Reasons to believe Sharks can defeat Golden Knights in NHL Playoffs

Reasons to believe Sharks can defeat Golden Knights in NHL Playoffs

SAN JOSE -- There was plenty of worry when the Sharks had trouble winning games at the end of their regular season campaign. Even once they had a playoff spot clinched, reoccurring mistakes and concerns over the team’s health loomed. Not to mention knowledge their first-round opponent, the Vegas Golden Knights, had knocked them out of the playoffs the previous year.

But San Jose ended their 2018-19 campaign on a high note, and now, practice for the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs are officially underway. Critics across the league may still be picking Vegas, but the Sharks are every bit capable of knocking last year’s Western Conference champion out of the postseason.

First and foremost, the Sharks are finally healthy. Erik Karlsson not only looked strong after rejoining San Jose for the regular-season finale, but he clocked a whopping 22:01 minutes of ice time to boot. Joe Thornton, who missed last year’s playoffs due to a knee injury, is successfully leading the third offensive line at an astounding pace. Even Timo Meier, who missed the regular-season finale against the Avalanche with a suspected wrist injury, is expected to be game-ready for Game 1 at SAP Center on Wednesday evening. As the Sharks have shown during the regular season, they are a dangerous and deep group on the ice when their best players are in their best shape.

The depth a healthy Sharks’ roster brings to the ice is what they need to have success against Marc-Andre Fleury. The netminder missed time late in the regular season and lost his last two starts of his campaign, but San Jose knows he can play to another level once the playoffs start. During the Knights’ unprecedented playoff run last year, he made 453 saves on 490 shots-against. Over two starts against San Jose during the regular season, he registered a .950 save percentage.

“When he plays against us, he seems to be on top of his game,” Justin Braun said of Fleury. “Every chance you get, you’ve got to make count against these guys. I think [the Sharks] know that and they’ll be dialed in.”

Getting dialed in doesn’t just take place on the offensive side of the puck. San Jose’s defense has to buckle down and be darn near flawless against Vegas' potent attack, whether it’s the skilled William Karlsson-led top line or a heavy bottom-six with big players like Alex Tuch and Ryan Reaves. The Sharks already know they have to be on another level defensively, especially after being outscored by Vegas in last year’s playoffs 22-14.

“We scored enough to win, we just gave up too much,” Logan Couture said, recalling last year’s second round matchup with Vegas. “Going into this series, we have to be pretty tight defensively if we want to win it.”

[RELATED: Why Sharks can't start poorly against Golden Knights]

Perhaps one of the most important things the Sharks have going for them is knowing they can’t let Vegas get a rise out of them. The Knights are masters at agitating their opponents -- something the Sharks know quite well from four hard-hitting regular season contests. Committing early on to being disciplined works in San Jose’s favor.

“There are enough guys who have played enough playoff games in here to realize what it takes to win, and sometimes you’ve got to take some hits to make plays and not retaliate,” Logan Couture said. “I believe that’s something we’re capable of doing in here.”

Braun agreed. “You don’t want to be taking penalties or running around doing stupid things just to hit guys,” he summarized. “They’ll take advantage of that. Play hard, but play smart.”

If San Jose can stick to that gameplan and stay healthy, the Sharks should be in very good shape. 

Patrick Marleau thanks Sharks fans for warm welcome back to San Jose

Patrick Marleau thanks Sharks fans for warm welcome back to San Jose

Patrick Marleau is home. For the first time since returning to the Sharks, Marleau skated in front of the home fans at SAP Center on Sunday night. 

As you might guess, it was an emotional scene for both Marleau and the Sharks faithful. The 40-year-old couldn't help but let out a few tears when fans erupted at the sight of him on the jumbotron in the first period of a 3-1 win over the Flames

On Monday, Marleau took to Twitter through his wife Christina's account to thank Sharks fans for such a warm welcome back to The Tank.

[RELATED: Patrick Marleau left lasting mark on Maple Leafs]

The Sharks, who dropped their first four games this season, have now won two straight since signing Marleau to a one-year contract on Oct. 8. He already has three points -- two goals and an assist -- in the two victories.

Marleau spent the first 19 seasons of his 22-year NHL career with the Sharks before he signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs prior to the 2017-18 season. He's San Jose's all-time leader in games played (1,495), goals (510) and points (1,085).

Dylan Gambrell's improved play aiding Sharks' quest for four-line game

Dylan Gambrell's improved play aiding Sharks' quest for four-line game

SAN JOSE - One of the biggest criticisms of the Sharks at this early point in the season has been that its younger players hadn't stepped up yet.

That changed on Sunday evening in San Jose's 3-1 win over the Calgary Flames. 

Sure, San Jose's young stars Timo Meier, Tomas Hertl, and Kevin Labanc all found the net in the victory. But when Hertl and captain Logan Couture addressed the media postgame, independent of each other, both pointed to newcomer Dylan Gambrell's emergence over the last few games as a key factor in the Sharks' recent success.

Gambrell's positive production as fourth-line center is giving San Jose more offensive depth. While the Sharks' forward attack is still a work in progress, the 23-year-old forward is evolving into the pivotal player the team needs.

"He's been given an opportunity and these last two games he's really shown what he's been capable of," Couture said. "When we have that line playing well and the other three rolling over, we're a tough team to beat."

Head coach Peter DeBoer agreed with the assessment of his captain.

"For him, that's all about competing," DeBoer said of Gambrell. "Sticking his nose in there and competing. His skill and speed will take over and he's starting to do that here regularly."

There was a spotlight on Gambrell heading into training camp after he signed a two-year contract following a season in which he bounced between the AHL and NHL. But the University of Denver product didn't readily establish his game when he was plugged into the top six through the preseason and, like the majority of the Sharks, struggled out of the gate in the first few games of the regular season. 

After penciling back onto the fourth line, Gambrell's game visibly changed. 

"I think he saw that he was close to being sent back. That's the reality of it," DeBoer admitted. "He wasn't as effective (in training camp) as he is now. And maybe that's on us. Maybe we asked him to do too much. We played him on the wing on the top two lines and maybe it was too much for him."

Back at the center position on that fourth line, however, the speedy forward has been on an upward trend. He's been more effective in the faceoff circle and more aggressive on the puck, which gives San Jose depth down the middle that they, frankly, have been missing since last season.

"He had a little tough start but now he's playing a really hard game and this is what we need," Hertl said. "Good on faceoffs, strong on the puck."

Continuing that higher level of compete can make the Sharks' quest to establish a four-line game a bit smoother. As San Jose has encountered through the first six games of the season, the Western Conference is stacked with teams that can get production out of any line they roll out onto the ice. While the Sharks' offense is still in the process of getting healthy -- Marcus Sorensen is still sidelined -- the team needs to get its four-line game in place if they're going to completing recover from their rough start to the season.

[RELATED: Sharks fans give Marleau standing ovation]

"In this league, you need four lines," Hertl summarized. "It's not about just one line. Every night you need four lines plus your goalie."

If Gambrell can continue this upward trend, the Sharks have a better chance of achieving that goal.