Sharks should expect a fired up Oilers squad

Sharks should expect a fired up Oilers squad

SAN JOSE – After jumping out to an early 2-0 lead against Vancouver without their top two centers, the Sharks proceeded to play the final 59 minutes of their game on Tuesday looking like they wanted to do as little as possible to preserve the lead.

They got away with it, winning 3-1, because, well, Vancouver. They almost certainly won’t against Edmonton. 

In fact, it sounds like the Oilers will be a pretty fired up squad after they dropped a 6-4 decision in Los Angeles on Tuesday night, putting a serious dent in their hopes of winning the Pacific Division. They and the Sharks are tied with 97 points apiece for second place, four behind Anaheim, with the Oilers holding a game in hand on both California rivals.

When it was suggested to forward Patrick Maroon that Thursday’s game with the Sharks might be the organization’s biggest regular season game in many years, Maroon told the Edmonton Sun: “It really is, this is going to dictate home ice advantage. That was our goal going into the playoffs, to get home ice advantage, so for us this is one of the biggest games we’ll play.”

Maroon and his linemates, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, were dominant against the Sharks just one week ago at Rogers Place in a 3-2 Edmonton win. Maroon had two goals, one set up by McDavid on a two-on-one, while the Oilers’ superstar center had a highlight reel shorthanded score later on.

They were off against the Kings, though, including McDavid taking a minus-three rating, so figure the line will be motivated against the Sharks to make up for that performance.

“[Tuesday] night was one of those things where you throw the game tape out and forget about it. Our line wasn’t good at all last game,” Maroon said. “We are considered the leading group of the team, and our best hockey wasn’t [Tuesday] night.”

The Sharks, though, know they weren’t at their best against the Canucks. Not having Joe Thornton and Logan Couture was certainly part of the reason, but far too many of their players – young and veteran alike – looked like they were content going about half-speed after Kevin Labanc and Joel Ward scored within the first 30 seconds of the first period.

The phrase “taking our foot of the gas” is probably overused in hockey, but it’s applicable here. Even without Thornton and Couture, the Sharks should have been better against a Vancouver team that became one of the worst in the league after selling at the deadline.

“I think our game in all aspects, just be sharper,” Brenden Dillon said. “When you start a game like that and have some success early, you’ve just got to be able to continue that.”

Sharks assistant coach Steve Spott recognized that Sharks-Oilers is a potential, if not likely, first round matchup next week. That possibility should give his team a boost.

“You want to make sure you put your best foot forward and show well, and [make sure] our compete level is where it needs to be,” Spott said. “It was at times [Tuesday] night, but I think the big thing for our hockey club is our compete level. Getting that night in and night out, that’s something we’re going to need against a good hockey club.”

Paul Martin rewarding Peter DeBoer's faith in NHL return


Paul Martin rewarding Peter DeBoer's faith in NHL return

When Sharks defenseman Paul Martin confirmed reports in January that he was willing to go elsewhere for more playing time, his head coach was insistent that the team would need the veteran blueliner. 

"I really believe we need eight NHL defenseman here," DeBoer told reporters in January (via The Mercury News). "If it happens that he isn't here, then that'll be disappointing for us. I'm not hoping that's where this goes. I'm hoping this goes to a place where he can maybe go down, play some games and keep himself ready, because I know we're going to need eight defensemen."

That's pretty much exactly what's happened.

After clearing waivers in January and playing with the AHL's San Jose Barracuda, Martin was called up ahead of the Sharks' four-game road trip at the end of February. He did not play until last Saturday in Vancouver, when an upper-body injury to rookie defenseman Joakim Ryan, whose play pushed Martin down the depth chart in the first place, created an opening alongside Brent Burns. 

Martin's now played three straight games with Burns, his defensive partner for the vast majority of the previous two seasons. It's the first time Martin's played in three consecutive NHL games all season, and although he hasn't played much (11:53 in average time-on-ice), he's acquitted himself nicely in a sheltered role.

His five-on-five possession numbers (52.78 percent corsi-for; 53.33 percent fenwick-for) are the second-best marks among Sharks defensemen over the last three games. Burns, too, has posted better possession numbers with Martin (47.62 percent corsi-for; 50 percent fenwick-for) during the last three contests than without his longtime partner (43.40 percent corsi-for; 41.67 percent fenwick-for). 

