Sharks

Key storylines for Sharks

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Key storylines for Sharks

SAN JOSE -- After two straight appearances in the Western Conference Final, logic would dictate that the Sharks needed only a few tweaks to their roster to secure a trip to the Stanley Cup Final -- and maybe a Cup itself -- in 2011-12.

Of course, as Sharks followers well know, thats not exactly how the NHL, or sports in general, works.

Still, the club looks great on paper. A bulked-up, more experienced and skilled defense -- along with some high-octane scorers and a proven goalie -- give the Sharks as good a chance as any club to go all the way.

Lets take a look at some early storylines as the Sharks get set to open their season on Saturday at home against Phoenix.

PREVIEW: Sharks open Saturday night vs. Phoenix

The new guys
The player who will command the attention of the most eyeballs among the new Sharks is defenseman Brent Burns -- and not just because hes 6-5, 230. Along with Dan Boyle, the Sharks now possess a 1-2 punch on defense that they sorely lacked last season, following Rob Blake's retirement. Burns presence should immediately help the penalty kill, he can put up points on offense, and can punish opposing forwards skating in his direction.

Martin Havlat will replace some of the speed the Sharks lost with the trade of Devin Setoguchi, and can break games open with his skill. Michal Handzus will center the third line and also contribute key minutes shorthanded, so guys like Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski can rest up when the team is down a man.

Also, dont discount the signings of Jim Vandermeer and Colin White. While there probably isnt room for both of them on opening night, having an experienced seventh defenseman is sure to come in handy at some point.

Backing up Niemi
The Sharks were dealt a pretty significant blow when they learned that Antero Niittymaki wouldnt be available for the first 12 weeks of the season. Even though Antti Niemi is the No. 1, Niittymaki is a veteran goalie who can win games. In his absence, backup duty falls to Thomas Greiss -- a familiar name here, but also a guy who spent last season playing in Sweden.

The Sharks had the cap room to go out and get an experienced backup, but chose to stick with Greiss, who will start on Saturday and probably play at least five or six games in the first couple months of the season. The Sharks are putting an emphasis on avoiding the slow start they suffered through last season, so Greiss is going to have to be good when hes in the net. Its far too early to rely solely on one goaltender, even when Niemi gets healthy.

Scouting the calendar
The Los Angeles Kings are a sexy pick to represent the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup Final. They made some major moves, and are solid at every position. Its a good bet that the Kings and Sharks are going to battle it out all season for the division title, as the Ducks, Coyotes and Stars arent expected to be serious contenders.

The rivals will face each other twice in November (Nov. 7 at home, Nov. 28 in L.A.), a couple more times later in the season, and then finish up with a home-and-home to end the regular season. Its not a stretch to say that those two games in April may decide who wins the Pacific.

In the spotlight
With Dany Heatley in Minnesota, Pavelski will get his chance on the Sharks top line with Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. Hell be on the wing, which is a bit of a change from his natural position at center, but should be able to at least equal his already more-than-respectable point total of 66 last season.

Lines are sure to change throughout the year, but keep an eye on Pavelski early on to see if he clicks with his highly skilled mates.

Avoiding the sophomore slump
Logan Couture seemingly came out of nowhere to establish himself as one of the Sharks top scoring threats last season (which should have ended with the Calder Trophy, but thats a story for another day). The difference this season is that the club will expect Couture to at least duplicate that output -- specifically his 32 goals. Thats a good bit of pressure on a 22-year-old, who's now slotted securely on the teams second line.

He should be able to do it, as Couture possesses a scoring touch that you cant teach. Still, hell want to avoid getting off to a slow start, otherwise he may fall victim to trying to do too much as some young players are wont to do.

Finally...
Let us know in your comments below what youre going to be looking for when the puck drops, or what you think we may have missed.

Process there even if results aren't for Sharks early in new season

Process there even if results aren't for Sharks early in new season

Saturday’s loss to the New York Islanders is one with which Sharks fans have become all too familiar.

The Sharks held a decided 41-23 edge on the shot count, but trailed 3-1 on the scoreboard. Since 2005, no team in the league has lost more games (59) in which they shot 35 or more times, and held their opponent to 25 or fewer shots.

No, your instincts haven’t deceived you over the Joe Thornton era: San Jose has lost a lot of games where they’ve otherwise outplayed their opponent. Of course, they’ve won plenty of those games too. More often than not, in fact, winning 72 of 131 times under those circumstances.

