Sharks Start Strong Again, Win 3-2 in Philly

By Mary Walsh

The San Jose Sharks lost two defensemen and had to go to a shootout after outshooting the Philadelphia Flyers 44-18, but they won 3-2. The shootout winner was scored by Brent Burns. Matt Irwin and Joe Pavelski scored the regulation goals for the Sharks, while Michael Raffl and Claude Giroux scored for the Flyers. Goaltender Al Stalock made 16 saves on 18 shots from the win, while Steve Mason made 42 saves on 44 shots for the Flyers.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic sustained a lower body injury during the first period and is not expected to play in Pittsburgh. Scott Hannan was also injured later in the game and is also likely to be out Sunday. Of finishing the game after so many injuries, head coach Todd McLellan said:

When you get to four, it’s pretty easy, you just keep saying “next.” You know, at five, which happened fairly early in the game, I thought our D did a really good job and our forwards protected them. We played enough in the offensive zone to not have them too taxed in our end. Where we ran into trouble is a little bit on the penalty kill against a very good power play but we managed the game well once they got hurt.

As they did in Detroit on Thursday, the Sharks had a very strong first period in Philadelphia. On those good starts, Joe Pavelski said:

We had a good practice the other night in Detroit. The same thing happened, we were pretty good all night, we weren’t really … it wasn’t that taxing of a game I don’t think in our own end and I think that probably helped a little bit.

The Flyers took an early penalty that let the Sharks warm up with a power play, but it was not until that power play had expired that Matt Irwin put the Sharks on the board. Jakub Voracek made an ill-advised clearing attempt up the middle, which Irwin caught and threw right back at the net. Assists went to Chris Tierney and Tommy Wingels.

The lead only lasted a couple of minutes. The Sharks had spent a long shift in their own zone when they finally cleared the puck. Unfortunately, Flyers’ Nicklas Grossmann brought it back in more quickly than expected. The tired Sharks defenders could not stop a shot from the blue line that hit a couple of players on the way in. The goal went to Michael Raffl, with assists going to Grossmann and Voracek.

Grossmann went to the box at 15:06 for holding. The Sharks power play held the zone pretty well, and the Flyers had to thwart several shots from the blue line. With 21 seconds left on the power play, Joe Pavelski threw the puck at Steve Mason from behind the goal line. The puck went under Mason and then trickled into the net. The referee blew the whistle early, and a review in Toronto deemed the whistle to be “irrelevant to continuous play.” No one had touched Mason and he did not seem to realize the puck was underneath him. Assists went to Logan Couture and Brent Burns.

During the first period, the Sharks lost Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who was deemed questionable to return at the start of the second period. At the end of the first period, the shots were 15-7 Sharks. By the middle of the second period, the Sharks had added five shots to their tally, while the Flyers had added one.

The Flyers got their first power play at 9:45 of the second, when Matt Nieto went to the box for interference. The Flyers had one shot during the power play, and Logan Couture ate up some time with a short-handed breakaway in the second half of the power play. Mason stopped the back-hander without much trouble but the Sharks got an offensive zone faceoff out of that.

With six minutes left in the second, Philadelphia’s Ryan White hit Tommy Wingels from behind and a little high. Wingels was slow to get up and White went to the box for boarding. The Flyers again handled hard shots from the blue line, and made plays near the net very difficult for the Sharks. The Sharks did manage three shots but they could not extend their one goal lead.

The second period ended with the Sharks leading in shots 22-12 and in faceoffs 26-20.

The Flyers mustered some good offensive pressure to start the third period, but despite a couple of close calls they were still being outshot 2-1 in the first five minutes.

Scott Hannan went to the box at 7:00 for hooking. The Flyers started their power play with a couple of chances at an open net when Stalock was caught out of the blue paint. They missed and it looked like the Sharks’ penalty killers had dodged a bullet. When the Flyers next attacked, Claude Giroux tied the game. He caught a cross-ice pass from Voracek and beat Stalock from the faceoff circle. Ryan White and Brayden Schenn were both screening Stalock and it is surprising that the puck did not touch either of them. Assists went to Voracek and Michael Del Zotto.

