Never a doubt: Sharks-Golden Knights a playoff preview


Never a doubt: Sharks-Golden Knights a playoff preview

When you looked at the schedule ahead of the season, you surely circled Golden Knights-Sharks on Feb. 7 and envisioned a measuring stick game...for the Sharks? Naturally, you thought Vegas and San Jose would hold the Pacific’s top two spots, and the former would lead the latter by...10 points?

Yes, just as everyone predicted, the expansion Vegas Golden Knights enter Thursday’s contest as the Western Conference’s best team, and the league’s third-best by points percentage. In other mass hysteria news, dogs and cats are now living together.

As any forlorn gambler can tell you, whether they bet on the hockey team or not: Vegas is no joke. The Sharks learned this firsthand in November, losing in overtime to the preseason longshots in a Black Friday matinee, when a three-goal comeback fell short.

Vegas entered that game as a pleasant surprise, leading the Pacific Division standings by a single point after the first 20 games. Since then, the league’s newest team has been a surprising standard-bearer.

Since Nov. 25, only the Bruins (22-4-4; 48 points) have a better record than the Golden Knights (21-8-3; 45 points). As is the case with any Vegas institution, there’s some luck involved, as their PDO (the sum of shooting percentage and save percentage) is the eighth-highest in the league over that span.

For the most part, though, they have the hallmarks of an elite team. The Golden Knights are sixth in five-on-five puck possession (52.39 corsi-for percentage, per Corsica Hockey), tied for fourth-most goals across all situations (102), tied for the sixth-fewest goals against (80), and third in penalty kill percentage (86.8 percent) since they last played the Sharks.

By those same measures, San Jose is 12th (51.05 corsi-for percentage), tied for sixth-most (97), tied for sixth-most (93), and 12th (82 percent). By no means have the Sharks been bad, as they’ve picked up the seventh-most points in the league since Nov. 25.

The Golden Knights have simply been better.

As a result, Thursday night’s contest will not only serve as arguably San Jose’s best barometer of their capabilities without Joe Thornton, but as a possible playoff preview. It just might be the start of a legitimate, albeit nascent rivalry.

Familiarity breeds contempt, and including Thursday, the Sharks and Golden Knights will play three more times this season. They’ll face each other twice in the final 10 games of their respective seasons, with seeding (in the case of San Jose) and a possible President’s Trophy (in the case of Vegas) likely on the line.

Much like the Golden Knights this season, that’s far more than anyone could have truly expected.


Sharks avoid arbitration, re-sign Chris Tierney to two-year deal


Sharks avoid arbitration, re-sign Chris Tierney to two-year deal

Just two days before one was scheduled, the Sharks avoided an arbitration hearing with center Chris Tierney, and re-signed the restricted free agent to a two-year deal on Wednesday, the team announced. The deal is reportedly worth just shy of $2.94 million annually, according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman

"Chris had his best season as a professional last year and stepped up his level of play in multiple areas," San Jose general manager Doug Wilson said in a statement. "We've always known he was a responsible, defensive-minded player, but he took his offensive game to the next tier and showed that he can be a productive player in all three zones. We look forward to watching him continue his evolution in 2018-19." 

Last season, the 24-year-old Tierney set career-highs in goals (17), assists (23), points (40), shots on goal (118), and ice time (16:00). Tierney also generated expected goals at the highest rate of his career (0.62 per hour), according to Corsica Hockey. 

A 2012 second-round pick, Tierney entered last season in an uncertain place. He signed his one-year, $735,000 qualifying offer last summer, and head coach Peter DeBoer challenged him to improve. 

“I came into the year wanting to prove a point. I believe in myself. I think I’m a good hockey player,” Tierney told the San Jose Mercury News in December. “I wanted to come in and show people that I could play an offensive role on the team.”  

DeBoer used Tierney slightly differently this season, as the forward started a career-high percentage of five-on-five shifts in the offensive zone (31.12 percent) and a career-low percentage of defensive zone starts (29.68 percent), per Corsica Hockey. Tierney responded in kind with his aforementioned career-best offensive numbers, and seized the third-line center role after versatile forward Tomas Hertl stayed on the wing.  

With Tierney back in the fold, the Sharks now have just under $4.4 million in salary cap space, according to CapFriendly. That’s for a roster carrying 14 forwards, seven defenseman, and two goaltenders, and San Jose’s actual cap space may change depending on the outcome of various positional battles in training camp. 

This summer, Tierney became the fourth Sharks player since 2008 to file for arbitration. In every case, including with Tierney on Wednesday, a settlement was reached prior to a hearing. 

The Sharks also signed a pair of prospects to entry-level contracts on Wednesday. Defenseman Ryan Merkley, San Jose’s first-round pick this June, and 21-year-old forward Alexander True, who scored 28 points in 68 games with the AHL’s San Jose Barracuda last season, both inked deals with the organization.

Martin Jones' new goalie mask will have Sharks fans seeing double


Martin Jones' new goalie mask will have Sharks fans seeing double

Sharks goaltender Martin Jones won't just enter the season with a different paycheck, the result of entering the first year of a five-year, $34.5 million contract extension that he signed last July. He'll also have a new mask.

Toronto-based artist Steve Nash unveiled a look at Jones' mask design for the upcoming season Monday morning on Twitter. The design again features San Jose's secondary logo but with some subtle differences.

Eagle-eyed mask afficionados will notice a couple of tweaks. First, there now are two sharks on the side, compared to only one last season. Those sharks boast orange eyes seen on the back of his mask last season

For comparison, here's a look at Jones' mask from last year.

The 28-year-old netminder is entering his fourth season in San Jose's crease. Jones posted a .915 save percentage in 60 regular-season starts and followed that with a .928 in 10 postseason starts as the Sharks advanced to the second round. 

We'll get our best look at Jones' new mask in action when training camp opens in mid-September, and, assuming he plays, in a game as soon as the Sept. 18 preseason opener against the Ducks.