Sharks get right before break, shut out Flames


Sharks get right before break, shut out Flames


CALGARY On a night when goaltender Antti Niemi stopped every shot he faced, including several with his glove, it was the hand-eye coordination of Benn Ferriero that keyed the end to the Sharks' losing streak.

Ferriero slickly grabbed an airborne puck in the crease, placed it on the ice, and whacked in the only goal of the game in a 1-0 Sharks win on Tuesday night over the Flames at the Scotiabank Saddledome.

I used to play baseball when I was younger, Ferriero said. I just tried to settle it down as fast as I could, and throw it in the empty net.

Dan Boyle began the frantic sequence of events, when he tossed the puck towards goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff from the point. It bounced off of Kiprusoffs pad and Logan Couture got two whacks at it, the second of which deflected into the air.

Ferriero found himself standing in the crease behind a fallen Kiprusoff when he snagged it with his right hand. The goal came at 11:35 of the third period.

Benny has a knack around the net, Todd McLellan said. "Hes the benefactor of loose pucks laying in there. Tonight he went into the blue paint and found one.

For Ferriero, it was his sixth goal of the year as he continues to get key minutes on the teams second line, mostly with Couture and Patrick Marleau. The Sharks remain down two of their top six forwards with Ryane Clowe and Martin Havlat out for and indeterminate period.

That makes it all the more essential for a guy like Ferriero to get on the scoresheet.

Its definitely important, Ferriero said. Playing on the second line and getting minutes like that, youre expected to produce.

On the other end, Niemi made 25 saves in recording his third shutout and first since Jan. 12 at Winnipeg. It was an important victory for him after two subpar efforts in losses to Ottawa and Vancouver in which he surrendered four goals apiece, several of which were stoppable shots.

When asked if the win was key for him on a personal level, Niemi said: For sure, after a couple games giving up one or two bad goals. Huge for me.

McLellan credited backup Thomas Greiss for assisting Niemi in what was a bad stretch. Greiss played in Saturdays 2-1 loss in Edmonton, the third straight game he surrendered just a single goal.

I thought Thomas Greiss allowed Niemi to be the goalie he was tonight. What I mean by that, Thomas threw a pretty good game in Edmonton. It gave Nemo a day or two work on his game without having to worry about playing, McLellan said. He obviously polished it up.

The win ended San Joses three-game losing streak in what was their final game before the All-Star break, and was they're first regulation victory since Jan. 14. The Sharks (27-14-6, 60 points) are the Pacific Division leaders, two points better than Los Angeles with three games in hand on the Kings.

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It also allows them to enter the break on a win, rather than what would have been a season-high four-game winless streak.

It makes the break a lot more fun. Now we can enjoy the break, get away from it, and it was very important to get in here and win tonight, Joe Thornton said. It was a good road win.

That was a gutsy effort from us tonight, shorthanded and missing some bodies and playing three games in four nights on this Canada trip, which is tough to do, Couture said.

After a generally sleepy first 40 minutes, things finally opened up in the third period and the teams traded some excellent scoring chances.

Calgary had the better of the opportunities early. Just 20 seconds after the faceoff, Mikael Backlunds wrist shot from the slot was snagged by Niemi. Later, Alex Tanguay broke in behind Justin Braun and tried going to his backhand, but Niemi patiently sealed off any open space in making the stop.

Pavelski nearly put the Sharks ahead on a couple tries. First, he wheeled around and slid a backhander from the slot towards Kiprusoff, but the Flames goalie kicked it away. Pavelskis knuckle-puck slap shot midway through the third confused and beat Kiprusoff, only to ring off of the post.

Thornton wasnt sure why the games pace picked up after a somewhat sleep inducing first two periods.

Both teams just trying to get some offense going, perhaps, he said. It was a tight-checking game all game, except for the third, and it just opened up."

Calgary had the better energy at the outset, and although Niemi wasnt tested much, he made a nice left pad stop on Tom Kostopoulos with about 2:20 remaining in the period.

The Sharks had the best chance, though, later in the frame when Patrick Marleau came charging in after Coutures deflection attempt popped into the air. Kiprusoff managed to keep it out with his stick, though, and the game remained scoreless.

A shift by the Sharks top line in the Calgary zone late in the first resulted in a hooking call to Olli Jokinen at 19:46. That power play carried over into the start of the second period, and was great chance for the Sharks to get the momentum. Instead, the top power play unit fumbled with the puck and there were no real scoring chances while Jokinen exited the box with no harm done.

Jokinen would have given the Flames the lead in the second were it not for a heads up play by Douglas Murray. A blast by Jarome Iginla missed wide but rebounded off of the backboards towards Jokinen. Murray managed to get just enough of the puck to keep the Flames forward from depositing it into the open net.

Calgary managed just three shots in the second period, two of them coming on a power play with Jim Vandermeer off for interference.

Vandermeer was playing for the first time since Dec. 6, surprisingly lining up as a fourth-line forward while Andrew Murray was scratched.

The Sharks scored and surrendered just five regulation goals on their three-game trek through Canada that included stops in Vancouver and Edmonton (1-1-1).

