Pavelski’s 3rd Hat Trick Propels Sharks to 5-2 Win

By Mary Walsh

Joe Pavelski has found the trick to three-goal games. Tuesday in Edmonton, he scored his third hat trick, after starting the season without even one hat trick in his NHL career. His three goals boosted the San Jose Sharks to a 5-2 win over the Edmonton Oilers.

Patrick Marleau scored the first Sharks goal of the game, and Martin Havlat scored the game winner in the second period. The Sharks scored three  goals on the power play (two were Pavelski’s). Edmonton goals came from David Perron and Taylor Hall. Antti Niemi made 28 saves for the win, Ben Scrivens made 29 saves for the Oilers.

It took the Sharks a full period to find their legs in the second part of back to back games in Alberta. The Oilers, rested after an embarrassing loss to Calgary, came out fast against the Sharks. They opened the scoring when David Perron brought the puck in while his teammates drove the Sharks’ defense back. Perron skated around Tyler Kennedy and shot around Brad Stuart to score at 4:11 of the first period. Assists went to Taylor Hall and Jeff Petry.

The Sharks’ fourth line responded well to that goal, gaining the zone and earning an excellent scoring chance, but Mike Brown lost the puck on a wrap-around try. In the same shift, a shot from Sharks’ defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic caught the Oilers’ Ryan Jones in the knee and sent him limping off the ice.

The rest of the first was marked by some good luck for the Sharks that defended them against several attacks from the Oilers. The period ended with the shots 11-10 Sharks.

The second period began with the Sharks outshooting the Oilers 6-1 in the first five minutes. The first penalty of the game was called against the Oilers when Ryan Smyth went to the box for holding. It only took the Sharks 37 seconds on the power play to tie the game. Oilers goaltender Ben Scrivens stopped a shot from Patrick Marleau but Joe Pavelski was in position to pick up the rebound and put it in to an open net. The assists went to Marleau and Joe Thornton.

A few minutes later, a good chance for the Sharks’ third line drew another penalty against the Oilers. Andrew Ference went off for holding James Sheppard. It took the Sharks considerably longer to score on this second power play, but the Sharks’ top power play unit of Thornton, Marleau, Burns, Pavelski and Boyle held the zone and fired a flurry of shots without losing possession. Finally a shot from Marleau went in, with assists going to Pavelski and Burns.

The Sharks took their first penalty at 11:43 of the second period, when Brad Stuart went to the box for hooking. The Sharks killed it off but shortly thereafter, Adam Burish blocked a shot and left the ice with what looked like a serious hand injury.

The Sharks had a few close calls later in the period, but with just 39 seconds left, the third line caught a break and Martin Havlat skated into the Oilers’ zone with Tommy Wingels two on one. Despite taking a slash to his stick, Havlat put a hard shot past Scrivens to give the Sharks a two goal lead.

Through the period, the Sharks had 17 shots to the Oilers’ 7.

Matt Nieto drew a penalty from Taylor Hall to start the third period. The second power play unit did not get a chance to play, as Pavelski scored just 46 seconds in, bouncing a shot off the inside of Scrivens’ skate. Assists went to Dan Boyle and Brent Burns.

Several minutes later, Pavelski made it 5-1 for the hat trick after the Sharks kept the Oilers trapped in their zone for too long. Assists went to Joe Thornton and Brad Stuart.

The Oilers got one back with just over five minutes left in the game. Some hard work on the boards sent the puck in front of Niemi, where a diving Taylor Hall was able to scoop in into the net. A hooking call against Matt Nieto gave the Oilers a second chance on the power play with less than a minute left in the third period, but they could not change the score from 5-2.

Tommy Wingels got credit for 12 hits, leading all skaters in the game in that statistic. Brent Burns and Joe Pavelski each had four shots. David Perron lead the Oilers in shots with six.

The three stars of the game were Joe Pavelski, Patrick Marleau and Taylor Hall.

The Sharks next play in San Jose on Thursday at 7:30 pm. They will host the Winnipeg Jets.

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.

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 Short Lightning 5-1

Lightning Sharks Hockey .JPEG-0ae54

By Mary Walsh

SAN JOSE- Thursday night, San Jose defeated Tampa Bay 5-1, but it was not the way a 5-1 game usually looks. Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi had to make a lot of good saves and some very tough ones. Four Sharks scored, with two goals coming from Tommy Wingels, and one each from Brad Stuart, Brent Burns and Patrick Marleau. Despite the team having many good chances, the only Lighting player to score was Tyler Johnson.

