Sharks eye top seed as they head into Minnesota: 'It will be a fun test'

Sharks eye top seed as they head into Minnesota: 'It will be a fun test'

SAN JOSE – The Sharks have steadily increased their lead in the Pacific Division in recent weeks, thanks to a 5-0-3 record in their last eight games, including a three-game winning streak coming out of the bye week.

It’s looking more and more likely that the club will capture its first division title since 2011, with a seven-point lead and a game in hand on Anaheim and Edmonton.

A game on Sunday against the Minnesota Wild, the Central Division leaders heading into Saturday night’s action, begs the question – is the Western Conference’s top seed now in the Sharks’ sights?

“Sure, absolutely,” Pete DeBoer said. “The goal is to finish as high as you can and make your path as easy as possible, as far as home ice and having home ice in the playoffs. That’s something that we’re talking about. Always with an eye behind us and making sure we’re taking care of business that way, but we’re focusing on the teams above us.”

Joel Ward said: “It will be a fun test.”

The Sharks (38-18-7, 83 points) trail the Wild (41-15-6, 88 points) by five points, with Minnesota holding a game in hand. The Chicago Blackhawks are also in the mix with a 41-18-5 mark for 87 points, and can leapfrog the Wild with a win over Nashville on Saturday night (although Chicago will have played three more games than Minnesota).

The Wild own the NHL’s second-ranked offense, with 3.32 goals-per game in what is a terrifically balanced attack. They surrender just 2.35 goals-per game, fourth in the NHL, in front of goalie Devan Dubnyk, the NHL leader in wins (34) and save percentage (.933). Their special teams numbers are strong, too, with the NHL’s fifth-best power play (22.1 percent) and seventh-best penalty kill (84.0).

They also added at the trade deadline, acquiring towering center Martin Hanzal and gritty winger Ryan White.

In the first meeting between the clubs at SAP Center on Jan. 5, the Sharks held the Wild to 11 shots on goal through two periods, maintaining a 2-1 lead. Minnesota exploded for four goals in the third period on 15 shots, though, to win 5-4.

DeBoer, who will remind his troops of those prior events, said: “I don’t think we played two better periods through the first 40 minutes. … It was kind of a tale of two games, and then the floodgates opened and we didn’t handle that adversity well.”

Ward doesn’t expect the same kind of scoring explosion on Sunday.

“I think it will be a little bit closer, a little tighter, for sure,” he said.

The Sharks will be facing a team above them in the standings for the first time since they saw Chicago on Jan. 31 in the first game coming out of the All-Star break. They have one more game after Sunday against the Wild, again in Minnesota, on March 21.

They’ll certainly keep their eye on the Ducks and Oilers, but a pair of wins against the Wild would surely tighten up the race in the Western Conference.

“We could [catch them]. Other teams could catch us,” Marc-Edouard Vlasic said. “There’s still [19] games, we just want to put wins together.”


Sharks blow out Devils for season-high fifth straight win

Sharks blow out Devils for season-high fifth straight win


SAN JOSE -- Jannik Hansen scored his first goal of the season and fellow fourth-liners Eric Fehr and Barclay Goodrow also scored to help the San Jose Sharks win their season-high fifth straight game, 6-2 over the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday night.

Logan Couture added his 30th goal of the season, and Joe Pavelski and Mikkel Boedker also scored to give the Sharks a four-point lead over third-place Los Angeles in the Pacific Division with one game in hand.

Brent Burns added three assists and Martin Jones made 26 saves.

The scoring barrage by San Jose spoiled Cory Schneider's return to net for the Devils. Schneider allowed four goals on 14 shots before getting pulled midway through the second period of his first start since March 8. Schneider has lost 11 starts in a row since his last win for the Devils on Dec. 27.

Taylor Hall scored his 32nd goal of the season and Blake Coleman also scored for the Devils, who lead Florida by just one point in the race for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. The Panthers have two games in hand.

After Hansen and Fehr scored in the first period, Goodrow chipped one in midway through the second period on a surprising night of scoring from the fourth line when he beat Schneider on a 2-on-1.

Couture then scored 40 seconds later on San Jose's first shot against Keith Kinkaid for his third career 30-goal season. Boedker added San Jose's second power-play goal of the night late in the second and the rout was on.

The Sharks got off to a fast start in their first game back from a 3-0 Canadian road trip, scoring three goals in the first period and killing 1:20 of a two-man advantage for New Jersey.

The teams traded goals to start with Fehr beating Schneider over the shoulder from a bad angle and Hall answering when he stole a bouncing puck from Justin Braunand beat Jones with a quick shot.

