With Pavelski as captain, Sharks can finally move forward


With Pavelski as captain, Sharks can finally move forward

SAN JOSE – In hindsight, the Sharks probably would have been better off naming their captain any day other than the one in which another of their players was issued the second-longest suspension in NHL history.

Still, Monday’s announcement that Joe Pavelski would become the ninth full-time captain in the history of the franchise was met with the same types of feelings that have been palpable since the start of training camp under new coach Pete DeBoer.

Feelings of moving forward. Feelings of forgetting the past 17 messy months. Feelings of focused preparation for the season opener on Wednesday, and the 81 games that will follow.

Pavelski was the obvious choice to carry the torch.

“He’s going to do what he’s done since I’ve been here and probably since he’s been here – go out and lead by example,” said Logan Couture, who will serve as one of Pavelski’s alternates, along with Joe Thornton. “He’s vocal in the room, steps up at big times. Seems like he always scores the big goals for us. He’s going to be the same guy, at least that’s what we expect.”

DeBoer said he made the final decision only recently, after observing the group throughout his first training camp as head coach. He was likely aware that Pavelski was the de facto captain last season, but never hinted which direction he was leaning when pressed on the subject.

[RELATED: Sharks name Pavelski team captain]

Regardless of any possible preconceived notions, though, Pavelski stood out.

“There are a lot of leadership candidates here, but it’s his time,” DeBoer said. “He’s grown into a leader on this team, and a key player. He has the respect of everybody in the room and everybody I’ve talked to, and I’ve witnessed it first hand.”

“It was a tough decision, but at the same time that doesn’t minimize the fact that Joe is the guy.”

Pavelski called the decision a “huge honor,” and he’s “excited to have an opportunity like this.”

But the 31-year-old quickly pivoted from talking about himself to offering to a team-wide perspective on what has to happen next, in terms of leadership and overall objectives for the group.

“You’re not doing this alone. There are a lot of guys with experience that have been in the role before. They know what to expect,” Pavelski said.

“It’s just about raising our expectations again. We want to get back to the playoffs and get ourselves in a position that we can get some work done there. The guys in this room believe it’s close. Even with the year like we had last year, we believe it’s close. The foundation is there and the players are here to do it. It’s about getting the job done now.”

* * *

While Pavelski was the front-runner for the captaincy, it was much less clear whom DeBoer would select as alternates. He experimented with several in the preseason, including Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Patrick Marleau, who no longer have letters after being part of the failed rotating alternates experiment last season. Tommy Wingels, Brent Burns and even Raffi Torres all wore an ‘A’ at one point during the seven-game slate.

He settled on Thornton, who seems to have fully moved on from last season’s uneasiness with coach Todd McLellan and general manager Doug Wilson, and Couture, who will get a letter for the first time.

Thornton was vociferously complimentary of his linemate as the next captain.

“We all think Pav is our leader anyways so really nothing changes, but now it’s official that he’s the captain. It’s great for him and it’s well deserved,” Thornton said.

“I think everything he does, he just does it the right way. He goes out, he plays the right way. He plays hard, puts in the time. I think that’s the main thing. He doesn’t really need to say too much in the locker room. The way he plays just says enough.”

Couture, who was passed over for a letter last season despite being labeled as one of the team’s young leaders, considers serving as an alternate “an honor, especially with the guys we have in this room.”

[RELATED: NHL suspends Torres for 41 games]

He also indicated that last season’s strange structure wasn’t ideal. DeBoer is already on record as calling it a distraction, and Couture agreed.

“It’s a bigger leadership group than just the guys wearing the letter,” Couture said. “There are so many guys on this team that are leaders and step up at different times. It’s nice to have it so it’s not a distraction. … Pav is our captain, and it’s going to be good not to answer that question anymore.”

Now, the talk will turn to hockey. The Sharks won’t be able to put the past behind them until they show some positive results on the ice.

Finally making Pavelski the captain is merely setting the table for what they hope is a successful year to come.

“This is done. Last year is in the rear view mirror,” DeBoer said. “This is our group and this is who our leaders are, and we’re moving forward.”

What will decide series between the Sharks and Golden Knights?


What will decide series between the Sharks and Golden Knights?

The first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs is all but over, meaning the Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights are finally on the verge of facing off in Game 1 of the second round.