A scrum stopped the action with 7:23 left, after Nick Cousins hit Scott Hannan, sending the Sharks defenseman into the boards. Cousins’ hit seemed to catch Hannan’s arm from behind, so that Hannan could not protect himself as he might have. He went face-first into the glass. Hannan left the game and Oliver Lauridsen went to the box. The penalty was a result of the scrum, not the hit. Lauridsen then went to the dressing room, as did John Scott, both with ten minute misconducts.

At 15:43, Joe Thornton was called for tripping Jakub Voracek. The hit could have been called kneeing, as the players connected knee to knee when Voracek skated past Thornton at the Flyers’ blue line. Though they were missing Thornton and two defensemen now, the Sharks killed the penalty off.

Each team had good chances in the final minute. The Flyers’ Voracek gave the Sharks a scare when he skated into the zone and evaded three defending Sharks. At the last moment, Matt Irwin knocked the puck away from him and sent it to Matt Nieto, who took it the other way. Chris Tierney and Nieto gave the Flyers some grief that ended with Justin Braun getting a shot that just went wide of the net. With that, regulation time expired.

The Sharks started overtime well, with a lot of offensive zone time for defensemen. Braun, Dillon and Irwin all spent some time below the faceoff circle, supporting the forwards. It was in the Sharks’ zone, however, that Matt Irwin took a hit from Brayden Schenn and put the Sharks on the power play. The power play looked very good, and the Flyers had a tough time trying to clear the puck. At one point, Brent Burns seemed to be everywhere on the blue line, keeping a couple of pucks in that looked bound to get out. The Flyers did finally get the puck out just past the minute mark of the power play, but the Sharks were back in quickly. The Flyers had to work very hard for that kill but they got it.

The Sharks had a couple more chances and near misses but time expired before anyone could score.

Jakub Voracek shot first for the Flyers and scored with a late shot from almost at the goal line. Logan Couture shot next but hit the post.

Claude Giroux shot second for the Flyers but Stalock caught his slapshot. Joe Pavelksi shot next but his shot went off of Mason’s skate.

Matt Read tried some misdirection followed by a shot through the five hole but Stalock was not fooled. Melker Karlsson followed with some stick handling and a shot to the top right corner. He tied it up.

Sean Couturier shot next but Stalock stopped his backhand shot. Patrick Marleau shot low but Mason stopped him.

Vincent LeCavalier lost the puck before getting a shot off. Brent Burns went next for the Sharks. Skating in at a moderate pace, he faked to the right then shot backhand into the top left corner for the win.

The Sharks led the game in faceoff wins 38-35. Joe Pavelski led the Sharks with seven shots, and Logan Couture came in second with six. John Scott and Tomas Hertl led with three hits each. Brent Burns led with four blocked shots. Burns also led the Sharks in ice time with 27:33.

Claude Giroux led the Flyers with three shots. Zac Rinaldo led his team with eight hits. Nick Schultz and Chris Vandevelde led their team with four blocked shots each. Michael Del Zotto led the Flyers in ice time with 30:18.

The Sharks next play at 4:30 PT on Sunday against the Penguins in Pittsburgh.

Sharks Prepare For the Unexpected in Outdoor Game

By Mary Walsh

SANTA CLARA– Saturday, it may be a good thing that California, North or South, is not generally considered a traditional hockey market. There will be no blizzard, no high winds, no unexpected glare, no ice storms, no life-threatening and ice-tilting weather conditions to contend with. After a successful outdoor game last season in the southern part of the state, the Levi’s Stadium game might put the nail in the coffin of the old stereotype: the one that says bad weather is hockey weather. Maybe good weather is hockey weather too, and bad weather is just bad weather.

Friday, some of the Sharks talked with the media about several aspects of the upcoming game. For fans, the event is the main thing. For the Sharks, the game has to be front and center, a game against a divisional rival. How long will it take the Sharks to get into the game, to forget the football stadium and the audience of 69,000 in the stands? Justin Braun said they should be in the game “right away. I think by the time warmups kicks in and you’re going and you’re in that zone, you don’t even think about that. Maybe the anthem, you give a quick look around and you’re ready to go.”

Scott Hannan has played outside before, in the NHL Winter Classic, when he was a member of the Washington Capitals. Of his prior experience outdoors, he said:

“The conditions are always a little bit different. You gotta be expecting a bad bounce, the puck to bounce a little bit more or maybe to stick. You gotta expect the unexpected out there. Sometimes it’s a tough bounce that make or break it in the game.”

