Sharks

Barracuda set to face Ducks' affiliate in Calder Cup playoffs

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AP

Barracuda set to face Ducks' affiliate in Calder Cup playoffs

SAN JOSE – Roy Sommer is in his 19th year coaching the Sharks’ primary minor league affiliate, and has the most wins behind the bench in American Hockey League history.

Tuesday’s 2-1 overtime triumph over the Stockton Heat, in his mind, was the biggest of his career. The Barracuda advanced to the second round of the Calder Cup playoffs with the exhilarating victory.

“For me, that was the biggest game I’ve coached since I’ve been in the American League,” Sommer said. “As far as the organization, for what we’ve gone through this year, I’m just really happy that those guys get to go on and keep going.”

Sommer is referring to how dominant and impressive a regular season it was for his Barracuda club, and how disappointing it would have been to suffer a first round exit. San Jose finished with the best record in the Western Conference, Sommer was the AHL’s coach of the year, Danny O’Regan was the rookie of the year, and Troy Grosenick was named as the most outstanding goalie.

Despite finishing with nine wins and 18 points more than Stockton in the regular season, the Calgary Flames’ affiliate pushed the Barracuda to the brink.

“If we would have lost that, that would have been a long summer for me,” Sommer said.

Of course, they’ll take the series win any way it comes.

“We didn’t expect it to be easy, and I think if you ask any team that has won the Stanley Cup or Calder Cup or any type of championship at high-level hockey, you’re going to go through adversity at some point in the playoff run,” Grosenick said. “We had a big series here with probably our biggest rival and we knew it wasn’t going to be easy. We battled through, so it feels good.”

Ryan Carpenter was the offensive leader for the Barracuda through the first round with seven points (4g, 3a), including the overtime winner in Game 5. The 26-year-old center, who was effective whenever he was recalled by the Sharks in the regular season, is in his fourth year with the Barracuda/Worcester Sharks.

Sommer indicated the Florida native is the type of guy that picks up his game at the most important time of year.

“He’s just a playoff performer. Every year he’s been our best player in the playoffs, the last three years we’ve gotten in,” Sommer said. “He finally got the big one.” 

Timo Meier was also outstanding in Game 5, getting the all-important tying goal in the third period and finishing with eight shots on goal. He and Marcus Sorensen were reassigned shortly after getting their first taste of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the Sharks’ first round loss to Edmonton.

Sommer didn’t like Meier’s first couple games in the Stockton series, but said: “He scored a hell of a goal for us [Tuesday] night. … When he wants to play, he’s a horse.”

The Barracuda open the second round on Friday and Saturday at SAP Center against the San Diego Gulls, who beat the Ontario Reign in five games in the first round. Goaltending figures to play a key role, as Grosenick will face Jhonas Enroth, a 28-year-old veteran that has significant NHL experience, including in 2015-16 when he was the backup to Jonathan Quick in Los Angeles.

San Diego was neck-and-neck with the Barracuda for much of the regular season, finishing just four points back in the AHL’s Pacific Division.

“They’re a great team,” Carpenter said. “They’ve got a lot of skilled forwards, good goaltending, they’re hard to play against, especially in their own building, too. It’s going to be a battle.”

The Gulls are the primary affiliate of the Anaheim Ducks, who remain alive in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. That could help the Barracuda, especially if the Ducks need a player or two as they continue to battle the Oilers in a second round series that is now tied at two games apiece.

“It’s one of those things, and I’ve been there before in the Calder Cup playoffs, their NHL team is playing. And they don’t care if they have to recall a guy or whatever, they’re going to take him,” Sommer said. “So, that hurts.”

“We got some help when the Sharks got bumped with Timo, who ends up getting the [tying goal] tonight. That’s the way it goes. It’s kind of good playing a team when their big club is still in it.”

Barracuda-San Diego Calder Cup playoff schedule

Game 1: Friday, May 5, 2017 (7 p.m.) - SAP Center
Game 2: Saturday, May 6, 2017 (7 p.m.) - SAP Center
Game 3: Wednesday, May 10, 2017 (7 p.m.) - Valley View Casino Center
Game 4: Friday, May 12, 2017 (7 p.m.) - Valley View Casino Center
*Game 5: Saturday, May 13, 2017 (7 p.m.) - Valley View Casino Center
*Game 6: Tuesday, May 16, 2017 (7 p.m.) - SAP Center
*Game 7: Wednesday, May 17, 2017 (7 p.m.) - SAP Center

Speedy Sharks and Golden Knights ready to fly on the ice in second round

Speedy Sharks and Golden Knights ready to fly on the ice in second round

Speed kills, and it claimed another two victims in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs: The Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings. The "heavy" playing style that powered three combined championships in Southern California since 2007 was left in the dust by a pair of speedier division rivals, the Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights, en route to the only sweeps so far this postseason. 

