Three takeaways: Carpenter making case to stay with Sharks

Three takeaways: Carpenter making case to stay with Sharks

SAN JOSE – Logan Couture got all the attention postgame, and rightfully so, but there were some other notable developments from the Sharks’ 2-1 win over Tampa Bay on Thursday night. Here are three takeaways from San Jose’s third straight win…

1 – Finding a way

It was easy to tell on Wednesday night in the visitor’s dressing room at Staples Center that the Sharks’ win over the Kings was maybe their most rewarding of the season, being down some key players yet taking the rubber match of the five-game season series.

The flip side of that is the game with the Lightning, on the second of a back-to-back against a non-rival, was tougher to get up for. The Sharks found a way, though, despite getting a bit overwhelmed over the first half of the first period.

“We expected the first 10 minutes to be tough coming back from L.A., an emotional win, and they're sitting here waiting for us,” Pete DeBoer said. “I thought we kept them to the perimeter, even though the shot clock wasn't in our favor. As the game went on, I thought we got better."

Aaron Dell said: "We were a little bit tired to start, I think. I think they knew that, so they made an early push. I think we fended it off pretty well."

DeBoer pointed out after the game that the other teams around the Sharks in the Pacific Division are winning lately, too. Anaheim is 5-0-1 in its last six, while the Oilers have won four straight since losing to the Sharks last week.

“We have to find a way, and tonight was one of those find-a-way games,” he said. “They're not easy to play. The deck's stacked against you coming in. We found a way."

2 – Carpenter contributing

Rookie Ryan Carpenter admitted he was a bit surprised to see his name in the lineup when he got to the rink on Thursday. Even with Couture and Joonas Donskoi healthy again, Carpenter remained as the fourth line center, while injured forwards Timo Meier and Micheal Haley were not able to play.

His goal in the second period staked the Sharks a 1-0 lead, marking the second straight game that a fourth liner got on the board in what was another one-goal victory.

The Sharks were pressing the Lightning in their own end before Carpenter hopped over the boards, and he was the beneficiary of some tired defenders.

“[Joel Ward] does a good job in front of the net to create traffic, and even the shift before that, they got a lot of zone time and I just kind of jumped out there,” Carpenter said. “Kind of benefited from that, so that was nice.”

The way he’s played, it’s fair to wonder if Carpenter could be the latest Barracuda player to push one of the regulars out of the lineup. He’s been effective.

“He's been hard, he's been physical, he's a big body and defensively responsible, and he's chipped in some offense,” DeBoer said. “He plays the way we want to play. He's done a real good job for us."

3 – Important win for Dell

Any good NHL goaltender has to have an ability to put bad games, and bad goals, behind them. Aaron Dell wasn’t awful in Calgary on Jan. 11, but he looked shaky for the majority of the game.

Not against the Lightning, though. Dell played very well, particularly early when the Sharks weren’t skating very well in front of him, and late, when they were holding on to that slim one goal edge.

“We like playing in front of him,” Joe Pavelski said. “You see him, he’s aggressive, he’s into the game, he’s attacking pucks. That’s everything you want from your goalie. He’s made all the saves that we can ask him to make.”

The one he allowed was impossible to stop, as Jonathan Drouin easily held off Mikkel Boedker (who was benched for the third period again) in the neutral zone and skated around Marc-Edouard Vlasic before slipping it through. 

“He's a skilled player, made a skilled play,” Dell said. “I didn't think he could get it around me on that one."

Vlasic, of course, rarely gets beat like that. He joked that when he saw he was requested by the media after the game, “I knew you were going to ask me about that.”

“We won the game. It was 2-1. It was a positive win, so we’ll take the positives from the win,” Vlasic said.

With Devils in town, Sharks will get firsthand look at top contender for MVP


With Devils in town, Sharks will get firsthand look at top contender for MVP

As the season winds down, whispers surrounding players’ awards candidacies are turning into full-blown conversations. None are more interesting than those surrounding the Hart Trophy, awarded to “the player judged to be the most valuable to his team,” according to the NHL’s criteria.

