Banged up Sharks making full use of two-day break ahead of Game 6 in Vegas

Banged up Sharks making full use of two-day break ahead of Game 6 in Vegas

SAN JOSE – Up until this point in the first round, the Sharks and Golden Knights have squared off every other night. Now, after staving off elimination with a crucial Game 5 victory, Team Teal has a whopping two days to prepare for Game 6 back in Las Vegas.

“We have two days now,” Tomas Hertl said after San Jose’s 5-2 victory. “Have to take a little breath and rest and be ready for that.”

This isn’t to say that San Jose is playing at any more of a grueling pace than other teams in the playoffs. But bumps and bruises are quite common this time of year. Marc-Edouard Vlasic missed two straight playoff games after being hit by a puck during Game 2, Erik Karlsson is still bouncing back from a regular- season injury -- heck, Logan Couture is the second player who has had to make a trip to the dentist after losing teeth during a game.

Between the ailments being common and the current series being incredibly physical, getting an extra 24 hours in between games is a big help, Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer told the media on Friday morning following.

“We’ve got to use it to get rest, to get guys healthy,” DeBoer said, before adding: “But also to prepare. I think we’re going to have to find another level in our game obviously to win Game 6 in there. That’s what the two days have to be used for, too.”

DeBoer isn’t wrong. The Sharks haven’t faired well in many of their visits to the Knights’ home barn, particularly during the current best-of-seven series. San Jose was outscored 11-3 in Games 3 and 4 at T-Mobile Arena and went 1-for-7 on the power play, which is not good when you’re trying to defeat a team that is stealthy at capitalizing on their opponents mistakes. While their Game 5 performance was a vast improvement – they finally kept that Pacioretty-Stastny-Stone line off the scoreboard, for starters – they still need to use the two days prep for Game 6 wisely.

Plus, Vegas gets that time to prepare as well.

“They get the same luxury,” Karlsson pointed out, before adding that San Jose isn’t putting too much thought into what the other team is doing. “I think our biggest focus is on ourselves and what we have to do to be successful.”

[RELATED: Five observations from Game 5 win]

After finding that success on their home ice, the Sharks are even more motivated to put on a good showing in Sin CIty on Easter Sunday, forcing a Game 7 back in San Jose. It's no easy feat, but two days worth of prep can help.

"We know it will be really hard, but we are ready for this challenge," Hertl said on Friday morning. "We want to show them we can beat them there too."

2020 NHL Draft: Predicting Sharks' targets based on prior team history

2020 NHL Draft: Predicting Sharks' targets based on prior team history

The Sharks' season is over. Their lengthy offseason has begun.

As one of the seven teams not included in the expanded playoff format NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced on Tuesday, San Jose can now turn its full attention toward getting the franchise back to the postseason. The Sharks ranked dead last in the Western Conference when the season was indefinitely paused due to the coronavirus pandemic, and now that it has been made official, they finished with their worst points percentage (.450) since Doug Wilson took over as general manager prior to the 2003-04 season.

It's a crucial offseason for San Jose, and Wilson knows it. On a conference call with reporters Tuesday, he laid out the Sharks' top priorities and expectations moving forward. He made it clear that missing out on the playoffs is unacceptable, but remains confident the team can turn things around in short order, much like San Jose did in 2003-04 and 2015-16.

Among the Sharks' top priorities this offseason, Wilson emphasized the importance of having a "great" draft.

"This is going to be a really important draft," Wilson said. "We've got seven picks, but three in the top 60, and this is a really deep draft for what we're looking for. Getting a pick in the first round, having the other two seconds, we know we'll come out of it with some good players."

As things currently stand, the Sharks' top picks in the 2020 NHL Draft consist of the Tampa Bay Lightning's first-round draft pick (acquired in the Barclay Goodrow trade), their own second-round pick and the Colorado Avalanche's second-round pick (acquired in the Brenden Dillon trade). As Wilson mentioned, they all fall within the first 60 overall selections. 

There's always the possibility that one or more of them could be traded, but it sounds like he has a specific position he plans to target.

"We have three very important picks," Wilson continued. "We need to add, if you ask me, probably forwards." 

Forwards, huh? That really shouldn't come as a surprise, considering the Sharks tied with the Columbus Blue Jackets for the fourth-fewest goals per game this season (2.57), not to mention half of their starting defensemen are locked up long term. Luckily for San Jose, the strength of the 2020 draft arguably is its collection of forward prospects, led by presumptive top pick Alexis Lafreniere.

Barring a major trade, the Sharks won't have any chance to acquire Lafreniere or any of the other cream-of-the-crop prospects. Tampa Bay enters the expanded 2020 NHL playoffs tied for the best odds to win it all with the Boston Bruins and Vegas Golden Knights. The Lightning's first-round pick can't fall within the first 15 overall selections (since they're not subject to the qualifying round), and based on expectations, it's likely to land somewhere near the end of the first round.

So, which forward prospects expected to go near the tail end of the first might be Sharks targets? While there are far too many possibilities to account for, there are at least three that would seem to be legitimate candidates based on San Jose's prior draft history.

Dylan Holloway, C, Wisconsin

NHL Central Scouting: No. 12 ranked North American skater
ESPN: No. 17 overall prospect
Elite Prospects: No. 18 overall prospect

Holloway, 18, is old for his age, having just missed the 2019 draft cutoff by eight days. He was coming off a very strong season at the time, having been named MVP of the Alberta Junior Hockey League, but struggled somewhat in his first collegiate season this year on an underperforming Badgers team. Holloway is a talented skater, and at 6-foot-1, 203 pounds, possesses great physical skills. He was one of the most anticipated prospects in his class coming into the year, but his struggles could cause him to drop in the first round. He would be a steal if San Jose acquired him in its latter stages.

