Sharks-Bruins: What to watch for


Sharks-Bruins: What to watch for

SAN JOSE Any good feelings from the Sharks exciting 3-2 overtime win last Saturday against Detroit are long gone.

After San Jose looked to be coming out of its six-week funk, beating the Red Wings to improve to 3-0-1 in its last four, the Sharks suffered a pair of discouraging regulation losses to Anaheim on Monday and Los Angeles on Tuesday.

I thought wed continue that momentum and play well, and we didnt, Logan Couture said.

After a day off for the regulars on Wednesday, the Sharks (36-27-10, 82 points) will try to get things going in the right direction again tonight at HP Pavilion against the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins. San Jose enters the evening in 10th place in the Western Conference, two points behind the eighth place Kings (Phoenix is in ninth, also with 84 points).

RATTO: Sharks' hearts and minds will decide playoff berth

Couture said: Were trying to remain as positive as can be. Weve got a big test tonight. I know Im excited. Any time you play a team that just won the Stanley Cup, you have to get up for it.

We need to play our best game of the year and build off of that, Patrick Marleau said.
Handzus returning; Wingels too? Sharks center Michal Handzus will return tonight after missing the last six games with a lower body injury.

Obviously its an exciting time right now. Its fun to play in these games, its like playoff hockey, Handzus said.

It hasnt been the most pleasant of seasons for the offseason addition, as Handzus was a healthy scratch in three of the seven games before he was hurt.

I havent played well enough, too, before so Im looking forward to getting back in and playing better, he said.

Rookie Tommy Wingels, whos been out with an upper body injury for the last five games, could also return, although neither he nor coach Todd McLellan would confirm it.

RELATED: Wingels nominated for Masterton

Look for Jason Demers to return to the lineup, too, possibly in place of Justin Braun. Nathan Horton (concussion), Rich Peverley (knee) and Tuukka Rask (groin) remain out for the Bruins.
Havlat surging: The Sharks have welcomed Marty Havlat back to the lineup, as the winger has four goals in four games after missing 39 with a partially torn hamstring. He has six points (4g, 2a) in his last three games.

Hes very creative out there with the way he passes and where he places pucks, said linemate Patrick Marleau. He protects the puck well, he sees the ice very well, and knows when to go fast and when to go slow. Thats something very special in a player.

Havlat had just two goals in his first 26 games with San Jose before he was hurt on Dec. 17.

Bruins streaking: The Boston Bruins (42-27-3, 87 points) had a difficult two-month stretch after a dominant early part of the season. The club has won its last three, though, including an 8-0 thrashing of the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday.

Stanley Cup Champs for a reason, coming off a real good win, McLellan said. Playing probably better over the last week to 10 days than they were earlier in the year. They went through their funk as well, as all teams do. Theyre gearing up for their playoff run, so well have our hands full.

Theyre a complete team, right from the goaltender on out, said former Bruins captain Joe Thornton. Theyre flying high off that 8-0 win last game. Wed like to score early, get some confidence, and get ready to roll from there.

In one of the more entertaining games this season, the Sharks won at TD Garden on Oct. 22, 4-2. Benn Ferriero scored the game-winner midway through the third period, breaking a 2-2 tie at the second intermission.

Marleau said: You take some confidence from the previous game. You know that theyre going to bring their game tonight and have lots of firepower. They play a great system game, so were going to have to do the same.
McLellan looking for some clutch hitting: The Sharks head coach used a baseball analogy to describe what hes looking for from his team as it continues its trudge through the second half of the season.

When youre up to bat in the bottom of the ninth, the walk is great. Its kind of the safe play, but Id like to see somebody hit the ball. Well take a single, well take a double, and those are the kind of players we want right now.

If you have too much on your shoulders you might get to first, but youre going to walk. For lack of a better analogy, I like baseball, so thats what Im going to use right now.

Whats been the problem over the last two games?

I feel at times its a nervousness that holds us back. We have to go out there and play free. Its not about one or two individuals carrying the weight of the team on the shoulders, its about distributing it evenly. The 25 minute guys have to take as much on as the seven minute guys. When you do that, the team plays well.
Niemi vs. Thomas: Antti Niemi will make his 13th straight start in net for the Sharks. Hes 4-0 with a 1.96 goals-against average and .930 save percentage in four career games against Boston, and made 37 saves in the win on Oct. 22.

Tim Thomas goes for the Bruins, as capable backup Rask remains out with a groin injury. Thomas is 2-3-0 with a 2.02 GAA and .928 SP career against the Sharks.

Former Dallas Stars goalie Marty Turco is Thomas backup. He was signed as a free agent on March 5 after Rask went down.

