Schlemko, fourth line may make Sharks deeper than ever

Schlemko, fourth line may make Sharks deeper than ever

SAN JOSE – The Sharks’ signing of free agent defenseman David Schlemko was a move that’s been widely described as under the radar. Schlemko wasn’t a very well known guy in Arizona in his six seasons there, and spent one season in New Jersey last year for a club that didn’t make the playoffs before joining the Sharks on a four-year deal.

If Wednesday is any indication, he’s going to play an important role on a Sharks team that expects to compete for a Stanley Cup. The 29-year-old had one shot, three attempts, a pair of hits and a blocked shot while playing quiet, mistake-free hockey in San Jose’s 2-1 win.

Perhaps most eye-catching, though, was that Schlemko and partner Brenden Dillon actually led all of the defense pairs in even strength minutes through two periods of what was a tie game. They may be considered the third pair, but Pete DeBoer was fine playing Schlemko and Dillon against any of Los Angeles' lines.

[KURZ: Three takeaways from Sharks' opening night win over Kings]

Each of the team's six defensemen played at least 18 minutes at 18 seconds by the end of the night.

“I thought it went well. Felt pretty good,” Schlemko said. “I thought me and Dilly used each other pretty well, and for the most part didn’t really have any lengthy shifts in our end.”

DeBoer said: “He was impressive. He gives us a nice element back there. He moves pucks, he’s got a good stick, he’s competitive, he finds a way to get pucks to the net. He’s come as advertised.”

Every NHL team will talk about its depth being important, but few are actually able to use all four lines and three defense pairs on a nightly basis. Even the Sharks last season were forced to limit their depth players somewhat frequently, particularly in the first half.

Against the Kings, San Jose got contributions from up and down the lineup maybe as much as in any game in 2015-16 when they advanced to the Stanley Cup Final. That includes fourth liners Tommy Wingels, Matt Nieto and Melker Karlsson, who were more effective as a group against the Kings than the Joe Thornton line, at least through two periods.

To be sure, the Kings were shorthanded up front, with Marian Gaborik injured and Tanner Pearson suspended. And, frankly, they may not be a playoff team this season. But the Sharks, who beat the Kings primarily with their depth in the first round of the playoffs last year, showed that they could be even better this year in that regard.

Nieto said: “We have a really good team and we’re a really deep team. Being [on the] fourth line on this team is a privilege, and I thought we did a good job last night getting a good start to the season. … For us, it’s just rolling those four lines and playing six D, and saving the big guys for later in the season.”

Employing his best coach-speak, Wingels didn't subscribe to the whole labeling of lines one through four. And, he correctly pointed out that his line saw plenty of time against the Kings’ top line with defending Selke Trophy winner Anze Kopitar.

“Pete made it clear that he’s comfortable with that matchup, allowing us to work out there,” Wingels said. “Do the minutes dictate first through fourth lines? Absolutely, but I don’t think it’s a traditional ‘this is the fourth line’ kind of team.”

DeBoer said: “As a staff we came in and we want to start that way and give everyone an opportunity [to play]. I think we all realize that we play our best when we’re not chasing matchups or trying to hide guys.”

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.