Sharks

NHL Gameday: Sharks play first of two straight with rival Kings

NHL Gameday: Sharks play first of two straight with rival Kings

Programming note – Sharks-Kings coverage starts today at 7:00 p.m. with Sharks Pregame Live on CSN California

WHERE THEY STAND

Sharks: 23-12-1, 47 points, 1st Pacific Division
Kings: 17-15-4, 38 points, 5th Pacific Division

PREGAME NEWS AND NOTES

***The Sharks bring a four-game winning streak into the first of two consecutive meetings with the Kings at Staples Center. San Jose has won eight of its last nine overall, including Friday night’s 2-0 shutout of the Flyers at SAP Center. They continue to lead the Pacific Division, with a three-point lead and a game in hand over second place Edmonton.

San Jose has played on New Year’s Eve nine times, all on the road, going 7-1-1.

***Los Angeles has lost three straight (0-2-1), and is just 1-3-2 in its last six. The Kings have scored two or fewer goals in six of their last seven, and are missing second-leading scorer Tyler Toffoli, who has been out for the last four games with a lower body injury.

The Kings just completed a nine-game road swing (sandwiched around the Christmas break) with a 3-4-2 record, and will be playing at home for the first time since Dec. 10. They are 10-4-1 at Staples Center.

***Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s status for the game is uncertain after he took a slap shot to the face late in Friday’s win. Coach Pete DeBoer said after the game that it was doubtful Vlasic would take the postgame flight to southern California.

KEEP AN EYE ON...

Sharks: Martin Jones. After a rare night off on Friday, Jones will presumably return to the net against the Kings tonight and again on Tuesday in the rematch at SAP Center. He’s had tremendous success against his former team, with a 5-1-1 record, 2.12 goals-against average and .924 save percentage in seven appearances. He’s tied for second in the NHL with 19 wins and is eighth in GAA (2.08).

Kings: Dustin Brown. In his first season after getting stripped of the captaincy, Brown has 15 points (4g, 11a) in 35 games, and with a team-worst minus-10 rating. He’s skating on the top line lately with the equally cold Anze Kopitar, and has just one goal in his last 17 games. Still, Brown can impact the game in other ways, as Sharks fans well know. He leads the Kings with 95 hits.

PROBABLE LINES

Sharks
Patrick Marleau – Joe Thornton – Joe Pavelski
Kevin Labanc – Logan Couture – Mikkel Boedker
Timo Meier – Chris Tierney – Joonas Donskoi
Melker Karlsson – Micheal Haley – Joel Ward

Paul Martin – Brent Burns
Brenden Dillon – Justin Braun
David Schlemko – Dylan DeMelo

Martin Jones
Aaron Dell

Kings
Marian Gaborik – Anze Kopitar – Dustin Brown
Tanner Pearson – Jeff Carter – Devin Setoguchi
Kyle Clifford – Nic Dowd – Trevor Lewis
Dwight King – Nick Shore – Jordan Nolan

Derek Forbort – Drew Doughty
Jake Muzzin – Alec Martinez
Brayden McNabb – Kevin Gravel

Peter Budaj
Jeff Zatkoff

INJURIES

Sharks: Marc-Edouard Vlasic (face) is doubtful. Tomas Hertl (right knee sprain) is out.

Kings: Jonathan Quick (groin) and Tyler Toffoli (lower body) are out.

QUOTEABLE

“Guys are getting into the [shooting] lanes, even up by two goals with 30 seconds left. We're doing it for Deller, or if Jones is in there, we're doing the same thing. We take a lot of pride in the D zone." – Justin Braun

Sharks' season-long observations after conference final loss to Blues

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Sharks' season-long observations after conference final loss to Blues

On paper, it might have been the best Sharks team ever assembled. But it all came to an end on Tuesday night, as San Jose lost the Western Conference final four-games-to-two to the St. Louis Blues.

Here’s a look back  -- and forward -- on where this franchise stands.

Stressful run

What we just witnessed had to be among the most stressful playoff runs in Stanley Cup history. San Jose got to their fifth ever conference finals by winning a pair of Game 7s, but never had a two-game lead in any of the three rounds.  There was never an opportunity to breathe or enjoy the view.

Disappointment

San Jose was one of four remaining teams this postseason, but the journey leaves more disappointment than accomplishment.  It’s an important perspective to remember how incredibly high the standards are for this team.

Jumbo's future

I don’t believe for one second that Joe Thornton has played his last game with the Sharks.  The bigger concern is how many more playoff opportunities he will get, after turning 40 years old as an unrestricted free agent this summer. Western Conference final appearances don’t happen every season, as we know.

Healthy Thornton

It was an important season to have for Thornton.  He transitioned to a third line center role, playing about five fewer minutes per contest, but still being effective. In addition, he racked up more milestones than I can summarize here, and most importantly: was generally healthy.

Captain America

Joe Pavelski had a tremendous rebound season, coming off a hand injury to lead the team in goals at 38, which was up from 22. He also is an upcoming free agent this summer, and will be 35 next season, but proved that his exceptional net-front play of tips and redirects may not have any correlation to age.

Vegas Game 7

The “Pavelski Payback” in Game 7 of the first round against the Vegas Golden Knights might have been the best overall moment and win in San Jose’s franchise history. Or at least in the history of SAP Center. Elimination was on the line, and scoring four goals in a four-minute span was an unprecedented tribute to the fallen Captain.  

