Searching for a spark, Sharks mix up their power play units

Searching for a spark, Sharks mix up their power play units

SAN JOSE – When you’re a team that has just one practice over a 16-day span, the details of your game are inevitably going to slip.

Nowhere has that been more evident for the Sharks than on their power play. In their last nine games since Dec. 9, San Jose is just 4-for-35 (11.4 percent) with a man advantage. Tuesday’s game in Anaheim was perhaps their most futile effort to date, as they went 0-for-4 with just four shots in eight minutes while giving up a handful of shorthanded chances the other way. 

Ahead 2-1 with a chance to increase the lead in the third period after Andrew Cogliano’s high-sticking minor, the Sharks didn’t register a single shot on goal, while Anaheim’s Kevin Bieksa nearly converted on a two-on-one the other way. The Ducks predictably tied it later on in the final frame before San Jose prevailed in overtime, 3-2.

Pete DeBoer has been reluctant to break up the Sharks’ top unit of Brent Burns, Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau, which has been so effective for several seasons, including last year when San Jose was third in the league on the power play. At Wednesday’s practice, though, it was Joel Ward in Marleau’s place, as the coach searches for some sort of spark. The second unit consisted of Marleau, Mikkel Boedker, Kevin Labanc, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Dylan DeMelo/David Schlemko.

“We’re looking at different options. We’re kind of at that point,” DeBoer said. “I think we need to explore everything. Like every decision you make, you try and let it run its course and give it as much time as you can, but obviously it’s not where we want it to be right now.”

Couture said: “I don’t know what the stats are, but feels like we haven’t scored a goal forever. Change is always something coaches go to, so we’ll see if it works.”

Ward’s role would seem to be clear – get his big body to the front of the net and try for a deflection, or clean up loose pucks lying around the crease. The season has been a struggle for the veteran so far with just two goals in 33 games, and he was recently a healthy scratch for two nights, to boot. But, now he has a chance to have an impact.

“Hopefully [I] can make it count, and stick there and help the boys out a little bit,” Ward said. “It’s a good opportunity.”

The Sharks extended practice on Wednesday – just their second since Dec. 12 – included more than just the power play. They weren’t pleased with their overall performance against the Ducks, and although they’ve won seven of their last eight, those complete, 60-minute efforts have eluded them on some recent nights they’ve managed to squeak out wins anyway.

Shootout victories against the Maple Leafs and Senators two weeks ago, in particular, were nights the Sharks got away with not being at the top of their game – just like on Tuesday against the Ducks. Still, they are encouraged that they’re finding a way to collect points despite some stretches of ineffectiveness, and they have a chance before Friday’s home game with the Flyers to clean some things up.

“The last two years it feels like there’s been many times where maybe we are having a tough game or [are] not playing our best, but we seem to find ways to get points,” Chris Tierney said. “It’s a lot of credit to guys bearing down. I think when things aren’t going well [we] just play real good defensively when maybe the offense isn’t there.”

Couture said: “It shows that we’re a good enough team to win when we’re not playing our best. You need games like that in this league, you can’t play a perfect 82.”

Keeping the puck out of their own net, thanks in large part to Martin Jones – whom Tierney referred to as “Vezina-like” – has been a strength since opening night. As long as that’s there, they’ll have a chance to win. Pretty or ugly.

“You can’t count on your power play for 82 games, but you can count on a foundation of defending a team defense and pressure,” DeBoer said. “We’ve been building that for a year-and-a-half, so that we can survive a month or two where your power play is maybe not red-hot.”

Getting more production out of it is still preferable.

Curtis and Ami Brown give back to families dealing with loss of a child

Curtis and Ami Brown give back to families dealing with loss of a child

Two years after losing four-month old daughter Aubri to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), former Sharks forward Curtis Brown and his wife Ami founded the Aubri Brown Club in 2007, in order to help families dealing with the sudden loss of a child. 

