Sharks

Sharks-Canucks: What to watch for

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Sharks-Canucks: What to watch for

SAN JOSE It's been more than six months since the Vancouver Canucks ended San Joses Stanley Cup dream last May when Kevin Bieksa scored one of the wackiest series-ending goals in recent memory.

The Sharks that were a part of that series remember it well, as the two teams meet for the first time tonight at HP Pavilion since the last year's Western Conference Final.

Obviously, theres some carryover there, Patrick Marleau said Saturday morning. You dont like losing to anybody, thats for sure. Our team has changed a little bit, but the players that have been here know what were going to be up against tonight. Its going to be a good challenge.

Its a new season. We put that behind us and try to learn from it, and build a championship team here this year, said Douglas Murray.

The Sharks enter the game on a four-game winning streak, but the Canucks have won three in a row themselves. After an up-and-down start, Vancouver may be playing its best hockey of the season after a 3-0 shutout win in Phoenix on Friday night.

Vancouver enters in 10th place in the Western Conference (12-9-1) while the Sharks (13-5-1) are in third, atop the Pacific Division.

They seem to be out of their doldrums, if you will, same thing we were in (this time last year) after playing in the final four, said Todd McLellan. They are a very committed team, hard on the backcheck, good gaps and not a lot of time and space in the offensive zone for the opposition.

"Obviously, right now youre getting nothing for free from this Vancouver team.

Middle men: The Sharks may have won their last four games, but according to McLellan, they have been outshot and outchanced in our last four games and still came away with victories.

That can't happen tonight, though.

If it does, then well be in a lot of trouble, said the head coach. I think Vancouver can finish with the best of them, and theyve proven that, so weve got to pick our game up a little bit.

The Sharks continue to own the second period, despite some uneven play during long stretches. After scoring the lone goal of the game on Wednesday in Chicago in the middle frame, San Jose is an incredible 20 on the season.

We know that second periods are our best, and I think that guys get that feeling when were going out after the first, that its going to be a good period, said Marleau.

Vancouver, incidentally, has been outscored 27-21 in the second period, but are a combined 14 in the first and third.

Top Jimmy: The Sharks will apparently stick with Jim Vandermeer and Jason Demers as their third defense pair tonight, as those two were the first off of the ice. Demers scored the only goal of the game in the 1-0 win over Chicago, while Vandermeer could be a necessary big body against a Vancouver team that likes to play physical.

Thats what I bring. If those are the games they want me in for, thats what Ill do, said Vandermeer.

The Sharks have rotated their third defense pair in each of the previous three games, with Colin White and Justin Braun playing in Colorado last Sunday while Demers and White played Saturday in Dallas.

Hot goalies: The Canucks and Sharks will both ride their hot hands in net tonight as Cory Schneider will oppose Antti Niemi. Niemi registered his first shutout of the season on Wednesday, while Schneider (5-4-0, 2.02 GAA, .927 SP) has stopped 46 shots combined in blanking Phoenix last night and Colorado on Wednesday.

Niemi (9-2-1, 2.31 GAA, .923 SP) has won his last five starts and allowed two or fewer goals in each of them.

Roberto Luongo (7-5-1, 2.97 GAA, .896 SP), the regular starter for the Canucks, recently returned from an upper body injury that caused him to miss two games. Hell begin the night on the bench, though, for the third straight time.

Odds and ends: The Canucks have the top power play in the NHL (24.5 percent), while the improving Sharks penalty kill has not allowed a power play goal in five of the last six games. Two of the four games between these teams last regular season went to the shootout, with each team winning once. The Sharks were 1-2-1 overall against Vancouver. The Canucks have outscored their opponents 10-1 over the last three games, while the Sharks have a 14-4 advantage in their four straight wins.

Recovered from injuries, Joonas Donskoi returning to form just in time for Sharks

Recovered from injuries, Joonas Donskoi returning to form just in time for Sharks

Joonas Donskoi’s first goal of the season all but sealed the Sharks’ 3-0 win over the New Jersey Devils on Friday night.