The big news of the night was that Brent Burns was back in the game for San Jose. His  line did have their moments, but they were not as dangerous as they had been earlier in the season. Head Coach Todd McLellan didn’t sound too worried about them:

Burnzie’s line with Jumbo and Thomas, it’ll take some time to get their legs going again, and feel each other out, but they’ll be back to where they’re supposed to be.

Before the game, the question was raised: would the Sharks be ready to compete, after two days off and just one practice since their last game? McLellan acknowledged that it was a gamble:

Now that we won, I’m glad that we took those days off. I still think there were a few guys that didn’t have their legs because of it. But we made it through the night and they’ll be better tomorrow. Hopefully by the time the New Jersey game rolls around everybody will be real fresh. You take the chance of overresting at times.

The Logan Couture line with Patrick Marleau and Tommy Wingels turned some heads, though hardly with surprise. They have been consistently productive players for the team. They were the most dangerous scoring threat of the night. After the game, McLellan said of that line and the Joe Pavelski, Martin Havlat, Tyler Kennedy line:

That whole line played very well, against their top players for most of the night. I also thought that Marty, Pav and TK had a really good night. Those three looked like they belong together and played well. So, good balance through those two lines.

A point of curiosity was how the Tampa Bay Lightning plays without Steven Stamkos. It turns out, they play a lot like they did with him. Obviously they could not replace his scoring touch, but they did prevent the Sharks from sustaining extended zone time. The shot clock reflected a game of traded chances, ending 37-36. That is very close except that in victory, the Sharks habitually outshoot their opponents by a sizeable margin.

The first four minutes of the game were uneventful except for one very good first shift from Logan Couture’s line that resulted in several shots but no points. They didn’t score until their next shift, when Tommy Wingels scored from the left faceoff circle. Assists went to his linemates, Couture and Patrick Marleau.

Eight minutes into the period, Tampa Bay asserted themselves in the Sharks’ zone after stripping the puck at the Sharks’ blue line. A couple of shots later, San Jose iced the puck to get out of trouble. The Sharks regained their composure when the fourth line of James Sheppard, Andrew Desjardins and Mike Brown drove play the other way. They held the offensive zone for San Jose until the next whistle.

At 14:43, Tommy Wingels was called for tripping Valteri Filppula. The Lightning had a good long spell with six skaters before Wingels finally cleared the puck. That was enough for the referee to blow play dead.

The penalty kill unit was Hannan, Marleau, Pavelski and Brad Stuart. Tampa Bay’s power play was not easy to chase off. In fact, the Sharks skaters did not get a chance at a shift change for the full two minutes. Tampa Bay managed several shots, but it brought to mind the old saying: if they didn’t have bad luck they would have no luck at all.

The beleaguered but successful penalty killers seemed to inspire the Sharks because they finally sustained an attack. Stuart came back out, recovered from his penalty killing marathon. The puck came to him above the faceoff circle and he slapped it past Tampa Bay’s goaltender Anders Lindback.

With 51.9 left in the first, Victor Hedman went to the box for holding Marleau. The Sharks didn’t dawdle this time, but Tampa Bay still managed a short handed rush, this time it was Nate Thompson and Tyler Johnson. The Sharks pushed back and got one shot off before the period ended.

The period ended with the Sharks leading 2-0 on the scoreboard and 18-12 in shots.

The Sharks started the second period on the power play. With Thornton, Couture, Marleau, Pavelski and Boyle on the ice, Lindback stopped two shots before the power play expired. Havlat came out on a line with Kennedy and Desjardins. The makeshift line was quickly trapped in their own zone. The second line came out for a defensive zone draw and managed two rushes up ice before going off, but without being able to do much more than one and done shots. The top line of Thornton, Burns and Hertl had no more success. Tampa Bay was very attentive to their defensive duties. Niemi had to be sharp, though Tampa Bay rarely got more than one shot on net in a stretch.

Once they had some distance from the penalties, McLellan reverted to his starting lines.

About seven minutes in to the second period, Scott Hannan just missed with a hard one-timer from the half boards. The puck landed square on his stick off a beautiful backhand pass from Havlat. That was followed by a good chance to jam it home for Kennedy. The Sharks were finding a way to sustain the attack beyond one shift, but Lindback held on.

Another good shift from Couture’s line seemed about to fail when Patrick Marleau got the puck behind the net. He passed the puck past a Lightning defenseman, right to Tommy Wingels in front of the net. Wingels’ second of the game put the Sharks up 3-0.