The Sharks have already seen their fair share of MVP candidates since the trade deadline, and will encounter yet another one on Tuesday when Taylor Hall and the New Jersey Devils stop by SAP Center. They’ll see a couple more beyond Hall over the next three weeks, too.

Who do we think has the best case? With no disrespect meant to Nikita Kucherov or Anze Kopitar, Hart Trophy candidates that the Sharks won’t play before the playoffs, we’ll look at the ones the Sharks have played since the deadline or will play before the end of the regular season.

The Dark Horses
Alexander Ovechkin, Washington Capitals: The demise of the ‘Great Eight’ was greatly exaggerated. In his 13th NHL season, the 32-year-old is tied for the league lead in goals (43), 11th in points (78), and has led a depleted Capitals roster to the precipice of a third-straight division title. That probably won’t be enough to earn his fourth Hart Trophy, but this is undoubtedly one of Ovi’s best seasons.

Eric Staal, Minnesota Wild: Staal was a pleasant surprise when he scored 65 points last year, but has been even better this season. He’s tied for fourth in the in goals (39), tied for fifth in even strength goals (26), tied for 19th in points (71), and leading his team in each category as a 33-year-old. The Wild are a near-lock for the postseason at this point, and a resurgent Staal deserves much of the credit.

The Frontrunners
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers: McDavid’s candidacy comes down to where you fall on the “non-playoff players winning MVP” debate, but his value to the lottery-bound Oilers cannot be denied. Edmonton is 28-19-3 when he’s scored a point, and 3-17-2 when he hasn’t.

The former is about a 97-point pace in the standings over an 82-game season, while the latter is about a 30-point pace. In other words, the Oilers are basically a playoff team when McDavid scores, and historically bad when he doesn’t.

We’re sympathetic to questions about how valuable a player can be when his team will finish so far out of the postseason. However, imagining how much worse the poorly-constructed Oilers would be without him makes him a worthy candidate alone.

Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche: The Colorado Avalanche were 31 points worse than the league’s second-worst team last season, and finished 46 points out of the postseason. A full offseason with second-year coach Jared Bednar, as well as some under-the-radar acquisitions have helped the Avalanche’s remarkable turnaround into a Wild Card team, but Nathan MacKinnon is undoubtedly the catalyst.

The former No. 1 pick has put it all together this season, and is tied-for-second in points (89) with McDavid, despite playing eight fewer games. His 1.39 points per game are the most in the league, as are his 3.49 points per 60 minutes of five-on-five play, according to Natural Stat Trick (minimum 500 minutes played).

The Avalanche is the league’s fifth-worst five-on-five puck possession team overall (47.42 percent corsi-for), but are right around league-average with MacKinnon on the ice (50.96 percent). He’d be a very worthy Hart Trophy winner, and likely would be the clear-cut frontrunner if not for the man leading the Devils into SAP Center on Tuesday.

The Favorite
Taylor Hall, New Jersey Devils: McDavid is not the only No. 1 pick the Oilers drafted that’s in the MVP conversation, but he’s the only one still on their roster. The other is Taylor Hall, who has the best Hart Trophy case in our eyes.

Hall strikes the sweet spot between McDavid’s case, as a superstar with little support around him, and MacKinnon’s, as an emergent force leading a resurgence, and he has a 26-game point streak to his name. He sits outside the top 10 in points (77), goals (31), and assists (46), but has scored points at a higher rate per game (1.15) than all but six qualifying players.

He also doesn’t have Mikko Rantanen or Leon Draisaitl skating alongside him as MacKinnon and McDavid do, nor does he have a supporting cast like Kucherov and Kopitar. Of all the players the Sharks have and will face down the stretch, Hall’s been the player most valuable to his team this season.

After a perfect week, Sharks have playoff breathing room with three weeks to go


After a perfect week, Sharks have playoff breathing room with three weeks to go

The Sharks’ playoff outlook is a lot rosier after winning all four of their games last week. They are now four points clear of the Los Angeles Kings in the second Wild Card spot, and three points up the Anaheim Ducks, who are third place in the Pacific Division.