San Jose then scored twice in a span of less than three minutes to take the lead. Pavelski tipped in a shot from Kevin Labanc on the power play to give the Sharks the lead.

Then after Jones denied Damon Severson from in close at one end, Dylan DeMelo sent a long pass that Hansen chased down and then beat Schneider on a breakaway for his first goal since March 30, 2017.

NOTES: DeMelo has 10 assists this month. ... San Jose D Brenden Dillon has a five-game point streak. ... Devils F Miles Wood (upper body) was scratched and Jesper Bratt played in his place.


Devils: Visit Pittsburgh on Friday.

Sharks: Host Vegas on Thursday.

With Devils in town, Sharks will get firsthand look at top contender for MVP


With Devils in town, Sharks will get firsthand look at top contender for MVP

As the season winds down, whispers surrounding players’ awards candidacies are turning into full-blown conversations. None are more interesting than those surrounding the Hart Trophy, awarded to “the player judged to be the most valuable to his team,” according to the NHL’s criteria.

The Sharks have already seen their fair share of MVP candidates since the trade deadline, and will encounter yet another one on Tuesday when Taylor Hall and the New Jersey Devils stop by SAP Center. They’ll see a couple more beyond Hall over the next three weeks, too.

Who do we think has the best case? With no disrespect meant to Nikita Kucherov or Anze Kopitar, Hart Trophy candidates that the Sharks won’t play before the playoffs, we’ll look at the ones the Sharks have played since the deadline or will play before the end of the regular season.

The Dark Horses
Alexander Ovechkin, Washington Capitals: The demise of the ‘Great Eight’ was greatly exaggerated. In his 13th NHL season, the 32-year-old is tied for the league lead in goals (43), 11th in points (78), and has led a depleted Capitals roster to the precipice of a third-straight division title. That probably won’t be enough to earn his fourth Hart Trophy, but this is undoubtedly one of Ovi’s best seasons.

Eric Staal, Minnesota Wild: Staal was a pleasant surprise when he scored 65 points last year, but has been even better this season. He’s tied for fourth in the in goals (39), tied for fifth in even strength goals (26), tied for 19th in points (71), and leading his team in each category as a 33-year-old. The Wild are a near-lock for the postseason at this point, and a resurgent Staal deserves much of the credit.

The Frontrunners
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers: McDavid’s candidacy comes down to where you fall on the “non-playoff players winning MVP” debate, but his value to the lottery-bound Oilers cannot be denied. Edmonton is 28-19-3 when he’s scored a point, and 3-17-2 when he hasn’t.

The former is about a 97-point pace in the standings over an 82-game season, while the latter is about a 30-point pace. In other words, the Oilers are basically a playoff team when McDavid scores, and historically bad when he doesn’t.

We’re sympathetic to questions about how valuable a player can be when his team will finish so far out of the postseason. However, imagining how much worse the poorly-constructed Oilers would be without him makes him a worthy candidate alone.

Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche: The Colorado Avalanche were 31 points worse than the league’s second-worst team last season, and finished 46 points out of the postseason. A full offseason with second-year coach Jared Bednar, as well as some under-the-radar acquisitions have helped the Avalanche’s remarkable turnaround into a Wild Card team, but Nathan MacKinnon is undoubtedly the catalyst.

The former No. 1 pick has put it all together this season, and is tied-for-second in points (89) with McDavid, despite playing eight fewer games. His 1.39 points per game are the most in the league, as are his 3.49 points per 60 minutes of five-on-five play, according to Natural Stat Trick (minimum 500 minutes played).

The Avalanche is the league’s fifth-worst five-on-five puck possession team overall (47.42 percent corsi-for), but are right around league-average with MacKinnon on the ice (50.96 percent). He’d be a very worthy Hart Trophy winner, and likely would be the clear-cut frontrunner if not for the man leading the Devils into SAP Center on Tuesday.

The Favorite
Taylor Hall, New Jersey Devils: McDavid is not the only No. 1 pick the Oilers drafted that’s in the MVP conversation, but he’s the only one still on their roster. The other is Taylor Hall, who has the best Hart Trophy case in our eyes.

Hall strikes the sweet spot between McDavid’s case, as a superstar with little support around him, and MacKinnon’s, as an emergent force leading a resurgence, and he has a 26-game point streak to his name. He sits outside the top 10 in points (77), goals (31), and assists (46), but has scored points at a higher rate per game (1.15) than all but six qualifying players.

He also doesn’t have Mikko Rantanen or Leon Draisaitl skating alongside him as MacKinnon and McDavid do, nor does he have a supporting cast like Kucherov and Kopitar. Of all the players the Sharks have and will face down the stretch, Hall’s been the player most valuable to his team this season.