Sharks

Havlat a scorer through and through

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Havlat a scorer through and through

St. Louis -- Martin Havlat knew when he came off the ice Thursday night that there would be the traditional Skype session back at the hotel. Two goals in San Joses double-overtime victory over the St. Louis Blues including the game-winner, a bad penalty that almost cost the Fins the game in regulation it was a busy night, and it would be reduced to sub-atomic level in the nightly chat-up with his father Slava back in the Czech Republic.

Oh, yes, we talked about the win, Havlat said Friday. And we talked about the Blues. He likes the way they play.

REWIND: Sharks take Game 1 on Havlat's OT goal

Slava Havlat is, as you might have deduced from that sentence, a coach. Well, a former coach, anyway. He is 81 now, and watched his sons latest playoff triumph with that jewelers eye only a coach possesses. Fathers see one player. Coaches see the field of play.

We talk after most of the games, Havlat said. Its nine hours ahead, so on the West Coast the games start at 4:30 a.m., so he doesnt see all of them. But last night he watched, and then we talked, and then he went back to bed.

RATTO: Sharks' Havlat remains a playoff rainmaker

Slava Havlat played defense in his hockey days, and a goaltender in team handball. His son played tennis and soccer as well as hockey, and holds fast to his favorite soccer teams, Arsenal (with the Czech star Tomas Rosicky) and Barcelona (with the redoubtable Lionel Messi and about eight other of the best players in the world).

And Slava Havlat coached his son still does, in a sense. And his handiwork is on best display now, from the uniform number (9) they share to the sons gifts as a sniper. He has 30 points in his last 28 playoff games, and an ability to reduce each scoring opportunity down to portions of seconds as he did in the second overtime Thursday.

Hes a scorer, really, head coach Todd McLellan said. I saw a quote he gave where he said he had to wait for the puck to settle down, and thats something a scorer has. A non-scorer doesnt have that. He shoots as fast as he can. But a scorer will wait that extra moment . . . fractions of a second . . . because thats what scorers can do.

VIDEO: Havlat -- 'I just tried to get it on net and it went in

Indeed, between the time he received the pass from Ryane Clowe to the moment he felt defenseman Barrett Jackman closing on him and his little space became none, he got his puck to settle down and beat Jaroslav Halak with the game-winner. Fractions of a second.

And fractions of a second between when he saw Halak behind the net in the third period, decided he could not avoid contact, and took the penalty that led to St. Louis go-ahead goal by Patrik Berglund.

I didnt have a lot of time to change my course, he said. But I knew as soon as I touched him that it would be bad.

It was. He got pulled over for goalie interference, and while he was processing the shame, Berglund scored his second goal and gave the Blues the lead they typically hold with a falcons tenacity.

Only this time they didnt. Andrew Desjardins and Tommy Wingels combined to tie the game, and Havlat, who had scored the games first goal and has fresher legs based on having played 43 fewer than the rest of his mates because of a hamstring injury, had the legs at games end to find that space and do what McLellan likes to call getting there on time. Great scorers do that. They used to say that about Brett Hull. Scorers just have that.

And Martin Havlat is a scorer, especially now, when the chips are in the middle of the table and the turn becomes the river. Back in the Czech Republic, his father is proud.

And given the hour, he is also tired. There are a lot of games left before his sleep patterns regain normalcy.

As Joakim Ryan returns home, Sharks reunite with a former top prospect

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AP

As Joakim Ryan returns home, Sharks reunite with a former top prospect

When Joakim Ryan suits up in his first NHL road game against the New Jersey Devils Friday night, he’ll do so in a familiar place.

Ryan, a New Jersey-born Swede, played for the Devils’ youth program and nearby Christian Brothers Academy (CBA) in high school. In fact, he’s already played at the Prudential Center, skating in the state championship game with CBA in 2009.

He’s not the only one due for something of a homecoming, as the Sharks may see a familiar face line up on the opposing blueline.

This is the Sharks’ first matchup against New Jersey since trading 2013 first round pick Mirco Mueller ahead of June’s Expansion Draft. Mueller was once considered the future on the San Jose blueline, a smooth-skating defenseman with size to boot.

The Swiss defender never fulfilled his potential, in part because his development was rushed from the start. He made the NHL roster as a rookie in 2014-15, almost by default. Other than Marc-Edouard Vlasic, the only defensemen ahead of him on left side of the depth chart were a far past-his-prime Scott Hannan and regular scratch Matt Irwin. Such was the nature of the Sharks’ “step back” that year.

Mueller finally got regular playing time, albeit in the minors, during his second professional season. By then, he was pushed down the organizational depth chart by the team’s acquisitions of Brenden Dillon and Roman Polak, and the development of Dylan DeMelo. David Schlemko’s signing last summer kept Mueller there for most of 2016-17, but it was Ryan and Tim Heed that ensured Mueller’s NHL future would lie elsewhere. The Swedes surpassed him, and emerged as perhaps the AHL’s best defensive pair in the process.

It’s fitting, then, that Ryan and Heed will be in the lineup tonight, and Mueller may not, as the fresh start he needed hasn’t quite panned out. He’s averaging a career-high 18:44 in ice time, but has been scratched in three of New Jersey’s seven games, including Thursday night’s overtime win in Ottawa.

So Ryan comes home to New Jersey under much happier circumstances than Mueller will reunite with the Sharks. One prodigal son returns, and the other is simply trying to save face.

It’s still early in his Devils tenure, of course, and Mueller may yet emerge as a regular on the New Jersey blueline. His Sharks reunion, though, will serve as a reminder of what once was, what could have been, and what is now San Jose’s future on defense.

Sharks headed in right direction, road trip to reveal who they really are

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USATSI

Sharks headed in right direction, road trip to reveal who they really are

The difference between a 2-3-0 start and a 1-4-0 start is bigger than two standings points.

The former is far from ideal, but if you squint hard enough, there's enough wiggle room to improve. There's still time with the latter, too, but the margin for error is much thinner moving forward.

The Sharks experienced that difference firsthand after Tuesday’s 5-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens. It's not an ideal record, but they’ve managed to salvage a poor start. 

There are still some flaws, to be sure. The power play isn't just the Kevin Labanc show after the top unit scored all three power play goals Tuesday, but is still carrying a disproportionate offensive load. The penalty kill’s scoreless streak came to an end, but they were called into action six times.

Despite all that, Tuesday's win was San Jose’s best effort this season. Brent Burns, Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, and Joe Thornton all had multi-point games for the first time this year. Martin Jones had another strong game, and appears to have shaken off his slow start.

In short, San Jose’s game is headed in the right direction. It needs to be, with a five-game road trip beginning on Friday. 

Now comes the hard part.

It's on the road where we’ll get our best sense of who this team really is. Peter DeBoer won’t have the benefit of last change, and won't be able to dictate matchups. 

Under these circumstances, we’ll begin to really see if Joakim Ryan is ready for a top-four role, whether Kevin Labanc is a viable first-line winger, and how the rest of the young reinforcements stack up. They will have less time off, too, as all but one game occurs after one day (or less) of rest and travel. That missed practice time isn't ideal for any team, let alone one still trying to work out the kinks.

Fortunately, the competition is forgiving, at least on paper. Other than the Devils, none of the Sharks’ four other road trip opponents have winning records as of this writing. The topsy turvy nature of the standings, though, show how little “on paper” means this early in the season.

We’ll know a lot more about who these San Jose Sharks are by the time their road trip ends. Their record still won't tell the whole story, but by then, they'll have played about an eighth of the season. 

And by then, we’ll have a much better idea of how good this team really is.