Sharks-Flames: What to watch for


Sharks-Flames: What to watch for

PROGRAMMING NOTE: Insider Kevin Kurz will host a Sharks chat at 3 p.m. Hop in there and get all the information you need before tonight's game with the Flames.

SAN JOSE Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi admits that he gets a kick out of facing the 35-year-old Miikka Kiprusoff, as the two are both natives of Finland.

They're expected to go head-to-head tonight when the Sharks host the Flames at HP Pavilion.

I remember him being a young goalie in Finland and going to Sweden and coming to the Sharks a long time ago, being one of the first Finnish number one goalies in the league, Niemi said, referring to the three seasons Kiprusoff spent in the Swedish Elite League before coming to North America to join the Sharks organization.

Playing Finnish guys and veteran goalies who have been in the league for a long time, who you remember from a long time ago, of course you get a little extra energy playing against those guys.

The Sharks and Flames have combined for just three regulation goals in their first two meetings, both San Jose wins. Niemi and Kiprusoff played in both of those games for their respective teams.

Both goaltenders have played well in those matches, and special teams havent given up much, in particular the penalty kill, obviously, Todd McLellan said. Its been a five-on-five battle, very tight-checking, waiting for an opportunity to attack and counter-punch, possibly. We anticipate that kind of game, but who knows what comes out of it.

Kiprusoff, who began his professional career with the Sharks a decade ago, failed to get his 300th win in a Flames shootout loss to Anaheim on Monday, 3-2. Hes trying to become just the 27th goaltender to reach that plateau.

Niemi has had some success against the Flames in his career, including a 1-0 shutout on Jan. 24 in which he made 25 saves. Hes 8-1-0 against Calgary, with a 2.07 goals-against average and .915 save percentage. Kiprusoff, meanwhile, is 13-12-3 with a 2.79 goals-against average and .909 save percentage against his former team.

Nine of the last 12 games between the Sharks and Flames have been decided by one goal, with San Jose winning six of them.
Goals at a premium: San Jose has won the first two games of the season series, on Jan. 17 at home, 2-1 in a shootout, and Feb. 4 at the Saddledome, 1-0, in what was the final game before the NHL All-Star break for both teams.

Will goals be hard to come by again in this one?

I thought the games we played them this year they were fast, really competitive, and they were on a lot of puck battles. There wasnt much room on the ice and I dont expect anything less today, Michal Handzus said.

They dont give you much, so just protect the puck when you have it, Joe Pavelski said. Theyre going to be in your face, so you cant have the turnovers because theyll be going the other way in a hurry. Kipper has been really good for them, so try to get some traffic in front of him, throw a few pucks to the net, and try to get that second opportunity.

The teams are trending in opposite directions when it comes to scoring, though. San Jose has 14 in its three games since the All-Star break, while Calgary has just six in three games. Overall, the Flames have failed to score more than two goals in seven of their last nine games.
Couture still hot: No one has been producing more on the scoresheet lately for the Sharks than their lone All-Star, Logan Couture. The 22-year-old forward brings a six-game point-scoring streak into tonights game, with four goals and five assists over that span.

I thought going into that Vancouver-Edmonton-Calgary trip that we were on leading up to the All-Star break, he played very well. He was our best player on that trip, and hit the scoresheet more than anybody. The fact that he felt good at the All-Star game and fit in very well, I think does wonders for a young players confidence.

McLellan was a bit worried that exhaustion could hinder Couture after the hectic weekend in Ottawa, but that hasnt happened.

I was concerned about his fatigue factor coming home like all the other players, but he hasnt looked tired or sloppy by any means. He continues to be one of our top guys.

Pavelski reaches milestone: Sharks forward Joe Pavelski will play in his 400th career NHL game tonight, all with San Jose. Hes just the 14th player in franchise history to reach that mark, and fifth forward, joining Patrick Marleau, Jeff Friesen, Marco Sturm and Jonathan Cheechoo.

Its happened quick. Six years ago it started, and its amazing how fast it goes, said Pavelski, who has 19 goals and 19 assists for 38 points.

Its even more special that they have come all with San Jose.

My family really enjoys being here, and thats the biggest thing, whether its with one team or not. Weve really enjoyed the time here, the city, the team and the organization, everything, he said. Its been fun, and you hope for another 400, or another 600 like Patty.

Road trip looming: Its hard not to look ahead to the Sharks monstrous road trip that begins on Sunday in St. Louis, and will take San Jose to nine cities in 15 days.

The players, though, insist they are focused on a pair of home games before that. The Sharks host the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday.

I know were leaving, but actually I was thinking, yesterday when do we leave? I know we have two more games here, so you dont look too much ahead, Handzus said. Its going to be a lot of games from now on, but there is no point to look ahead. We need to win these two games at home and we need these four points.

Were enjoying our time at home right now. We know that trip is ahead of us, but we have two games at home. Its important we get these points in the bank, said Pavelski.

Odds and ends: San Jose leads the NHL with 34.8 shots per game. The Sharks have the second-best faceoff percentage in the NHL (53.2 percent). Joe Thornton has six points in the last three games (3g, 3a). Patrick Marleau has five points in the last three games (3g, 2a). Brent Burns has four assists in the last two games. Olli Jokinen has six points in his last six games (1g, 5a). Curtin Glencross (knee) and Lee Stempniak (high ankle sprain) remain out for Calgary. Jason Demers (lower body) and Tommy Wingels (left shoulder) are out for San Jose.

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.