Frustration under those circumstances became readily apparent in the second period on Saturday, when Joe Pavelski broke his stick over Thomas Greiss’ net. The captain had plenty of reason to be unhappy, as his goalless drought to start the season has mirrored his team’s inability to finish at even strength.

So far this season, only Dallas and Montreal have scored on a lower percentage of their shots at even strength than San Jose, according to Natural Stat Trick. Both the Stars and Canadiens, unsurprisingly, are seventh in their respective divisions. The Sharks are sixth in the Pacific, thanks only to the still-winless Coyotes.

This early in the season, bad results can mask a strong process. They can’t finish, but the Sharks have been, statistically, one of the league’s best puck possession teams at even strength. That can happen over such a short stretch, but that’s easy to lose sight of when the team’s sitting in the division’s basement.

Right now, the Sharks just aren’t scoring enough at even strength, even as they’re playing well elsewhere. The power play’s begun to find an identity, particularly on the Kevin Labanc-led second unit. The penalty kill hasn’t allowed a goal since allowing three in the season opener, and have climbed all the way to 13th in the league.

If the Sharks continue to play this way, the goals, and wins, should come. They may not, of course, especially if Peter DeBoer struggles to find combinations that click for more than a game at a time. But eventually, the results should align with the process.

Saturday night was “one of those games” that have been surprisingly common in recent Sharks history, but it shouldn’t be chalked up as anything more than an amusing anomaly. Sometimes, one team is better, and still finds a way to lose.  

Sometimes, it truly is that simple.

Greiss strong in net as Islanders hand loss to Sharks

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USATSI

Greiss strong in net as Islanders hand loss to Sharks

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE -- Thomas Greiss guided the New York Islanders on a night when they played it a little bit too safe.

Greiss stopped 40 shots, Brock Nelson scored a tiebreaking goal in the second period and the New York Islanders rallied to beat the slumping San Jose Sharks 3-1 on Saturday.

The Islanders improved to 1-1 on their three-game, five-day West Coast trip. The Sharks are 1-3 on their season-opening five-game homestand.

Nelson made it 2-1 at 13:33 of the second period, capitalizing on an open look in front of the goal after Joshua Ho-Sang's pass from behind the net.

"After we got the lead we just kind of held on, we bent but we didn't break and we needed some big saves from Thomas," Islanders coach Doug Weight said.

"These teams, when they're down, they're gonna push. ... You don't want to sit back but I think it's human nature. We have to get it out of our heads. We want to play aggressive and we want to put the puck in good spots. We started making some shoddy decisions, our feet stopped moving for a while, but give (the Sharks) credit, they made a good push. Tommy was great."

The Sharks led after Kevin Labanc's power-play goal at 4:16 of the first. Labanc was in the left circle when he rebounded a deflection and fired a wrist shot that slipped through Greiss' pads.

The Islanders tied it when Anders Lee tipped one in at 17:02 of the first.

Cal Clutterbuck scored an empty-net goal at with 1:10 left in the game.

"It's nice, first road win of the year, a good bounce back," Nelson said, referencing a 3-2 loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday.

"I thought we did some good things in Anaheim and weren't rewarded. It's nice to come out on top here."

The Islanders failed to score on three power plays. The Sharks penalty killing unit hasn't allowed a power-play goal in 12 chances over its last three games.

The Sharks had a short-handed scoring chance after Joakim Ryan was called for holding at 14:33 in the third period, when Greiss turned away Chris Tierney's shot in front of the goal.

Greiss survived relentless pressure in a third period in which the Sharks had 15 shots on goal.

"It felt like it was going to break, it just never did," Sharks center Joe Pavelski said. "A little bit of credit to Greisser over there, but with us, we've got to keep pushing and find a way.

"I thought we were going to tie it, but encouraging to see the way guys played for a second straight game here. Wanted a better result, for sure, but guys played hard."

NOTES: Islanders C Alan Quine (wrist) is with the team on its West Coast trip and has been practicing. He'll likely go to Bridgeport of the AHL on a conditioning assignment if he's ready when the team returns home on Monday. ... RW Clutterbuck (hip) was in Saturday's lineup after missing the last three games and C Jordan Eberle was on the ice a day after missing Friday's practice with an injury he suffered in practice the previous day. ... Sharks D Paul Martin missed a second straight game with a lower body injury. Coach Pete DeBoer said the injury is day-to-day.

UP NEXT

Islanders: At the Los Angeles Kings on Sunday night.

Sharks: Host the Montreal Canadians on Tuesday night.