Rewind: Sharks tighten up to capture regular season finale


Rewind: Sharks tighten up to capture regular season finale

SAN JOSE – It was fairly early in the first period when Saturday’s Sharks-Coyotes game started to get a bit ugly.

Roman Polak pounded Tobias Rieder along the wall from behind, earning a boarding minor at 3:07 and shaking up the Arizona forward. About five minutes later, after the Sharks successfully killed off the penalty, Shane Doan grabbed Polak and initiated a fight in the neutral zone, earning 19 minutes of penalties.

The fans, of course, were delighted with the entertainment. But the last thing the Sharks needed, with the game a meaningless one in the standings and the club icing just about its full roster, was a gong show.

Eventually the hostility decreased, the Sharks exhibited a solid game defensively, and Joe Pavelski’s power play marker capped off the 82-game regular season with a 1-0 win.

"I think the guys are pretty good about it,” said coach Pete DeBoer, when asked if he needed to settle his bench down to prevent the match from getting out of control. “It pushed us into the game a little bit, which I don't think is a bad thing."

[RECAP: Instant Replay: Jones, Pavelski lift Sharks past Coyotes in finale]

Facing the lottery-bound Coyotes on Saturday and Jets on Thursday was a challenge for San Jose, assured of third place in the Pacific, according to Logan Couture. They want to come out on top, but they also don’t want anyone to go down just before the real season begins.

Even more important than Saturday’s win is that the Sharks will start the postseason next week with a generally healthy roster. Paul Martin was the only regular scratched for the Coyotes game, but had it been the playoffs, he would have been in.

“These last couple games were kind of tough to play, knowing that we’re locked in to that spot,” Couture said. “Just trying not to get hurt, really.”

The Sharks wanted to put forth a better effort than in Thursday’s loss to the Jets, when they gave up five goals including the game-winner with less than 10 seconds to go in regulation. Martin Jones, still the expected starter in the playoffs, gave up all five.

Finding that defensive structure again in front of Jones, who notched a 20-save shutout, was at the top of the to-do list against Arizona.

“It’s good to see the guys come back out and reestablish our game,” Pavelski said. “Created some chances. [Coyotes goalie Mike] Smith was good over there. Joner was just as good, and it’s good to get a win here.”

Jones said: “I think more important than the result, we just wanted to play well heading into the playoffs. Did some good things, got the big power play goal and played really solid defensively."

[KURZ: Thornton named as Sharks Player of the Year]

Special teams was the difference. Pavelski’s goal came on a seam pass from Joe Thornton at 7:29 of the third period, with the Coyotes down two men. The Sharks went 0-for-4 in the first period with a man advantage before finally cashing in.

“Power play wasn’t great early, but we found a way to get one,” Couture said.

The penalty kill came up big with San Jose protecting its third period lead. Minors to Couture for high-sticking and a delay of game to Tommy Wingels went unpunished by Arizona.

DeBoer said: “We were tight defensively. We got a power play goal. There was a lot of good stuff.”

Are they ready for the playoffs?

“We’ve been ready, I think,” Pavelski said. “A lot of work to get back here. A lot of guys had great years so far, but now the real season starts. ... We don’t want to change anything, the way we’ve been playing. There’s a certain formula to it.”

Sharks top prospect Ryan Merkley modeling his game after Erik Karlsson

Sharks top prospect Ryan Merkley modeling his game after Erik Karlsson

When it comes to the Sharks' top prospects, 19-year-old defenseman Ryan Merkley is in a tier unto himself.

San Jose selected Merkley with the No. 21 overall pick of the 2018 NHL Draft after he slipped due to character concerns. His talent, however, has never been in question and was too good to pass up.

Merkley impressed during his participation in the Sharks' rookie camp last September, and just completed what is likely to be his final season in junior hockey with the OHL's London Knights. With 15 goals and 76 points, he was the OHL's second-highest scoring defenseman, and his 61 assists ranked fourth-most in the entire league. London's season was brought to a premature conclusion due to the coronavirus pandemic, at which time the Knights sat in first place in their conference with a 45-15-2 record. San Jose's top prospect played a key role in their success.

