Sharks

NHL Seattle expansion approved for 2021, Coyotes to leave Pacific Division

ap_18338647442196.jpg
AP

NHL Seattle expansion approved for 2021, Coyotes to leave Pacific Division

The Sharks will have a new rival in the 2021-2022 season, as the Pacific Division is set for a makeover. 

The NHL’s Board of Governors unanimously approved Seattle Hockey Partners’ expansion application to bring the league’s 32nd team to the Emerald City on Tuesday. The Seattle franchise will begin play in 2021-22, at the renovated KeyArena. 

Seattle will face the same expansion draft format as the Vegas Golden Knights last summer. The team will be able to select one player from 30 teams. That excludes the Golden Knights, who will not get a cut of the $650 million expansion fee NHL Seattle will pay. 

[RELATED: Jones looks like vintage self in Sunday's win]

The league’s newest franchise will play in the Pacific Division, and the Arizona Coyotes will move to the Central to give the NHL four divisions with eight teams. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told reporters Tuesday that the Coyotes draw better attendance against Central Division teams. 

But the divisional move combined with the Desert Dogs’ ownership and attendance issues will only drive speculation that a move away from Arizona is inevitable. Houston Rockets owner Tilman Feritta said last year he was “very interested in the possibility of bringing the NHL to Houston,” while Kansas City’s Sprint Center has hosted preseason games before and is ready for a tenant. With the Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues already in the Central, there’s natural potential for a rivalry -- a la Seattle joining the Vancouver Canucks in the new-look Pacific. 

[RELATED: Sharks top prospect Merkley snubbed from Canada camp]

The NHL initially authorized Seattle’s application to play in the 2020-21 season, but the team will join the league in 2021-22 because of possible construction delays at KeyArena, according to commissioner Gary Bettman. 

The league and the NHLPA can opt out of the current collective bargaining agreement next September, which means the CBA would expire in 2020, which is when Seattle initially hoped to start play. A 2021 start may very well prevent construction delays, but it won’t do anything to prevent speculation the NHL is headed towards a fourth lockout since 1994. 

Five takeaways from Sharks' historic win to force Game 7 vs. Vegas

Five takeaways from Sharks' historic win to force Game 7 vs. Vegas

Easter Sunday 2019 will live in the history books for San Jose’s hockey team.  The hope is that it gets eclipsed with elation from the upcoming Game 7. But as for Game 6, it was a storybook thriller in all senses.  

Here are some takeaways from a 2-1 double-overtime win, where franchise history was made on a couple of different fronts.

Jones saves the day

Martin Jones made 58 saves. That’s never been done in any Sharks game, regular or postseason. Ever. What a statement from a goalie who was put on the ropes after Games 3 and 4 in Las Vegas.  Pulled in both, and not widely favored by critics to even be the starter in Game 5.  But Pete DeBoer made the bold statement, and Jones has now responded twice. What he did the last time in San Jose is not a “one-off”, and if the series finale turns out to be a goalie battle, you have to feel good about the guy in Teal.

First-timer

Tomas Hertl’s double-overtime, short-handed, game-winner… was also the first ever in Stanley Cup Playoff history.

Again, ever.  

It had been done before in single-overtime, but never after that. It was amazing to see Hertl fed with the puck and cross center ice seeming to lose some gas. Instead, he snapped one past Marc-Andre Fleury, and just like that, became the hero for a second straight game.  He predicted a Game 7, during that interview after Game 5… and here we are.

Another first-timer

Never in history had the Sharks been down in a series 3-1, and forced a seventh game. Until now. Sure, there’s a lot of work to be done for San Jose as it relates to advancing. But the way this series has played out in regard to momentum should clearly give them all the mental edge heading into Tuesday night. Las Vegas could have escaped the first round long ago, but now after missing on two opportunities, they have to come back to California again.  

Feelin' it, stealin' it

The Sharks stole one, on Sunday. They got out-shot 59-29. They got out-drawn 56% to 44%. San Jose didn’t always start with the puck, or have the puck, and didn’t always dominate gameplay.  But they did collapse in front of Jones and support their goalie with excellent net-front presence. It’s rare that the offense has a slow night, but they did, and fortunately, it wasn’t costly.

