Sharks

Saturday matinee with division-leading Sharks, Canucks

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Saturday matinee with division-leading Sharks, Canucks

PROGRAMMING NOTE: Let Comcast SportsNet California fully prepare you for the Sharks and Canucks with Sharks Pregame Live at 12:30 p.m.
SHARKS (26-13-5)VANCOUVER (28-15-4)Coverage at 12:30 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet California

While the playoff race is just heating up for most NHL clubs, matchups between the San Jose Sharks and Vancouver Canucks have already had the intensity of a postseason series.The division leaders face off for the fourth and final time in the regular season Saturday when the Sharks visit Vancouver.The three previous meetings resulted in 3-2 scores with the Canucks (28-15-4) winning twice - once in overtime. San Jose (26-13-5) took the most recent one in a shootout Jan. 2 in Vancouver.

Including last season's Western Conference finals, Vancouver is still 5-0-2 in its last seven home games against the Sharks.The Canucks' eight-point lead over Colorado in the Northwest is the largest of the NHL's division leaders, but they'll be looking to avoid losing three straight for the first time since April 19-24 during last season's West quarterfinal series against Chicago.Following Sunday's 4-2 loss to Anaheim in the opener of a six-game homestand, the Canucks fell 3-2 in a shootout to Los Angeles on Tuesday. Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault indicated his team is having trouble making decisions."Right now, a lot of times, the play we're making is not the right play," he said. "We spend more time in our zone, we give the other team momentum, we give the other team scoring chances, and we need to do a better job of that."It's not just our defense, but it's our forwards and our D's."Having Henrik Sedin back on the scoresheet could help the Canucks erase any on-ice apprehension. Sedin, who's among the league leaders with 52 points, will try to avoid being held scoreless in three straight regular-season games for the first time since Feb. 26-March 3.He has 19 assists and 22 points in his last 14 meetings with the Sharks.Roberto Luongo has yielded six goals in losing the Canucks' last two games, matching the total allowed over his previous four contests. But he's 6-1-2 with a 1.96 goals-against average versus the Sharks since the start of last season, including Vancouver's five-game victory in the postseason.The Sharks are beginning a three-game road trip through western Canada prior to the All-Star break after falling 4-1 to Ottawa on Thursday - just their third regulation loss in 18 contests.San Jose has a one-point lead and four games in hand over second-place Los Angeles in the Pacific, and is starting to separate itself from Dallas and Phoenix."It should be a good test for us before the break," captain Joe Thornton said of playing in Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary in a four-day span.Thornton has struggled in recent trips to Rogers Arena, posting a goal and three assists in his last seven games there, including postseason play. Patrick Marleau, who has one goal in his last five games overall, comes into this contest on a four-game point streak in Vancouver with three goals and an assist.Antti Niemi, who made 27 saves in the Sharks' win at Vancouver earlier this month, has alternated wins and losses in four road games since then. Niemi has yielded a combined one goal in wins at Anaheim and Winnipeg, but was beaten for eight in losses at Minnesota and Chicago.Since joining the Sharks in September 2010, Niemi is 2-4-0 with a 3.31 GAA in six games at Vancouver with three losses coming in postseason play.

Young Sharks fitting in, not neccessarily standing out

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USATSI

Young Sharks fitting in, not neccessarily standing out

 

The message for the San Jose Sharks’ prospects was quite clear this offseason.

After general manager opted not to re-sign Patrick Marleau, or sign any free agents of consequence, it was readily apparent the Sharks would need to rely on their young players to fill any holes.

Before the quarter mark of the season, that youth movement is underway. Five first or second-year players will suit up at SAP Center Monday night against Anaheim. 

Partially, the infusion is due to injury, as Barclay Goodrow, Melker Karlsson, and Paul Martin are all on the mend. But as the season wears on, the young players’ presence is becoming a necessity. 