Sharks face surprisingly tough test in Avalanche


Sharks face surprisingly tough test in Avalanche

On a night when Eric Lindros is getting his number retired, who would have thought one of the NHL's best games involves a team that was the worst a season ago, and another features a team that didn't even exist last year?

Okay, most of the hockey world's eyes will be glued to tonight's Golden Knights-Lightning tilt in Tampa, which surely felt just as weird to write as it did for you to read. But Sharks-Avalanche could have that game beat, and not just because Long Beach native Matt Nieto will play against his former team.

No, the Sharks and Avalanche just happen to be two of the hottest teams in the league.

San Jose has won three in a row, and along with Nashville, holds the league's third-longest active winning streak. Colorado, meanwhile, has won seven in a row, and along with Calgary, holds the league's longest streak.

The Avalanche have not lost in 2018, and since their streak began on Dec. 29, have scored the third-most goals and allowed the fewest. With starter Semyon Varlamov out with a groin strain, backup netminder Jonathan Bernier has stopped all but seven of the shots he's seen, good for a .962 save percentage.

Nathan Mackinnon has emerged as an under-the-radar Hart Trophy candidate, or at least he would have been under-the-radar if seemingly the entire hockey world hadn't made the same observation. He's no longer a dark horse, though, and may be the frontrunner if Colorado is even sniffing the postseason at the end of the year.

After all, the Avalanche were far closer to the 1992-93 Sharks than Colorado's glory days last season, losing the ninth-most games in a single season in NHL history. Entering Thursday, the Avalanche are just two points out of the final wild card spot.

To further drive home just how remarkable the turnaround's been, the Avalanche already have three more points than last season. In 39 fewer games.

Colorado may not be as good as they've been over the last seven games, when they've also led the league in PDO, the sum of save percentage and shooting percentage often used as a shorthand for luck. But during the stretch, the Avalanche are also a positive puck possession team when adjusting for score and venue, according to Natural Stat Trick, and eighth in adjusted corsi-for percentage during the win streak, per Corsica Hockey.

The Sharks, too, have been playing much better than before the bye. Two of the wins on their three-game streak have come against the cellar-dwelling Coyotes, though, and they needed overtime and a shootout to beat them.

The Avalanche will then represent the toughest test for the Sharks following the week off, and a potentially thorny end to their three-game road trip. Who would have thought? 

Pavelski a shootout hero in midst of a career-worst cold streak


Pavelski a shootout hero in midst of a career-worst cold streak

The shootout has been kind to Joe Pavelski all season.

After scoring the shootout winner in Tuesday night’s win over the Coyotes, Pavelski has now scored the fourth-most shootout goals in a single season of his career, and there’s still 39 games left in the season. Only Artemi Panarin has scored more shootout goals (four) than the Sharks captain (three) on the year.

The Sharks have needed Pavelski more than they have after 65 minutes far more than in recent memory. San Jose’s won three games in the shootout this season, one more than last year and one shy from matching their total from the prior two seasons.

Again, there’s still 39 games to go.

San Jose is on pace to win their most games in the shootout since the Todd McLellan era, when they picked up no fewer than five shootout wins each season. This season, those wins are currently the difference between home ice advantage in the first round, as the Sharks are tied for second in the Pacific with two games in hand, and missing the playoffs.

They’ve needed every one of Pavelski’s shootout goals, too. File this under “statistics that are too good to be true,” but the proven postseason performer has scored each of his three shootout goals in San Jose’s three shootout wins, while failing to score in both of their losses.

Pavelski’s needed to deliver in the shootout at least in part because he often has not delivered when actual hockey’s been played. Injuries, age, and an at-times unfathomable lack of luck have all contributed, but the Wisconsin product is in the midst of one of the longest scoring droughts of his career.

He’s not scored an even strength goal since Dec. 1 against Florida. For those keeping score at home, that’s 19 games, a month, and a calendar change ago.

If Pavelski doesn’t score at even strength on Thursday against Colorado, he’ll have matched the longest even strength goal-scoring drought of his career. In 2010-11 and the lockout-shortened 2013 season, Pavelski went 20 games without an even strength tally.

To further put things into perspective, is tied with Joe Thornton and Melker Karlsson for sixth on the team in even strength goals. Thornton’s enjoyed a nice shooting resurgence, but this is an instance where the setup man scoring as much as the sniper is not a positive development.

You can’t only fault for Pavelski for struggling so much, of course, as his team has scored the second-fewest even strength goals in the league this year. He’s also a victim of his own success, and subject to further outsized expectations because of the letter on his chest.

Tuesday showed Pavelski’s still found ways to contribute, even if he hasn’t found the back of the net at even strength. But if Pavelski’s drought lasts beyond Thursday, he’ll be on an unprecedented schnide as far as his career is concerned.

More performances like the former may ultimately be enough to get the Sharks into the postseason. More like the latter won’t get them much farther than that.