Sharks-Predators: What to watch for


Sharks-Predators: What to watch for

NASHVILLE As poorly as the Sharks road trip started, the club still has a chance to finish with a .500 record with back-to-back games in Nashville and Minnesota this weekend, beginning tonight at Bridgestone Arena.

It wont be easy. The Predators are among the top teams in the Western Conference, and have not lost in regulation at home since Jan. 5, going 8-0-2 over that span. Their recipe for success remains the same a strong blue line corps, speed up front, and a world-class goaltender in Pekka Rinne.

San Jose, 2-4-1 on its nine-game trek, will try to build off of a 2-1 win in Toronto on Thursday night, ending a season-long four-game losing streak.

We need to start putting together good games back-to-back, Logan Couture said. Were getting down to 23 games left in the year, so were pushing for a playoff spot and we need to be playing our best to make the playoffs.

Joe Thornton said: There are still four points out there to be had, so weve still got to focus in on winning some games. Its been a tough trip, but it can be an average trip if we win these two games.

RELATED: Trotz says Sharks, Preds match up well

Positives from Toronto: The improvements from the Sharks win in Toronto, compared with the 6-3 loss in Columbus the previous game, were numerous. First and foremost, the team was a great deal better in its own zone and got a much-needed strong performance from goaltender Antti Niemi.

McLellan rattled off a few more.

The power play got us a goal. We came out on the winning side of a one-goal game instead of the losing side. Kept a team to under three, which is important to our team, said the coach, before mentioning he got solid play from all four of his lines.

The Sharks were not shorthanded even once against the Maple Leafs, after the coach stressed disciplined play following the Columbus game in which the team committed numerous avoidable infractions resulting in Blue Jackets power play goals.

When were playing well, were disciplined and we dont take many penalties, McLellan said. I look at the team were playing tonight, theyre a very low-penalized team. They do a lot of work with their legs, and with their positioning, and we have to be that type of team tonight.

The Predators and Sharks are among the top power play units in the league. Nashville is second in the NHL with a 21.6 percent rate, while San Jose is just behind in third at 21.5 percent. The Sharks are 14-for-46 on the power play in their last 15 games (37.0 percent), but the Predators have not allowed a power play goal in their last five games.

Secondary scoring needed: The Sharks top scorers have been outstanding lately in terms of putting points on the board. In the last six games, Couture has eight points (4g, 4a), while Thornton (1g, 5a), Joe Pavelski (2g, 4a) and Patrick Marleau (5g, 1a) have six apiece.

Playing at home, the Predators will try and get Shea Weber and Ryan Suter out against the Sharks top line of Thornton-Marleau-Pavelski as much as possible, so a goal or two from the bottom two lines would be huge for San Jose.

Those two are tough to score on, and are big plus players for them, Couture said. For our team to be successful, you need some secondary scoring. Weve had that for the majority for the year, we just need to continue it tonight.

Weve got Pav and Patty and Coutch that are doing a lot of scoring for our team, and after that we need some of the grinders to step up, McLellan said. We need them to play solid defensively, but every now and then we need them to chip in. Its no secret when you go back and look at most of our wins, theyve found a way to contribute at some point.

Among the Sharks that havent lit the lamp lately are Torrey Mitchell (15 games), Ryane Clowe (nine games) and Jamie McGinn (seven games).

Niemi vs. Rinne: Antti Niemi will try and win back-to-back starts for the first time since Jan. 24 and 31 (the games immediately preceding and following the All-Star break), when he mans the crease for the Sharks tonight.

In seven career games against Nashville, Niemi is 4-2-1 with a 2.39 goals-against average and .911 save percentage.

Nashville will go with Pekka Rinne, who will start for the 15th time in the last 16 games. Rinne has allowed two goals of fewer in five straight games, and is 4-2-3 with a 2.47 GAA and .931 SP against the Sharks in 10 career games.

Odds and ends: Predators forward Patric Hornqvist will return tonight after a five-game absence due to an upper body injury. ... The Sharks and Predators split two early season meetings this season, with each team winning on the others home ice. In the last 16 games between these teams, 13 have been decided by one goal. Nashville is playing its third game of a five-game homestand, and is 1-0-1 so far. Dominic Moore (lower body) and Douglas Murray (fractured Adams apple) remain out for the Sharks, and wont play tomorrow in Minnesota, either. Todd McLellan expects Moore to play probably over the next week. Nashville is 15-2-2 in its last 19 home games. McLellan on the Sharks nearing the end of their road trip: Youre always concerned as a road trip winds down that guys are looking forward to getting home, but we havent banked enough points at all on this trip to do that.

With Martin waived, holes in Burns' game are his to fix alone


With Martin waived, holes in Burns' game are his to fix alone

Defenseman Paul Martin cleared waivers on Tuesday, and will now get a chance to play regularly with the San Jose Barracuda as his agent and Sharks general manager Doug Wilson attempt to find a trade destination. While he’s in the minors, his former partner, Brent Burns, is now playing with the man that essentially took his spot.

Joakim Ryan has been the reigning Norris Trophy winner's most common defensive partner this year, and the rookie moved back to Burns’ side late in San Jose’s win over Arizona on Saturday. He skated alongside him again during Monday’s win in Los Angeles, and is set to do the same Tuesday against the Coyotes.

In just over 28-and-a-half minutes together at five-on-five play over the last two games, the Sharks controlled 57.89 percent of the shot attempts, according to Natural Stat Trick. They got favorable assignments, starting 73.33 percent of their non-neutral zone shifts in the offensive zone.

Despite this, the pair have given up a worrisome amount of scoring chances in their short reunion. 

In parts of two games together, the Sharks have attempted 46.67 percent of the scoring chances, and 38.46 percent of the high-danger scoring chances with the Wookiee and the rookie on the ice. That's eye-popping, for all the wrong reasons, and points to a larger concern. 

