Sharks-Lightning: What to watch for


Sharks-Lightning: What to watch for

PROGRAMMING ALERT: The Sharks and Lightning drop the puck at 4:30 on Comcast SportsNet California, followed by Sharks Postgame Live.

TAMPA BAY The Tampa Bay Lightning may be out of the playoff race, sitting a full 10 points out of eighth place in the Eastern Conference, but that doesnt mean the Sharks are expecting to blow them out of the water like they did at HP Pavilion on Dec. 21.

In case youve forgotten, the Sharks scored five first period goals en route to a 7-2 victory in front of their home crowd.

REWIND: Sharks strike lightning with seven goals

Start, early energy, forcing them to play in their end, said Todd McLellan, when asked what his team did right in that victory. That was important. I dont know that theyve had a start that poor since then, so we expect a different game from them. Theyre very capable of getting to three goals, and thats been our number all along, so that becomes a scary thing for us.

Dan Boyle spent six seasons with the Lightning, winning a Stanley Cup here in 2004, and played with a couple of their star players that are still around like Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis.

He expects a better effort out of the Lightning in the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

Theyre at home, number one. Theyre going to be looking to come back from their loss last game, said Boyle, referring to the Lightnings 4-0 loss to Ottawa on Tuesday night. Even though theyre out of the playoff picture, theyre a team thats very capable of coming back and earning a spot. Theyve got a lot of offensive weapons, and Ive played with a lot of them so I know first hand.

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The Lightning will also be able to keep the Steven Stamkos line, which also features Steve Downie and Teddy Purcell, away from the Sharks top defensive pair of Boyle and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, by getting the last change at home.

Youre on the road, sometimes you dont get the matchups you want so youve got to be aware every time youre on the ice, Boyle said.

Stamkos remaining confident: It may be a down year for the Lightning, Eastern Conference finalists from a year ago, but the same cant be said for Stamkos. He leads the league with 37 goals, five more than Pittsburghs Evgeni Malkin.

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The 22-year-old superstar was asked what he expects to see in tonights game.

Weve got to stay disciplined tonight against San Jose, he said. They have one of the best power plays in the league, and arguably one of the best offenses in the league. Weve got to stay disciplined defensively and find a way to score goals.

Weve got to go to the net, and maybe capitalize on our power play thats been struggling lately. There are a lot of things we realize we need to be better at, and its going to be a good test.

On Dec. 21, Stamkos was scoreless and a -1 in just over 20 minutes. How will McLellans team defend against him again?

As soon as you zero in on one individual, three or four others come back and bite you in the butt, said the coach. Were well aware of Stamkos ability to score. He does it on a regular basis. We do have to pay attention to him. We have to know where he is and how he scores.
Wingels on second line: The Sharks are still tinkering with their top two lines, but it looks like Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski will start tonights game as the top line while Logan Couture, Ryane Clowe and Tommy Wingels make up the second line.

The rookie Wingels returned from a nine-game absence due to an apparent left shoulder injury in Mondays 5-3 win in Washington, starting the game in that place before getting bumped in the third period. He played less than two minutes in that final frame for a game total of just 8:08.

I think it was just the way the game was going, he said. Im not the one calling out the lines, but there were other guys who were going. It was my first game back and I dont know what the plan was to use, me but I was just happy to be in there.

As for what he aims to do on that that second line, Wingels said: I try to bring some speed and a forecheck. Those guys work great together so I just look to compliment them and stick to my game.

The Sharks third line will remain the same, while the fourth line looks to be Andrew Desjardins, Brad Winchester and John McCarthy. That leaves Benn Ferriero and Jim Vandermeer as the odd men out.
Thorntons shot totals: As mentioned here yesterday, Thornton and Pavelski have paced the San Jose offense lately with a combined 22 points in the seven games since the All-Star break.

McLellan mentioned one reason for that was Thornton was shooting the puck more. In the first four games after the break, Thornton had a whopping 19 shots on goal, but in the last three games, has just one shot in each.

He did have three assists against the Capitals, though, and was asked if hes made a conscious effort to get more pucks to the net.

Does it help? Im not sure, but obviously Im a passer at heart, he said. You want to shoot because Pavs goes to the net and so does Patty. Yeah, Id like to shoot more, but Im a passer, what can I say?

Thornton leads the Sharks in scoring with 50 points (12g, 38a) and is tied for sixth in the league in assists.

Goalie matchup: Antti Niemi will return to the net to face Tampa Bays Dwayne Roloson.

Niemi made 22 saves in the win against the Lightning on Dec. 21, and is a career 2-0 with a 1.00 goals-against average and .952 save percentage against Tampa Bay. Hell be trying to rebound from a 3-0 loss against the Blues on Sunday, in which he allowed two goals on 27 shots.

In 30 career games against San Jose, Roloson is 11-12-4 with a 2.98 GAA and .903 save percentage. He allowed four goals on 35 shots on Dec. 21, after starter Mathieu Garon gave up three goals on his first eight shots in the first period of that 7-2 loss.

Odds and ends: The Lightning will be without defenseman Pavel Kubina, after G.M. Steve Yzerman told reporters they are trying to trade him. Hell be held out of action until the situation is resolved. Matt Gilroy (upper body injury) is also out. Jason Demers (lower body) and Marty Havlat (torn hamstring) remain out for the Sharks. The Sharks are 1-1 on their nine-game road trip, which takes them to Carolina tomorrow. San Jose is 6-1 against the Lightning since the start of the 2005-06 season, outscoring them 31-13. Tampa Bay is 2-3-2 in its last seven games. Ryane Clowe has seven points in the last six games (1g, 6a).

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.