Sharks-Flames: What to watch for


Sharks-Flames: What to watch for

CALGARY Its the last game before the NHL All-Star break, and the Sharks want to end the ceremonial first half of the season with a good taste in their mouths. Of course, so do 29 other NHL teams, including Calgary, which hosts San Jose on Tuesday night at the Saddledome.

The Sharks and Flames are going in opposite directions. San Jose has lost three straight, including four of five, while Calgary is 5-1-1 in its last seven.

San Joses lone win over that span came via shootout over the Flames at HP Pavilion on Jan. 17.

Burns out: The Sharks will be without Brent Burns after the defenseman suffered a right leg injury in Mondays 2-1 shootout loss to Edmonton. Burns and the team may have dodged a bullet, though, as head coach Todd McLellan told Calgary reporters this morning that the injury is not expected to sideline Burns long term.

Burns absence could mean Jim Vandermeers return to the lineup. McLellan hinted before the trip that Vandermeer, who hasnt played since Dec. 6 and was out with a left hand injury, could play in one of the teams games before the All-Star break.

Jason Demers returned to the lineup after a two-game absence in place of Justin Braun last night in Edmonton.

In the crease: Antti Niemi will presumably make his return to the net tonight after sitting out in favor of Thomas Greiss last night. Niemi has had off nights in his last two appearances, losing to Ottawa at home and in Vancouver on Saturday.

Facing Calgary could get him back on track. In eight career games against the Flames, Niemi is 7-1-0 with a 2.36 goals-against average and .902 save percentage.

For Calgary, Miikka Kiprusoff will get the start. In 27 career appearances against the Sharks, hes 13-11-3 with a 2.86 GAA and .907 save percentage.

Strong seconds: The second period has been San Joses best this season, while Calgary has struggled in the middle frame. The Sharks are a league best 21 in the second, while Calgary is -15, tied for 27th in the league.

The Flames are a 7 in the first compared with the Sharks -7 mark, and in the third, San Jose is a 5 while Calgary is a -5.

The Sharks 32 third period goals against are the third fewest in the NHL, behind only St. Louis (31) and Boston (also 31).

Odds and ends: The Sharks have not had a four-game winless streak this season. San Joses 23 shots by defensemen last night in Edmonton was a team record. Dan Boyle led the way with nine. This is the Sharks fifth straight game against a Canadian team. San Jose is 5-10-1 in its last 16 games in Calgary. The Sharks lead the league in shots per game with 34.7. San Jose is 4-4-4 in its last 12 road games. In their last seven games, the Flames have outscored the opposition 19-12. Calgary is 13-6-2 at home but 10-14-4 on the road.

There's one key difference between struggling Sharks, Canadiens


There's one key difference between struggling Sharks, Canadiens

The San Jose Sharks and Montreal Canadiens could not be more different in terms of tradition. But, on the ice this season, they couldn’t be more similar.

Both teams have placed their faith in a goalie that wears #31. The top defensemen on each team, Brent Burns and Shea Weber, are 32 and signed until 2025 and 2026, respectively. Tomas Hertl and Alex Galchenyuk are 2012 first round picks playing on the wing after being drafted as centers. Tomas Plekanec and Joe Thornton are favorites on the wrong side of 30, who may head elsewhere next summer.  Heck, both teams miss defenseman David Schlemko, who San Jose lost in the expansion draft and was eventually traded to Montreal, where he hasn’t yet played due to injury.

And both have struggled mightily so far. San Jose and Montreal have combined to win just two games, and sit 29th and 30th, respectively, in goals scored this season. It’s hard to imagine the Sharks and Canadiens scoring so little with all of that talent, but they can’t bank on good fortune, either.

Something’s got to give when the two face off at SAP Center tonight. After tonight, one team will feel much better about themselves, and the other team will be much closer to hitting the panic button.

That’s where the critical difference lies: Montreal’s already hit it, and San Jose probably won’t.

Last season, Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin fired Michel Therrien and replaced him with Claude Julien in February. Seven months after essentially siding with Therrien and trading star defenseman P.K. Subban, Bergevin ended Therrien’s time in Montreal, too. He surely can’t fire another coach, but a Galchenyuk trade is reportedly a possibility, according to TSN.

The Sharks, on the other hand, likely won’t do any of that. Even with the burden of high expectations in his tenure, Sharks general manager Doug Wilson’s never traded away a star player or fired a coach midseason. Even though Vegas pegs Peter DeBoer as the odds-on favorite to lose his job, it’s hard to envision Wilson making a change behind the bench during the year. He didn’t in 2015 when Todd McLellan seemed to lose the room, so why would he now?

Patience is what truly separates the Sharks and Canadiens, and that difference will likely determine how each front office reacts if their teams continue to struggle. Wilson’s shown a willingness to swing for the fences under these circumstances. He acquired Joe Thornton in 2005, after all.

But if you’re waiting on Wilson to take a page out of Bergevin’s book and fire the coach or trade away a key piece approaching their prime? Don’t hold your breath.

Process there even if results aren't for Sharks early in new season

Process there even if results aren't for Sharks early in new season

Saturday’s loss to the New York Islanders is one with which Sharks fans have become all too familiar.

The Sharks held a decided 41-23 edge on the shot count, but trailed 3-1 on the scoreboard. Since 2005, no team in the league has lost more games (59) in which they shot 35 or more times, and held their opponent to 25 or fewer shots.

No, your instincts haven’t deceived you over the Joe Thornton era: San Jose has lost a lot of games where they’ve otherwise outplayed their opponent. Of course, they’ve won plenty of those games too. More often than not, in fact, winning 72 of 131 times under those circumstances.

Frustration under those circumstances became readily apparent in the second period on Saturday, when Joe Pavelski broke his stick over Thomas Greiss’ net. The captain had plenty of reason to be unhappy, as his goalless drought to start the season has mirrored his team’s inability to finish at even strength.

So far this season, only Dallas and Montreal have scored on a lower percentage of their shots at even strength than San Jose, according to Natural Stat Trick. Both the Stars and Canadiens, unsurprisingly, are seventh in their respective divisions. The Sharks are sixth in the Pacific, thanks only to the still-winless Coyotes.

This early in the season, bad results can mask a strong process. They can’t finish, but the Sharks have been, statistically, one of the league’s best puck possession teams at even strength. That can happen over such a short stretch, but that’s easy to lose sight of when the team’s sitting in the division’s basement.

Right now, the Sharks just aren’t scoring enough at even strength, even as they’re playing well elsewhere. The power play’s begun to find an identity, particularly on the Kevin Labanc-led second unit. The penalty kill hasn’t allowed a goal since allowing three in the season opener, and have climbed all the way to 13th in the league.

If the Sharks continue to play this way, the goals, and wins, should come. They may not, of course, especially if Peter DeBoer struggles to find combinations that click for more than a game at a time. But eventually, the results should align with the process.

Saturday night was “one of those games” that have been surprisingly common in recent Sharks history, but it shouldn’t be chalked up as anything more than an amusing anomaly. Sometimes, one team is better, and still finds a way to lose.  

Sometimes, it truly is that simple.