No matter who Burns has played with the Sharks have been largely out-chanced. With Burns on the ice this season, the Sharks have controlled 49.94 percent and 44.52 percent of the scoring chances and the high-danger chances, respectively, with a team-high 65.49 percent of his non-neutral zone shifts starting in the offensive zone.

When Burns has played with Ryan all season, the Sharks have controlled 52.05 percent of the scoring chances, but just 47.97 percent of the high-danger chances, despite starting 65.53 percent of their non-neutral zone shifts in the offensive zone. With Dillon, Burns' second-most common defensive partner, the Sharks have lost the scoring chance and high-danger scoring chance battle, despite starting in the offensive zone 63.35 percent of the time.

It should be no surprise the Sharks have been badly outscored with Burns on the ice at even strength, to the tune of 17 goals for and 38 goals against. With all due respect to Fetty Wap, you don't want to see that. 

No matter who he's played with, Burns has struggled defensively in 2017-18. The problem is that his partners haven't struggled nearly as much without him.

Without Burns, Ryan's shot attempt numbers are worse, but his scoring chance numbers are much better (57.55 percent of the scoring chances, 55 percent of the high-danger chances), despite starting more shifts in the defensive zone (51.39 percent offensive zone starts). Dillon's possession numbers, as well as his scoring chance numbers, are also better away from Burns, and he too starts more shifts away from the offensive zone. 

As a result, it'd be fair to question why the Sharks waived Martin. After all, he was Burns' partner as he ascended into the league's upper echelon of defenseman, right?

But Burns and Martin were ineffective together in limited minutes this season, getting out-possessed, outshot, and out-chanced despite favorable deployment (61.11 percent offensive zone starts). Plus, Burns was actually better away from Martin over the last two seasons, as the Sharks controlled a greater share of the shot attempts, shots, and scoring chances when Burns played with a different partner. 

Perhaps, with more time together, Burns and Martin would have rounded into their defensive form of the last two seasons. Now, one of Martin's skates is out the door, and it's foolish to expect significant improvement from two players on the wrong side of 30 regardless.

Paul Martin's imminent departure, then, should send a clear message to Brent Burns. His security blanket is gone, and it's on him alone to plug the holes in his defensive game. 

Sharks seal season series with win over Kings


Sharks seal season series with win over Kings


LOS ANGELES -- There's nothing like a visit with the Los Angeles Kings to get Martin Jones and the San Jose Sharks on top of their game.

Chris Tierney had a goal and an assist, and Jones made 35 saves in the Sharks' third straight victory over their longtime rivals, 4-1 Monday.

Barclay Goodrow and Mikkel Boedker ended lengthy goal droughts for the Sharks, who built a three-goal lead during another strong game by Jones against his former Los Angeles teammates.

The goalie who won a Stanley Cup ring as Jonathan Quick's backup followed up his 2-0 win over the Kings at the Shark Tank on Dec. 23 with another near-shutout of Los Angeles. Jones improved to 9-3-2 in 14 career appearances against his former organization, but he spread the praise for a comprehensive win throughout the Sharks' lineup.

"It's easy to prepare for games against these guys, or any division game," Jones said. "We know what the standings are like, and what these games mean. We play well as a team (against the Kings). When we play in the offensive zone that much, it makes everybody's job easier."

Dylan DeMelo returned from a three-game injury absence with two assists for his second career multipoint game for the Sharks, who were in control from the opening faceoff of a rare matinee at Staples Center. Joonas Donskoi also had two assists, and Joe Thornton added an empty-net goal.

"You battle a bit more when you're playing a rival and a division team that's ahead of you in the standings," Tierney said. "That's what this team is built for, is playing those tight games where you try to lock it down."

Trevor Lewis ended Jones' shutout bid with 7:18 to play, but the Kings lost their fourth straight to match their longest skid of the season. Los Angeles has been outscored 8-3 in losses to its two California rivals since returning from the bye week last Saturday.

"We had some guys that were really off tonight," Los Angeles coach John Stevens said. "I don't know if the break affected us that way or not, but certainly something did. We've got to regroup here. I feel like we got some good efforts out of our key veteran guys, but they cannot do it on their own."

Darcy Kuemper stopped 29 shots in his first start since Dec. 16 for the Kings, who have slumped into third place after leading the Pacific Division for a good chunk of the season. With a 5-7-3 record in division play, LA is just one point ahead of the Sharks, who have two games in hand.

"It's tough. We were ahead of the pack for a while there, and now we're right in the thick of things," Lewis said. "We've just got to figure it out in a hurry here."

The Sharks went ahead just 4:38 in when the Kings lapsed on defense, allowing Donskoi to make a pass across the crease to an unchecked Tierney for his 11th goal into an open net.

Goodrow got his third goal of the season midway through the second period, converting DeMelo's rebound in the slot. The goal was his first since Dec. 7.

San Jose had an extra step on the Kings throughout the first two periods and nearly added to its lead in the closing seconds, but Los Angeles defenseman Christian Folinstopped a shot with his skate on the goal line.

Boedker added his first goal since Nov. 24 in the third period, ending a 12-game drought.

Lewis got help from Marian Gaborik in scoring his 11th goal. The grinding forward scored a career-high 12 goals last season while playing in all 82 games.

NOTES: Kuemper lost in regulation for the first time in his debut season with the Kings. He is 5-1-3. ... Quick got the day off for the Kings after nine consecutive starts. The former Conn Smythe Trophy winner gave up three goals in LA's loss to Anaheim last Saturday. ... Sharks D Tim Heed was scratched in DeMelo's place.


Sharks: At the Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday night.

Kings: Host the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday in just their third game in 12 days.