Vegas won the regular season series, 3-1, in its inaugural campaign. The nine-point standings margin between the Golden Knights and Sharks is the largest among the second-round matchups, but the teams are far more alike than they might appear.

They both swept their way out of the first round, have red-hot goalies, and finished just 0.16 percent apart in five-on-five corsi-for percentage in the regular season (per Corsica Hockey). Two of four regular season meetings went to overtime, and three of four were decided by a goal.

In a meme, they’re two, wall-crawling web-slingers pointing at one another.

What will ultimately separate San Jose and Vegas in the first-ever playoff meeting between the two? We’ll answer that important question with five more.

Who has the even-strength edge?

In four regular season games, the five-on-five shot attempt, shot, scoring chance, and high-danger chance differentials were as follows: Vegas plus-two, San Jose plus-six, San Jose plus-five, and San Jose plus-two. The Golden Knights outscored the Sharks 9-6 at even strength in regulation, largely on the back of a .942 five-on-five save percentage compared to Martin Jones and Aaron Dell’s .909.

Both team’s starting goaltenders are coming off of historic first rounds, which makes controlling the run of play that much more critical. Whichever team gains an advantage, no matter how small, will move itself closer to advancing.

Will Marc-Andre Fleury falter?

Speaking of historically performing goaltenders: Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury is in the midst of his best season as a starter. He missed most of the first two months with a concussion, and ultimately started the fewest games as a No. 1 in his 14-year career.

That may have been a blessing in disguise, because Fleury’s arguably never been fresher at any point in his career. He now has a .935 save percentage (.937 five-on-five, per Corsica Hockey) in his last 19 playoff starts dating back to last season, so don’t necessarily expect Fleury to revert to his past, poor postseason form. If he does, though, the Sharks will have an opening.  

How healthy is Brent Burns?

After not participating in the morning skate ahead of Game 4 last week, and skating before but not during the next two practices, the reigning Norris Trophy-winner returned to practice on Monday. Head coach Peter DeBoer told reporters that Burns could have played in a potential game on Sunday, but this time of year is as notorious for injuries as it is for the tight lips about their circumstances.

Burns scored a goal in Game 1 and pumped a team-high nine pucks on net, but only got six shots off and assisted on a goal over the next three. He still led the team in five-on-five shot attempts, as well as attempts across all situations, of course, but a healthy Burns represents one of the true points of differentiation between San Jose and Vegas, so his status is worth examining.

When will the Golden Knights power play start finishing?

Since March 30, a game after the Golden Knights scored two power-play goals for the second consecutive contest, they have converted on just two of the last 26 power-play opportunities. One of those was on a five-on-three, as the league’s 11th-best power play has gone drier than the Nevada desert.

Vegas has actually attempted almost 10 more five-on-four shots per hour and generated an additional expected goal per hour in the last nine regular season and playoff games compared to the preceding 73, according to Corsica Hockey. During that time, the expansion club has scored on just over three percent of its five-on-four shots. The Sharks have to be careful not to awake a sleeping giant.

Can the Sharks win in Las Vegas?

Only 12 teams won a game at T-Mobile Arena this season. None repeated the feat, and the Sharks were not one of them. San Jose lost by a goal in both trips to the strip, most recently in March when William Karlsson pulled a ‘Hertl’ and gave the Golden Knights the Pacific Division title.

Both losses came under anomalous circumstances, the first a day after Thanksgiving and the second at the end of a four-games-in-six-days road trip, and the Sharks are thus still searching for their first-ever road win against Vegs. They won’t travel to Sin City under similar duress in the postseason, but will have to win (at least) a game on the road against the Golden Knights in order to advance to the Conference Final.

Sharks to open second round Thursday


Sharks to open second round Thursday

The Sharks know when they'll open the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. T

San Jose will face off against the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of the second round at 7 p.m. PT on Thursday, April 26 in Sin City, the NHL announced Tuesday. The league also announced start dates for the three other second-round series, but did not announce any games beyond that.

Game 2 will "likely" occur Saturday at 5 p.m, according to Golden Knights owner Bill Foley. 

Game 1 will be televised on NBCSN. Sharks Playoff Central will air on NBC Sports California at 6:30 p.m. leading up to puck drop, with a postgame edition to follow after the final horn on the same channel.