Tampa Bay outshot the Sharks in the second period, 12-9 but had yet to make one of those shots count for a goal.

The third period opened with the Couture line on the ice. Both that line and the Thornton line that followed spent most of their shifts defending, until the end of the top line’s shift when they did get a draw in the offensive zone. The Pavelski line after them managed extended time in the zone but not many shots.

At 4:23, the top line finally got their point. A shot from Scott Hannan above the faceoff circle was deflected in by Brent Burns. Assists went to Thornton and Hannan.

Seconds later (19 to be exact), Patrick Marleau skated in around a blue and white defender and back-handed it over the goalie for the Sharks’ fifth goal. Assists went to Logan Couture and Justin Braun.

The Tampa Bay Lightning finally got on the board with a breakaway shot from Tyler Johnson at 7:39. Assists went to Ondrej Palat and Richard Panik. Niemi had been very sharp up until then, and he had to be. The Sharks had allowed too many shots for comfort.

Tampa Bay, with nothing left to lose, pushed hard. The Sharks, with as much motivation as a team with a four-goal lead can have, had trouble getting through the neutral zone and their infrequent forays into the offensive zone did not last long.

The final shot count was 37-36 Tampa Bay, but the count that mattered read 5-1 San Jose.

The Sharks’ scratches were Matt Irwin, John McCarthy and Matt Nieto.

The Sharks next play Saturday at 7:30 at SAP Center in San Jose, against the New Jersey Devils.

Boyle and Havlat Back in the Game

By Mary Walsh

SAN JOSE- The question going in to Saturday’s Sharks game was… well, there were many. Who would want the win more, the team that lost to SJ 5-1 last time around, or the team that lost a frustrating game to LA a few days earlier? The Coyotes gave their answer quickly with a goal just 36 seconds in to the period. The Sharks pushed back like the goal was a wakeup call heard loud and clear. In the end it was as close to a draw as it can get, a shootout won by the visitors.

There were other questions: how long before returning Sharks Martin Havlat and Dan Boyle are up to game speed?

Saturday morning, Boyle said that he believed his first hit, given or received, would be a benchmark in his proof of recovery. Mikkel Boedker and David Moss wasted no time helping Boyle get that out of the way, each hitting him before four minutes had elapsed in the game.

Boyle also scored on the power play, something the Sharks had been having some trouble with. Not a lot of trouble, but some. It didn’t look like Boyle will take very long to get back into the swing of things. Even his post-loss demeanor was much as it ever was:

I expect a lot out of myself as you guys know… I had to be realistic, I knew I was going to be not as good as I want to be, and that’s pretty much what I think happened out there. I think I definitely didn’t feel like my normal self out there but that’s to be expected. I’ll definitely get better in a hurry.

Boyle wasn’t entirely down on his situation. He expressed confidence that he would improve, and that what he lacked in Saturday’s game had everything to do with time off, not the injury that caused it. That was essentially what he said after the morning skate as well:

You can’t be in game shape unless you play in games. You can mimic it all you want, you just try to minimize the difference by doing all the skating  [you can]. I imagine I have a little catching up to do.

For Martin Havlat, it was a second game back but also a first game back with last season’s linemates, Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau. Havlat was a little more adventurous Saturday than he had been Wednesday against the Los Angeles Kings. He did some things better and others worse, a pattern common to highly skilled, creative players. They try things that either work and make people say “ah!” or they don’t work and everyone says it was a dumb idea. Hindsight and all that.

Asked how many games Havlat thought he would need to be back up to game speed, he said:

A few, so hopefully… the less the better. It’s going to take some time, but we’ll see how it goes tonight. The last one wasn’t that bad, the first night.

He didn’t look bad, playing on Pavelski’s line or playing on Couture’s line. Wherever he lands– and of the many line adjustments Todd McLellan made Saturday, Couture’s was least tampered with– he is probably right. He probably will hit his stride sooner than later.

That these two are back in the lineup could mean the imminent departure of one of the call-ups, depending on how long Burns will be out. Saturday, Matt Nieto and James Sheppard both played while Mike Brown sat, though all signs at the end of practice pointed to James Sheppard sitting. So much for signs.

On a side note, it is good to see the fourth line regulars getting substantial time and responsibility on the penalty kill. That has always seemed like a logical choice, since they would otherwise have energy to burn. McLellan had Andrew Desjardins on the penalty kill last season as well, and now John McCarthy is taking regular shifts shorthanded.

