Rewind: Sharks shake off early rust, beat Kings in opener

Rewind: Sharks shake off early rust, beat Kings in opener

SAN JOSE – For the first few minutes of their season opener at SAP Center against the Kings on Wednesday night, the Sharks looked very much like they were coming off of a short summer and an odd training camp in which five of their most important players didn’t even skate with the team until the first week of October due to the World Cup.

For the rest of the game, though, they more closely resembled the group that played until the middle of last June.

On the strength of a Logan Couture power play goal, a tiebreaking score from Brent Burns, and steady goaltending from Martin Jones, the Sharks began their long quest to try and return to the Stanley Cup Final with a 2-1 win over the Kings. San Jose shook off some early mishaps and got contributions from up and down the lineup in starting the season on a positive note.

“We felt pretty good,” Burns said. “We have to clean up a lot, but you win, so it’s good.”

In a drastic change from last year’s home opener when no one knew which direction the team was headed and seats were left vacant, the crowd arrived early and was at a playoff-decibel level, aided by a laser show, mini-Western Conference Champions banner giveaway, and light-up wristbands that dotted the arena.

[RATTO: Silent but effective Sharks look to be an under-the-radar power]

The crowd was more focused from the outset than the team it came to cheer on, though. Some sloppy defensive zone play resulted in a Couture tripping minor, and Tyler Toffoli capitalized with perfectly placed wrist shot just 1:22 into the game.

The final half of the first period was all Sharks, though, and they tied it up on Couture’s humming wrister on the power play at 14:05. The second period was less eventful as the teams felt each other out, but then in the third Burns got the game-winner at 3:20 on a loose puck in the slot.

“That was a man's game out there. It was physical, it was hard,” coach Pete DeBoer said. “[The Kings] came ready to play and to try and send a message that the playoffs last year wasn't something that they were happy about. I thought our guys responded. 

“The first 10 minutes we were standing [and] watching a little bit, but then we got going and I liked our game the rest of the way."

Couture’s line, with newcomer Mikkel Boedker and improving second-year forward Joonas Donskoi, was the Sharks’ best of the night, and helped generate the game-winning goal. They combined for 19 of the Sharks’ 53 shot attempts, more than any other line.

Coming off of his standout playoff performance in which he led the NHL with 30 points in 24 games, Couture is looking forward to getting more and more chemistry with his linemates on what would seem to be a fast, skilled and creative trio that already looks dangerous.

“They skate well with the puck, see the ice well,” Couture said of his wingers. “I think we’re only going to get better as a line, so a lot of positives from tonight.” 

The other lines were also solid, including a newly constructed fourth line of Tommy Wingels, Melker Karlsson and Matt Nieto. In fact, the top line of Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Tomas Hertl was arguably the Sharks’ least effective through two periods.

Just like most nights last season, DeBoer rolled all of his lines and three defense pairs for nearly the duration, regardless of matchups.

“That's something we've been continuing [to try] and build. That's a big part of our game,” DeBoer said. “With the World Cup – and we’ve got some guys that are getting a little bit older – we need that four-line depth to be able to roll guys out there. 

“It's nice as a coach not worrying about matchups. I don't have any fear if somebody gets stuck out there against [Anze] Kopitar or [Jeff] Carter, they're getting the job done."

Jones quietly made 21 saves in net, although he was rarely tested. His best save came early in the second period on Kyle Clifford breezing up the wing, when the goalie snagged Clifford’s wrist shot from the circle as the forward came barreling towards the net.

It was an encouraging performance from everyone, and by the end of the night the team had caught up with the fans as far as being in midseason form.

“It was a treat for us to be out there,” Burns said. “The energy, the noise. It was great.”

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.