Sharks

Sharks-Ducks: What to watch for

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Sharks-Ducks: What to watch for

SAN JOSE During the Sharks slog through the past six weeks, it was hard not to notice that the club had several games in hand on the teams it was battling with for playoff position.

After tonights match against the Ducks, though, that wont be the case. The Sharks will pull even with Dallas and Los Angeles with 72 games played, and will have just one game in hand on Phoenix and Calgary. In fact, the Sharks are the only team in action tonight among the six clubs battling for what appears to be three open spots.

Youve got to take advantage of it, number one, Dan Boyle said. There will be no more talk of it, thats probably the one positive. Games in hand are only good if you win them.

Marty Havlat said: We control our own destiny, for sure.

A win would put the ninth-seeded Sharks (36-25-10, 82 points) back in first place in the Pacific Division, and the automatic third seed that comes with that a place they havent been since losing in Nashville on Feb. 25 at the tail end of their miserable road trip. Thats not something the coach wants to necessarily focus on, though.

Winning is a motivating factor. Not standings, or Pacific Division, because tomorrow well be talking about it again. Just flat out winning has to be their motivator, said Todd McLellan, whose team has gained seven of a possible eight points in the last four games (3-0-1).

Havlat helping: Since the Sharks have returned a healthy Havlat to their lineup, the winger has helped lead the team to a pair of home wins. Hes playing alongside Patrick Marleau and Ryane Clowe, and McLellan wont touch that line or any of his lines for tonights game with Anaheim (30-32-11, 71 points).

Martys played well for us the two games back. Its allowed guys to play in a position theyre comfortable in. We hope that can continue throughout the rest of the season, McLellan said.

Havlats immediate impact he scored two goals, including the game-winner in overtime on Saturday against Detroit has been a bit surprising, as he missed nearly three months with a partially torn hamstring.

Right, Dan Boyle?

I dont know if surprised is the word. Skill-wise it doesnt surprise me, Boyle said. Any time a player comes back from injury, theres always a question mark is he going to be able to get back to it right away? Hes probably ahead of schedule of what we thought wed see, but its at the right time and we certainly need him.

Counting the two games before he was hurt on Dec. 17, Havlat has five points in his last three games (3g, 2a).

The Sharks' other expected lines are Joe Thornton, Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski; Dominic Moore, Daniel Winnik and Torrey Mitchell; and Andrew Desjardins, Benn Ferriero and Brad Winchester.
Hiller streaking, but will he rest? Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller has started 32 straight games for the Ducks, the longest streak for a goalie since Antti Niemi started 34 in a row for the Sharks last season.

There was some chatter among the local media that backup Jeff Deslauriers could get the call for Anaheim tonight, but coach Bruce Boudreau wasnt saying. Deslauriers hasn't played since Jan. 10.

Deslauriers will play before this years out. Hes worked too hard in practice, Boudreau said. Hiller has done everything and anything a goaltender could be asked to do. At some point hes going to get a rest.

For the Sharks, Niemi will make his 11th straight start. In the last 10, hes 4-3-3 with a 1.94 goals-against average and .926 save percentage.
More on the Ducks: This is the fifth meeting between the Sharks and Ducks this season, and Anaheim has won three of the first four. They havent seen in other in awhile, though, as the Ducks 3-1 win at Honda Center on Jan. 4 was the last time they went head-to-head.

Anaheim, which lost 3-1 at home to Nashville on Sunday night, is out of the playoff race, but that doesnt mean the Sharks dont expect a challenge.

They have a lot of star players who can hurt you if youre not focused. We know they played last night, but its not going to be an easy game, Havlat said.

Boyle said: Its been talked about before, teams that go out and play a little bit looser sometimes can maybe surprise a lot of teams and play better at times.

Things have been better since Bruce Boudreau took over, as the team is 23-19-7 in the 49 games hes been behind the bench. Its still a team that struggles to score, though, and is 25th in the NHL with 2.42 goals-per game. The Ducks are just 11-18-9 on the road, too.

Dont tell the stats to McLellan, though.

They always play us hard. Its a natural rival. Their leadership group kind of matches our leadership group. They provide a lot to their team. They count on three or four guys to do a lot of their scoring and we do the same thing here in our organization, said the head coach.

I dont think were going to see a team thats going to take their foot off the gas pedal. In fact, they may push it a little bit harder tonight.
Odds and ends: The teams conclude the season series in Anaheim on March 28. Tommy Wingels, TJ Galiardi and Michal Handzus remain out for the Sharks, who are expected to ice the same lineup they went with against Detroit. That means Colin White and Jim Vandermeer will sit, too. Toni Lydman returns for Anaheim after missing last game against Nashville (upper body). Teemu Selanne has four points in the last four games (2g, 2a), and leads the Ducks with 62 points. Joe Thornton has two goals and seven assists in his last six games. The Sharks are trying for their first three-game winning streak since Jan. 24 Feb. 2, which includes their last game before the All-Star break.