Does Hannan feel the Sharks are missing out on something to not be facing extreme weather? Outdoor games in more traditional hockey markets feature wind, rain and extreme cold. Is that an important part of the outdoor game experience? Hannan answered:

When I talk about experience, experience is the day, the buildup, the coming into the rink and seeing the fans tailgating. That’s just not something you get to experience every day. Yeah the experience of a blizzard, sure that would be great. I mean rain wasn’t too great in Pittsburgh. But getting to play outside, getting a change of scenery as far as just going to the next arena, waking up at the hotel doing the same routine. I mean it’s something different, I think it’s something different for the fans.

Obviously having a big game against LA. Everybody knows the standings and the series so it’s a big game in that respect.

In the buildup to this very big event on an extra large stage, Sharks’ rookie Tomas Hertl has been finding his way slowly back onto the scoresheet, but more slowly than anyone had expected in his (almost) second NHL season. After his first season was cut short by injury, he has struggled to play with the confidence and sharpness of his first partial NHL season. Has he felt extra pressure to score, from the team or from himself? “I don’t know, it’s a little bit, maybe both. I have 15 goals last season after 35 games. Now I have just 10, it’s making me say ‘what is wrong? I have just ten goals after almost 60 games.'”

He described his approach to the game now as trying to just play, and play hard. He recognizes that the team badly needs every player to chip in for the wins they need. He has also adjusted to playing on the left wing. Before coming to North America, Hertl had played primarily as a center, and had a little experience as a right winger. He does prefer to play as a center but he says it is not a game breaker: “I start left or right, I just go play.”

Hertl and his team will be playing in a once in a lifetime kind of game Saturday. After practice Friday, Sharks forward Chris Tierney described what he expects from tomorrow night’s game:

It’ll definitely be a chip and chase game, you know the ice probably won’t be as good as it is in a normal rink. But I think everyone will be excited so I think it will be a good experience and I’m sure everyone’s adrenaline will be pumping.

Playing in a football stadium has a very different feel for hockey players. There will be no fans along the glass, and the space outside the rink gives the stage a very different feel from an indoor arena. Tierney played in an outdoor game once before, at the junior level. It was not an event of the same magnitude as this one, but it gave him a scale for comparing the venues:

Last time I thought it was kind of far away and you couldn’t really hear the crowd that much. But when you come out here and see the stadium here, it looks like the stands are pretty close to the rink. So I think with this many people it will be loud and it will be a cool experience.

Remember the Alamo: Sharks Have A Lot To Think About

By Mary Walsh

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, they say. Then again, sometimes things that can kill you do, in fact, kill you, and many things that cause you no pain at all can make you stronger. Pain, loss and failure are not necessary ingredients for success, they are just common obstacles you must overcome on the road to pretty much anywhere. So what do you do with a humiliating meltdown performed at the very worst moment, on a national stage? Assuming it has not killed you, you can remember it and nurse that awful feeling until you have a chance to redeem yourself. Or not.

Friday, some Sharks shared their present thoughts with the media. It had been less than 48 hours since the team made a historically noteworthy playoff exit. As one of only four teams to give up a 3-0 series lead to be defeated in the seventh game, they will be remembered for choking in the worst way.

Todd McLellan was asked what went wrong, what lead to the loss of a series the Sharks lead by three games to none.

I spoke about this at the press conference after the game and my opinion hasn’t changed one bit. In fact, I’m a little more frustrated at this point than I was even at that point, if you can believe it. We got beat in a number of different areas. The core of their group stepped up and performed at a very high level, ours fell off a little bit and my disappointment is as much or greater now than it was at at that moment.

What added to the frustration?

Probably having the chance to go back and look at it again. It is what it is, we went and looked at it again and it just makes us more frustrated.

Joe Thornton was asked if he had any explanation for what went on in the last four games.

No. I think I’ll think about that, you know, probably until next year sometime. You know, the way we played in the first three games and then what we did in the last four, it’s mind-boggling. And I think I will lose sleep probably for the next couple of months for sure on that.

Tommy Wingels was asked if playing in World Championships next week would help get the taste of the loss out of his mouth.

It won’t do it. It’s an honor to play for them and to an extent you’re excited when you get asked but without a doubt I’d much rather be playing for a Stanley Cup still. Regardless of what happens over there the disappointment of what happened isn’t going to go away, and to be honest that’ll be on my mind the entire time.

