Sharks-Blue Jackets: What to watch for


Sharks-Blue Jackets: What to watch for

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COLUMBUS The Blue Jackets may be mired in last place with no hope for the postseason, but after the Sharks beat them in a hard fought game earlier this month, San Jose knows it cant take Columbus lightly.

Especially after a coaching change may have given the Blue Jackets some much needed energy.

It was pretty chippy and a physical game, said Michal Handzus of the Sharks 2-1 win on Jan. 5 at HP Pavilion. Were going to expect it to be even more physical because they play at home, and obviously they played last night and they won, so their confidence is going to be high. I think theyre going to come out flying.

The Blue Jackets beat the Coyotes on Friday night here at Nationwide Arena, 4-3.

Sharks coach Todd McLellan was asked if hes noticed any difference in the Blue Jackets game since Todd Richards took over on Monday for the fired Scott Arniel.

They looked like a lot of teams do when a coach is relieved of his duties. They looked a little bit energized and a little bit refreshed, McLellan said. Thats a common characteristic of a team that happens to.

I equate it to a young player getting called up. You can get that from them for the first five or six games, at games seven through 10, are they still energized and doing what they need to do? Were in that early phase against this team tonight, and well have our hands full because of it.

Greiss starts: Thomas Greiss wont have to wait nearly as long between starts this time, as hell spell Antti Niemi tonight once again against Columbus. Greiss made 23 saves in the Sharks win over the Blue Jackets less than 10 days ago.

Its pretty nice. Im excited to play again, he simply said on Saturday morning.

As for that last game against the Blue Jackets?

They had a couple good chances at the start and then we shut it down I think, and played very well, he said.

Niemi had started 13 straight games before January 5 against Columbus. McLellan said this morning that Greiss previous strong effort against the Blue Jackets, combined with a game against the high-flying Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday, factored into his decision.

Curtis Sanford is expected to start for the Blue Jackets. He made 37 saves against San Jose in the loss on Jan. 5.

Improving PK: Its been a sore spot for the Sharks most of the season, but after killing off both Winnipeg power plays in the 2-0 victory there on Thursday, San Jose is 28-for-32 in the last 11 games (87.5 percent).

Handzus, a key penalty killer, was asked if that unit is gaining confidence.

Its been getting better. Weve been killing them, and I think with the structure, we play as a unit of four, he said. Its always like that when you get a couple good kills and dont give up the chances. The confidence goes up. We have to keep going, emphasize what were doing right, keep it in mind and going the same way.

Should the recent success be attributed to changes in the system, personnel or execution?

All three, I believe, MeLellan said. Systematic changes, personnel, somewhat who we use but the rotation of them and who theyre partnered with. A stronger confidence in it. The goaltending has been better in that situation, as well. Were happy where were at there and going to continue to try and improve.
Shooting stars: We touched on this a bit yesterday, but the Sharks are on a notable run when it comes to shots on goal. They have 35 or more in 11 straight games, the longest such streak of its kind in the NHL since the 1983-84 season.

San Jose leads the league with an even 35.0 shots per game. McLellan was asked about his philosophy in that department after todays morning skate.

I believe that you break defenses down by shooting the puck, he said. Players have to turn and go back to their net, they get drawn out of position, and you dont often score on the first one but its the opportunity on the second or third. Volume is very important, and quality is very important.

When youre winning the majority of your faceoffs, you tend to get a shot on goal off of it. We saw that in Winnipeg the other night. Its all intertwined. Just about everybody has agreed to it and taken their shot totals up.

Bottom six: McLellan was unhappy with his bottom six forwards after the 5-4 shootout loss to Minnesota to start the trip, but as much as he was ticked off after that game, he was just as pleased after the game in Winnipeg.

Torrey Mitchell knows the effort that his line, and the fourth line, gave in Winnipeg will have to be duplicated on a nightly basis.

McLellan met with us, the bottom six forwards, before the Winnipeg game. It wasnt about scoring goals, it was about doing the little things, Mitchell said. Finishing your checks, trying to create momentum for the top two lines, draw penalties and obviously penalty kill. We did those things, and those little details really well, and it was a really complete game that way.
Odds and ends: Tonight marks the midway point of the regular season for the Sharks. The Blue Jackets are without Radek Martinek, Jeff Carter, Mark Letestu, Kristian Huselius, James Wisniewski and R.J. Umberger. The Sharks are 5-0-1 in their last six games. Rick Nash has three goals in the last three games.

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.