Play of Jones, Khudobin this season proof of how fickle goaltending can be

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USATSI

Play of Jones, Khudobin this season proof of how fickle goaltending can be

Martin Jones was a Boston Bruin for less than a week.

The “Original Six” franchise acquired Jones from the Los Angeles Kings on June 26, 2015. Four days later, Jones was traded back into the Pacific Division, this time to Northern California.

The Sharks gave up a first round pick and prospect Sean Kuraly for Jones. It seemed like a fairly high price at the time, but it’s one San Jose was happy to pay: No goalie started more games than Jones over the last two seasons, and the team signed him to a five-year extension this summer.

The first Jones trade in 2015 set off a flood of goalie transactions, as five netminders were traded during Jones’ extremely brief Boston tenure. One of those was Anton Khudobin, who will start for the Bruins as Jones backs up Aaron Dell against  his “former team” on Saturday night.

Khudobin was traded from Carolina to Anaheim, where he started seven games before getting sent down to the AHL. He then signed with Boston in 2016, returning to his former club as the Bruins tried to fill the hole that trading Jones left behind entrenched starter Tuukka Rask.

Jones and Khudobin will have taken vastly different paths to their respective creases on Saturday night. The former enters the game as his club’s undisputed franchise goalie, and the latter the unheralded backup.

Naturally then, Khudobin’s been the better goaltender this season.

Among the 46 goalies that have played 200 five-on-five minutes this season, Khudobin’s .962 five-on-five save percentage was the best entering Saturday, according to Corsica.  So, too, is his .954 save percentage off of high-danger shots.

Jones, meanwhile, ranks 27th (.920) and 14th (.833) in those respective categories.

What does it all mean? For one, it’s early in the season, and the fact that Khudobin’s made seven fewer starts undoubtedly plays a role in his superior performance to Jones.

Mainly, it speaks to just how fickle goaltending can be.

The Bruins backup is arguably getting the nod Saturday night because of how bad the man ahead of him has been. Rask, once one of the league’s best goaltenders, has steadily declined over the last three years and reached a new low this season: This year, he’s 40th out of 46 qualifying goalies in five-on-five save percentage.

Jones has demonstrated this, too. He’s stopped a lower percentage of low-and-medium danger shots at even strength than the last two seasons, but has stopped a higher percentage of high-danger shots.

Plus, he’s played behind one of the league’s best penalty-killing teams after playing behind one of its worst last season, and has benefitted from a corresponding bump in his shorthanded save percentage.

So much of what a goalie does is out of their control. Yet who’s playing in front of them, what kind of shots they see, and how often they see those shots all can affect their performance.

Khudobin and Jones are living proof of that this season.

Time is now for Sharks to experiment with new lines

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USATSI

Time is now for Sharks to experiment with new lines

The San Jose Sharks were shut out for the first time this season on Thursday night, but it sure didn't feel like it.

You’d be forgiven, albeit mistaken, if you didn't think the loss was their first goose egg of the season. San Jose’s been one of the lowest-scoring teams in the league this year, and has scored two or fewer goals in all but two of their six games in November.

The Sharks controlled play, but their raw possession numbers were misleading: Through the first two periods, San Jose was outshot 23-18, and poured it on in the third looking for the game-tying goal.

In order to break out of his team’s extended slump, head coach Peter DeBoer appeared to throw his lines in the proverbial blender. The changes weren't very significant, though, as DeBoer worked mostly around the edges.

Joe Thornton remained with Joe Pavelski, while Melker Karlsson and Timo Meier rotated in on their wing. Joonas Donskoi swapped in with Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl, and on and on.

The core pair of each line remained intact, while DeBoer swapped complimentary wingers. Subtle changes, unsurprisingly, didn't lead to drastically different results.

He’s been amenable to bigger changes at times, briefly breaking up longtime linemates Thornton and Pavelski last Sunday against Los Angeles. The bottom six, especially the fourth line, has mostly been a revolving door.

That's a start, but far from enough. 

As long as the Sharks struggle to score, similarly significant changes are in order.

DeBoer shouldn't want to sacrifice the team’s defensive dominance, or its strong possession game. But, the Sharks haven't scored enough through 17 games to justify using the same forward combinations. 

In Thornton and Pavelski’s case, those struggles date back to last season. For just about everyone else, the sample size is getting increasingly more significant as the season approaches the quarter pole.

The Sharks bench boss expressed a willingness to mix up his power play units earlier this week, and needs to do the same at even strength. It's time to try Pavelski on Couture's wing, Meier on Thornton's, or any number of permutations.

Tweaking around the edges hasn't made much of a difference, so far more comprehensive adjustments are not only welcome, but necessary. Of course, DeBoer may not find the perfect lineup solutions.

At this point, though, it's worth a shot. It's hard to imagine the Sharks scoring any less than they have so far this season, and the Sharks need to explore if any line changes can provide a remedy.