Sharks

Sharks' effort improves, but result the same

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Sharks' effort improves, but result the same

BOX SCORE

DALLAS The effort was improved. The result was painfully similar.

The Sharks played their most complete game in weeks at least offensively but still lost in heartbreaking and frustrating fashion to the Dallas Stars in a shootout on Thursday night at American Airlines Center, 4-3.

Dallas Tomas Vincour scored late in the third and tallied the only goal in the shootout, moving the Stars, 8-0-1 in their last nine games, four points ahead of the Sharks in the Pacific Division. San Jose has two games in hand.

Joe Pavelski had given the Sharks a late lead, when he deposited the rebound of a Dan Boyle shot with just 3:32 to go in regulation.

Dallas didnt fold, though, tying the game with 1:15 to go and the goaltender pulled on a Vincour goal during a scramble in front of Antti Niemi. The puck barely trickled over the line before Niemi grabbed it with his glove, and a brief video review confirmed it was a good goal.

I was aware it was behind me, and I was trying to get my glove on the ice, said the goaltender.

RELATED: Sharks to face supremely confident Stars

Vincours shootout conversion came on Dallas fifth try. Ryane Clowe, Joe Pavelski, Tommy Wingels, Dominic Moore and Logan Couture failed, and the game ended when Lehtonen stopped Coutures attempt.

A visibly agitated Clowe put the loss, San Joses sixth in the last seven games (1-4-2), into perspective.

Good games dont count this time of year. Its putting up the points. I know we got a point, but we had the lead twice in the third and didnt hold onto it, Clowe said. "Its either you learn and you do it, or you dont play after the regular season.

Still, the Sharks can take some positives into their next contest on Saturday, another division battle against a club they are fighting for playoff position against in the Phoenix Coyotes.

For one, San Jose scored three times and applied pressure on Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen for the majority of the night, firing 48 shots on goal. The Sharks had scored just four goals total in their recently complete four-game homestand.

I thought that for a team thats struggled to score lately and struggled to put up any offensive plays, we had a number of really good looks at the net, Todd McLellan said.

Torrey Mitchells dazzling game-tying goal at the end of the second period gave the Sharks the momentum heading into the third. They took advantage of it when Marleau buried his 27th of the season just 25 seconds after the faceoff, from Joe Thornton.

Regarding Mitchells goal, McLellan said: There was a little bit of a relief there, and then to come back and get a quick one going into the third was a nice start, too.

Dallas, which had been outplayed for most of the game up to that point, turned it up a notch after Marleaus goal. Mark Fistric drilled Tommy Wingels hard into the boards, leading to a rush the other way. Jake Dowell rang one off the post, while Niemi smothered Vincours shot from the circle.

Dallas did manage to tie it at 2-2, though. Jamie Benn led a rush up the boards, played give and go with Adam Burish in the offensive zone, and then slid it through Niemi at 6:42 after Dan Boyle got tripped up in the slot by Ryan Garbutt.

After Pavelski and Vincours goals later in the third, the frantic pace carried into overtime.

Dallas had the better of the chances early in the extra session, but Patrick Marleau broke up a potential Mike Ribiero breakaway and Niemi stopped Loui Erikssons shot from the slot with 3:39 left.

The Sharks went to the power play when Michael Ryder was called for holding at 2:37. Marleaus blast hit the outside of the post, though, while Pavelskis backhand try was turned away by Kari Lehtonen.

Make that play, make that shot, and the games over, Pavelski said. We had a couple looks. Patty hit the post. Youve got to capitalize. We had our chances.

Pavelski had a good view of both of Dallas tying goals in the third, though, seemingly tempering his emotions for what was a good game from him on the offensive front.

Im out on the ice on both those, and its frustrating because its been like that a lot, Pavelski said. We need to be on the positive side. We cant be a minus. We have to be on the positive side to win games.

Clowe was upset the Sharks didnt finish off what would have been an incredibly uplifting win for a struggling hockey club.

You have to finish off the games. Youve got a minute left, youve got to close it out, Clowe said. Youve just got to take pride in the d-zone and do it right. Youve got to learn. Youve got to finish them off, but thats why you play 60 minutes.

He continued.

If youre on the ice in the last minute, you better be taking pride in that. I know it for me and Im sure every other guy feels the same way, its like a coach is giving you a little pat on the back if youre out in the last minute. Hes showing trust in you, and youve got to take pride. Weve got to learn. Weve got to take care of that.

Lehtonen kept the Stars in the game with some stellar goaltending through the first 39 minutes and 58 seconds.

Mitchell scored with just two seconds to go in the second, though, when the Sharks winger walked past defenseman Alex Goligosi and flipped in a backhand for his seventh marker, making it 1-1 on a play for the highlight reels.

The Sharks nearly got their first goal with about eight minutes left in the second, but it was Dallas that opened the scoring. Clowes redirection attempt was stopped by the quick right pad of Lehtonen, leading to a rush the other way. Ryder got behind Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Boyle before depositing a lead pass from Jake Dowell at 12:16.

Dallas was fortunate the game was still scoreless at that point, as Lehtonen thwarted countless scoring chances by the Sharks in the first two periods. He denied Marleau on a Sharks power play with about six minutes left in the first, and later gave Pavelski no room to shoot after a nice set up by Brent Burns in the offensive zone.