Those are four-point and three-point improvements, respectively, over those same spots last week. The Sharks even picked up ground on the first-place Vegas Golden Knights, and are eight points back of the Pacific’s leaders, with two head-to-head matchups remaining.

That’s not quite close enough to warrant inclusion in a look at the playoff picture headed into the week, but could be next week if San Jose continues to make up ground. Otherwise, it’s still worth examining where the Sharks stand in regards to the Pacific and the Wild Card.

San Jose Sharks (Second in the Pacific, 89 points)

Games Remaining: 10

On the Docket:  3/20 vs New Jersey, 3/22 vs Vegas, 3/24 vs Calgary

Outlook: Over the next two weeks, the schedule really starts to become difficult. San Jose has only two games remaining against teams on the outside looking in, and is just 2-6-2 in its last 10 against teams currently in a playoff spot. If that trend continues, the newfound breathing room could start to disappear rather quickly.

Anaheim Ducks (Third in the Pacific, 86 points)

Games Remaining: Nine

On the Docket: 3/21 at Calgary, 3/23 at Winnipeg, 3/25 at Edmonton

Outlook: The Ducks have now won three in a row, including next Sunday against the red-hot New Jersey Devils. They’ll play four of their final five road games in the next nine days, and all but one of their opponents is not in playoff position. Anaheim’s just 15-14-7 away from the Honda Center, though. With the fewest games remaining of any playoff team, the Ducks will help to move up any further.

Colorado Avalanche (First Wild Card, 86 points)

Games Remaining: 10

On the Docket: 3/20 at Chicago, 3/22 vs Los Angeles, 3/24 vs Vegas

Outlook: Give it up for surefire Hart Trophy finalist Nathan MacKinnon and the Avalanche, winners of three of four last week. Other than a slip-up on the second night of a back-to-back in Nashville, Colorado was outright dominant, outscoring opponents 16-7. A midweek matchup against Los Angeles could create some Wild Card separation.

Los Angeles Kings (Second Wild Card, 84 points)

Games Remaining: 10

On the Docket: 3/19 at Minnesota, 3/20 at Winnipeg, 3/22 at Colorado, 3/24 at Edmonton

Outlook: The Kings picked up points in three of four, including on both nights of a back-to-back. Their schedule really picks up this week, as they’ll face three playoff-bound teams from the Central on the road. The struggling Stars remain on their heels, although the Kings have a game in hand.

Dallas Stars (Ninth in the West, 84 points)

Games Remaining: Nine

On the Docket: 3/20 at Washington, 3/23 vs Boston. 3/25 vs Vancouver

Outlook: Is Dallas in the middle of a Lone Star letdown? We wrote last week that a difficult schedule could create openings for the teams chasing them and boy, did it ever. The Stars went 0-2-2 on the week, and picked up just one point against the lottery-bound Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators. They’ll surely relish a matchup against the Canucks in six days, as it’s their only remaining game against a non-playoff team.

St. Louis Blues (10th in the West, 83 points)

Games Remaining: 10

On the Docket: 3/21 vs Boston, 3/23 vs Vancouver, 3/24 at Columbus

Outlook: For the second straight season, it’s not quite time to stick a fork in the St. Louis Blues. Yes, they are once again in the playoff hunt after trading one of their best players at the trade deadline, and won three out of four to move with in a point of the final Wild Card spot. The Blues have now won four of five, and still have an uphill climb ahead. After last season, is it ever safe to rule them out?

The Departed: Calgary Flames (11th in the West, 80 points)

This section is reserved for teams that have fallen out of the playoff picture since our last look at the playoff picture, and the Calgary Flames have earned(?) the inaugural (dis)honor. The Flames failed to keep the door to the playoffs ajar thanks to a 7-4 loss to the Sharks on Friday, and it slammed shut after a 4-0 loss in Sin City on Sunday. They have to jump three teams and cover four points of ground to earn a Wild Card spot. The latest stretch stings, but the Flames will likely look on a four-game, post-trade deadline losing streak as when their playoff hopes burned out.