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2016-17 NHL Season preview: San Jose Sharks

2016-17 NHL Season preview: San Jose Sharks

It still feels like the season just ended, but with the draft and free agency already behind us, it's time to look forward to the 2016-17 season. We will preview every team in the NHL throughout August and take a look at what the new season may hold.

Team: San Jose Sharks

How they did last season: 46-30-6 (98 points) 3rd in the Pacific, 6th in the Western Conference. Lost in the Stanley Cup Finals. Lost in six games to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Notable acquisitions: LW Mikkel Boedker, D David Schlemko

Notable departures: D Roman Polak, G James Reimer

When they will play the Caps: Nov. 8 in Washington; March 9 in San Jose

RELATED: STINGRAYS REVEAL CAPS-THEMED JERSEYS

Analysis: There’s no denying the impact Pete DeBoer has had on San Jose. Most believed the Sharks’ time was over, but they surprised everyone with their first conference championship and came within two wins of winning the Stanley Cup.

The Sharks took a chance by trading for Martin Jones, a 25-year-old goalie with only 34 NHL games to his name, and made him the starter. Jones proved he was up to the task with a solid regular season, but he really shined in the playoffs. While everyone was talking about what Matt Murray was doing for the Penguins, Jones outplayed him in the Finals and gave the Sharks a chance.

While Brent Burns is an absolute star on the blue line, Marc-Edouard Vlasic  proved to be even more vital to his team’s success. He is a true modern shutdown defenseman, a player who can keep opponents off the scoresheet while driving up his team’s possession numbers.

The real strength of the Sharks last season, however, was its offense. San Jose scored ranked fourth in the regular season with 2.89 goals per game. In the playoffs they were even better with 3.13 goals per game. The problem is that five of their top six scorers in both the regular season and the playoffs are over the age of 30.

The reason we all though San Jose's window was closed was because of how old their top playmakers are. With only minor tweaks to the lineup in the offseason, the Sharks will return largely the same lineup this season. San Jose needs the team’s young stars like Tomas Hertl and Logan Couture to take on more of the load because, while players like Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau seem ageless, Father Time remains undefeated.

Season prediction: DeBoer is well aware of the age of his playmakers and openly encourages his veterans not to overexert themselves in practice or morning skates. The results were evident as a well-rested Sharks team dominated in the first round of the playoffs, dispatching nemesis Los Angeles in just five games.

San Jose still has plenty of talent, but they’re not getting any younger. The Sharks are going to want to fast forward to the playoffs and DeBoer is not going to push them that hard over the course of the regular season, but he won’t have to. The Pacific Division is pretty lousy and Anaheim is going to take a step back this season. The Sharks should easily finish in the top three of the division, but I don't think they'll win it because I don't think that it matters all much to DeBoer or the players.

When I look at this roster, however, I still see a team that will be dependent on its older veterans. DeBoer handled them to perfection last season, but I have a hard time believing he’ll be able to coach this team back to the Finals again.

The Sharks are a playoff team and perhaps still good enough to win a round or two, but they won’t challenge for the Cup.

MORE HOCKEY: CAPS LOSE SCOUT TO LAS VEGAS FRANCHISE

Other team previews:

Pacific Division
— Anaheim Ducks
— Arizona Coyotes
— Calgary Flames
— Edmonton Oilers
— Los Angeles Kings
— San Jose Sharks
— Vancouver Canucks

Central Division
— Chicago Blackhawks
— Colorado Avalanche
— Dallas Stars
— Minnesota Wild
— Nashville Predators
— St. Louis Blues
— Winnipeg Jets

Atlantic Division
— Boston Bruins
— Buffalo Sabres
— Detroit Red Wings
Florida Panthers 
Montreal Canadiens (coming Aug. 19)
Ottawa Senators (coming Aug. 20)
Tampa Bay Lightning (coming Aug. 21)
Toronto Maple Leafs (coming Aug. 22)

Metropolitan Division
Carolina Hurricanes (coming Aug. 23)
Columbus Blue Jackets (coming Aug. 24)
New Jersey Devils (coming Aug. 25)
New York Islanders (coming Aug. 26)
New York Rangers (coming Aug. 27)
Philadelphia Flyers (coming Aug. 28)
Pittsburgh Penguins (coming Aug. 29)
Washington Capitals (coming Aug. 30)

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How Nicklas Backstrom saved the Capitals 3 different times in Game 5

How Nicklas Backstrom saved the Capitals 3 different times in Game 5

The Capitals found themselves in deep trouble on Saturday.

Game 5 at Capital One Arena provided Washington a golden opportunity to take a 3-2 lead in their 2018 Stanley Cup Playoff first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets. A loss -- another home loss -- would have been a devastating blow.

