Sharks

NHL Gameday: Vlasic looks likely to return as Sharks visit Oilers

NHL Gameday: Vlasic looks likely to return as Sharks visit Oilers

Programming note – Sharks-Oilers coverage starts today at 5:30 p.m. with Sharks Pregame Live on CSN California

WHERE THEY STAND

Sharks: 24-14-2, 50 points, 1st Pacific Division
Oilers: 21-14-7, 49 points, 3rd Pacific Division

PREGAME NEWS AND NOTES

***Marc-Edouard Vlasic will be a game-time decision, according to Pete DeBoer, but indications were that he would likely return after missing the last four games. Vlasic was taking shifts on the Rogers Place ice with regular partner Justin Braun.

Vlasic, who looks noticeably better as the swelling has gone down in his face, said: “I’m doing my thing. We’ll see tonight.”

The defenseman said last week that he suffered “a couple fractures” and some nerve damage from taking a the Shayne Gostisbehere shot to the mouth late in a 2-0 win over Philadelphia on Dec. 30. He’s still in some discomfort, though, and said: “Until the nerves heal, I’ll still have some pain.” 

Vlasic was wearing an extra-long visor that came down to about his chin level. 

If he plays, Vlasic would replace Mirco Mueller, who stayed on the ice late Tuesday morning. Tim Heed may get in on defense, perhaps in place of Dylan DeMelo, although DeBoer wasn’t revealing anything.

Also judging from the morning skate, Micheal Haley will return on the fourth line in place of Tommy Wingels.

***The timing would seem to be ideal to get Vlasic back in the lineup, as the Oilers’ top line of Connor McDavid, Patrick Maroon and Leon Draisaitl is tearing up the league. McDavid remains atop the league scoring race with 48 points (14g, 34a).

“With or without him, we’ve got to have all five guys defending against a guy like that and a line like that,” DeBoer said. “It would be nice to have Vlasic, but if we don’t, it’s still a five-man commitment from whoever we do have.”

***The Sharks and Oilers were battling for first place the last time they met on Dec. 23, a 3-2 overtime win for San Jose at SAP Center. Edmonton would overtake the Sharks in the standings with a regulation win tonight (although the Sharks have two games in hand).

Tonight also marks the official halfway point of the regular season for the Sharks. It’s time to start looking at the standings more frequently, Joe Pavelski indicated.

“You get to that halfway mark you start thinking a little bit more about positioning, and these guys have played well,” said the captain. “They gave us a good game [on Dec. 23]. So, it will be competitive. 

“We understand the situation in the standings. Everyone is so close together, so any time you can get a couple points, it’s important. If we can create a little separation in these games, that [would be] nice.”

KEEP AN EYE ON...

Sharks: Patrick Marleau. The all-time franchise scoring leader was bumped from the top line two games ago, but he’s scored a goal in each of those last two games while skating on the third line. He has six points (3g, 3a) in his last five games, and sits seven goals shy of 500 for his career.

Oilers: Patrick Maroon. The big winger leads the Oilers with 16 goals, and was named as the NHL’s Second Star of the Week on Jan. 9, colleting five goals and one assist in four games including a hat trick in Boston on Jan. 5. He remains alongside star center Connor McDavid.

PROBABLE LINES

Sharks
Timo Meier – Joe Thornton – Joe Pavelski
Kevin Labanc – Logan Couture – Joonas Donskoi
Patrick Marleau – Chris Tierney – Joel Ward
Melker Karlsson – Micheal Haley – Mikkel Boedker

Paul Martin – Brent Burns
Marc-Edouard Vlasic – Justin Braun
Brenden Dillon – Dylan DeMelo

Martin Jones (starter)
Aaron Dell

Oilers
Patrick Maroon – Connor McDavid – Leon Draisaitl
Milan Lucic – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Zack Kassian
Benoit Pouliot – Drake Caggiula – Jordan Eberle
Anton Lander – Mark Letestu – Matt Hendricks

Oscar Klefbom – Eric Gryba
Andrej Sekera – Matt Benning
Kris Russell – Adam Larsson

Cam Talbot (starter)
Jonas Gustavsson

INJURIES

Sharks: Marc-Edouard Vlasic (face) is a game-time decision. David Schlemko (upper body) and Tomas Hertl (right knee sprain) are out.

