John McCarthy took Pavelski’s spot as third line center, Pavelski moved to a new line with Thornton and Marleau, and Burns to Couture’s line with Havlat.

Putting McCarthy at center is not wrong per se. He played there in college and also in the AHL. But he’s been in San Jose for most of this season, playing wing. Maybe tossing him back to the middle isn’t the best way to stabilize the team.

When the Sharks started this rough patch after Toronto, San Jose started making line adjustments. Eventually, they made every line adjustment there was to make, until finally Martin Havlat was skating on a fourth line with Andrew Desjardins. The experiment may have provided some as yet unseen benefit to the team, but it certainly didn’t generate many wins.

Obviously, the inquiry into whether or not a pass can connect between Havlat and Desjardins was answered with an unequivocal “no.” But what about all those other adjustments? What about moving Pavelski to the wing? Pavelski is a perfectly capable winger, but moving him away from center punched a hole in one of the team’s most coveted qualities: daunting depth through center.

The decision to sit Tyler Kennedy for a game, then put him back in on the fourth line looked a lot like the path Havlat followed back to the second line. It’s all well and good to make a player watch a game to sort things out, then have him come back in with limited ice time.

Except it really isn’t well and good. Using the fourth line as a gateway back into the game can thoroughly handicap the fourth line if said player is not accustomed to fourth line duty. It’s hard enough for the energy line to do its job with limited ice time and the continuous changing of their membership.

When the rotation included McCarthy, Sheppard and Brown as wingers for Desjardins, at least it was just those four. They could get a feel for each other. Tossing Havlat and Kennedy in there didn’t do them any favors. They have to work fast and hard, they’re not a rehab service for top niners.

It wasn’t ideal for the top niners either. Martin Havlat, before Thursday’s game, was preparing to skate on a line with Couture and Marleau, the third line he’d played on in as many games. Despite playing all over the lineup, did Havlat think his game was becoming more consistent or not?

Not, but like you said, I’ve been all over the place. So we’ll see. I played with these guys half of the year last year at the end and it was great. So we’ll see how it is.

It went pretty well, better than other lines that night. It was the only line to score a goal and finish without a minus by their names. Tyler Kennedy was the only other skater without a minus.

Whether he sees it or not, Havlat’s game has been getting stronger. It may be taking longer than it would if he’d been left consistently with the same line-mates. While his game has suffered along with the team’s, he has at least maintained some defensive equilibrium. McLellan commented on that after the win in St. Louis last Tuesday:

When we look at Marty, I think since he’s been back in the lineup, he’s only been a minus player three nights. That’s pretty darn good. There’s not a lot of other guys that are in that situation. Would we like more offense from him? I think it’s coming.

Havlat isn’t the only player who might profit from a consistent line configuration. Kennedy did better than Havlat on the fourth line. He even got an assist in his second game there. Maybe all he needed was a little more time with his new linemates, a second game?

In Los Angeles, it looked like McLellan was ready to put the old bands back together, with Havlat and Marleau flanking Couture, and Pavelski back at center with Wingels and Sheppard. When Hertl went down, emergency changes had to be made, but otherwise the team was taking a familiar shape again.

Those lines did not win that game, but wins have been scarce for the kaleidoscope of line formations before and since. Those won three of eight games. Perhaps if McLellan gives the old lines a chance to find their footing again the team can reverse this losing trend.

Sharks Need a Quick Reset

By Mary Walsh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sharks’ Win Streak Ends With 5-1 Loss to Pens

By Mary Walsh

PITTSBURGH- The San Jose Sharks were overwhelmed Thursday, by a team they had handled very well in past meetings. The final score was 5-1 Penguins. The Sharks had their work cut out for them in Pittsburgh, as Sidney Crosby has still never scored against the Sharks, so that was and is probably on his to do list. The job got much bigger when the Sharks went down 4-0 with just over half of the game remaining. That hole was too deep for San Jose to climb out of.

Thursday morning, Pierre LeBrun offered the Sharks at Penguins game as a good alternative to the All Star Game. In the first period, the comparison was grossly inaccurate, as both teams played stifling defense. Play opened up in the second period, with one team racking up the shots, and the other piling up goals. The Sharks got credit for 24 shots in that fateful period, while the Penguins scored four goals.

Before the game, Penguins Head Coach Dan Bylsma said, of his team’s third line:

…it’s not a typical physical it’s not a shut down line, they do it with speed. All those guys have some tenacity to their game too, it’s not just speed, you can’t knock them off the puck that easily. Chris Connor, we said it when we called him up “he’s going to knock someone down every game” and against Toronto his first game, right before his goal he reversed shoulders and knocks a guy down in the offensive zone but the speed at which they play as a unit is a factor… and they’re tough to handle and they’ve been able to do that with some consistency for our group in all the games they’ve played.

That formula turned out to work well against the Sharks, not only for the line Bylsma was describing.The Sharks had a lot of shots, but they didn’t have much time to set those shots up.

Much was made of how the Penguins and the Sharks were not especially familiar with each other, but they each had players who had faced the other team more than once. The above-mentioned Chris Conner had faced the Sharks as recently as late last season, while playing for the Phoenix Coyotes. Some of the Penguins, though, had not played the Sharks before. Penguins defenseman Simon Despres, recently recalled from the AHL, looked forward to the challenge:

I know nothing about San Jose, it’s my first time playing a West[ern] team personally, so I’m excited to play them … They’re a top team in the league, it’s going to be a good challenge for the team.

Familiar with San Jose or not, the Penguins were prepared for the game.