[RELATED: Hertl's double-OT winner in Game 6 highlights breakout season]

#TwoOrFewer

#TwoOrFewer lives on. The Sharks were 34-0 this season entering Sunday in games where they allowed two goals or fewer to the opponent. In fact, both their wins in this series had been earned that way, with respective 5-2 victories. But tonight, had Las Vegas won after regulation, it would have been their first loss while allowing two or fewer… and it would have also ended their season. Instead, the trend moves on to 35-0, and the thought has to be that if San Jose can win Game 7, it will largely be predicated on their play without the puck.
 

NHL playoffs: How Sharks can, can't beat Vegas in Game 7, advance

NHL playoffs: How Sharks can, can't beat Vegas in Game 7, advance

The Sharks improbably kept their season alive Sunday with a 2-1 double-overtime win in Game 6, forcing a decisive Game 7 in their Stanley Cup playoff first-round series with the Vegas Golden Knights. 

San Jose trailed three to one after four games and looked dead in the water but now has won the last two. Martin Jones kept the Game 7 door ajar with a franchise-record 58 saves through four periods and change Sunday. With the Sharks facing a penalty kill in the second overtime, Tomas Hertl did his best Mark Messier impression to bust it wide open.

Now, the Sharks have their first-ever chance to eliminate the Golden Knights on Tuesday at SAP Center. So, here’s how San Jose can advance to the second round -- and how the 2018-19 season could end on home ice.

The Sharks can win if …

Kevin Labanc, Marcus Sorensen and Joe Thornton get on the scoresheet

Since Thornton returned from his one-game suspension in Game 6, the Sharks’ third line arguably has been their best. Although the trio has been out-shot against the Golden Knights in the last two games, they have generated more quality chances than their opposition.

Per Natural Stat Trick, San Jose controlled 59.95 percent of the expected goals and 66.67 percent of the high-danger chances with that line on the ice in Games 5 and 6. That hasn’t turned into a goal yet, but could lead to a critical one in Game 7 if they keep it up.

Just two of the Golden Knights’ bottom-six forwards (Alex Tuch and Cody Eakin) have scored a goal in this series, and 17 of 21 have come from players on Vegas’ first and second lines. Thornton, Labanc and Barclay Goodrow are the Sharks’ only bottom-six forwards to score so far, and San Jose could use a goal (or two) from someone in that group to create separation in Game 7.

Both teams have relied on their stars offensively so far, and depth contributions ultimately could push one of them through to the second round. If the Sharks’ third line continues to develop quality chances, they just might be the ones to do it.

[RELATED: Hertl's game-winner highlights breakout season]

The Sharks can’t win if …

Martin Jones relents under the Golden Knights’ pressure

Jones was at his best Sunday when the team in front of him was not. Through just over 82-and-a-half minutes of 5-on-5 play, the Sharks ceded the vast majority of puck possession.

According to Natural Stat Trick, the Golden Knights:

  • Out-attempted the Sharks, 111-63
  • Out-shot the Sharks, 56-26
  • Out-chanced the Sharks, 33-29
  • Won the high-danger chance battle, 16-11

Sunday was an extreme example of the disparities that Jones has faced during this series as a whole, with the Golden Knights edging the Sharks in every major 5-on-5 puck-possession category through six games. He stood tall in the face of said pressure in each of the last two, allowing only one full-strength goal as San Jose tried to protect narrow leads at various stages in both games.

That’s a stark turnaround, considering Jones posted an .836 5-on-5 save percentage through the series' first four games. Jones has faced a lower rate of high-danger shots and expected goals in the last two games than he did prior, but he still has seen more rubber at full strength than Marc-Andre Fleury has in the opposite crease.

The Sharks and Golden Knights have each averaged two-and-a-half power play opportunities in the last two games, compared to five and five-and-a-half, respectively, in the previous four contests. The whistles probably won’t come out much more in a decisive Game 7, and the Golden Knights have been the better 5-on-5 team.

If that continues in Game 7 and Jones falters, the Sharks’ in-series comeback will be for naught.