Oilers: Brandon Davidson (illness) is day-to-day. Iiro Pakarinen (knee), Darnell Nurse (ankle surgery) and Tyler Pitlick (lower body) are out.

QUOTEABLE

“I like our group when we’re healthy. We haven’t been. It’s hard for me to say because we haven’t had [Tomas] Hertl like we didn’t have Couture for 20-30 games. You plug him in and you’re a different team. If we can get healthy, I’m excited about the group we have here.” – Pete DeBoer, on if he likes where the Sharks are at the midway point of the season

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.

Sharks' offense comes alive, leads charge in win over Canadiens

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AP

Sharks' offense comes alive, leads charge in win over Canadiens

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE — Logan Couture credited a teammate for scoring his second goal. He took credit for the first one.

Couture scored a pair of goals and the San Jose Sharks extended their dominance of the Montreal Canadiens with a 5-2 victory on Tuesday night.

Joe Pavelski and Tomas Hertl also scored for the Sharks, who have won the past 11 home games against the Canadiens, a streak that dates to Nov. 23, 1999.

On a power play late in the third period, rookie Tim Heed took a shot off a face-off that bounced free in front of the net. Pavelski couldn't get his stick on it but managed to kick it across the net for Couture, who found a huge opening.

"That was pretty special," Couture said. "I don't know if he knew I was there but he kept his balance and kicked it over."

Couture opened the scoring 3:30 into the first period, grabbing a rebound off the back board, skating across the front of the net to get Price to commit and then firing into an open net.

Jonathan Drouin and Shea Weber scored for the Canadiens, who are winless since an opening night victory at the Buffalo Sabres.

"It's a very poor start from our team, from myself, from a lot of individuals," Canadiens' Max Pacioretty said. "It's a good time to look in the mirror and see what we're made of because a lot of people are probably doubting this team right now."

Martin Jones stopped 28 of 30 shots for the Sharks, who finish their season-opening homestand with a 2-3 record.

"The biggest thing is finding that energy for the whole game," Jones said. "We started OK and then we got better as the night went on."

Carey Price, who stopped 31 of 35 shots, fell to 2-7-1 in 10 games against the Sharks.

The Canadiens responded 36 seconds later when Drouin picked up a pass from Artturi Lehkonen close in and fired it over Jones' left shoulder and into the net.

Pavelski gave the Sharks the lead for good when he redirected Kevin Labanc's shot just under a minute into the second period. The shot hit Weber's left shin pad and bounced into the net.

"There were a lot of good things out there," Pavelski said. "We didn't have the homestand we wanted but we can leave on a positive note to take on the road."

Hertl padded the lead midway through the second on a power play. Standing on the right side of the net, he was trying to control a pass from Joe Thornton but the puck fluttered off his stick and got behind Price.

"I'll take it any way I can get it," Hertl said. "There are times I've had great shots that just bounced off the post."

Weber's power-play goal two minutes later kicked off Jones' skates for the score.

The Sharks needed five seconds to score on a power play late in the second period. Tim Heed shot on goal and it bounced off Pavelski's skate. Couture picked it up and found a huge opening.

NOTES: After allowing three power play goals over their first five penalty kills, the Sharks killed off 14 straight until Weber scored in the second period. ... Couture recorded his 24th career multi-goal game. ... Sharks D Tim Heed recorded his first NHL point with an assist on Couture's power-play goal. ... Brendan Gallagher needs one assist for 100 with the Canadiens.

UP NEXT:

Canadiens: plays at the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday in their second back-to-back of the season.

Sharks: open a five-game road trip on the east coast with a game at the New Jersey Devils on Friday.