The defensive part of our game weve been really happy with. Finding, some nights, enough offense to win, tonight being one of them, McLellan said. But, on a three-game road we only gave up five goals and go home .500. Weve got to find some scoring, weve got to get a little hungrier in and around the net, much like the winning goal tonight.

But, its nice to win the last one. It gives you a better feeling going into the All-Star break.

Odds and ends: The Sharks won 51 percent of the faceoffs (23-for-45). Joe Pavelski had a team-high five shots, while Calgarys Olli Jokinen had a game-high six. San Jose had 22 blocked shots to Calgarys seven. Antti Niemi has 16 career shutouts, 11 on the road.

Don't blame Joakim Ryan for Brent Burns' struggles


Don't blame Joakim Ryan for Brent Burns' struggles

Over the last three years, Brent Burns played with only one defensive partner more in a single season than he has with Joakim Ryan in 2017-18.

That partner, of course, is Paul Martin, who’s missed all but two games this season due to complications from offseason ankle surgery. Martin is set to miss yet more time after experiencing a setback in his recovery, although the injury is not related to his ailing ankle, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

Martin’s absence, combined with the fact that Burns has gone 20 games without a goal this season, has naturally led to questions about whether their separation is causing Burns to struggle.

That’s not the case.

Burns is actually playing a bit better alongside Ryan than he was with Martin. In just over 257 minutes together at even strength, the Sharks have controlled 55.74 percent of the shot attempts with Burns and Ryan on the ice, according to Corsica Hockey, up from Burns and Martin’s 52.13 percent mark together.

The Sharks are attempting more shots than their opponents when Burns and Ryan play, they’re doing so at a higher rate. With Burns and Ryan on the ice, the Sharks are attempting nearly nine more shots per 60 minutes than when Burns and Martin together, and just over two more shots per 60 minutes are hitting the net.

As we’ve written about previously, Burns’ scoring struggles date back to the stretch run last season, when he was playing alongside Martin. It wasn’t Martin’s fault then, just as it’s not Ryan’s fault now.

The puck simply isn’t going in. Through 20 games this season, Burns has 82 shots on goal and zero goals. Through 20 games in his Norris Trophy-winning campaign, Burns had 83 shots on goal and seven goals.

It’s not like Burns was super lucky then, either, as his 8.3 percent shooting percentage through 20 games last season was only one percent higher than his career average. Shooting at a zero percent clip after 20 games is, clearly, the outlier.

Together, Burns and Ryan have been more unlucky than anything else. When the two skate during five-on-five play, the Sharks are scoring on only 3.45 percent of their shots, much lower than the 8.26 percent San Jose scored on when Martin and Burns played together.

At 32 years old, it would be a stretch to expect Burns to match or exceed his heights from a season ago, but it would be an even bigger one to expect him to struggle much longer alongside Ryan. 

They've done everything right, they just haven't scored.

Sharks winger Joonas Donskoi has officially arrived


Sharks winger Joonas Donskoi has officially arrived

It turns out the top-six winger the Sharks needed to replace Patrick Marleau was on the roster all along.

Joonas Donskoi skated on Logan Couture’s line in Monday night’s shootout loss to the Ducks, and was San Jose’s best player. He scored the Sharks’ only two goals, and tied for the team-lead among forwards with four shots on net.

Donskoi added another goal in the ninth-round shootout, but his two goals in regulation were his sixth and seventh on the season. With those goals, he surpassed his total from an injury-riddled campaign a year ago, and stands three tallies clear as San Jose’s second-leading goal-scorer this season.

Due to Melker Karlsson’s injury, Donskoi skated with the Sharks’ leading goal-scorer, Logan Couture, and rekindled the strong chemistry the pair has shown since the Finnish winger arrived in San Jose in 2015.

Of the nine lines Couture has skated on for at least 50 minutes dating back to the beginning of the 2015-16 season, the three best in terms of puck possession have had Donskoi on his wing. Those three combinations have controlled at least 54 percent of the five-on-five shot attempts, according to Corsica Hockey.

Adding Tomas Hertl, who’s already a strong possession player, to that line bodes well for an even stronger second line moving forward. With Karlsson on the wing, the line controlled only 47.7 percent of the shot attempts, per Corsica, meaning the Sharks have been routinely out-possessed with them on the ice.

That was not the case with Donskoi in Karlsson’s place, as Donskoi posted positive possession numbers alongside Couture and Hertl on Monday, according to Natural Stat Trick. The results were there, as evidenced by the game’s opening goal, but it’s a good sign that the process was, too.

The same, frankly, can be said of Donskoi’s entire season up to this point. He likely won’t convert on over 18 percent of his shots all season, of course, but the Sharks have the puck more often than their opponents when he’s on the ice, and should continue to generate pressure, chances, and ultimately goals, even if Donskoi’s personal scoring comes down.

When Karlsson comes back, Donskoi should remain on Couture and Hertl’s line. That would allow the former to slide into a role better-suited to his game, and the latter to bolster San Jose’s top-six forward group.

Donskoi’s earned an extended look in that spot thanks to his resurgence, and subsequent emergence, this season. Thanks to him, replacing Marleau’s production suddenly seems much less daunting.