Joakim Ryan looks like a natural fit alongside Brent Burns, and the Sharks are a decidedly better puck possession team with him on the ice than when he’s not. Tim Heed leads Sharks defensemen in scoring, and Danny O’Regan assisted San Jose’s lone goal in his season debut on Saturday. 

That assist set up the goal that ended Timo Meier’s drought, and he looks primed to break out: he’s third on the team in five-on-five shots despite playing the ninth-fewest five-on-five minutes this season, according to Corsica Hockey.  Kevin Labanc’s cooled off since his scorching start, but is still tied for sixth on the team in scoring and skated on the top line at Monday’s morning skate, according to the Bay Area News Group’s Curtis Pashelka.

There’s still room for improvement, of course. Labanc and Meier could stand to score more, but the same can be said about most everyone else. Ryan’s made his fair share of mistakes, but Burns has struggled plenty of times alongside him, too. 

So the young players are fitting in, even if all of them aren’t necessarily standing out. That shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. 

Meier’s the only first-round pick of the lot, but he’s also only been able to legally buy a beer for a month. Ryan and Heed have made the best adjustment, in no small part because they’re the oldest (24 and 26, respectively) of the Barracuda call-ups, and thus have the most professional experience. 

Of course, fitting in isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It is, however, far from ideal, when that’s what many other players on the roster are doing. 

Having all of their young players stand out is what will ultimately make the Sharks stand out from the rest of the pack. It hasn’t quite happened yet, and San Jose’s one of 22 teams separated by six points or fewer. 

And if it doesn’t, the middle of the pack is where the Sharks will remain.

 

Bad offense, not bad officiating, is main culprit for Sharks' skid

Bad offense, not bad officiating, is main culprit for Sharks' skid

For just the second time this season, the San Jose Sharks have lost consecutive games.

It’s the first time since the club opened the season 0-2, and were outscored 9-4. San Jose played much better in Thursday’s loss to Florida and Saturday’s defeat at the hands of Boston than they did to start the campaign, but have now been on the wrong side of four goal reviews.

The Sharks have lost each of the last two games by two goals, so there’s an understandable temptation to chalk these losses up to questionable officiating. Yet even if you disregard the notion that the officials got each call right (which they did), it’s one that must be resisted.

Their actual lack of offense, not a perceived lack of good officiating, is the main culprit behind the losing streak.

Timo Meier’s goal on Saturday stands as San Jose’s lone tally on this three-game homestand. It’s not for a lack of trying: The Sharks pumped 72 shots on net in the last two games, but could not solve Roberto Luongo or Anton Khudobin.

You can blame the officiating in San Jose’s last two losses all you want, but a good offensive team would have converted subsequent chances to make up for the goals taken off the board. The Sharks have not been a good offensive team this season, and could not make up for it.

San Jose’s inability to finish chances has been their main weakness all season, but they were still able to win games thanks to their defense and goaltending. The latter’s lapsed at times over the last two games, and the former let them down on Saturday when Aaron Dell allowed three goals on only 20 shots.

But that, as well as the discussion around the recent officiating, only serves to mask the Sharks’ real issue. San Jose just simply cannot score.

They’ve only scored on 7.41 percent of their shots this season, according to Natural Stat Trick, which is the third-worst rate in the league. There’s too much talent on the roster to expect that to continue all season, but the Sharks faltered offensively down the stretch last season, too.

Plus, they’re relying significantly on players on the wrong side of 30. Brent Burns, 32, hasn’t scored a goal, and Joe Pavelski, 33, is on pace to score fewer than 20 goals.

He hasn’t failed to reach that mark in a decade. At some point, it must be asked: are the Sharks just unlucky, or is age catching up to their star players?

The answer is probably a bit of both. How much of a role either factor has played is up for debate, but that either has led to San Jose’s failure to score goals is not.

Poor officiating is easier to diagnose than a poor offense, but it’s the latter, not the former, that’s responsible for the Sharks’ most recent skid.