Sharks

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

labanc-kevin-sharks-teal.jpg
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.

Sharks headed in right direction, road trip to reveal who they really are

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USATSI

Sharks headed in right direction, road trip to reveal who they really are

The difference between a 2-3-0 start and a 1-4-0 start is bigger than two standings points.

The former is far from ideal, but if you squint hard enough, there's enough wiggle room to improve. There's still time with the latter, too, but the margin for error is much thinner moving forward.

The Sharks experienced that difference firsthand after Tuesday’s 5-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens. It's not an ideal record, but they’ve managed to salvage a poor start. 

There are still some flaws, to be sure. The power play isn't just the Kevin Labanc show after the top unit scored all three power play goals Tuesday, but is still carrying a disproportionate offensive load. The penalty kill’s scoreless streak came to an end, but they were called into action six times.

Despite all that, Tuesday's win was San Jose’s best effort this season. Brent Burns, Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, and Joe Thornton all had multi-point games for the first time this year. Martin Jones had another strong game, and appears to have shaken off his slow start.

In short, San Jose’s game is headed in the right direction. It needs to be, with a five-game road trip beginning on Friday. 

Now comes the hard part.

It's on the road where we’ll get our best sense of who this team really is. Peter DeBoer won’t have the benefit of last change, and won't be able to dictate matchups. 

Under these circumstances, we’ll begin to really see if Joakim Ryan is ready for a top-four role, whether Kevin Labanc is a viable first-line winger, and how the rest of the young reinforcements stack up. They will have less time off, too, as all but one game occurs after one day (or less) of rest and travel. That missed practice time isn't ideal for any team, let alone one still trying to work out the kinks.

Fortunately, the competition is forgiving, at least on paper. Other than the Devils, none of the Sharks’ four other road trip opponents have winning records as of this writing. The topsy turvy nature of the standings, though, show how little “on paper” means this early in the season.

We’ll know a lot more about who these San Jose Sharks are by the time their road trip ends. Their record still won't tell the whole story, but by then, they'll have played about an eighth of the season. 

And by then, we’ll have a much better idea of how good this team really is.

Sharks' offense comes alive, leads charge in win over Canadiens

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AP

Sharks' offense comes alive, leads charge in win over Canadiens

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE — Logan Couture credited a teammate for scoring his second goal. He took credit for the first one.

Couture scored a pair of goals and the San Jose Sharks extended their dominance of the Montreal Canadiens with a 5-2 victory on Tuesday night.

Joe Pavelski and Tomas Hertl also scored for the Sharks, who have won the past 11 home games against the Canadiens, a streak that dates to Nov. 23, 1999.

On a power play late in the third period, rookie Tim Heed took a shot off a face-off that bounced free in front of the net. Pavelski couldn't get his stick on it but managed to kick it across the net for Couture, who found a huge opening.

"That was pretty special," Couture said. "I don't know if he knew I was there but he kept his balance and kicked it over."

Couture opened the scoring 3:30 into the first period, grabbing a rebound off the back board, skating across the front of the net to get Price to commit and then firing into an open net.

Jonathan Drouin and Shea Weber scored for the Canadiens, who are winless since an opening night victory at the Buffalo Sabres.

"It's a very poor start from our team, from myself, from a lot of individuals," Canadiens' Max Pacioretty said. "It's a good time to look in the mirror and see what we're made of because a lot of people are probably doubting this team right now."

Martin Jones stopped 28 of 30 shots for the Sharks, who finish their season-opening homestand with a 2-3 record.

"The biggest thing is finding that energy for the whole game," Jones said. "We started OK and then we got better as the night went on."

Carey Price, who stopped 31 of 35 shots, fell to 2-7-1 in 10 games against the Sharks.

The Canadiens responded 36 seconds later when Drouin picked up a pass from Artturi Lehkonen close in and fired it over Jones' left shoulder and into the net.

Pavelski gave the Sharks the lead for good when he redirected Kevin Labanc's shot just under a minute into the second period. The shot hit Weber's left shin pad and bounced into the net.

"There were a lot of good things out there," Pavelski said. "We didn't have the homestand we wanted but we can leave on a positive note to take on the road."

Hertl padded the lead midway through the second on a power play. Standing on the right side of the net, he was trying to control a pass from Joe Thornton but the puck fluttered off his stick and got behind Price.

"I'll take it any way I can get it," Hertl said. "There are times I've had great shots that just bounced off the post."

Weber's power-play goal two minutes later kicked off Jones' skates for the score.

The Sharks needed five seconds to score on a power play late in the second period. Tim Heed shot on goal and it bounced off Pavelski's skate. Couture picked it up and found a huge opening.

NOTES: After allowing three power play goals over their first five penalty kills, the Sharks killed off 14 straight until Weber scored in the second period. ... Couture recorded his 24th career multi-goal game. ... Sharks D Tim Heed recorded his first NHL point with an assist on Couture's power-play goal. ... Brendan Gallagher needs one assist for 100 with the Canadiens.

UP NEXT:

Canadiens: plays at the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday in their second back-to-back of the season.

Sharks: open a five-game road trip on the east coast with a game at the New Jersey Devils on Friday.