Sharks face daunting schedule over final months


Sharks face daunting schedule over final months

SAN JOSE There are exactly two months left in the regular season for the San Jose Sharks, and what a two months it will be.

The team gets to enjoy a three-day break between games last Saturday in Phoenix tomorrows home matchup with the Calgary Flames. After that, the rest and the practice time will be scarce, but the games will come one after another after another.

In total, San Jose has 32 games left in 59 days, or one every 1.84 days. There are just three separate breaks of two days between games, and six back-to-back instances.

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For the Sharks, theres no time to even complain about it.

Its the way the schedule is. We got to be at home for Christmas and New Years, and now were paying the price for it, Marc-Edouard Vlasic said on Monday. Its the way the scheduling goes. Other years weve had it packed at the beginning, and this year its packed at the end.

Every NHL team has quirks to its schedule, but San Joses has been quirkier than most. The club played opening night on Oct. 8 and had five complete days off before its second game, had another four-day break in mid-November, and then played just five times in a 16-day span in late December and early January. As the standings sit on Tuesday morning, no team in the NHL has played fewer games than have the Sharks (the New York Rangers have also played just 50).

Is it better to have longer breaks at the end of the season as opposed to the beginning?

Yeah, but the reality is we just dont, Joe Thornton said. Well work these two days, and were going to get busy in the next two months. It would be nice to have these in April, but we dont. Well take it, and work on things we have to do right now.

Monday for the Sharks was called a work day by coach Todd McLellan, after the team enjoyed its annual fathers trip to Phoenix and then a day off for the Super Bowl on Sunday. Tuesdays practice will feature more systematic strategy.

Weve probably got upwards of 20 real good practices left this year and thats it, with the amount of travel and how much were going to play on the road, McLellan said. When we do get them, we have to take advantage of the time.

McLellan was asked again about the schedule after Saturdays 5-3 loss in Phoenix, and its safe to say hes not going to use it as any kind of excuse if the team falters in the coming weeks.

I dont want to hear about it anymore. I want our group to come to the rink and get prepared to play one game at a time, he said.

The part that I was really worried about was the part before All-Star break, when we played nine games in 15 days. Weve slowly caught up, and we should be able to handle ourselves.

Despite practice time being at a minimum, the Sharks are determined to improve their game as another the postseason appearance approaches.

Well fine-tune, but try to get better, as well, Vlasic said. We still have 32 games left until the end of the year so I think guys still want to improve. Guys are getting out there before practice 15 and 20 minutes early. You have to keep the stamina going and work on some things, because everybody wants to get better.

Murray clears - Sharks forward Andrew Murray has cleared waivers, according to a tweet from TSN's Bob McKenzie. He'll be reassigned to the club's AHL affiliate in Worcester.

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.