Despite the loss, the Sharks moved into sole possession of eighth place in the Western Conference, as Los Angeles lost in regulation to Columbus. The Phoenix Coyotes are one point ahead of San Jose, and have played two more games, after a shootout loss to Minnesota.

Odds and ends: San Jose is 2-7-3 in its last 12 games, and 4-10-3 in its last 17. The Sharks are 3-0-1 against Dallas in the season series, with two games remaining. Niemi made 32 saves in making his fifth straight start. The Sharks are 7-11-6 in their last 24 road games. TJ Galiardi, Michal Handzus, Benn Ferriero and Justin Braun were the Sharks scratches. Tommy Wingels head was checked hard into the boards on the hit by Mark Fistric early in the third period, and left the game for about 10 minutes.

Sharks have tall task avoiding holiday hangover in Vegas

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AP

Sharks have tall task avoiding holiday hangover in Vegas

Once they entered the league, many joked that the Vegas Golden Knights would have the best home-ice advantage in the league.

Sure, the novelty of a new team would get fans excited, but it was the team’s presence on the Las Vegas Strip that would give the expansion team an edge. After all, they call it “Sin City” for a reason, and it’s not for the ride in.

Nobody could have expected them to be this good at home.

The Golden Knights are 8-1-0 at T-Mobile Arena, and have the league’s highest winning percentage at home. They’ve outscored opponents by 18 goals, and their 4.33 goals per home game is the third-best mark in the entire league.

The Sharks will thus face their toughest road test of the season on Friday night, in a game that they’re almost designed to lose. Early afternoon games mean there’s no morning skate, but an early afternoon game the day after Thanksgiving? In Las Vegas?

Blackjack players have better luck hitting on 20.

In fact, Vegas’ home slate is littered with early starts: 12 of their 41 home games occur before the traditional 7-or-7:30 p.m. slot. Some of that is undoubtedly due to travel, of course, as the Sharks will play on the first night of a back-to-back on Friday.

But the effect is nonetheless apparent: T-Mobile Arena has become a fortress.

The same can be said about any number of arenas in cities known for their nightlife, such as the Miami Heat’s home at American Airlines Arena, located less than 10 miles from South Beach. Vegas is another matter entirely.

It doesn’t help that the Golden Knights have, home ice advantage aside, played like a playoff team. Adjusting for score effects and venue, Vegas ranks 13th and ninth, respectively, in the two major puck possession metrics: corsi-for percentage (shot attempts) and fenwick-for percentage (unblocked shot attempts).

They’ve also had luck that gamblers on the strip would envy, thriving despite being down to fourth-string goaltender Maxime Lagace because of injuries to the goalies ahead of him. Vegas has played extremely well in front of him in spite of that, and have won three straight since getting shellacked in Edmonton 10 days ago.

In spite of almost every piece of available logic heading into the season, the Vegas Golden Knights are good. Almost every piece, of course, because their home-ice advantage is simultaneously the most logical thing in the world.

In Las Vegas, it usually doesn’t pay to bet against the house.

Sharks should be thankful for these two players on Thanksgiving

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USATSI

Sharks should be thankful for these two players on Thanksgiving

The San Jose Sharks woke up this Thanksgiving and found themselves in a playoff spot, albeit barely. 

They hold the second and final wild card spot by the thinnest of margins, edging out the Colorado Avalanche not on points, games played, regulation and overtime wins, but a single goal in the goal differential column. 

As early as it is, it’s a critical time to be in playoff position. Since the NHL expanded to 30 teams in 2000, 79 percent of teams holding playoff spots on Thanksgiving made the postseason. 

If the Sharks avoid becoming a member of the dreaded 21 percent, they’ll have two players to thank, more than anyone else, for their good fortune: Logan Couture and Martin Jones. 

Couture, along with Joonas Donskoi, seems to be the only Shark unaffected by a team-wide scoring bug. Even as he’s cooled off slightly, his 11 goals are still tied for 10th-most in the league. 

He’s held a positive share of puck possession on the ice, despite starting the fourth-lowest percentage of his shifts in the offensive zone among Sharks forwards that have played at least 50 minutes this season, according to Corsica Hockey

Couture also leads the team in power play scoring with three goals, and is one of only three San Jose players that’s scored multiple times on the man advantage. It’s hard to imagine the league’s fourth-worst power play (15.1 percent) getting worse, but it undoubtedly would be without the 28-year-old.

While Couture has stood out among a hapless offense, Jones has led one of the league’s best defensive units. The Sharks are among the best teams at limiting shots and scoring chances across all situations, but Jones has not let them down. 

Although his .922 even-strength save percentage is 27th among 51 goalies that have played at least 200 minutes, San Jose’s given him a razor thin margin of error. He had the fifth-lowest goal support of any goalie entering last night, as statistician Darin Stephens noted, and his play has been good enough to keep the Sharks in games in spite of that. 

Jones has also led the way for the league’s best penalty kill, posting a .940 save percentage in shorthanded situations. That’s the best mark among goalies that have faced at least 80 shots on the penalty kill, according to Stephens.

The sustainability of Jones’ penalty kill dominance and Couture’s 20.8 shooting percentage is an open question, but their importance to the team early in the season cannot be overstated. They’ve helped keep the Sharks afloat, and in a playoff spot with history on their side at the critical Thanksgiving mark. 

The Sharks need to not only let them have extra helpings during their holiday feast, but find a way to give them more help on the ice too.