Sharks

As Joakim Ryan returns home, Sharks reunite with a former top prospect

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AP

As Joakim Ryan returns home, Sharks reunite with a former top prospect

When Joakim Ryan suits up in his first NHL road game against the New Jersey Devils Friday night, he’ll do so in a familiar place.

Ryan, a New Jersey-born Swede, played for the Devils’ youth program and nearby Christian Brothers Academy (CBA) in high school. In fact, he’s already played at the Prudential Center, skating in the state championship game with CBA in 2009.

He’s not the only one due for something of a homecoming, as the Sharks may see a familiar face line up on the opposing blueline.

This is the Sharks’ first matchup against New Jersey since trading 2013 first round pick Mirco Mueller ahead of June’s Expansion Draft. Mueller was once considered the future on the San Jose blueline, a smooth-skating defenseman with size to boot.

The Swiss defender never fulfilled his potential, in part because his development was rushed from the start. He made the NHL roster as a rookie in 2014-15, almost by default. Other than Marc-Edouard Vlasic, the only defensemen ahead of him on left side of the depth chart were a far past-his-prime Scott Hannan and regular scratch Matt Irwin. Such was the nature of the Sharks’ “step back” that year.

Mueller finally got regular playing time, albeit in the minors, during his second professional season. By then, he was pushed down the organizational depth chart by the team’s acquisitions of Brenden Dillon and Roman Polak, and the development of Dylan DeMelo. David Schlemko’s signing last summer kept Mueller there for most of 2016-17, but it was Ryan and Tim Heed that ensured Mueller’s NHL future would lie elsewhere. The Swedes surpassed him, and emerged as perhaps the AHL’s best defensive pair in the process.

It’s fitting, then, that Ryan and Heed will be in the lineup tonight, and Mueller may not, as the fresh start he needed hasn’t quite panned out. He’s averaging a career-high 18:44 in ice time, but has been scratched in three of New Jersey’s seven games, including Thursday night’s overtime win in Ottawa.

So Ryan comes home to New Jersey under much happier circumstances than Mueller will reunite with the Sharks. One prodigal son returns, and the other is simply trying to save face.

It’s still early in his Devils tenure, of course, and Mueller may yet emerge as a regular on the New Jersey blueline. His Sharks reunion, though, will serve as a reminder of what once was, what could have been, and what is now San Jose’s future on defense.

Martin Jones rebounds from benching to lead Sharks to fifth straight win

Martin Jones rebounds from benching to lead Sharks to fifth straight win

Through the first few months of the NHL season, the spotlight on the San Jose Sharks has spent a lot of time focused between the pipes. Even after Martin Jones’ game turned around at the start of December, his critics were back out in full force last Sunday when he was pulled in the first period after giving up three quick goals to the Chicago Blackhawks.

Clearly, Jones needed a turnaround performance on Tuesday when Peter DeBoer sent him back out to start against the Minnesota Wild. No. 31 did just that, standing tall as he notched his first shutout of the season and helped the Sharks extend their winning streak to five games with a 4-0 victory.

“Everyone has tough games, and obviously that was a tough one for him,” Logan Couture said, referring back to Sunday’s game in Chicago. “But we have all the confidence in the world in (Jones) – that he was going to rebound. He played very well tonight.”

Things did look dicey at the start of Jones’ return to the crease on Tuesday when a long shot by Minnesota's Eric Staal rang off the post. While the puck didn’t find the back of the net, it was a scary sight given Jones had given up three goals on four shots just a couple nights before. (Namely that rough game-opening marker by Alex DeBrincat that trickled right past the netminder’s pad.) After that chance by Staal, however, Jones stood on his proverbial head to keep the Wild’s trickiest shots from finding the back of the net.

DeBoer said he knew from Jones’ body of work over the last couple of seasons that he could have a rebound performance like he did. “I knew right after the Chicago game I wanted to come right back with him,” the Sharks coach said. “In my time with him, he’s always responded after a game like that [against Chicago] with a big game. Every time. I was confident we were going to get that type of game out of him tonight.”

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the Sharks also put up a strong defensive effort in front of him. There’s no denying that stretching a detailed game out over a full 60 minutes and not giving Minnesota any room made Jones’ job a bit easier to do. It’s the kind of defensive effort the Sharks admitted they lacked earlier in the campaign.

“There’s no doubt he was left exposed by the game in front of him,” DeBoer said of San Jose’s woes from earlier in the season. “I think everyone is better than early in the season.”

Whatever the reason, it’s safe to say Jones’ game is coming around at the right time. The Sharks will now head home to host the Winnipeg Jets, who are without a doubt the hottest team in the whole league right now. San Jose might’ve been more concerned heading into a contest with the Central Division juggernaut back in November when they were giving up more goals than they were scoring.

Martin Jones’ successful rebound performance, though, showed the Sharks are ready to take on anybody.

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 4-0 win vs. Wild as streak hits five

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 4-0 win vs. Wild as streak hits five

BOX SCORE

There wasn’t a lot of room out on the ice between the Sharks and the Minnesota Wild at the start of Tuesday evening's contest. 

Then San Jose, broke through thanks to a two-goal evening from Logan Couture and a magnificent performance from goaltender Martin Jones. After a solid 60 minutes, the Sharks emerged victorious, 4-0.

Here are three takeaways from San Jose's fifth straight win:

Nice rebound for Jones

Jones needed a rebound performance on Tuesday evening. After a string of solid starts following his victory over the Canadiens in Montreal on Dec. 2, the netminder was pulled after giving up three goals on four shots Sunday in Chicago. 

Jones didn’t just prevent those trickle-in goals that eluded him on Sunday. He stood tall against a Wild team that skated in low, and put plenty of pucks on net.  He was particularly good when Minnesota began peppering him with shots in the start of the second period, keeping the Wild off the board.

Speaking of that frame …

Another stellar second stanza

This was the second game in a row where the Sharks have come alive in the second period. After a tight opening 20 minutes, San Jose tried to create some space for themselves. The result was Couture’s first goal on the evening, which was set up by an amazing behind-the-net pass from rookie winger Lukas Radil. 

The stretch of strong second periods is a real testament to how much the Sharks have turned their overall game around. Instead of jumping out with a strong start and then getting relaxed, they’ve taken over the pace of the game. Plus, they’ve also stayed strong in the third period.

Quality apples

The goal-scorers usually get all the glory, but three of San Jose’s goals on Tuesday were owed to highlight-reel assists. Following Radil’s crafty pass to set up Couture’s game-opening goal, Tomas Hertl made an amazing saucer pass to Joe Pavelski, who notched the second goal on a breakaway 29 seconds after Couture's. Both of those goals manifested thanks to plays created by newcomer Radim Simek in the Sharks’ zone.

In the third period, Couture added to the Sharks' lead after receiving the puck from Hertl on a crazy play created by Erik Karlsson. Yes, the same Erik Karlsson who now has a six-game point streak. 

The first two goals showed how much more defensively sound the Sharks are playing, and how they’re translating that into offensive production.