Patrick Marleau was asked about this series as a defining moment for the Sharks.

Yeah, it’s obviously a low point for us. Like you said it’s going to be with us for a long time so we have to use that as a motivational tool to get better and to learn from it and to know that you never want to feel this way again.

Scott Hannan was asked if, after time to think about it, there were any answers to how the series came unravelled.

No, there’s not, it’s disappointing, it’s gut wrenching that this happened. We’re going to have to deal with that for a while until we can set things right and turn it around. It’s going to eat away at you all summer and all next year.

Brent Burns was asked if he had any additional thoughts after a day and a half.

I think it’s still pretty fresh. It’s still tough, you’re not really prepared for it to be over. Nothing new. Waking up today it’s tough, it’s hard to imagine what happened but it’s sure to take a long time.

Dan Boyle was asked how his last couple of days had gone.

Horrible. This is the first time I left my house since I got back after the game. It’s definitely the worst loss of my career and yeah, I’m not going to get over this for a long time. This one hurts a lot.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic was asked if this is a series worth remembering.

I mean, Boston won the Cup the year after they did what we did this year.

Did he think that humiliation motivated the Bruins?

Probably, they had something to prove. When you sweep and then get swept it’s embarrassing and hopefully we do the same.

One recurring theme in all of the locker cleanout interviews was  that the loss would take a long time to get over. Will the Sharks’ disastrous 2014 playoff ousting stay with them, in a way that might be productive? How will they respond? Raffi Torres said:

We just gotta figure out what we want to do here. Do we want to be a team that lives with the past, is this going to haunt us and just do the same thing over and over again? Or are we really gonna get pissed off and come back and see what we’re really all about. You gotta have a year, you know. Yeah, we’re gonna win a lot of games next year and probably going to make the playoffs again, but at the end of the day if you don’t show up and really want it, and really want to win, it’s not going to happen.

Of course, Doug Wilson has some work to do. In cases such as these, when an otherwise competitive team falls apart in the clutch, a common response is to fire the coach. That is clearly not something Wilson is in a hurry to do, nor should he be. How do you replace one of the top coaches in the league? It would be, to say the least, a gamble. And it was another recurring theme in the interviews: the players did not blame the coach. Antti Niemi put it concisely:

He’s been a great coach obviously and we played winning hockey all the time. And we have great systems we play, the whole team followed the systems and I think we worked hard. So I think he’s been a great coach, the whole coaching staff has been great.

It is rare for players to voice criticisms of their coach, and in any case it doesn’t answer the question: would another coach get better results, at least in the short run?

To study how teams fare after this particular failure you have to work with an impossibly small sample size. In the most recent example, the Boston Bruins did not replace their coach or significantly alter their core group. They did add several significant players, so the San Jose roster may need to be bolstered. Then again, those were the Bruins, not the Sharks. When you only have four cases and only two in the last quarter century, it would be folly to think you have a pattern to follow.

The only player in this narrative not available for comment Friday was Sharks majority owner Hasso Plattner. What he will make of the situation, what he might do about it, is difficult to even guess at. Possibly the most frustrating part of this is that such humiliation only happens to the best teams. It is not humiliating unless you have a team that should have won. That is why two of those other three were able to win the Stanley Cup so soon after squandering three game leads in the playoffs. It is an awful feeling for Sharks and their fans, but at least it is proof that they are close enough to success to amplify failure into a disaster on a par with the Alamo, minus the fatalities of course.

Sharks Short Lightning 5-1

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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.

Sitting Sharks: SJ Losing Streak Stands at Four

By Mary Walsh

SAN JOSE- The Sharks are not winning anymore. Fans might be having flashbacks to every season past, when even the most magnificent point streak was marred by some inexplicable, nonsensical streak of poor play, bad luck and predictably disappointing results. It would be reasonable to assume that it is time for the Sharks to break pattern, at least in some subtle way.

One could argue that the Sharks’ recent losses were not all due to poor preparation or unsettled play. One could say that the Coyotes had a bone to pick with the Sharks after the insulting 4-1 loss on October 5. One could say that the Canucks had an even bigger grudge to settle, having been defeated by the Sharks nine times in a row, including a playoff sweep. Then one could argue that it is too much to ask of a team to take this season’s Sabres seriously. So that is three of the four losses summarily dismissed, and the fourth was exactly like a game against the Los Angeles Kings: close and exhausting and down to who gets the last change.

