Oilers down Sharks with shorthanded goals, physicality

Oilers down Sharks with shorthanded goals, physicality

EDMONTON – In Game 1 on Wednesday of their series with Edmonton, the Sharks seemed to quickly put behind them some of the bad habits that had crept into their game over the final few weeks of the season in seizing the opener.

On Friday in Game 2, though, their most inexplicable source of frustration throughout the year reared its ugly head in a disheartening loss.

The Sharks went 0-for-6 on the power play – after finishing 25th in the league in the regular season – and allowed a pair of shorthanded goals to Zack Kassian and Connor McDavid in a 2-0 loss, as the Oilers equaled the best-of-seven at one game apiece.

Not only were the Sharks outscored on their own power play, they actually allowed more shorthanded shots to the Oilers (six) than they had with a man advantage (five).

As Brent Burns pointed out, “That’s obviously the difference in the game. It doesn’t take a genius to figure that out.”

Joe Pavelski, whose turnover in the first period led to Kassian’s breakaway conversion, took a large portion of the blame.

“Disappointed, obviously, with the way it went,” said the captain. “We got what we probably deserved out there. I don’t know how to explain that. I was leading the way out there that way. Didn’t have what it needed to have tonight so that’s on me, and it trickled down.”

After his club was shorthanded six times in Game 1, Oilers coach Todd McLellan stressed the importance of his team remaining disciplined and staying out the penalty box. He surely wasn’t happy with a pair of unnecessary Patrick Maroon minors, when the big winger cross-checked Marc-Edouard Vlasic late in the first and left his feet in delivering a check on Justin Braun that was deemed elbowing in the second.

But the Oilers got away with those, and four others.

Sharks coach Pete DeBoer said the power play, “mimicked our five-on-five game. We didn’t outwork their penalty kill.”

They got outworked at even strength, too, as DeBoer indicated. Not only did the Oilers have a shot advantage of 22-10 during five-on-five play, Edmonton was credited with 41 hits to just 21 for the Sharks for the game. The Oilers have been the much more physical team through the first two games, and it’s fair to wonder if the Sharks are built to handle the abuse.

Despite some heavy hits by the Oilers, including Kassian, who was everywhere, no one in the Sharks’ dressing room seemed overly concerned with the fact that they are seemingly losing the physical battle so far.

“It’s the playoffs. It’s physical stuff,” DeBoer said. “I thought the refs did a good job. We have to make them pay for taking liberties, and we didn’t tonight. That’s got to get fixed going forward.”

Brenden Dillon, who was on the receiving end of a borderline Kassian hit in the first period, said: “I think for us, we’re just trying to be the smarter team. We’re getting some power plays here. It would be nice to bury on a couple of those and make them pay when they’re doing stuff like that, but I think we’re doing a pretty good job [physically].”

The one bright spot for the Sharks was the play of Martin Jones, who finished with 34 saves and kept his team close. DeBoer admitted after the game that it “probably shouldn’t have been” just a 1-0 deficit after two periods.

So far, Jones has resumed his playoff form from a season ago.

“Felt fine. Felt same as last game,” Jones said.

Jones also got a good view of what cost the Sharks Game 2, as he faced more rubber than counterpart Cam Talbot while his teammates were supposed to be generating chances on the power play.

“Obviously we needed to be a little bit smarter with the puck on the power play,” Jones said.

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.