"Ryan had a very good year," Sharks scouting director Doug Wilson Jr. said last week on a conference call (H/T The Athletic's Kevin Kurz). "In his career, every single season he scored more goals, he had more assists, he had more points and his plus-minus got better all four years in the OHL. I’m very excited about Ryan."

Always an offensive standout, Merkley is a great skater with advanced vision and tremendous passing ability. Though he has added more than 10 pounds in weight since the rookie camp, he's never going to be an imposing physical specimen, and his defense definitely is the area where he'll need to improve most. The Sharks, however, have someone specific in mind for him to learn from and model his game after.

"The biggest thing with [Merkley] was he’s never going to hit guys like Brent Burns or Radim Simek, he’s going to play defense more like Erik Karlsson," Wilson Jr. added. "If we can get him to use his stick to angle guys off in the neutral zone and then get the puck going north faster, that’s how he’s going to play defense. I think that’s what you saw this year with him."

Karlsson has long been regarded as one of the top defensemen in the NHL, and deservedly so. He signed an eight-year contract extension prior to the currently-paused season, so he should be around for quite a while. Merkley has a long way to go to get on Karlsson's level, but he already has been studying the former Norris Trophy winner for some time now.

"Yeah. He’s not the biggest of bodies, but he’s a great skater and closes up the gap well, makes that great first pass," Merkley told Kurz about Karlsson. "I do think there are some similarities and things I can look up to. Obviously, he’s one of the best in the world. So [Wilson Jr.] and [the Sharks staff] were big on me watching him and watching the way he defends. It’s just (about) growing, getting better and getting more reps."

In addition to Karlsson, Merkley has another Sharks' defenseman to learn from in Mario Ferraro. They roomed together during the rookie camp, and Merkley made sure to follow Ferraro's extremely successful rookie season.

"For sure, it was awesome for him. I was excited for Mario," Merkley said. "He got a good chunk of NHL games. He’s a workhorse. I’ve never seen anybody (take care of) the body and (do) what he does off the ice. It’s incredible. He never stops moving out there, his work ethic is incredible. He’ll play a long time in the league because there’s not many that take care of their body like that or work as hard as he does. It’s awesome, something I can look up to and follow."

[RELATED: What NHL's potential 24-team return could mean for Sharks]

Ferraro projects as a future top-pair defenseman and it wouldn't be surprising if he eventually was involved in the captaincy. The Sharks are hoping Merkley turns out just as well.

And, if they end up with another Karlsson ... that's the dream.

NHLPA OKs further talks with NHL on 24-team return; Sharks' season could end


NHLPA OKs further talks with NHL on 24-team return; Sharks' season could end

The NHL and the players' association took a big step toward returning to the ice, but it could mean the Sharks' 2019-20 season is over.

The NHLPA announced Friday night that it has "authorized further negotiations with the NHL" on a 24-team return to play format.

As the players' association noted, the sides still have more details to work out before the league officially can resume the season that was suspended in March because of the coronavirus pandemic.

While no specifics were provided on the teams that would be allowed to resume playing, the Sharks are not one of the 24 best teams in the NHL standings.

The Sharks possessed the worst record in the Western Conference (29-36-5; 63 points) and the third-worst record in the NHL when the season was suspended.

[RELATED: What went wrong for Sharks]

If this is how the Sharks' season concludes, it will put an end to a campaign in which the team entered with high expectations.

Last season, the Sharks made it to the Western Conference finals before losing to the eventual Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues.

The Sharks again were expected to contend for the Stanley Cup this season, but the departure of several veterans, combined with poor play early in the campaign, led to the firing of coach Peter DeBoer after 33 games. Bob Boughner took over as interim coach, but San Jose skated to just a 14-20-3 record under him.