Perhaps the Sharks are not in the middle of their seasonal falling sky routine. Maybe the bounces just caught up to them. Nevertheless, they have not responded well. They have not matched their opponents’ intensity. They shifted gears, but not to the right gear. Their passes were rushed and sloppy, their corrections off the mark. With each successive loss, their panic peaked higher and their ability to recover declined.

The most talked-about gaffe of the Vancouver game was Jason Demers’ bad pass followed by his worse decision to hit instead of defend. Not every Sharks player is combining errors so quickly and disastrously, but that sequence revealed the kind of hasty decisions too many Sharks are making. Did it go wrong because Demers was in the process of making the pass while he realized he should not make it? Was it just dumb luck? It doesn’t matter, he lacked poise at that moment. Demers was not the only Shark showing signs of needless panic. Blind passes, a lack of awareness and ill-conceived plays abounded from the blue paint outwards. It took the team two periods to burn off the panic.

Todd McLellan will probably respond with line changes for Sunday’s game in Winnipeg. He may sit Demers, he may shuffle forward combinations. McLellan was clearly disappointed after the Vancouver game, as was every player interviewed. Of course they were. But the team had already made the right correction. In the third period of that game, they were clearly more composed. Passes started to connect, lines were able to move the puck from here to there without giving it away. Even if Vancouver was sitting back, it still allowed the Sharks to compose themselves, go back to basics, settle down. That is exactly what the Sharks needed to do to prepare for the next game. Will they start slow again? It depends how high their pain of loss threshold is.

History suggests that McLellan will pull the lines apart and sit the most conspicuous offenders. The same history reveals a peculiar Sharks habit of allowing veterans to “play through” bad spells, while young skaters sit after  poor performances. It seems counter-intuitive that a veteran should be less able than a younger player to come in and out of the lineup. Demers has played a lot of NHL games for a defenseman of his age, but he hasn’t played more games than a professional player of his age. It is fair to say that he has yet to reach his potential. The same is even more true of Matt Irwin. To sit a game won’t hurt, but Irwin has been out for three now. His absence doesn’t seem to be helping. James Sheppard, though not a prototypical fourth liner, has shown that he can do the job if it is his to do.

Scott Hannan and Mike Brown should be better able to sit until needed. They have both played well, just not well enough to carry the team to wins recently. They shouldn’t have to do that last. Neither player was brought in to be a game changer. They were both brought in to back up a strong team. If the team is struggling with or without them, wouldn’t the ice time be better spent getting the team back on track?

All of this is true of the team’s goaltenders as well. Even if Niemi plays better when he plays more, he should not play as many games as he has in past seasons with the Sharks. If he needs to play a lot, let him do that closer to playoffs. At this time of the season, all he gains is wear and tear. Alex Stalock has shown that he can do the job and maybe he would be even better if he played more too.

If the Sharks want a different result from this season than seasons past, they should probably make some changes to their lineup, just not the ones they usually make.

San Jose Sharks Testing the Depths

By Mary Walsh

It is never a good thing when a roster player is out due to injury, as so many San Jose Sharks are right now. That obvious truth should not tarnish a high-quality silver lining. As effective as the Sharks have been over the last several seasons, their depth has not been tested as it is being now. The Sharks have had to fill spots in the lineup to replace (in the order they fell): Martin Havlat, Adam Burish, Raffi Torres, Brad Stuart, Dan Boyle and Brent Burns. Thursday in Boston and Saturday in Montreal, they were without five of those six. They even had to go without Tommy Wingels for most of the Boston game. However you measure the value of one player, that list punches holes in every line, every aspect of the Sharks’ game except goaltending. In the midst of this injury epidemic, Doug Wilson acquired Mike Brown. In the big picture, it seems that acquiring Brown had little to do with the Sharks’ injury problems.

The replacements the Sharks already had were not all likely to be playing in the NHL this season.  The most conspicuous of them, Tomas Hertl, has reduced the odds to slim or nil that he will be sent down to the AHL, barring some freak salary cap or roster size event that forces him out.  Would he have had the chance to make such an impression if Raffi Torres had been available? Freddie Hamilton and Matt Nieto, though both showed promise, were very likely to spend this season in the AHL with the Worcester Sharks. John McCarthy has been up and down and back again, as has Matt Pelech. Scott Hannan, the presumptive seventh defenseman acquired last season, has played in all but one game this season.

