Sharks visit Pens with chance to 'make a statement'

Sharks visit Pens with chance to 'make a statement'

BROOKLYN – On the Sharks’ current five-game road trip, none stands out as much as the upcoming fourth one. 

San Jose will visit the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Thursday in the first meeting between the two clubs since last June’s Stanley Cup Final. The Sharks are off to a solid start with three wins in their first four games, but a victory over the club that ended their championship dreams just four months ago would likely mean more than their early successes.

“Now that it’s here, it will be good. It will be fun,” said Joe Pavelski, moments after the Sharks beat the Islanders on Tuesday night, 3-2. 

“Obviously we would have liked a better result last time we played that team. ... It’s a new year. It’s important that we keep building our game and keep trying to get better. We understand it’s a long way from getting back to that position. This is just another good team we’ll be playing.”

At least two of the key members of that six-game Final win won’t be in the lineup for the Penguins. Captain and Conn Smythe Trophy winner Sidney Crosby is sidelined with a concussion and has yet to make his season debut, while goalie Matt Murray is still recovering from a hand injury suffered in the recent World Cup of Hockey.

Pittsburgh is 2-1-1, but was smoked by the Canadiens on Tuesday in its most recent game, 4-0.

The Sharks, on the other hand, are seemingly at full health. That includes forward Tomas Hertl, who was knocked out of the Final series with a right knee injury late in Game 2 after he was the Sharks’ most effective player to that point.

“I actually finished with a pretty good game. I hit three posts,” Hertl recalled of his Game 2 performance.

“It should be a pretty good game I think, because everyone is excited from the Final last year. [We’ll] just be ready and show our best hockey, and take two points from them.”

Head coach Pete DeBoer isn’t sure how he’ll feel when he walks into the arena Thursday morning. When he lost in the Stanley Cup Final with the Devils in 2012, he didn’t go back to Los Angeles the following season due to the lockout and Conference-only shortened schedule.

“I don’t know what the emotions will be until I get in there,” he said Tuesday. “It was obviously tough to go on that long a journey and then lose the way we did.”

DeBoer has been vocal since training camp began that the Sharks won’t be sneaking up on anyone after their long playoff run. He reinforced that message when he called last Saturday’s 3-2 win over Columbus “sloppy,” and then ripped into the team for it’s lackluster compete level after Monday’s 7-4 loss to the Rangers.

“The ‘X’ on the back, that’s real,” DeBoer said earlier in the week. “You can’t just stick your head in the sand and ignore that. We’ve got to make sure that we’re prepared to buck the trend.”

The Sharks made some offseason additions designed to do just that and become a faster team, adding winger Mikkel Boedker and defenseman David Schlemko. Thursday will give them an opportunity to put that new on-ice product on display, and DeBoer didn’t shy away from calling it a “statement” game.

“I don’t think there was any doubt at the end of the day [Pittsburgh] deserved to win [the Final],” he said. “But at the same time, I think for us it’s a chance to go in and make a statement that we are a different team this year.”

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.


How the Sharks can catch the Golden Knights and win the Pacific


How the Sharks can catch the Golden Knights and win the Pacific

About a month ago, the Sharks appeared locked into the Pacific Division's second, third, fourth, or fifth spot. At the end of trade deadline day, they were 12 points back of the division-leading Vegas Golden Knights, and only two points up on the fifth place Calgary Flames.

24 days later, thanks to an 8-2-0 record over the last 10 games (second-best in the NHL), San Jose's still in second place. Now though, those margins are eight points and 11 points, respectively. 

The latter's pretty much locked the Sharks into a playoff spot, while the former's created a path for a late run at the Pacific Division crown. Beginning Thursday night, they will play the Golden Knights twice over both team's final nine games. 

What does the path look like to the Sharks' first division title since 2011? To start, they'll have to beat the Golden Knights twice in regulation to even have a shot. 

That is the foundation of any run at the Pacific's top spot. If the Sharks win both remaining games in regulation, they'll trail the Golden Knights by four points, leaving aside results against other teams for now.

They have to win in regulation, however. A win in overtime or the shootout on Thursday would only cut the gap to seven, and a subsequent win in regulation would leave it at five. Two losses, in any situation, would create a gap of 10-12 points, which would be nearly impossible to overcome this late in the season. 

One point doesn't seem like a lot, but this late in the season, it makes a world of difference. A five-point gap means they'll need to earn six more than the Golden Knights in those other seven games, while a four-point gap means they'll need to earn five in order to pass them. 

The simplest way to five extra points, is for the Sharks to have a record that's two wins and an overtime loss better (2-0-1) than the Golden Knights in the seven games where they don't play each other. That's impossible if Vegas earns at least 10 points in those seven games, so a 5-2-0 or 4-1-2 record would ensure a division banner raising in Sin City.

Taken all together, then, the Golden Knights' 'magic number' is 10 points. Even if the Sharks win on Thursday, their path to a Pacific title remains difficult, if not improbable. 

If a season with an expansion team leading their division has taught us anything, though -- it's that improbable is not impossible.