Sharks

Sharks vs Flyers: For at least one night, the future is now

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AP

Sharks vs Flyers: For at least one night, the future is now

The last time the San Jose Sharks opened a season without Patrick Marleau on the roster, ties were still a thing. A day shy of 21 years ago, the Sharks last began a season without Marleau and tied the New York Islanders 2-2 on October 5, 1996.

The Sharks will begin their season tonight against an Eastern Conference foe for the first time since that night, hosting the Philadelphia Flyers (7:30 PM, NBCSN). Marleau, meanwhile, begins his a conference and a country away: Suiting up for the Toronto Maple Leafs against the Winnipeg Jets three-and-a-half hours prior.

San Jose is wasting no time without Marleau, at least if tonight’s lines are any indication. Top prospects Kevin Labanc and Timo Meier made the team out of training camp, and will begin the season on the first and third lines, centered by Joe Thornton and Tomas Hertl, respectively. This summer, Sharks management expressed confidence in their young players’ ability to fill Marleau’s void, given the remaining veteran talent on the roster.

“We talked to them about it. They know there aren’t many guys in this league of their age who get to play with centers like Logan Couture, Joe Thornton, Tomas Hertl and Chris Tierney,” director of hockey operations Doug Wilson Jr. told the San Jose Mercury News in July. “It’s really on them. They know the opportunity is there, and if it’s not them, it’s going to be someone else.”

On opening night, Labanc and Meier get an opportunity to do just that. And for one night, at least, the future is now in San Jose.

SHARKS LINES

Joe Pavelski-Joe Thornton-Kevin Labanc

Surprisingly, Thornton and Pavelski were Labanc’s most common linemates last season. The trio played a hair over 143 minutes together, and attempted 54.48% of the shots at even strength, according to Corsica Hockey. That was the fifth-best of any San Jose line that played at least 50 minutes together last season. It’s a comfortable place for Labanc to begin the season, and the Sharks are hoping the scoring follows, as Pavelski and Thornton are both coming off of down years.

Mikkel Boedker-Logan Couture-Joonas Donskoi

This is a combination that Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer envisioned when Boedker signed last summer, reportedly going as far as writing the trio on a cocktail napkin. They only played limited minutes together last season, in part because of Donskoi and Couture’s injuries, but they were effective. They controlled 53.38% of the shot attempts in just over 78 minutes together last year, according to Corsica. All three players will need to bounce back this season. Boedker scored 25 fewer points last year than in 2015-16, while Donskoi’s dropped by 19 points, albeit in 15 fewer games. Couture’s 52 points in 73 games were also down from his last “full” season, when he scored 67 in 82 in 2014-15.

Jannik Hansen-Tomas Hertl-Timo Meier

Hansen, Hertl, and Meier played together in a very limited four minute sample last season, but Hertl played some substantial minutes with Hansen, as well as Meier, in 2016-17. On paper, this seems to be natural combination for a third line with offensive upside. Hertl and Meier, in particular, are strong possession numbers, but need to begin converting their chances. Hertl hasn’t shown he can be a reliable scorer centering his own line, while Meier scored just three goals last season.

Melker Karlsson-Chris Tierney-Joel Ward

In just under 32 minutes together last year, Tierney, Karlsson, and Ward attempted 50.85% of the shots at even strength, according to Corsica. A fourth line breaking even in puck possession is just about all you can ask for, but this is another line that will need to convert on their chances, as limited as they may be. The line didn’t combine for a goal at even strength last year, and with Barclay Goodrow and Ryan Carpenter waiting in the wings, the leash may not be long.

Paul Martin-Brent Burns

Marc-Edouard Vlasic-Justin Braun

Brenden Dillon-Dylan DeMelo

No surprises on the blueline, which remains intact from last season. I’m curious to see how, if at all, Deboer changes Vlasic and Braun’s usage. The two struggled against exceptionally tough competition last year, and the Sharks attempted 46.64% of the shots with Braun and Vlasic on the ice, according to Corsica. That freed up Burns offensively en route to the first Norris Trophy win of his career, and also allowed Brenden Dillon and then-partner David Schlemko to mop up minutes against softer competition (52.66% Corsi-For, per Corsica). Dylan DeMelo, who fills in for Schlemko after he was selected in the expansion draft by Vegas and eventually traded to Montreal, was not as effective with Dillon, but is probably ready for full-time duty after spending most of the last two seasons in the press box.

Martin Jones

Aaron Dell

No surprise in net, either, as San Jose’s $34.5 million man begins the season between the pipes. Jones signed a big extension this summer, but will need to be better than he was last season. His save percentage in all situations dropped to .912 from .918 in 2015-16, and his even strength save percentage fell to .915 from .925. His postseason resume speaks for itself, but he hasn’t performed at that level in the regular season consistently.

FLYERS LINES 

Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek

Jordan Weal-Nolan Patrick-Wayne Simmonds

Dale Weise-Valtteri Filppula-Travis Konecny

Taylor Leier-Scott Laughton-Michael Raffl

2017 second overall pick Nolan Patrick is set to make his NHL debut, and Claude Giroux will debut at left wing. Giroux’s produced on the wing before, but previously played on the right side and has largely played center over the last few seasons. The Flyers are hoping the move sparks Giroux, who is coming off of his worst offensive year since 2010, as well as his center, Sean Couturier.

