Sharks

Can season adversity bring playoff success?

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Can season adversity bring playoff success?

EL SEGUNDO More than any other NHL team since the leagues work stoppage, the San Jose Sharks know the feeling of starting the playoffs after a dominant regular season.

Thats not going to happen this year, should the Sharks qualify, which could happen as soon as tonight in Los Angeles. Its been a struggle for just about the entire run, beginning with three losses in the first four games. The Sharks look like they can beat the best in the league on one night, and then fall flat on their faces against a bottom-feeder the next.

With so much on the line in the last month, and especially the last week, can the Sharks take any positives from having to fight tooth and nail just to get in to the postseason?

Logan Couture thinks so.

Weve battled through a lot of adversity, and that makes teams stronger and brings it closer together. I think that definitely helps, he said.

It hasnt been a dream season, but sometimes those seasons, if you get in, you can make them work in your favor, Todd McLellan said. We know what it feels like to cruise through a season and be number one, and then all of a sudden the pressure comes. In this situation, weve been playing with pressure for a month now. I dont know how much can change if were lucky enough to get in. Well just keep on playing and do our thing.

Step 1 is securing a playoff spot, something the Sharks can do with a win against the Kings tonight.

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I dont want to speculate because weve still got to win some games to get into the postseason, but its been a struggle and hopefully it will smooth out during the playoffs, Joe Thornton said.

Ryane Clowe credits the Sharks coaching staff for keeping things positive around the team, even while it was in the midst of a miserable road trip at the end of February and continued with poor results for a couple weeks in early March, too.

I think if youre on the outside looking in at a team, kind of the way its been going with us with high expectations, you probably say wow, it must be miserable in that dressing room. But, every day coming to the rink has been real positive, trying to keep things as light as possible. Guys are upbeat, and still have a lot of confidence. Thats the biggest thing Ive noticed.

I think the coaches are doing a great job. Todds been great as far as being positive, and every day has been a move-forward kind of approach.

One of the biggest criticisms of the Sharks in recent years, of course, is that the team may be a little too loose or too relaxed, but Clowe doesnt see it that way.

I dont think its been a negative loose. If anything, its shown at times, especially in the last couple games weve played free, as far as being able to score goals, make plays, and not take any dumb penalties.

When you get to this situation you dont want to be constantly grinding it out and pushing. I think thats what wears on you. Were fresh mentally, and were good to go.

Kings talk Sharks

The Los Angeles Kings bring a 2-1-1 advantage into the final two games of the season with the Sharks, including a 5-2 win at Staples Center on March 20.

I think theyve played us hard. We always expect a hard game against them, Drew Doughty said. I think we kind of built a rivalry against them, especially with losing to them in playoffs last year. As a team, we match up well against them. Theyve got those two really big lines that put up a lot of points.

Vezina Trophy candidate Jonathan Quick said: Theyre a great team. They know what they have on the line, as much as we know what we have on the line. We know what to expect.

Recovered from injuries, Joonas Donskoi returning to form just in time for Sharks

Recovered from injuries, Joonas Donskoi returning to form just in time for Sharks

Joonas Donskoi’s first goal of the season all but sealed the Sharks’ 3-0 win over the New Jersey Devils on Friday night.

It was also a long time coming, too. The Finnish forward finished a chance for the first time in 28 regular season games, 33 if you include his goal-less postseason. He last scored on January 7, when Patrick Marleau was a Shark and San Jose still held a share of the Pacific Division lead.

He struggled mightily after that, largely due to injury. Donskoi separated his shoulder not once, but twice last season, and revealed to The Athletic this week that he also dealt with “foot issues.” He spent over a month on injured reserve and managed just three assists in his final 22 games as a result.

With health on his side, Donskoi’s returned to his rookie year form. Through six games, he's registered three points, all at even strength. That’s tied with Joe Pavelski for the team lead, despite the fact he’s played nearly four minutes less per game at even strength than the captain.

He’s done a lot in less ice time, scoring five-on-five points at a higher rate per 60 minutes than any player on the team, according to Natural Stat Trick. He’s done a lot against lesser competition, too, taking advantage of his assignments in Peter DeBoer’s bottom six forward group.

That’s an important development, given the disappearance of San Jose’s depth scoring last season. Only four Sharks forwards cracked 40 points last season, and one of them is in Toronto. Most damning, though, is that the same number managed to score 30 or more points last year. The Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins, by contrast, had eight forwards score 30 points in the regular season.

It’s still early in the season, but Donskoi’s underlying numbers indicate this level of play is built to last. His personal shooting percentage is below his career-high, and the Sharks are scoring on a reasonable 6.52% of their shots with Donskoi on the ice in five-on-five situations. That’s only half-a-percentage point higher than San Jose’s rate during Donskoi’s injury-riddled 2016-17.

Donskoi will undoubtedly hit some bumps in the road, but after struggling so much last season, it appears the 25-year-old is back on track. If the Sharks are to improve on last season, they desperately need depth scorers.

Thanks to Donskoi’s resurgence, they just might have found one.

Sharks win second straight, beat Devils to start road trip

Sharks win second straight, beat Devils to start road trip

BOX SCORE

NEWARK, N.J. — Martin Jones made 28 saves for his first shutout of the season and 16th overall in the San Jose Sharks' 3-0 victory over the New Jersey Devils on Friday night.

Melker Karlsson, Joe Pavelski and Joonas Donskoi scored and Justin Braun had two assists to help the Sharks open a five-game East Coast trip.

Keith Kinkaid, the top goalie for New Jersey with Cory Schneider on injured reserve, stopped 30 shots as the Devils' three-game winning streak came to an end.

The Devils couldn't muster a strong push in the later stages against the rested Sharks. It was New Jersey's second game two nights following a 5-4 overtime victory in Ottawa. And it showed against the Sharks, who played a solid road game, pressed their advantage and solidly supported Jones.

Karlsson scored the lone goal of the opening period at 14:11 on a close-in shot following a slick behind-the-net setup pass from Tomas Hertl.

The shots were 13 for each team in the evenly played period. The Devils came close on several occasions as former Shark Mirco Mueller and Blake Coleman both hit the crossbar and Jones robbed Drew Stafford on a dead-on drive from the slot.

Pavelski and Donskoi got second-period goals as the Sharks steadily tightened their grip on the game.

Pavelski tipped in Braun's point shot at 5:49. Joe Thornton got the second assist, his 1,395th point, to pass Luc Robitaille for 21st on the career list.

Donskoi backhanded a rebound shot with 1:10 left in the period in which the Sharks outshot the Devils 11-6.

The remaining drama centered on Jones' shutout bid.

NOTES: The Devils placed Schneider on injured reserve Friday with a lower-body injury and recalled Scott Wedgewood from Binghamton of the American Hockey League to serve as Kinkaid's backup. ... Mueller, a healthy scratch in three of the previous four games, returned for the Devils to face the Sharks, the team that drafted him in the first round, for the first time. He was dealt to New Jersey over the summer.

UP NEXT

Sharks: At the New York Islanders on Saturday night.

Devils: Host Ottawa on Friday night.