Those players have turned in respectable to excellent performances, and until last Thursday, helped keep the Sharks’ point streak intact.  We can’t know how the team would have done with every asset ready to go. The games got closer when the team lost Dan Boyle, and then Brent Burns. How much of that was their absence alone? How much of it was the natural ramping up of play as opponents found their legs after rocky starts?

The point is moot. Hannan has held down the fort on the blue line, and the bevvy of young players from Worcester have kept the forward lines moving. The readiness of those young players does the organization proud. They don’t have to be Brent Burns or Logan Couture or Raffi Torres, they just needed to not be a drag on a fast-moving ship. They did better than than that, by and large.

San Jose fans might not have seen these reinforcements in action were it not for what could have been a season-crippling casualty list. The missing starters will return, gradually. Replacements will be sent down again, but knowing they can step in and be better than “not a liability”… that is very exciting for the team. When playoffs roll around, chances look slim that the team will be overwhelmed because one or two key players get hurt (or suspended).

So why acquire Mike Brown? In his first game as a Shark, Brown wasn’t a problem. He didn’t take penalties or cause a wreck. He performed as advertised. He brought energy on the forecheck but only got credit for one hit. On the stat sheet that stands out, since Tomas Hertl was second in hits behind Zdeno Chara and Shawn Thornton in the game. Hertl had significantly more ice time at his disposal than Brown, and the fact remains that Brown was fine. That is saying something on his first day with the team.

He still doesn’t seem like a necessary addition. The Sharks might not be winning lopsided games now, but they are doing more than keeping themselves afloat. Many have said this team looks better than they ever have. The season is long, there is no straight course through it. Were it not for so many injuries at the start of the season, the Sharks might not have tested the depths of their organization so extensively. The team will certainly be stronger as their experienced players return, but so far the pressure hasn’t crushed them. It hardly slowed them down.

Sharks extinguish the Flames 6-3

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by Kahlil Najar

SAN JOSE – Joe Pavlelski scored a pair of power play goals and Patrick Marleau, Brent Burns and Scott Hannan each notched a goal a piece as the San Jose Shark (7-0-1) stayed unbeaten at home and beat the Calgary Flames (3-2-2) 6-3. Newly crowned Assistant Captain Logan Couture also contributed with a goal and an assist.

“There’s a lot of leaders in the locker room but those two (Couture and Pavelski) right now deserve the opportunity,” said Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan. “It can go to Stuart, it can go to Hannan, it can go to Vlasic, I could go on an on. As we go into Detroit, we may pick someone else.”

“It’s pretty cool,” Couture said. “I know there are a lot of guys in this room who are leaders, veterans, and it could have gone to a lot of guys, so for the coaching staff to put it on my jersey was pretty cool.”

Brent Burns got the Sharks on the board with less than a minute into the first period when he beat Calgary goalie Karri Rämö from right in front of the goal on a nice pass from the corner boards from Pavelski. That goal marked the fourth time in eight games that the Sharks have scored a goal in the first minute. Scott Hannan made it 2-0 with only 53 seconds left in the first period when he took a shot from the blue line that deflected off of former Shark TJ Gallardi and into the back of net to make it a 2-0 lead at the end of one.

The second opened up for the Flames when after a Tommy Wingels penalty for hooking, Sean Monahan scored his fifth goal of the year and make it a 2-1 game. Pavelski and Marleau contributed with the next two Sharks goals, both on power plays to bring the score 4-1 at the end of the second period. Pavelski got great positioning on Brodie of the Flames and was able to take the pass from Marleau and sneak it by Rämö. On Marleau’s goal, Pavelski was able to find Marleau camping out in the front of the goal with no one on him and make it impossible for Rämö to stop him.

The Flames made it interesting in the third when they scored a pair of goals within the first five minutes of the period but Pavelski got his second goal of the night and Couture netted an empty netter to seal the victory for the Sharks 6-3.

Both teams combined for 15 penalties and the Flames ended up going 1-for-6 while the Sharks went 3-for-9. “It was huge tonight getting three on the power play ,” said Thornton. “That was huge. Especially in the third when they got those two quick goals on us, to come back and respond and get that fifth goal was huge.”

The Sharks head out East to take on Detroit this Monday at 4:30pm PST.