Goalies have been good but Sharks, Oilers both lacking chances

Goalies have been good but Sharks, Oilers both lacking chances

SAN JOSE – If you’re just joining the Sharks-Oilers first round series ahead of Game 4 and you take a quick glance at the league stats, you might think that both goaltenders have been playing some lights-out hockey. Edmonton’s Cam Talbot has a 0.98 goals-against average and .964 save percentage through three games, while Martin Jones’ 1.66 GAA and .935 SP are also impressive.

But despite those numbers, goaltending hasn’t played a huge role in the series so far. Sure, Talbot and Jones have been excellent, but neither team has generated an abundance of outstanding chances. 

“I don’t think a goaltender has been asked to steal a game,” Pete DeBoer said. “Probably the closest was Talbot in Game 1. But, you’ve got two of the top goalies in the league. I think they’ve both been solid. It’s pretty much been a non-factor because they’ve both just been really solid.”

Todd McLellan said: “They’re both quality goaltenders. They’re at the top of their games right now. I think that’s a big part of it, but both defensive mindsets of the teams have been detailed. There haven’t been many chances.”

Both teams will try to break out in Game 4 on Tuesday at SAP Center, with the Oilers holding a two-games-to-one lead. 

The Sharks, of course, haven’t scored in either of the past two playoff games for just the second time in franchise history. They need to make life harder on Talbot, but they also have to stop missing the net. Their two best chances in the first period of Game 3 – arguably the only period in which they’ve outplayed Edmonton since Game 1 – came when Joe Pavelski missed an open net with a backhand from the slot, and Chris Tierney fired high and wide on a partial breakaway.

Getting enough bodies in front of and around Talbot, too, has been missing. The Sharks have just 39 combined shots in the last two games, and not many second chances. 

“[Talbot is] in a groove right now so that's on us to get traffic,” Logan Couture said. “There's definitely rebounds sitting around. I think [in Game 3] he was having trouble catching the puck in the first, and we just didn't get there for the rebounds. Their D did a good job boxing guys out. It's on us to get to the net, get to those tough places and score on those rebounds."

Pavelski said: “We haven't tested him enough.”

Jones has allowed five goals to Talbot’s three, but the Sharks’ netminder has seen the better of the Grade A chances. While Zack Kassian’s game-winning goal in Game 3 was probably a stoppable shot, Jones denied Connor McDavid on a wraparound with 3:38 to go in the second period when the game was still scoreless, and 30 second later quickly went from his right to his left to deny McDavid on a one-timer from the top of the circle.

After he was a rock for the Sharks in the 2016 playoffs, Jones has picked up right where he’s left off.

“He’s been solid,” Pavelski said. “There haven’t been any questions there about him for us. That’s what he’s always shown us.”

They just need to find him some goals, and they need to do it quickly.

“We’ve just got to give him some run support here going forward,” Justin Braun said. “Just got to get in Talbot’s eyes and whack home some rebounds here. I think the forwards are up to the challenge.”

Joe Thornton said: “It’s going to be those 1-0, 2-1 games. That’s just how our mindset is right now. … Just cash in what you get the chance.”

Couture scores in OT, helps Sharks make up ground on Golden Knights

Couture scores in OT, helps Sharks make up ground on Golden Knights


SAN JOSE -- Seconds after almost costing the San Jose Sharks a game with a turnover, Logan Couture ended it with his backhand.

Couture scored 39 seconds into overtime after getting bailed out by goalie Martin Jones and the San Jose Sharks won their season-high sixth straight game, 2-1 over the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday night.

"I was able to make a move on their guy," Couture said. "(Marc-Edouard Vlasic) did a good job of driving their backchecker back and I was able to go far side."

Couture's goal came at the end of an opening shift of the overtime that started with him losing the puck in his own zone, giving Jonathan Marchessault a chance alone in front. Jones got enough of the shot to stop it, and then Vlasic sent the puck ahead to Couture for the winning goal that moved San Jose within seven points of first-place Vegas with eight games remaining in the regular season.

Brent Burns also scored and Jones made 24 saves to help the Sharks open a four-point lead over third-place Los Angeles in the Pacific Division with a game in hand as the Sharks close in on home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

"For us to get a win tonight was important," captain Joe Pavelski said. "Plus, just plant that seed. If we stay hot, you never know, we might be able to catch them and get home ice. We took care of business tonight and we'll try to keep playing well."

