Rewind: Sharks have yet to notice target on their backs

Rewind: Sharks have yet to notice target on their backs

SAN JOSE – More than once, coach Pete DeBoer has remarked that the target on the Sharks’ back this season is a tangible thing. After advancing to the Stanley Cup Final, teams league-wide will approach their games with San Jose at full tilt to see how they measure up with the defending Western Conference champs.

Teams like the Flames, who are young and supposed to be on the upswing. They got a pair of goals from rookie Matthew Tkachuk in beating the Sharks at SAP Center on Thursday night, 3-2, in what surely will be considered an uplifting victory as they attempt to return to the postseason.

Had the Sharks been engaged from the start, Calgary could have been buried early. Just 20 seconds in, the Flames were caught with too many men on the ice. At 3:10, it was Alex Chiasson going off for interference. Brett Kulak’s high-sticking of Joonas Donskoi at 11:05 gave San Jose a third advantage.

But instead of making the Flames pay, the Sharks’ overall malaise reared its ugly head on the power play, too, and they went into the dressing room in a scoreless tie.

Calgary escaped.

“You get three power plays the first 10 minutes, you want to score one of those, for sure,” Brent Burns said. “But, we didn’t play very good at the start.”

DeBoer said: "[The power plays] looked like our first period, in general. We had no hits, we had zero five-on-five chances, and that carried into our power play. Our entire game was off. There's no excuse for that."

The Sharks were jolted to life in the second thanks in part to some line changes by DeBoer, and despite falling behind 2-0, fought back to tie the game in the third. But with the margin of error so slim just one breakdown can spell doom, and that’s what happened on Tkachuk’s game-winner with 4:21 to go.

The 18-year-old was left untouched from the neutral zone to the front of the net, as both Burns and Mikkel Boedker passed up opportunities to hinder his progress or nullify his stick.

“Just [the] wrong read, probably. Obviously,” Burns said. “Guy gets a breakaway, so…”

Had San Jose been ready to go at the outset, it might never have gotten to that point.

DeBoer said: “We had one breakdown coming back into the zone. That's not the reason we lost. We lost because of a lack of a 60-minute commitment by everybody."

The loss was the Sharks' second straight, giving them a middling 6-5-0 record. The performance Thursday was even more perplexing in that the Sharks saw on Tuesday in Arizona what just one brief lapse can do. They dominated the first period against the Coyotes, but didn’t seem all that interested in keeping the pressure turned up in the second. They lost, 3-2.

Makes you wonder if DeBoer’s “target on our back” message has gotten through to everyone yet. Indications are that it hasn't.

"If they don't [understand the message], we're getting a lesson in that pretty much nightly here,” DeBoer said. “The desperation level of the teams we're playing is very high, and ours is high for stages of the game, but not for 60 minutes. This is a league where if you don't play desperate for 60 minutes you're really limiting your opportunities to win, and I think that's where we're at right now."

Joe Pavelski said: "Target or not, I think our work ethic can go up a little bit. There's moments where it's good. Not calling anyone out, by any means, but it's just on a nightly basis. It's everybody. … When that hard work goes away it makes it a little tougher, but I think we can do a little better job, at times.”

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.