Sharks

With Sharks' roster growing older, Barracuda's success that much sweeter

With Sharks' roster growing older, Barracuda's success that much sweeter

SAN JOSE – The Sharks’ top minor league affiliate, the San Jose Barracuda, has advanced to the American Hockey League’s conference final round. The best-of-seven series against the Grand Rapids Griffins begins on Saturday at SAP Center for Game 1 and continues on Sunday for Game 2.

Their performance so far, both in the regular season and the playoffs, is encouraging for an organization that fielded an NHL roster in 2016-17 that was among the oldest in the league. The Barracuda is just the opposite. While every AHL roster features young players and prospects, the Barracuda were younger than most.

Essentially, AHL teams are permitted to field no more than six veteran skaters on a nightly basis, or players that have skated in 260 or fewer professional games at the start of the season. Only John McCarthy, who had played in 457 professional games, qualifies as a veteran for San Jose.

“It’s really rare. Most of the year we’ve been the youngest team in the league,” said Sharks assistant general manager Joe Will, who oversees the Barracuda. “If you average it out over the year we’ve been the youngest team in the league while doing this. It’s just a good sign.”

Many of the players on the Barracuda roster were either drafted by the Sharks or unearthed and signed as free agents. Some were high round picks, like Timo Meier (first round, 2015) and Mirco Mueller (first round, 2013), while others like Danny O’Regan (fifth round, 2012), Kevin Labanc (sixth round, 2014) and Joakim Ryan (seventh round, 2012) have been late bloomers. Tim Heed, their top offensive defenseman, and Marcus Sorensen, who cracked the Sharks’ playoff roster, were both signed out of the Swedish League last May. All are under the Sharks’ control past this season (Heed, Ryan, Sorensen and Mueller are restricted free agents).

The added emphasis on accumulating players for the future began in 2013, according to Will. The Sharks selected a total of 24 players in three drafts from 2013-15, utilizing some of their own picks and others acquired through various trades, with 10 of those drafted players appearing in games for the Barracuda throughout the course of this season.

“There’s just a lag time, you don’t see it right away,” Will said. “Sometimes it’s three or four [years]. That’s kind of what it is now, and we just happen to have a very good freshman class, a bunch of young guys coming in at once.”

Considering the uncertainty of the Sharks’ roster next season, with players like Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau pending unrestricted free agents and others like Joe Pavelski, Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Paul Martin all on the other side of 30, the Barracuda’s rise would seem to be coming at a good time.

Will isn’t afraid to look ahead to training camp already.

“The ultimate motivator is just to have this competition come through,” he said. “I think the players with the Sharks know that the players with the Barracuda are playing really hard, and are going to come into camp and compete for jobs.”

“All these guys going through [the Calder Cup playoffs] right now, it’s just valuable experience. It’s almost like a new season for them. So many of them played [for the Sharks] this year and are candidates to come up for jobs in the near future. It’s really a good thing.”

Barracuda vs. Grand Rapids third round schedule

Game 1 – Saturday, May 20, Grand Rapids @ Barracuda (6 p.m.)
Game 2 – Sunday, May 21, Grand Rapids @ Barracuda (5 p.m.)
Game 3 – Wednesday, May 24, Barracuda @ Grand Rapids (4 p.m.)
Game 4 – Friday, May 26, Barracuda @ Grand Rapids (4 p.m.)
*Game 5 – Saturday, May 27, Barracuda @ Grand Rapids (4 p.m.)
*Game 6 – Tuesday, May 30, Grand Rapids @ Barracuda (7 p.m.)
*Game 7 – Wednesday, May 31, Grand Rapids @ Barracuda (7 p.m.)

* – if necessary

Sharks to open second round Thursday

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AP

Sharks to open second round Thursday

The Sharks know when they'll open the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. T

San Jose will face off against the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of the second round at 7 p.m. PT on Thursday, April 26 in Sin City, the NHL announced Tuesday. The league also announced start dates for the three other second-round series, but did not announce any games beyond that.

Game 2 will "likely" occur Saturday at 5 p.m, according to Golden Knights owner Bill Foley. 

Game 1 will be televised on NBCSN. Sharks Playoff Central will air on NBC Sports California at 6:30 p.m. leading up to puck drop, with a postgame edition to follow after the final horn on the same channel. 

Red-hot Sharks power play, Golden Knights penalty kill on collision course

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AP

Red-hot Sharks power play, Golden Knights penalty kill on collision course

The Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights were the first two teams to advance to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The former's power play, and the latter's penalty kill were among the chief reasons why. 

This postseason, San Jose's power play (30 percent) and Vegas' penalty kill (92.3 percent) are third-best and best in the respective categories. The Sharks haven't played in nearly a week, but have still scored the second-most power play goals (six) in the first round as of Tuesday. The Golden Knights haven't played in exactly a week, and have still given up the fewer power play goals (one)  than every team, save for the Los Angeles Kings, who they swept in the first round. 

On the season, the San Jose power play and the Vegas penalty kill were among the better units in the league in terms of underlying numbers, but really improved down the stretch. Over their last 25 regular season games and the first round, the Sharks attempted shots (117.15 corsi-for per hour) and generated expected goals (9.13 expected goals-for per hour)) at rates that would have ranked second in each area on the whole season, according to Corsica Hockey.

During the Golden Knights' final 25 regular season games and first four playoff games, their penalty kill suppressed shot attempts (92.8 corsi-against per hour), shots (49.97 shots-against per hour), and expected goals (5.9 expected goals-against per hour) at rates that would have ranked second, fourth, and first, respectively, this past season.

In the first round, the results finally caught up to the underlying numbers for both teams. San Jose converted on only 13 percent of its power plays in the final 25 games of the regular season, while Vegas killed off 80.8 percent of its opponents' power plays. As is so often the case, the improvements were owed at least in part to better finishing and goaltending. 

The Sharks scored on 9.71 percent of their five-on-four shots down the stretch, compared to 14.71 percent in the first round. Marc-Andre Fleury posted a .952 four-on-five save percentage in the first round, compared to the .859 that he and backup Malcolm Subban combined for in the final 25 games. 

San Jose's power play and Vegas' penalty kill are red-hot, but those results are largely deserved based on each group's play down the stretch. Which unit has the edge just may swing the series, considering how tight the Sharks and Golden Knights played each other during the regular season. 

Three of four games were decided by a goal, and two went to overtime. The fourth was decided by two, only because of an empty-netter. 

The margins are so thin, including in the crease, that the outcome of this special teams battle could determine which team advances to the Conference Finals.