Ivan Provorov-Andrew MacDonald

Brandon Manning-Radko Gudas

Shayne Gostisbehere-Robert Hagg

Philadelphia boasts one of the youngest, most promising bluelines in the league, but some of that promise will have to wait at least one night: 21-year-old Travis Sanheim will not make his NHL debut tonight, nor will 22-year-old Samuel Morin play in his second NHL game. There’s still plenty of youth in the lineup tonight, as Gostisbehere, Hagg, and Provorov are 24, 22, and 20, respectively.

Brian Elliott

Michal Neuvirth

The Flyers opted not to bring back Steve Mason, who will begin his season against Marleau with Winnipeg, and instead signed Brian Elliott to a two-year, $5.5 million deal this summer. Elliott’s coming off of his worst season since 2013. He may never again reach the heights of the .935 even strength save percentage he posted with St. Louis two seasons ago, but some better luck shorthanded (.873 shorthanded save percentage last season, his worst since 2011) could allow Elliott to re-emerge as one of the league’s better goalies.

Martin Jones has not made up for Sharks' recent defensive struggles

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AP

Martin Jones has not made up for Sharks' recent defensive struggles

For just the third time this season, the Sharks scored three goals for the third consecutive game in Sunday night’s loss to the Wild. San Jose’s scored 13 goals in the last three games, which is a dramatic improvement for one of the league’s lowest-scoring offenses.

Sunday also marked the fourth time in the last five games the Sharks, one of the NHL’s best defensive teams, allowed four goals. All four have come in starts by Martin Jones since he returned to the crease on Dec. 2.

San Jose’s looked poor defensively in front of Jones following his return, and it’s been difficult to fault him on many of the goals. The Sharks’ defensive numbers over his last four starts match the eye test.

Normally, 21.66 percent of the shots Jones faces in five-on-five situations and 26.9 percent of the shots he faces in all situation are of the ‘high-danger’ variety, according to Corsica Hockey. Over his last four starts, those numbers are 29.90 percent and 32.23 percent, respectively.

But Jones also has not been up to his usual standards. At even strength this season, his high-danger save percentage is .798, and .821 in all situations.

Over the last four games, those numbers have fallen significantly. His high-danger save percentage at even strength is over seven points lower (.724), and nearly 13 points lower in all situations (.692).

So the Sharks, essentially, have allowed a higher share of high-danger shots in Jones’ first four starts after coming back from injury. Jones, meanwhile, hasn’t been able to offset that increase.

It’s unclear whether that increase, or Jones’ own performance, deserves a larger share of the blame. It’s clear, however, that the Sharks can’t expect to win if either trend continues.

San Jose’s remained in playoff contention this season because of their defense. As they’ve struggled to score, they’ve prevented their opponents from scoring, and won games on the backs of stingy defensive efforts.

The assumption with the Sharks was that, so long as their defensive effort remained level, an offense rounding into form would allow them to climb up the standings. The former’s gotten worse, and the Sharks are struggling more than their record would indicate.

Since Jones returned, San Jose is 2-2-1, and 1-2-1 in his starts. That mark could very easily be 0-2-2 or 0-3-1, if not for a three-goal comeback against the Hurricanes.

That’s worrisome ahead of one of the most vital stretches of the season. San Jose’s next six games are against divisional opponents, and they have an opportunity to gain significant ground in the division.

That opportunity will be wasted if the Sharks defense, and Jones, aren’t able to tighten up.

 

Sharks comeback falls short in wild loss to Minnesota

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USATSI

Sharks comeback falls short in wild loss to Minnesota

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE -- Nino Niederreiter scored 3:26 into overtime and the Minnesota Wild beat the San Jose Sharks 4-3 on Sunday night after squandering a three-goal lead.

Eric Staal scored twice and Ryan Murphy added a goal as the Wild extended their winning streak over the Sharks to four games.

Tomas Hertl tapped in a loose puck for San Jose with five minutes left in regulation to tie it at 3.

Hertl's goal followed a furious Sharks attack that Wild goalie Alex Stalock was able to fend off until a shot from Dylan DeMelo bounced off his shoulder pads and into no man's land just above the crease.

Brent Burns scored twice for the Sharks, who had won five of seven.

Stalock made 31 saves in his first appearance against his former team. Martin Jones stopped 20 shots for the Sharks.

The Wild, winners in four of their last five games, scored twice in the first 10 minutes. A series of sharp passes set up Murphy for a power-play goal just more than four minutes in. Staal sent a pass to Jason Zucker behind the net and he found Murphy for a 1-on-1 score.

Staal's first goal came after Ryan Suter recognized an advantage when Burns ran into Jones, knocking him off his feet. Suter delivered a pass to Staal, who easily fired it over Jones.

Early in the second period, Staal was able to push the puck through Jones' skates for a 3-0 Wild lead.

Burns got the Sharks on the scoreboard with a power-play goal during a two-man advantage late in the second period. Burns scored again on a power play with a slap shot from just inside the blue line midway through the third, his 12th multi-goal game.

NOTES: Sharks forward Jannik Hansen appeared in his 600th NHL game. ... Burns has six points in his last three games, including three goals. ... Murphy scored his first goal in 69 games. ... Staal had his second multi-goal effort in five games. ... Wild forward Jason Zucker has points in eight of his last nine games.

UP NEXT

Wild: Open a three-game homestand against the Calgary Flames on Tuesday.

Sharks: Begin a three-game road trip in Calgary on Thursday.