After battling back from a 2-0 series deficit, to lose in Washington would mean facing elimination in Columbus. Game 5 was the game the Caps needed and it would have slipped away from them if not for Nicklas Backstrom.

The Caps’ most underrated superstar -- the one who is constantly overshadowed by the likes of Alex Ovechkin and Braden Holtby -- took center stage on Saturday as he tipped a Dmitry Orlov shot past Sergei Bobrovsky at 11:53 of overtime to seal the victory for Washington.

“It was just a good shot from [Orlov],” Backstrom said after the game. “I thought before he had a chance to block it, and I got a tip on it, and it’s usually what happens in the playoffs. Tip goals or rebound goals. That’s the way it is. It was nice.”

Backstrom’s overtime goal capped off a three-point night for the veteran center, who also scored in the first period and assisted on a goal from T.J. Oshie.

The team ended up needing every one of his points.

From the start, Columbus outplayed Washington. With the series tied 2-2, a best-of-three mentality took over and the Blue Jackets pushed hard for the pivotal Game 5 win.

It is in those very moments that team needs its superstar players to step up. In Game 3, it was Holtby who stole the show to help Washington steal a win in Columbus.

On Saturday, it was Backstrom.

Columbus converted a shorthanded goal to seize a 1-0 lead in what was shaping up to be a dominant first period. A fluke goal from Backstrom, however, made sure the score was knotted up, 1-1, after the opening frame.

With the puck behind the goal line, Backstrom tried to slip a pass through the crease. Bobrovsky got a piece of the puck with his stick, but the amount of spin on the pass forced the puck to carom off the stick, off the back of Bobrovsky himself, and into the net.

“I was trying to make a pass,” Backstrom said. “Honestly, got lucky. I don’t know who came back-door there but I was trying for him. I’ll take it.”

After a back and forth game, the Blue Jackets came out swinging to start the third. Down 3-2, Columbus tied the game just 2:30 in and made a real push to win the game in regulation. Washington was outshot 16-1 in the third and looked like they had no push at all.

But the Caps looked like a different team when they took the ice for the extra frame. What happened in between periods?

“As I was leaving the room after the period, I could hear guys, the right guys, all saying the right things,” head coach Barry Trotz said.

When later asked if one of those guys was Backstrom, Trotz said, “Absolutely. He's one of the leaders on our team. They were all talking about let's make sure we're doing the right things. There's a lot of pride, lot of good leadership in that room.”

Whatever Backstrom and the other leaders said did the trick. Washington made a strong push in overtime leading to Backstrom’s game-winning goal.

This isn’t the first time Backstrom has delivered. Saturday’s overtime tally is the fourth of his career. That’s the most in franchise history and tied for fifth in NHL history.

Through his efforts on the ice, the Caps were able to erase a bad first period and steal the win in overtime. But it also took a big effort off the ice to get the job done.

“If you just look at the scoresheet, that doesn't say enough of about Nick Backstrom, his contribution from in the dressing room to on the ice to key moments to key faceoffs,” Trotz said.

“I've been on his soapbox about how complete a player he is and I never really worry about Nick Backstrom. He's got enough games under his belt, he's got enough stats to back it up and he's played huge minutes and he's one of our leaders. He's a tremendous hockey player.”

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John Tortorella guarantees series will return to Washington for Game 7

John Tortorella guarantees series will return to Washington for Game 7

After losing Game 1 and Game 2 at home, Alex Ovechkin declared "It’s going to be fun when we bounce back and going to tie the series and come back here and play Game 5 at home.”

Columbus Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella seems to be taking a similar tactic.

The Capitals won Game 5 in overtime on Saturday in a game that could prove to be emotionally draining for the Blue Jackets in a number of ways.

  • It was Washington's third straight win
  • Columbus was the better team for the majority of the game, but still took the loss
  • The Blue Jackets now face elimination despite holding a 2-0 series lead to start and losing only once in regulation

Tortorella has become famous for his fiery postgame press conferences in the past, including abruptly walking out after Game 4's presser when he declared "We sucked" to the media.

Saturday's was another fun one.

In a presser that lasted less than two minutes, Tortorella twice said, "We'll be back here for Game 7."

After such a draining game, Tortorella was asked how he would get them ready for what is sure to be an emotionally charged Game 6.

"I won't have to say a damn word to them," Tortorella said. "No. We'll be back here for Game 7."

The Blue Jackets will have to win Game 6 in Columbus to make that happen.

Barry Trotz was asked for his reaction after Tortorella's comments.

"What else are you going to say? That's good. He wants to get it out there, he believes in his team just as I believe in my team. It's our job for that not to happen."

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