Notes: Sharks lines a mystery; Wingels update


Notes: Sharks lines a mystery; Wingels update

SAN JOSE – The Sharks are just 11-12-3 at home this season, but that doesn’t really tell the story of what’s been going on at SAP Center of late.

Headed into Friday night’s game against Buffalo, the Sharks have recorded points in nine straight there (6-0-3). While they’ve thrived on the road with a league-leading 45 points, they’ve been steadily been improving in their own building. That’s a good thing, too, because of the 23 games left on the schedule, 15 are at home.

It all adds up to a real opportunity for the Sharks - who would have to suffer a monumental collapse at this point to miss the playoffs - to challenge for the Pacific Division crown.

“Just our game in general – it’s way better,” said Joe Pavelski, when asked if the Sharks have fully moved on from their early home struggles. "When you’re at home, you can’t really cheat for offense. … You’ve got to play that consistent game, like we’ve done on the road.”

Coach Pete DeBoer said: “We’re in a great spot. We’ve done a lot of heavy lifting to get to this point, and now we have to make sure we take advantage of it.”

San Jose can get to within four points of first place Los Angeles tonight. The Sharks’ next eight opponents are all clubs that are not currently in playoff position, including three against Vancouver.

As for how he'll deploy his forwards, DeBoer didn't offer much of a hint after he significantly shuffled them for the final two periods of a 4-3 shootout loss to Colorado on Wednesday. The Sharks had an optional morning skate.

When asked if he would roll the lines he started or finished with in the Avs game, DeBoer replied “somewhere in between,” with a laugh.

* * *

One area of potential concern for the Sharks is their penalty killing, which has fallen to 23rd in the NHL. Over the last seven games, San Jose has allowed six goals-against on 18 opponent power plays, including one in each of the last three games.

New defenseman Roman Polak spent exactly one minute on the ice against Colorado on the PK, including when Jarome Iginla tied the game in the third period with a powerful one-timer. The Avs had just 2:22 of power play time on the night.

Polak admitted that learning the penalty killing system on a new team has its challenges.

“It’s tough, but it’s part of the business,” Polak said. “I don’t think it’s going to be a big deal.”

DeBoer hasn’t expressed any panic regarding the Sharks penalty killing all season, as it has ebbed and flowed throughout the five months he's been in charge.

“I’m very comfortable with the fundamentals of our penalty kill,” he said. “When it gets down to it, I’m very confident that it’s going to be very good. Throughout a season you’re going to have those ups and downs.”

* * *

Tommy Wingels remains out of the lineup with a sprained left shoulder, and there is no timeframe for his return.

“Getting better every day,” he said. “Something like this, it’s tough to tell if you’re going to be out a couple days or a couple weeks. It’s just about hoping that it feels better every day. In terms of when I’m able to play next, I wish I knew. Hopefully it’s on the shorter end here.”

Wingels is able to skate and shoot pucks, but “not at the strength I need to be.”

The 27-year-old forward has missed the last three games after getting tangled up with Aaron Ekblad in Florida on Feb. 18 and falling hard into the wall.

“He’s actually probably ahead of schedule,” said DeBoer, who earlier in the week said Wingels was questionable for Wednesday’s game in Colorado.

Sharks' Joe Thornton 'feels great', will return for 22nd NHL season

Sharks' Joe Thornton 'feels great', will return for 22nd NHL season

It's sounding like Joe Thornton will be back with the Sharks next season.

Thornton had previously expressed that if he were to return for a 22nd NHL season, it would indeed be with San Jose.

"I’m a Shark,” Thornton said at the Sharks' end-of-season availability. “There’s one team, and it’s here.”

Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman is reporting that at the NHL Awards media availability on Tuesday, Thornton eliminated whatever mystery remained and confirmed he would put off retirement for at least another year.

Thornton went even further while clarifying his comments to TSN's Pierre LeBrun.

Thornton can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, but it's fully expected he and San Jose will come to an agreement on a contract, a task made somewhat easier by the trade of defensemen Justin Braun on Tuesday morning, which provides some much-needed salary cap relief.

[RELATED: Sharks trade Braun to Flyers, acquire two draft picks]

"He can have all the time he needs to make whatever decision’s right for him," Sharks general manager Doug Wilson said of Thornton back in May, "But we love him. I think I’ve been in this business a long time, I’ve never met anyone like him and we cherish the days we have him."

Thornton's announcement Tuesday would seem to indicate there are plenty of more days left to cherish.

Sharks free-agency decisions: Should Joakim Ryan stay or go?

Sharks free-agency decisions: Should Joakim Ryan stay or go?

SAN JOSE - To say that the Sharks' blue line got banged up over last season is a bit of an understatement.

In addition to the long stretch of time Erik Karlsson missed with a groin injury, Marc-Edouard-Vlasic and Justin Braun were sidelined with their respective ailments, and Radim Simek had his stellar rookie season cut short by a knee injury that required surgery. 

When it came to filling the void left by San Jose's blueliners, Joakim Ryan was one Shark who was called upon to pencil into the lineup, ending the season with 44 regular-season games under his belt.

Now, Ryan is set to be a restricted free agent on July 1, and his future with the team -- like just about everyone else's on the free agent list -- is unclear. Here's a look at why he could stay in San Jose, and why he could be long gone.

Why he could stay

San Jose's defense is short a left-handed shot after trading Justin Braun to the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesay. With Jacob Middleton being the only other left-hander coming up the pipeline, Ryan might be the Sharks' only readily-available defenseman to fill that void. If Ryan stays, it's possible he and Middleton could fight for the same job.

Ryan also has experience playing alongside a Norris Trophy-winner in Brent Burns. The Cornell product had the difficult task of being "on call" for most of the season and most of that time was spent paired up with the Wookiee. Ryan was also the only defenseman coach Peter DeBoer put into the lineup during the playoffs when Erik Karlsson aggravated his groin injury.

Why he could go

Remember, Ryan started off the regular season alongside Burns before essentially being knocked out of that spot by Simek. Even as DeBoer called on him to fill in other times throughout the season, the coach still said on multiple occasions that he wanted to see more out of the 26-year-old who ended the season with seven assists and at a minus-15.

It's also highly unlikely the Sharks are done moving personnel around this summer as they make room to accommodate high priority free agents set to hit the market on July 1. Even with the Braun trade freeing up some cap space, San Jose can't keep every RFA and UFA on its current list of 21 players.

Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc -- both RFAs -- are likely to get locked into contracts before Ryan is.

The verdict

Although the Braun trade appears to leave the door open for Ryan to stay and get another chance at holding down a spot in San Jose's starting lineup, there's no guarantee the Sharks sign him to a deal. The coaching staff needed more out of him this past season, and the team is likely looking to sign other RFAs first.

With that in mind, it's possible Ryan could be playing somewhere else next season.

[RELATED: Why Erik Karlsson re-signed with Sharks]

For those worried about where that leaves the Sharks' defense, keep in mind: San Jose has a history of making trades over the weekend of the draft, so moves to San Jose's defense could still be made even within the week.

There's no reason to think the Sharks are done piecing next season's defense together just yet. Where Ryan could fit into that mix, however, is difficult to determine.