The Sharks have also outscored (3-0) and outchanced (17-16) opponents with Martin on the ice, neither of which was the case in Martin's first three appearances earlier this season. The former is owed to a decent amount of puck luck, as the Sharks have converted on 17.65 percent of their shots with him on the ice, but the latter is an extension of his solid underlying numbers. 

Martin's played the least amount of total minutes among Sharks defensemen since coming back, even as Marc-Edouard Vlasic missed time in two of the last three games, and has barely been used in special teams. His days of averaging 20-or-more minutes a night are likely behind him, but the 37-year-old has played well in a limited role. 

Considering Martin's NHL days appeared to be behind him as recently as last month, his play has been a pleasant surprise. With the exception of his head coach, that is. 

Couture scores in OT, helps Sharks make up ground on Golden Knights

Couture scores in OT, helps Sharks make up ground on Golden Knights


SAN JOSE -- Seconds after almost costing the San Jose Sharks a game with a turnover, Logan Couture ended it with his backhand.

Couture scored 39 seconds into overtime after getting bailed out by goalie Martin Jones and the San Jose Sharks won their season-high sixth straight game, 2-1 over the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday night.

"I was able to make a move on their guy," Couture said. "(Marc-Edouard Vlasic) did a good job of driving their backchecker back and I was able to go far side."

Couture's goal came at the end of an opening shift of the overtime that started with him losing the puck in his own zone, giving Jonathan Marchessault a chance alone in front. Jones got enough of the shot to stop it, and then Vlasic sent the puck ahead to Couture for the winning goal that moved San Jose within seven points of first-place Vegas with eight games remaining in the regular season.

Brent Burns also scored and Jones made 24 saves to help the Sharks open a four-point lead over third-place Los Angeles in the Pacific Division with a game in hand as the Sharks close in on home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

"For us to get a win tonight was important," captain Joe Pavelski said. "Plus, just plant that seed. If we stay hot, you never know, we might be able to catch them and get home ice. We took care of business tonight and we'll try to keep playing well."

Tomas Tatar scored the lone goal for the Golden Knights, who were kept in the game by a sterling performance by goalie Malcolm Subban. He stopped 42 shots but it wasn't enough for Vegas to come up with the win, although he helped earn a point that gave the expansion team 100 this season.

"It's impressive," forward James Neal said. "It's a great season for our guys. Guys came together real quick. A great job so far but we're not done yet."

The Golden Knights struck first on a pretty passing play early in the first period that ended when Marchessault found Tatar cutting through the slot ahead of Justin Braun. Tatar skated past Jones and backhanded the puck into the open net.

Vegas has been dominant when getting off to a lead, posting an NHL-best 31-5-1 record when scoring first heading into this game. But the Sharks carried the play in the second period, outshooting the Golden Knights 18-4 and getting the equalizer on a blast by Burns from the point after another strong shift by San Jose's fourth line.

"We want to be playing really good hockey this time of year and heading into the playoffs. I think that's the goal," coach Peter DeBoer said. "Whether we would have won tonight or lost, I like how we played for most of the game, so that's what I'm concentrating on."

Vegas managed to keep it tied despite the lopsided shot totals, killing off a four-minute penalty to Colin Miller and another late power play that started late in the second.

That penalty carried over until the third period and the Sharks got 25 seconds of a two-man advantage after Brayden McNabb was called for throwing his stick but still couldn't get anything past Subban.

The Golden Knights squandered a power-play chance later in the period when Miller was called for cross checking with the man advantage. That nearly led to a power-play goal for San Jose but Subban appeared to get a piece of a shot from in close to Joe Pavelski to keep the game tied at 1.

"He's the main reason we got the point," coach Gerard Gallant said. "He looked comfortable."

NOTES: Vegas G Marc-Andre Fleury didn't make the trip to San Jose with an undisclosed injury but is expected to join the team for Saturday's game in Colorado. ... Burns became the 15th player to play 500 career games with the Sharks.

Golden Knights: Visit Colorado on Saturday.

Sharks: Host Calgary on Saturday.