Tomas Tatar scored the lone goal for the Golden Knights, who were kept in the game by a sterling performance by goalie Malcolm Subban. He stopped 42 shots but it wasn't enough for Vegas to come up with the win, although he helped earn a point that gave the expansion team 100 this season.

"It's impressive," forward James Neal said. "It's a great season for our guys. Guys came together real quick. A great job so far but we're not done yet."

The Golden Knights struck first on a pretty passing play early in the first period that ended when Marchessault found Tatar cutting through the slot ahead of Justin Braun. Tatar skated past Jones and backhanded the puck into the open net.

Vegas has been dominant when getting off to a lead, posting an NHL-best 31-5-1 record when scoring first heading into this game. But the Sharks carried the play in the second period, outshooting the Golden Knights 18-4 and getting the equalizer on a blast by Burns from the point after another strong shift by San Jose's fourth line.

"We want to be playing really good hockey this time of year and heading into the playoffs. I think that's the goal," coach Peter DeBoer said. "Whether we would have won tonight or lost, I like how we played for most of the game, so that's what I'm concentrating on."

Vegas managed to keep it tied despite the lopsided shot totals, killing off a four-minute penalty to Colin Miller and another late power play that started late in the second.

That penalty carried over until the third period and the Sharks got 25 seconds of a two-man advantage after Brayden McNabb was called for throwing his stick but still couldn't get anything past Subban.

The Golden Knights squandered a power-play chance later in the period when Miller was called for cross checking with the man advantage. That nearly led to a power-play goal for San Jose but Subban appeared to get a piece of a shot from in close to Joe Pavelski to keep the game tied at 1.

"He's the main reason we got the point," coach Gerard Gallant said. "He looked comfortable."

NOTES: Vegas G Marc-Andre Fleury didn't make the trip to San Jose with an undisclosed injury but is expected to join the team for Saturday's game in Colorado. ... Burns became the 15th player to play 500 career games with the Sharks.

Golden Knights: Visit Colorado on Saturday.

Sharks: Host Calgary on Saturday.


How the Sharks can catch the Golden Knights and win the Pacific


How the Sharks can catch the Golden Knights and win the Pacific

About a month ago, the Sharks appeared locked into the Pacific Division's second, third, fourth, or fifth spot. At the end of trade deadline day, they were 12 points back of the division-leading Vegas Golden Knights, and only two points up on the fifth place Calgary Flames.

24 days later, thanks to an 8-2-0 record over the last 10 games (second-best in the NHL), San Jose's still in second place. Now though, those margins are eight points and 11 points, respectively. 

The latter's pretty much locked the Sharks into a playoff spot, while the former's created a path for a late run at the Pacific Division crown. Beginning Thursday night, they will play the Golden Knights twice over both team's final nine games. 

What does the path look like to the Sharks' first division title since 2011? To start, they'll have to beat the Golden Knights twice in regulation to even have a shot. 

That is the foundation of any run at the Pacific's top spot. If the Sharks win both remaining games in regulation, they'll trail the Golden Knights by four points, leaving aside results against other teams for now.

They have to win in regulation, however. A win in overtime or the shootout on Thursday would only cut the gap to seven, and a subsequent win in regulation would leave it at five. Two losses, in any situation, would create a gap of 10-12 points, which would be nearly impossible to overcome this late in the season. 

One point doesn't seem like a lot, but this late in the season, it makes a world of difference. A five-point gap means they'll need to earn six more than the Golden Knights in those other seven games, while a four-point gap means they'll need to earn five in order to pass them. 

The simplest way to five extra points, is for the Sharks to have a record that's two wins and an overtime loss better (2-0-1) than the Golden Knights in the seven games where they don't play each other. That's impossible if Vegas earns at least 10 points in those seven games, so a 5-2-0 or 4-1-2 record would ensure a division banner raising in Sin City.

Taken all together, then, the Golden Knights' 'magic number' is 10 points. Even if the Sharks win on Thursday, their path to a Pacific title remains difficult, if not improbable. 

If a season with an expansion team leading their division has taught us anything, though -- it's that improbable is not impossible.