It was also a long time coming, too. The Finnish forward finished a chance for the first time in 28 regular season games, 33 if you include his goal-less postseason. He last scored on January 7, when Patrick Marleau was a Shark and San Jose still held a share of the Pacific Division lead.

He struggled mightily after that, largely due to injury. Donskoi separated his shoulder not once, but twice last season, and revealed to The Athletic this week that he also dealt with “foot issues.” He spent over a month on injured reserve and managed just three assists in his final 22 games as a result.

With health on his side, Donskoi’s returned to his rookie year form. Through six games, he's registered three points, all at even strength. That’s tied with Joe Pavelski for the team lead, despite the fact he’s played nearly four minutes less per game at even strength than the captain.

He’s done a lot in less ice time, scoring five-on-five points at a higher rate per 60 minutes than any player on the team, according to Natural Stat Trick. He’s done a lot against lesser competition, too, taking advantage of his assignments in Peter DeBoer’s bottom six forward group.

That’s an important development, given the disappearance of San Jose’s depth scoring last season. Only four Sharks forwards cracked 40 points last season, and one of them is in Toronto. Most damning, though, is that the same number managed to score 30 or more points last year. The Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins, by contrast, had eight forwards score 30 points in the regular season.

It’s still early in the season, but Donskoi’s underlying numbers indicate this level of play is built to last. His personal shooting percentage is below his career-high, and the Sharks are scoring on a reasonable 6.52% of their shots with Donskoi on the ice in five-on-five situations. That’s only half-a-percentage point higher than San Jose’s rate during Donskoi’s injury-riddled 2016-17.

Donskoi will undoubtedly hit some bumps in the road, but after struggling so much last season, it appears the 25-year-old is back on track. If the Sharks are to improve on last season, they desperately need depth scorers.

Thanks to Donskoi’s resurgence, they just might have found one.

Sharks win second straight, beat Devils to start road trip

Sharks win second straight, beat Devils to start road trip

BOX SCORE

NEWARK, N.J. — Martin Jones made 28 saves for his first shutout of the season and 16th overall in the San Jose Sharks' 3-0 victory over the New Jersey Devils on Friday night.

Melker Karlsson, Joe Pavelski and Joonas Donskoi scored and Justin Braun had two assists to help the Sharks open a five-game East Coast trip.

Keith Kinkaid, the top goalie for New Jersey with Cory Schneider on injured reserve, stopped 30 shots as the Devils' three-game winning streak came to an end.

The Devils couldn't muster a strong push in the later stages against the rested Sharks. It was New Jersey's second game two nights following a 5-4 overtime victory in Ottawa. And it showed against the Sharks, who played a solid road game, pressed their advantage and solidly supported Jones.

Karlsson scored the lone goal of the opening period at 14:11 on a close-in shot following a slick behind-the-net setup pass from Tomas Hertl.

The shots were 13 for each team in the evenly played period. The Devils came close on several occasions as former Shark Mirco Mueller and Blake Coleman both hit the crossbar and Jones robbed Drew Stafford on a dead-on drive from the slot.

Pavelski and Donskoi got second-period goals as the Sharks steadily tightened their grip on the game.

Pavelski tipped in Braun's point shot at 5:49. Joe Thornton got the second assist, his 1,395th point, to pass Luc Robitaille for 21st on the career list.

Donskoi backhanded a rebound shot with 1:10 left in the period in which the Sharks outshot the Devils 11-6.

The remaining drama centered on Jones' shutout bid.

NOTES: The Devils placed Schneider on injured reserve Friday with a lower-body injury and recalled Scott Wedgewood from Binghamton of the American Hockey League to serve as Kinkaid's backup. ... Mueller, a healthy scratch in three of the previous four games, returned for the Devils to face the Sharks, the team that drafted him in the first round, for the first time. He was dealt to New Jersey over the summer.

UP NEXT

Sharks: At the New York Islanders on Saturday night.

Devils: Host Ottawa on Friday night.