The Sharks have had decent luck drafting centermen from the University of Wisconsin. Former Badger Joe Pavelski was a seventh-round pick in 2003, and we all know how that turned out. As a prospect, Holloway is both younger and held in much higher regard now than Pavelski was at the time, and while it would be unfair to expect anywhere near the same amount of production, it sure would be a poetic selection.

Lukas Reichel, LW, Eisbaren Berlin No. 11 ranked European skater
ESPN: No. 23 overall prospect
Elite Prospects: No. 51 overall prospect

Depending on what rankings you look at, there is going to be plenty of variance in Reichel's draft projections. Some are captivated by his creativity and skills at just 17 years of age, while others are concerned about his physicality. His production, however, is hard to ignore. He averaged 0.57 points per game for Eisbaren Berlin this past season, the fourth-highest scoring average by an under-18 player in the history of the Deutsche Eishockey Liga, Germany's top hockey league. Two of the three players that posted a higher U18 scoring average eventually were drafted by the Sharks.

In 1996, San Jose selected Marco Sturm in the second round. In 2001, the Sharks made Marcel Goc their first-round pick. One of them certainly panned out better than the other, but the German connection cannot be ignored.

[RELATED: Exclusive: Sharks GM Wilson on odd season, coach search]

Noel Gunler, RW, Lulea (Sweden) No. 9 ranked European skater
ESPN: No. 30 overall prospect
Elite Prospects: No. 19 overall prospect

Another prospect with a wide range of evaluations, Gunler, 18, offers a skill set that doesn't match up with his draft projection. Why? There reportedly are lingering character and maturity concerns, which ultimately prevented his inclusion in multiple international tournaments. The deeper it gets into the first round, however, his skill and production likely will be too good to pass up. That should sound familiar, especially as it pertains to the Sharks' most recent first-round pick.

Ryan Merkley was regarded as one of the top overall talents in the 2018 NHL Draft, but he slipped all the way to the No. 21 overall pick in the first round due to character concerns, at which time San Jose snatched him up. Merkley unquestionably now is the Sharks' top prospect, and his OHL production insists they got quite a steal. Though Gunler plays an entirely different position, he might offer a similar kind of value.

Sharks GM Doug Wilson discusses odd end of season, coaching search

Sharks GM Doug Wilson discusses odd end of season, coaching search

On Tuesday afternoon, the NHL announced its “return to play” format, which effectively ends the season for seven clubs, including the Sharks.

San Jose now faces an offseason of unprecedented length. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman hopes the Stanley Cup can be awarded by the fall months, with the next season beginning in December or January, 2021 at the latest.

That gives Sharks general manager Doug Wilson some interesting scenarios trying to turn a team around during very abnormal times.

Wilson spoke with NBC Sports California in an exclusive interview on Tuesday. Here are some highlights from the Q&A:

NBC Sports California: On closure to this regular season, and replicating the last time the Sharks didn’t make the playoffs:
Wilson: “That’s what we’re looking to do again. You learn from experience like this. We didn’t get off to a great start this year, and that’s on us. That’s on all of us. But from this, you can grab some more knowledge and wisdom moving forward.”

On the Sharks not participating in the experimental “return to play” 24-team format that the NHL is hoping to execute:
“Make no mistake, we wish we were playing. Missing the playoffs is unacceptable for this franchise. I think we’ve only done it once since 2003. But we’re trying to make the best of it, which is the point that you’re making. To get Erik Karlsson, and Tomas Hertl, and Logan Couture and Radim Simek all back 100-percent healthy with the extra time.

"If we use this time wisely, we can come out of it better on the other side. We like our team. We have the bones of a good team. We just have to play the right way and get off to better starts to a season than we did this year.”

Does winning a Stanley Cup mean anything different in 2020?
“I don’t think it’s appropriate to put an asterisk besides it or discount the season. We’ve had other seasons without the full complement of games. The playoff format will be arduous, and whoever wins will deserve to win.”

Will announcing the next permanent head coach come soon?
“Now, we have time to build the staff that’s best going forward for this team. Bob (Boughner) has certainly got the inside track. I thought he did a good job with our team, we were playing some really good hockey, the right way, defending better, our PK (penalty kill) was good.

"And then when you lose Erik (Karlsson), Logan (Couture), and Tomas (Hertl), that makes it pretty difficult. We’re still in the middle of that process. We’ll be very thorough.”

On the Sharks' issues with goaltending and team defense:
“Goaltending gets blamed, it’s the easy target to go to. Here we had the best penalty killing in the league — same goaltending, same defensemen, same forwards, yet we struggled five on five. Whether that’s preparation, attitude, commitment, whatever it is.

"Collectively you have to look at it: how can we play better in the defensive zone? That’s all five people, to give the goaltender a chance.”

[RELATED: Where Sharks go from here now that their season is over]

What is the most uncertain aspect for the Sharks right now?
“It’s really the timeline, you want to work backwards. Players are creatures of habit. The cycles of training and preparing of training and getting ready. This will be the longest time off our team and players have ever had.

"And you’ve got to use that time very well. You don’t want players under-training, or over-training. We’ve talked with our strength and medical people, trying to figure out the best way to get the programs in place so when they come into camp, they’re ready to go.”

On the balance of sports returning soon but not too early:
“I’m proud of our ownership, our players, and our league. Health is the most important thing. This supersedes sports. This is about what’s best for our fans, the safety and good health of everybody.

"It’s going to take everybody to get through this. I’m not sure we’re completely out of the woods yet.”