San Jose learned this lesson firsthand. In a six-game series loss during the 2016 Stanley Cup Final, the Sharks could not keep up with the Pittsburgh Penguins' team speed.

Pittsburgh deployed three, mobile defensive pairings and sprinkled speed on all four forward lines. San Jose, meanwhile, had a few fast forwards in the lineup and strong skaters among its top-four defensemen, but its speed was only a relative strength against teams in the Western Conference.

Following the loss in the Final, the Sharks have infused their lineup with speed and skating ability. Mikkel Boedker was signed the following summer, and Evander Kane was acquired at this year's trade deadline. Kevin Labanc, Timo Meier, and Marcus Sorensen debuted last season. Dylan DeMelo, Tim Heed, and Joakim Ryan played extended NHL minutes this season, and there's nary a Roman Polak in sight. 

Take it all together, and San Jose played at a high pace this season. Using team-level shot-attempt rates as a proxy for pace of play, as Sean Tierney of HockeyGraphs and The Athletic did with the graph shown below, the Sharks played at the league's third-highest pace this season. 

The Ducks were pretty far behind the Sharks on the season, at a rate of about five fewer shot attempts per hour. Keep in mind that data includes 67 games of Cam Fowler, one of Anaheim's best skaters on the blueline who missed the entirety of the first round with a shoulder injury. The Golden Knights don't rank as highly as one might expect, but still played at a faster pace than the Kings.

Vegas didn't have the same inciting incident as San Jose to fill its roster with strong skaters, considering the expansion team didn't play its first game until October. Instead, the Golden Knights saw the writing on the wall, and placed a premium on skating ability in the expansion draft, and in adding to their team afterward. 

"That was our basis for who we chose," Vegas pro scout Kelly Kisio told NBC Sports California in a February interview. "Guys that had hockey sense, and guys that could skate. If you have those guys, they will somehow make it happen."

43-goal scorer William Karlsson is a burner, and they acquired another one, Tomas Tatar, at the trade deadline. Blue-chip blueliners Nate Schmidt and Shea Theodore were prized for their mobility well before landing in Sin City. Even bottom-six forwards like Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and depth defensemen like Jon Merrill are good skaters. 

The disparity was clear in Vegas' first-round series with Los Angeles. Five-on-five, only three teams in the first round have accounted for a higher percentage of expected goals entering Friday (Winnipeg Jets, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Washington Capitals) than the Golden Knights, according to Corsica Hockey. 

Neither Vegas nor San jose will enjoy gap in skating ability against one another, however, setting up a what should be a standout second-round matchup. The games will be fast, but the length of the first-ever playoff series between the two should be anything but. 

DeBoer: Now healthy, series-clincher Hertl can reach 'another level' in playoffs

DeBoer: Now healthy, series-clincher Hertl can reach 'another level' in playoffs

SAN JOSE -- Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer thought Tomas Hertl’s series-clinching goal on Wednesday, in the midst of the best season of his five-year NHL career, was a long time coming.

“He would’ve gotten to this level earlier than this year if he had been healthy,” DeBoer said after San Jose swept the Anaheim Ducks out of the first round with a 2-1 win in Game 4. “He’s had some really bad luck with some really bad injuries. He’s healthy and he’s playing at another level, and I still think he’s got another level he can get to, too.”

Hertl deflected Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s point shot through Ducks goaltender John Gibson’s legs for the game-winner with 10:51 remaining in regulation, and just over a minute after Anaheim tied the game. As NBC Sports California statistician Darin Stephens noted, it was the Czech forward’s second career game-winning goal in the postseason.

Since entering the league in 2013-14, Hertl’s tied for 37th with 22 game-winning goals in the regular season and playoffs, according to STATS. Only Joe Pavelski (32) and Logan Couture (23) have more during that time, and Hertl’s played 85 fewer games than Pavelski, and 26 than Couture.

Were it not for recurring right knee issues that caused him to miss 45 games his rookie season, cut short his Stanley Cup Final in 2016, and forced him to miss another 33 last year, he’d almost certainly be higher on the list.

Five-on-five, only 11 players that played a minimum of 500 minutes have generated expected goals (xG), or shot attempts that account for quality, at a higher rate than Hertl (0.95 xG/60, according to Corsica Hockey) since he entered the league. If you include the postseason, he jumps into the top 10.

DeBoer’s right to think Hertl can reach another level, too. The 25-year-old’s 21 non-empty-net goals matched a career-high, no player underperformed their expected goals total across all situations more than Hertl, as Sean Tierney of HockeyGraphs and The Athletic pointed out.

With health back on Hertl’s side, DeBoer doesn’t see this as the young forward finally maximizing his potential. Instead, the head coach thinks Hertl is just beginning to reach it.

“This wasn’t about anyone pushing him…[He’s] been healthy and he’s starting to find the level that he’s capable of being at, I think, for a long career.”