Sharks beat Canucks, but no one overly encouraged by performance

Sharks beat Canucks, but no one overly encouraged by performance

SAN JOSE – If the Sharks are to be without Logan Couture and Joe Thornton at the start of the postseason next week, which sounds like a distinct possibility, they don’t have much time to adapt.

Fortunately on Tuesday night, their first game without both, they were facing the lowly Vancouver Canucks. And even more fortuitously, goalie Martin Jones seems to be finding his game again after a rough patch in a 3-1 Sharks home win that keeps them in the running for home ice in the first round.

San Jose got the start it wanted, even setting a new franchise record for two fastest goals to start a game, as Kevin Labanc and Joel Ward both scored within the first 30 seconds. After that, though, Vancouver actually outplayed the Sharks the rest of the way. 

“The start was spot on. That’s the kind of response we wanted,” Joe Pavelski. “You can’t take your foot off the gas, it doesn’t matter who you’re playing right now. You’re trying to build your game, and you don’t want that.”

Despite the Sharks registering 10 of the first 11 shots, Vancouver finished with a 34-25 advantage by the time the final horn sounded.

“We won, that’s about all I can say,” Pete DeBoer said. “I thought we played well the first couple minutes of the game, played well at the end, the last five or six minutes. But in between, there [were] some moments that we weren’t at our best. Obviously, we’ve got to look at why.”

Earlier Tuesday, DeBoer said that the void left by the two injured centers was an opportunity for the team's young players to “make the most of it and make a name for themselves.”

Labanc is surely one of the players to whom the coach is referring. The 21-year-old has been back and forth between the Sharks and Barracuda much of the year, failing to remain the NHL roster but also showing flashes of becoming a real productive scorer, too.

He skated with Pavelski and Melker Karlsson for most of the night, and snapped a 28-game goal drought just 18 seconds into the first period. On the bench, he was spotted throwing an invisible monkey off of his back.

Labanc knows this is another chance to solidify his place on the team.

“You have an opportunity and you have to take it,” he said. “We obviously want to make it as far as we can and get Cooch and Jumbo back in the playoffs, so then we're just that much more [deep]."

Regarding his new line, Pavelski said: “I liked our game early. I liked our game throughout a lot of the game, actually.”

Ward isn’t a young guy, of course, but with just eight goals on the season entering the night, he’s someone else that could pick it up to help mitigate the loss of two of the Sharks’ best players. His slapper from the top of the circle put the Sharks ahead, 2-0, at the 30-second mark.

“[We] have a good mix of older guys and younger guys with the good depth that we have,” Ward said. “That's key for us and it's going to carry us down the stretch here. We're excited. It gives everyone an opportunity to kind of step up and relish the different roles, just to kind of have fun with it. It's a good opportunity for all of us, to be honest.”

Still, not enough players showed up to the coach’s liking. Even without Thornton and Couture, the Sharks should have been able to better handle a Vancouver team that is in a full rebuild at this point.

DeBoer said: “I guess a little disappointment lies in there was an opportunity for some other guys to come in here and really show they could help us fill that void. I thought a lot of guys didn’t seize that opportunity tonight, which is my only disappointment.”

No one was mentioned by name, but Mikkel Boedker, Tomas Hertl and Timo Meier were especially missing in action.

Jones, though, seems to be returning to form after his poor game in Calgary last Friday night. He said he had to make some “minor adjustments” after struggling like the rest of his teammates throughout the Sharks’ stretch of eight losses in nine games.

"You always feel better after you win,” Jones said, “but I don't think I was far off. I don't think I was playing that poorly.”

The team in front of him, though, will have to be better against Edmonton on Thursday in a game that could determine home ice advantage in the first round. The Oilers aren’t the Canucks.

“We need to find a way to not let off the gas and make sure we're playing hard for a full 60 minutes,” Jones said. “That's the only way you're going to win in playoffs."

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.