"Clutch-ure"

Logan Couture had another monster postseason and is only two playoff goals behind the leader Alexander Ovechkin (50) since 2010.  He continues rising to the occasion on the biggest of stages. And despite losing two teeth in the postseason, “Clutch-ure” showcased among the biggest of hearts.

Meier improves

Timo Meier continues to take huge steps in his career.  Last season he reached 21 goals, and this campaign he eclipsed the 30-goal mark in 78 games. Meier also has developed the reputation of a hard-nosed player who can make power scoring moves and add a physical element of the game.  The restricted free agent is well deserving of a raise from his $1.65M salary from this season.

Karlsson's decision

Will Erik Karlsson be a Shark next season?  From my view, it’s a 50-50 proposition.  Sure, both side had months to work something out.  But at the same time, free agency is a huge opportunity for any big name, and I don’t blame Karlsson for exploring the options.

Should Sharks retain EK65?

Regarding Karlsson, it’s also a huge financial commitment by San Jose if they are to retain him.  He would likely become the team's highest-paid player and would become a big piece under the salary cap. It’s a large decision for the Sharks in the coming weeks, who made a huge personnel commitment to even acquire Karlsson from Ottawa.

Karlsson's up-and-down year

Karlsson’s regular season shouldn’t be held against him, but it was no doubt frustrating for San Jose. His first third was mostly acclimating to the new surroundings, his second third was dominant and impressive, and the final third was spent with an injured groin.  In total, he tallied three goals and 42 points in 53 games.  His playoffs were much better with 16 points in 19 games, especially impressive considering the injury he played through.

[RELATED: Sharks expect offseason of change after falling short]

Hertl's career season

Another career season goes to Tomas Hertl.  He scored 35 goals, but most importantly made the critical move from winger to center back in December. By the playoffs, he was taking almost 30 draws per contest, and often winning around 20 of them.  

(Mostly) steady Jones

Let’s be frank, there were questions surrounding Martin Jones in the regular season, and for the first four playoff games. It’s hard to argue with the body of work he showcased in all the playoff games since then.

Spotlight

San Jose enjoyed the national hockey spotlight more than ever in 2018-19.  The Sharks might have made the biggest trade of the season, acquiring Erik Karlsson in September.  SAP Center hosted the NHL’s All-Star Weekend in January.  And here in May, the Sharks got to play all of their third-round games on exclusive nights.

How Vladimir Tarasenko, Blues forwards outplayed Sharks in West finals

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How Vladimir Tarasenko, Blues forwards outplayed Sharks in West finals

Vladimir Tarasenko heated up at just the wrong time for the Sharks. 

The St. Louis Blues winger picked up eight points (three goals, five assists) in their six-game Western Conference final win over San Jose, including the game-winning power-play goal in a 5-1 win in Tuesday's Game 6 at Enterprise Center. Tarasenko led all players in the best-of-seven series with his scoring output, but the Sharks' problems did not stop with the 27-year-old in the conference final. 

"I think what made the St. Louis Blues successful wasn't just Vladimir Tarasenko, it was the production of every line," NBC Sports California guest analyst Kendall Coyne Schofield said after Game 6 on Tuesday. " ... I think a forward on every line had a point tonight. So, every line produced and that's not easy to do. It's going to take a complete team to get to the Stanley Cup Final, and I think that's what St. Louis did during this series."

Two of St. Louis' five goals Tuesday were scored in 5-on-5 situations, but the Blues got contributions from up and down their lineup. David Perron opened the scoring 92 seconds into the contest, while Tarasenko doubled the St. Louis lead just shy of 15 minutes later. Brayden Schenn, Tarasenko's linemate, answered Dylan Gambrell's first career NHL goal with another power-play tally. Tyler Bozak, normally the team's third-line center, was credited with the Blues' fourth goal after his pass deflected off of a defending Gustav Nyquist's stick. St. Louis' fourth line, after being a thorn in San Jose's side all series, left no doubt with an empty-netter with 2:15 remaining in regulation. 

Twelve forwards suited up for the Blues in the Western Conference final, and all but one ended the series with multiple points. The Sharks, by contrast, only had six forwards record at least two points. Four more scored one, and four didn't score at all. 

It didn't help the Sharks on Tuesday that they were without one of those multi-point forwards (Joe Pavelski), as well as one who was red-hot entering the conference final yet still looking for his second point against the Blues (Tomas Hertl). Despite that, San Jose created more high-danger chances at full strength in regulation (11) than in any other game this series, although six came as the Sharks attempted to climb out of a two-goal hole in the third period. 

That didn't translate into goals, Coyne Schofield said, because of what the Blues' defensemen did. 

"I thought they did a really good job boxing out, not allowing second opportunities, allowing Jordan Binnington to see the pucks and ultimately slow down the San Jose offense," she said. "A San Jose offense that was injured, that wasn't complete and [was] trying to string together lines and string together offense in any way they can when, on the other isde of things, the Blues were clicking on all cylinders."

[RELATED: Sharks expecting offseason of change after falling short]

The Blues clicked up front for much of the series. Only two St. Louis forwards (Perron and Ryan O'Reilly) were on the ice for more expected goals-against than for in 5-on-5 situations, according to Natural Stat Trick, and only one (Robert Thomas) was on the ice for more goals-against than for. 

In large part because of that edge up front, the Blues will play in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Memorial Day and the Sharks will pack up for the summer beforehand.