“We just found that experiencing our own loss, we saw ways that some weren’t being supported," Brown, who is currently a Sharks analyst with NBC Sports California, said Monday. "And that’s essentially why we raise money and awareness: To try to be there, ready and able to help families when they need us.” 

Brown told his friend Jonathan Smith, who had philanthropic experience, his "hopes and dreams" for the foundation. Smith pledged to help, and founded the "It's Not About The Golf" tournament, which just held its ninth annual fundraiser at the Half Moon Bay Golf Links on Monday.

The event, which featured a golf tournament during the day and a live auction later that night, included over 200 golfers and raised over $200,000, Brown told NBC Sports California on Tuesday. That's a far cry from the first one which "barely could fill 18 holes" and raised between $15,000-$20,000, according to Smith.

In all, the fundraisers have raised a total of $2 million for the Aubri Brown Club, Smith said.  The raised funds are used to cover the costs of counseling, as well as funeral and medical bills.

In the last year, the Aubri Brown Club supported 41 families, Ami Brown told attendees on Monday.

"Ami and Curtis went through something that not very many parents want to go through," former Sharks forward Jonathan Cheechoo said. "For them to step up and do this I think helps a lot of families out, and makes their loss more manageable."

Cheechoo, who played with Brown in 2004 and from 2006-08, was part of a strong San Jose contingent at the event. Sharks rookie Dylan Gambrell, ex-Sharks Douglas Murray and Owen Nolan, and San Jose broadcasters Randy Hahn, Bret Hedican, and Dan Rusanowsky also participated.

Sharks avoid arbitration, re-sign Chris Tierney to two-year deal


Sharks avoid arbitration, re-sign Chris Tierney to two-year deal

Just two days before one was scheduled, the Sharks avoided an arbitration hearing with center Chris Tierney, and re-signed the restricted free agent to a two-year deal on Wednesday, the team announced. The deal is reportedly worth just shy of $2.94 million annually, according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman

"Chris had his best season as a professional last year and stepped up his level of play in multiple areas," San Jose general manager Doug Wilson said in a statement. "We've always known he was a responsible, defensive-minded player, but he took his offensive game to the next tier and showed that he can be a productive player in all three zones. We look forward to watching him continue his evolution in 2018-19." 

Last season, the 24-year-old Tierney set career-highs in goals (17), assists (23), points (40), shots on goal (118), and ice time (16:00). Tierney also generated expected goals at the highest rate of his career (0.62 per hour), according to Corsica Hockey. 

A 2012 second-round pick, Tierney entered last season in an uncertain place. He signed his one-year, $735,000 qualifying offer last summer, and head coach Peter DeBoer challenged him to improve. 

“I came into the year wanting to prove a point. I believe in myself. I think I’m a good hockey player,” Tierney told the San Jose Mercury News in December. “I wanted to come in and show people that I could play an offensive role on the team.”  

DeBoer used Tierney slightly differently this season, as the forward started a career-high percentage of five-on-five shifts in the offensive zone (31.12 percent) and a career-low percentage of defensive zone starts (29.68 percent), per Corsica Hockey. Tierney responded in kind with his aforementioned career-best offensive numbers, and seized the third-line center role after versatile forward Tomas Hertl stayed on the wing.  

With Tierney back in the fold, the Sharks now have just under $4.4 million in salary cap space, according to CapFriendly. That’s for a roster carrying 14 forwards, seven defenseman, and two goaltenders, and San Jose’s actual cap space may change depending on the outcome of various positional battles in training camp. 

This summer, Tierney became the fourth Sharks player since 2008 to file for arbitration. In every case, including with Tierney on Wednesday, a settlement was reached prior to a hearing. 

The Sharks also signed a pair of prospects to entry-level contracts on Wednesday. Defenseman Ryan Merkley, San Jose’s first-round pick this June, and 21-year-old forward Alexander True, who scored 28 points in 68 games with the AHL’s San Jose Barracuda last season, both inked deals with the organization.