Sharks-Blackhawks: What to watch for


Sharks-Blackhawks: What to watch for

SAN JOSE Todd McLellan showed off his vocabulary when describing how he imagines the Chicago Blackhawks are feeling headed into tonights game at HP Pavilion.

Surly, grumpy and growly, to be specific, as Chicago brings a two-game losing streak into San Jose, including a 9-2 thrashing by the Edmonton Oliers on Saturday.

McLellan said after the morning skate that he doesnt have to remind his players to expect the Blackhawks to bust the proverbial hinges off the door at game time.

Theyve been through it before and we know how we would respond. Its as simple as that, said McLellan. We dont have to post anything or tell them. We expect the Blackhawks to be the top-notch team that they are.

You have to look at it as a good challenge for our club, said Patrick Marleau, who is coming off of his fourth career hat trick in Sundays win over the Avalanche. They are going to be desperate to get some wins, and to play the way theyre capable of. We have to combat that by playing our best game.

Home improvement: As good as the Sharks have been on the road (7-2-0), San Jose would like to improve on its home record. The Sharks are just 5-3-1 at HP Pavilion.

We want to put a good product in front of our fans, and theyre pretty loyal fans, said Torrey Mitchell.

The Sharks have scored the first goal at home in just two of their nine games at the Tank.

We have to sharpen up at home, especially our starts, said Mitchell. Getting the first goal sets us up for victories, so hopefully we can do that tonight.

The Sharks and Blackhawks are among the leagues best teams when taking a 1-0 lead. San Jose is a perfect 6-0, while Chicago is a nearly perfect 8-0-1.

We havent been as good as we could be at home, said Joe Pavelski, who leads the Sharks with 11 goals.
Clowe still adjusting? Like Marty Havlat (one assist in last six games), Sharks forward Ryane Clowe is in a bit of a goal-scoring slump. He hasnt found the back of the net since Nov. 3 against Pittsburgh, and may still be getting used to playing with Marleau and Mitchell.

Clowe, though, brings more to the ice than Havlat in terms of physical play and an ability to win puck battles. Not to mention, Marleau has five points in his last two games, and has likely benefited from Clowes ability to create space.

According to the coach, its only a matter of time before Clowe starts scoring again.

I think there is an adjustment phase, but I think thats a healthy thing for our team, the ability to play with different people and adjust, said McLellan. Clowie has done some really good things away from scoring, along the boards, sticking up for his teammates, managing the neutral zone right now. The goals and assists will come.

As for Mitchell, Marleau had nothing but good things to say about his new linemate, while at the same time helping to guide him.

Hes definitely got some skill that you have to be ready for. When he gets the puck down low hes hard to play against, said Marleau. I know that from practice, and I try to remind him that. He beats guys sometimes one-on-one and then he looks to take it to the net.

Im just trying to let him know how good he really is.

Center stage: The Sharks and Blackhawks are among the best teams when it comes to a 1-2 punch at center. San Jose, of course, has Marleau and Joe Thornton, while the Blackhawks have Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane in the middle of their top two lines.

Thats a different look that what Chicago has used in years past, as Kane and Toews have been on the same line for much of the previous few seasons.

It gives them two very dynamic centermen and each of them plays the game a little bit different one in straight lines and a little more physical and the other one a playmaker, said McLellan. It presents some problems, but we feel good about our centermen. Weve got Marleau and Thornton spread apart right now, so we have size and the ability to skate, so we think it will be a good match.

Odds and ends: Antti Niemi will oppose Corey Crawford in net. ... Jason Demers and Jim Vandermeer were the first two defensemen off of the ice for the Sharks, a good sign that they will make up the third defense pair tonight. The Blackhawks may get injured defenseman Brent Seabrook (lower body) back tonight, after he missed the last three games due to injury. Hes a game-time decision according to Joel Quenneville, while Michal Frolik (shoulder) is likely to play. Thornton has seven points in the last three games, as does Marc-Edouard Vlasic.

Young Sharks fitting in, not neccessarily standing out


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.