Sharks

Nieto likely to remain on Sharks' top line for now

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Nieto likely to remain on Sharks' top line for now

SAN JOSE -– From the Sharks’ perspective, there wasn’t much to be pleased about after they dropped a 4-0 game to the Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Sunday night, but the play of Matt Nieto was a bright spot for coach Pete DeBoer.

Nieto replaced Nikolay Goldobin on the Joe Thornton-Joe Pavelski line in the second period, as DeBoer made some changes on the fly in a game that wasn’t going San Jose’s way.

“Just looking for some type of spark. I thought Nieto was our best forward tonight, and he deserved to be moved up there,” DeBoer said after the game.

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It didn’t result in any goals, of course, as the Sharks got shut out by one of the best teams in the league. Thornton and Pavelski struggled, too, both finishing with a team-worst minus-10 rating in unblocked shot attempts as the four-line Rangers came at the Sharks in waves.

Still, DeBoer kept Nieto on Thornton’s left wing at practice on Wednesday, and that’s likely how the Sharks will start Thursday’s game against the Kings as they open up a three-game homestand. Nieto has 1 goal and 2 assists in six games.

“We’ve played together before, so I kind of know what my role is with those two,” Nieto said. “If I play it right I think we can be a really effective line.”

Pavelski said: “Brings a lot of speed, and I think that’s what you saw that last little bit with him when he played with us. We started getting a little bit of that offensive time where we could roll around down low and create that momentum.”

Still…

“We’ve got to get to the net and find a way to get some production.”

For Thornton and Pavelski, it will be the third left wing they’ll start with in just the seventh game this season. Joonas Donskoi was there for the season opener but has been out for three straight games with a lower body injury, while Goldobin started both weekend games in that slot.

Goldobin was reassigned to the Barracuda on Thursday after struggling defensively. He needs more games in the minor leagues before he’ll be considered an everyday NHL player.

Meanwhile, the Sharks’ depth is getting tested, as key pieces like Logan Couture and Paul Martin are sidelined.

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“We’re doing an alright job,” Nieto said. “Obviously, those are two guys you can’t really replace. Really important guys. We’ve got to have guys that step up and rise to the occasion. If we do that I think we’ll be fine.

“I think we got away from playing aggressive and all the things that brought success, so if we do those things we’ll be in good shape.”

Pavelski expects the Sharks to have a renewed focus for their biggest rival on Thursday.

“The first four games [we] did a lot of good things and things that we’d like to think are starting to become natural and part of our foundation,” he said. “The commitment level has to be there on a nightly basis.”

Why Sharks think they're turning things around after win over Oilers

Why Sharks think they're turning things around after win over Oilers

SAN JOSE -- Suffice to say, the Sharks don't look like the same team that started a six-game homestand on Nov. 1 with one of the worst records in the NHL.

With a 6-3 win over the Pacific Division-leading Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday night, the Sharks have won four in a row and appear to be climbing out of the hole they dug themselves in the first month of the season.

Not to jump the gun or anything, The Sharks aren't out of the woods yet. But after the past six games, it looks like they're finally turning the corner and playing the way they expect to.

"Every game, I feel like we're more comfortable," said Tomas Hertl, who scored a goal Tuesday. "Everybody plays better. So now we have to just keep going."

The Sharks spent a good chunk of the first month of the season looking out of sync -- offensively, defensively, you name it. The culprit? Focusing too much on individual play and not working together as a unit.

"We weren't playing our system," Marc-Edouard Vlasic summarized Tuesday. "We were freelancing. We were doing our own thing. And it's funny when you stick to it, to what you do best, the results follow."

Erik Karlsson, Vlasic's defensive partner, agreed.

"We lost ourselves a little bit," said Karlsson, who had three assists Tuesday. "But right now we're working hard for each other and getting ourselves in good spots out there."

Sticking to that system yielded positive production on Tuesday against the Oilers. The Sharks scored six goals, and largely contained Oilers superstars Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid. 

"We had a big task in stopping one of the best lines in hockey and I think we did a good job of that," Karlsson said. "I think everyone contributed offensively and defensively. I think we played the right way for 60 minutes even though they scored three goals. But I think we stuck with it."

"They're at the top of the division and I thought we did a good job of defending McDavid and Draisaitl as a group tonight," Sharks coach Peter DeBoer added. "I thought we had some individuals who did a really good job, but I thought everyone on the ice with those guys was aware."

Of course, getting the jump on the Oilers fewer than five minutes into the game didn't hurt, either. 

"We got the first goal, which took a little bit of the pressure off," DeBoer said. "We got to play out in front most of the night. Those kinds of things make a difference."

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Now, as Hertl mentioned, the Sharks have to keep going. With an 8-10-1 record, San Jose is still under .500.

That's not good enough for a team accustomed to playing in the postseason. 

"If you're under (.500) you're not in the playoffs," Hertl said. "We're trying the best and over the last four games, we actually look like the Sharks."

If they keep looking like the Sharks that Hertl is talking about, the outlook on the season gets a little brighter.

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 6-3 win over Pacific-best Oilers

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 6-3 win over Pacific-best Oilers

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE -- If there was a high note for the Sharks to end their six-game homestand on, they hit it against the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday.

The Sharks offensively overpowered the Pacific Division-leading Oilers at SAP Center. Logan Couture and Erik Karlsson had multi-point nights and Barclay Goodrow registered a Gordie Howe hat trick as San Jose skated to a 6-3 victory. 

Here are three takeaways from the Sharks' fourth-straight win.

Coming alive 5-on-5

As fans are probably all too aware, the Sharks had a ton of trouble scoring goals at even strength at the start of the homestand. But as they have improved over this six-game span, their 5-on-5 game has come alive. San Jose scored five even-strength goals in the first 40 minutes Tuesday, the team's most impressive 5-on-5 performance of the season. 

To make things better, the Sharks got scoring from their bottom six in Tuesday's game courtesy of third-liner Patrick Marleau's first-period goal. If San Jose can start getting production from the fourth line as well, the Sharks' offense will be in really good shape going forward.


Playing more than 20 minutes

The Sharks went into the first intermission with a 3-0 lead but had a feisty Oilers' team pushing to get on the board. And as the Sharks learned from their back-and-forth 6-5 win over the Minnesota Wild last week, only playing well for the first 20 minutes isn't a good formula for winning games. 

But the Sharks didn't sit back on their heels, instead scoring another goal 1:26 into the second period and then another before the intermission. Even though the Oilers scored three goals in the last two periods, San Jose had enough of a lead to keep the damage minimal.

Not too shabby for a team with one of the league's worst goal differentials at the start of the homestand.

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The Sharks' best game to date?

Let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. The Sharks have certainly played much better over the last four games, but there are still a couple of areas they need to tighten up as they try to climb their way to a .500 record.

Although the Sharks built a big enough cushion, they did let up a bit Tuesday and allow two goals in the third period to let the Oilers make things interesting. As we discussed earlier, that's exactly how the Sharks almost gave up last week's game to the Wild.

While San Jose goaltender Martin Jones did a pretty solid job against Edmonton's offense, the defense in front of him needs to stay tight late into games so they don't end up blowing any late leads.