Niemi still 'working way into season'


Niemi still 'working way into season'

SAN JOSE The Sharks practiced on Sunday morning at HP Pavilion, so it was a good opportunity to follow up with Todd McLellan on a few topics that came up after the teams 4-3 overtime loss to Nashville on Saturday night.

I tweeted out shortly after the game that it seemed like McLellan was much more content following the loss to Nashville than he was the win over Pittsburgh on Thursday night. In that game, the Sharks erased a two-goal third period deficit to rally and defeat one of the best clubs in the league.

Saturday night, of course, was the opposite. San Jose blew a 3-1 lead in the third period and lost for just the second time in eight games (6-1-1).

McLellan seemed to agree with my perception that he was more annoyed on Thursday than he was last night. He was much more pleased with the teams performance as a whole against the Predators, despite the loss.

Here is his somewhat long, yet thoughtful response to the suggestion that he's more concerned with how the team is playing right now than the actual results:

Its about wins and losses, and all 30 of us talk about it at the end of the day that weve got to win these games. The Pittsburgh game was very poor in my opinion and came back-to-back, because we werent very good in the Rangers game (a 5-2 loss on Monday). We started to play late in the Pittsburgh game and we managed to win.

Last night, I thought we had a much better game, we just didnt win. There was about a 10-minute lull in the third period where we werent our best. But, sometimes we dont give enough credit to the other team. They are allowed to play hard and smart and do things well on the ice, and Nashville did that. They were better for that 10 and 12 minutes, and we didnt stop them.

So, to answer your question, we always look at the whole and then the results. The whole was better than it was two nights earlier.

The second issue is the goaltender. Antti Niemi allowed at least one, and maybe two, soft goals on the second and third tallies by the Predators.

His numbers are not good. Niemi has a 4-2-1 record, but his 3.09 goals-against average and .892 save percentage are nothing to write home about.

McLellan believes his starting goaltender is still a bit of a work in progress after missing all of training camp and the preseason.

If I was going to describe Nemo, he plays his best when hes a workhorse and ridden all the time, said McLellan. Hes just getting to that now. His injury, his lack of a work-full training camp, his lack of an exhibition season hasnt been helpful for him. But, that doesnt mean we dont believe in what he can and will do.

Niemi started 34 straight games for the Sharks in the second half of last season, and was outstanding. It seems as though McLellan will stick with him for now, with the hope that he improves with more action.

Hes still working his way into the season. So, we know hes going to get better, he said.

The Sharks host the Los Angeles Kings on Monday night.

Sharks face surprisingly tough test in Avalanche


Sharks face surprisingly tough test in Avalanche

On a night when Eric Lindros is getting his number retired, who would have thought one of the NHL's best games involves a team that was the worst a season ago, and another features a team that didn't even exist last year?

Okay, most of the hockey world's eyes will be glued to tonight's Golden Knights-Lightning tilt in Tampa, which surely felt just as weird to write as it did for you to read. But Sharks-Avalanche could have that game beat, and not just because Long Beach native Matt Nieto will play against his former team.

No, the Sharks and Avalanche just happen to be two of the hottest teams in the league.

San Jose has won three in a row, and along with Nashville, holds the league's third-longest active winning streak. Colorado, meanwhile, has won seven in a row, and along with Calgary, holds the league's longest streak.

The Avalanche have not lost in 2018, and since their streak began on Dec. 29, have scored the third-most goals and allowed the fewest. With starter Semyon Varlamov out with a groin strain, backup netminder Jonathan Bernier has stopped all but seven of the shots he's seen, good for a .962 save percentage.

Nathan Mackinnon has emerged as an under-the-radar Hart Trophy candidate, or at least he would have been under-the-radar if seemingly the entire hockey world hadn't made the same observation. He's no longer a dark horse, though, and may be the frontrunner if Colorado is even sniffing the postseason at the end of the year.

After all, the Avalanche were far closer to the 1992-93 Sharks than Colorado's glory days last season, losing the ninth-most games in a single season in NHL history. Entering Thursday, the Avalanche are just two points out of the final wild card spot.

To further drive home just how remarkable the turnaround's been, the Avalanche already have three more points than last season. In 39 fewer games.

Colorado may not be as good as they've been over the last seven games, when they've also led the league in PDO, the sum of save percentage and shooting percentage often used as a shorthand for luck. But during the stretch, the Avalanche are also a positive puck possession team when adjusting for score and venue, according to Natural Stat Trick, and eighth in adjusted corsi-for percentage during the win streak, per Corsica Hockey.

The Sharks, too, have been playing much better than before the bye. Two of the wins on their three-game streak have come against the cellar-dwelling Coyotes, though, and they needed overtime and a shootout to beat them.

The Avalanche will then represent the toughest test for the Sharks following the week off, and a potentially thorny end to their three-game road trip. Who would have thought? 

Pavelski a shootout hero in midst of a career-worst cold streak


Pavelski a shootout hero in midst of a career-worst cold streak

The shootout has been kind to Joe Pavelski all season.

After scoring the shootout winner in Tuesday night’s win over the Coyotes, Pavelski has now scored the fourth-most shootout goals in a single season of his career, and there’s still 39 games left in the season. Only Artemi Panarin has scored more shootout goals (four) than the Sharks captain (three) on the year.

The Sharks have needed Pavelski more than they have after 65 minutes far more than in recent memory. San Jose’s won three games in the shootout this season, one more than last year and one shy from matching their total from the prior two seasons.

Again, there’s still 39 games to go.

San Jose is on pace to win their most games in the shootout since the Todd McLellan era, when they picked up no fewer than five shootout wins each season. This season, those wins are currently the difference between home ice advantage in the first round, as the Sharks are tied for second in the Pacific with two games in hand, and missing the playoffs.

They’ve needed every one of Pavelski’s shootout goals, too. File this under “statistics that are too good to be true,” but the proven postseason performer has scored each of his three shootout goals in San Jose’s three shootout wins, while failing to score in both of their losses.

Pavelski’s needed to deliver in the shootout at least in part because he often has not delivered when actual hockey’s been played. Injuries, age, and an at-times unfathomable lack of luck have all contributed, but the Wisconsin product is in the midst of one of the longest scoring droughts of his career.

He’s not scored an even strength goal since Dec. 1 against Florida. For those keeping score at home, that’s 19 games, a month, and a calendar change ago.

If Pavelski doesn’t score at even strength on Thursday against Colorado, he’ll have matched the longest even strength goal-scoring drought of his career. In 2010-11 and the lockout-shortened 2013 season, Pavelski went 20 games without an even strength tally.

To further put things into perspective, is tied with Joe Thornton and Melker Karlsson for sixth on the team in even strength goals. Thornton’s enjoyed a nice shooting resurgence, but this is an instance where the setup man scoring as much as the sniper is not a positive development.

You can’t only fault for Pavelski for struggling so much, of course, as his team has scored the second-fewest even strength goals in the league this year. He’s also a victim of his own success, and subject to further outsized expectations because of the letter on his chest.

Tuesday showed Pavelski’s still found ways to contribute, even if he hasn’t found the back of the net at even strength. But if Pavelski’s drought lasts beyond Thursday, he’ll be on an unprecedented schnide as far as his career is concerned.

More performances like the former may ultimately be enough to get the Sharks into the postseason. More like the latter won’t get them much farther than that.