Not Quite Right: Sharks Fall to Kings in OT

sanjosesharksvlosangeleskingsnyfai_dvd93l

By Mary Walsh

LOS ANGELES-

We don’t like the way things ended last year, and we want to try and set things right tonight. -Patrick Marleau, to CSNCA during warmups

It looked like the Sharks were ready to do just that when Logan Couture found Marc-Edouard Vlasic pinching in deep, after getting a quick look at the play. Vlasic’s goal gave the Sharks a lead just 13 seconds into the game. The Sharks looked poised to play a slippery, unpredictable game. In the end, the Kings won in an entirely predictable fashion for them: by taking away the Sharks’ time and space with relentless physical play. After trailing by a goal three times, the Kings won 4-3 in overtime.

At 2:32 of the period, a miscalculation by Matt Irwin in the Sharks’ zone ended with a failed breakout. Justin Williams took advantage and sent the puck back up to Drew Doughty, who tied the game with a snap shot.

The game was Martin Havlat’s first back with the team after a lengthy recovery from off-season surgery. He started on a line with Joe Pavelski and Tommy Wingels. That line produced the Sharks’ second goal. As the Kings were exiting their zone, Pavelski and Wingels converged between Kings, stole the puck, and a quick back and forth between them ended with a patient shot from Pavelski to give the Sharks a 2-1 lead. Wingels and Havlat had a 2 on 1 chance on their next shift. The line looked very much in sync.

The Sharks started the second period with several good chances from the Pavelski and Desjardins lines, but on the Kings’ first good shift of the period, the Kings took the puck from Sharks defenseman Brad Stuart with a hard hit. The home team took over and Jarret Stoll scored off a deflected shot from Slava Voynov.

Antti Niemi added a little surprise move when he came out above the faceoff circle to prevent a dangerous breakaway by the Kings’ Stoll. Near the Kings’ blue line, James Sheppard tried a pass to the slot, but Stoll blocked it and went other way. He had a step on everyone. Niemi’s pass moved the puck to safety, though it bounced meekly back into the Kings’ zone. That pass was more successful than half the Sharks’ passes in the second. Good pressure from Los Angeles rushed the Sharks skaters and led to several giveaways.

Neither team allowed many good second chances, though the Sharks’ fourth line had a few in the middle period. A lot of physical play was the key, and Mike Brown certainly helped there when he got near the net.

A too many men penalty with just over six minutes left punctuated a lack of poise from the Sharks. That penalty kill seemed to help the Sharks briefly regain their focus.

The Sharks caught a break in the form of a goalie interference call against Kyle Clifford at 17:22 of the second period. After some rapid-fire puck movement from the Sharks’ power play, Logan Couture gave San Jose the lead.

The fourth line followed up with a very good shot from Desjardins that just trickled wide of the Kings’ net. Play went the other way, and the Kings answered with a great steal off Justin Braun by Dustin Brown just ahead of the goal line. The Sharks collapsed to the slot before he could get a shot off.

The Kings got their own goalie interference power play not long in to the third period. The Sharks had some close calls and had to make several very quick adjustments to protect their lead while Tommy Wingels was in the box for falling over Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick.

By the middle of the third, the Kings looked like the fresher team, though they had played the night before. The Sharks were scrambling and were called again for too many men on the ice. A beautiful play by Anze Kopitar was too much for San Jose’s penalty kill, and Justin Williams tied the game again.

Momentum shifted when Kings forward Dan Carcillo hit Logan Couture from behind and went to the penalty box for boarding. The ensuing power play for San Jose was fiercely defended by the Kings. There would be no extended passing plays now. The Sharks adjusted, coming up with some fast plays and faster shots, but still didn’t score.

The Sharks stretched out the last seven seconds of the period by icing the puck again and again. The clock ran out and the teams went to overtime.

Less than a minute into overtime, the Sharks went back on the penalty kill. The Kings had a relentless shift in the offensive zone, which ended when Justin Braun hooked LA’s Jeff Carter, possibly preventing a shot puck but taking the penalty. Neither team looked especially fresh during the four on three power play, but the Kings had plenty of room to work with. With 22 seconds left in the four on three power play, Anze Kopitar slapped the puck in from the blue line to give the Kings the win.

Talking about what he needed to do in his first game back, Havlat mentioned a couple of things that the whole team might have done to improve the outcome Wednesday night:

I just have to keep it simple, not try to do too much… I’m just trying to focus on the little things and not think too much. -Martin Havlat to CSNCA during first intermission

The Sharks next play on Saturday, back home at SAP Center in San Jose.