Sharks’ Head Coach Todd McLellan didn’t make too much of the absence of Evgeni Malkin from the Penguins lineup. Before the game he pointed out that the Penguins have a lot of recent experience playing without their top scorers, and playing well.

The Sharks took two penalties in the game, and both went to John McCarthy. On the second of those, the Penguins scored their fourth goal of the game. McCarthy’s penalty minutes were not the only thing going wrong for the Sharks. There were few mistake-free players for San Jose, and the team’s overall composure was badly rattled by the early second period onslaught from Pittsburgh.

In the first period, both teams kept their opponents to the outside and most of the shots taken were hurried. One good chance came for the Penguins when Andrew Desjardins and Scott Hannan both failed to get control of the puck in the slot, Chris Conner sped in and got a shot off. Niemi stopped it. Neither team had many great chances in the first period, even on the power play.  The period ended with shots 12-7 Pittsburgh.

The second period started inauspiciously for the Sharks, with the home team scoring less than 30 seconds in. Pascal Dupuis scored the first of the game on a tip from Brooks Orpik’s shot from the point. The Sharks responded  with a good shift from the Pavelski line, but that was followed by a three-on-one rush when Despres pushed the puck past Jason Demers. Jayson Megna and Joe Vitale went the other way. Megna took the shot, scoring his third of the season.

With the score 2-0, Pittsburgh’s Matt Niskanen was called for interference on McCarthy. The Penguins stopped the Sharks from scoring on the power play, and came back with offensive pressure that exposed the Sharks yet again.  After a turnover in the Sharks’ zone, Niemi stopped a Sidney Crosby shot but Chris Kunitz picked up the rebound and made it 3-0.

San Jose’s fourth line looked like they might shift the momentum as they got in the zone and had the Penguins scrambling, until McCarthy was called for tripping Olli Maatta in front of the net. It took the Penguins 14 seconds to score on that power play. The goal went to Kunitz, from James Neal and Sidney Crosby. 4-0 Penguins.

The Sharks finally got on the board at 9:27 of the period, with a goal from Tomas Hertl, possibly off of Pittsburgh’s Derek Engellund’s stick. Shortly thereafter, Andrew Desjardins drew a penalty, giving the Sharks a power play that seemed to let them regroup. They had eight shots before the penalty expired but failed to score.

By the end of the period, Todd McLellan had replaced Joe Pavelski with Andrew Desjardins at center with Tyler Kennedy and Martin Havlat. Pavelski was moved to center John McCarthy and James Sheppard.

The second period ended with the score 4-1 Pittsburgh, and the shots 31-27 San Jose.

McLellan changed goaltenders for the third period, putting Alex Stalock in to replace Antti Niemi. The forward lines remained as they had finished the second, with Pavelski centering McCarthy and Sheppard.

The Penguins started the period in the Sharks’ zone. Four minutes later they extended their lead to 5-1, a goal from Kris Letang. It was the Penguins’ first shot of the period. They only got credit for two more, to the Sharks’ 14. The final count was 45-30.

Marc-Andre Fleury made 33 saves on 34 shots for the win. For the Sharks, Antti Niemi made 21 saves on 24 shots in the first two periods, Alex Stalock made two saves on three shots in the third. The Sharks’ power play went 0-3, their penalty kill 1-2.

It was Dan Boyle’s 900th NHL game, Tyler Kennedy’s 400th, and Sidney Crosby’s 500th.

The Sharks Got What They Need

By Mary Walsh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of playing with him, Joe Thornton said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sharks Should Decide Who’s on Fourth

By Mary Walsh

The San Jose Sharks are making a splendid start to the season. Despite having their lineup tinkered with by suspension and injury, they keep winning. The only voluntary lineup change they have made from game to game is to their fourth line. There the change has been regular and radical. Matt Pelech and John McCarthy are completely different quantities, one known for fighting and toughness, the other known for tenacity and scoring. Both reputations have been developed primarily in the AHL, over the course of multiple seasons. The Sharks organization knows both players well. Did Pelech move himself up the depth chart, securely ahead of McCarthy by scoring a goal? Possibly, but if anyone believes Pelech will keep doing that they are likely to be disappointed.

Pelech was assigned to the ECHL’s SF Bulls early this season. He was then quickly reassigned to Worcester. After McCarthy’s second NHL game this season, he also spent a day as a Bull before going back to Worcester, while Pelech was recalled. Assigning Pelech and McCarthy to the Sharks’ ECHL affiliate looks like an attempt to keep them nearby for easy recall, while minimizing disruption to the start of Worcester’s season. But so far, they haven’t stayed in San Francisco. They were both reassigned to Worcester anyway.

Todd McLellan has said in the past that he likes to keep options open, use different lineups for different opponents. Is tailoring the fourth line really more important than giving the line time to gel? Five games in to the season, with the other three lines performing so well, why not pick a fourth line and stick with it for a bit?

Did McLellan want Pelech for the game in Vancouver, to give the Canucks pause if they were considering paying special attention to Tomas Hertl? While Pelech’s presence didn’t stop anyone from hitting Hertl, he did score a goal. That is always a good thing to do. Pelech’s goal was timely for him in that respect. There might be more to him than meets the eye.

In today’s NHL, the presence of one known enforcer in your lineup won’t do much to keep anyone from taking a run at someone. It only makes sense that the team should want a fourth line that manages the puck well, executes plays, shoots with some conviction, and basically looks a lot like a third line. So which player, Pelech or McCarthy, fits that role best? They aren’t unknown quantities to the coaching staff. The argument that the season is still young and the coaches need to get to know the players does not apply here.

Perhaps the old adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” does apply. An unfixed lineup could be what McLellan wants. After all, the team is winning.