Sharks

Sharks' game vs. Golden Knights good barometer for division standings

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Sharks' game vs. Golden Knights good barometer for division standings

Fans probably don't want to talk about it. Or just wish it never happened. But it wasn't that long ago that the Sharks opened up their 2019-20 campaign with a home-and-home against the Golden Knights, plunging the team into a 0-2-0 hole.

Fast forward to late November and San Jose, while just recently having a six-game winning streak snapped, still is trying to dig themselves out of that hole. They find themselves, once again, facing off against their rivals from Vegas. And while the Knights have run into their own share of roadblocks through the early part of the season, they're still four points ahead of the Sharks in the Pacific Division standings.

Thursday's game is a big test for San Jose. One that can expose whether the Sharks have a chance of completely crawling out of the division cellar.

Vegas is only 3-4-2 in the month of November and went on a five-game losing skid while the Sharks were stringing wins together. They haven't been very healthy either, with everyone from Cody Eakins to Marc-Andre Fleury being sidelined with injuries through the first month and a half of the season. 

That being said, the Knights have won their last two contests, having shut out the Flames 6-0 and upending the downtrodden Maple Leafs 4-2. In the process, they have wiggled their way into third place in the Pacific Division standings.

Plus -- while fans probably hate to admit this -- the Knights have a way of getting into the Sharks' heads. Through just 10 regular-season contests between the two teams, San Jose is 3-6-1 and has given up an average of 4.1 goals per game.

While the sample size is small, it's still the largest goals-against margin the Sharks have against any team in the entire league.

Facing off against a tough Vegas team isn't the only obstacle San Jose will face on Thursday night -- they will also be missing one of their top forwards. Tomas Hertl will miss Thursday's contest at T-Mobile Arena with a lower-body injury, forcing the Sharks to shuffle up their lines and add Antti Suomela -- who has yet to play an NHL this season -- into the mix.

Losing a player like Hertl, who ranks second on the team with 21 points, will put even more pressure on San Jose when it comes to scoring against a Vegas squad that has outscored them 41-23 over the course of two-plus seasons.

Needless to say, San Jose's defense has to be significantly tighter against Vegas than it was on Tuesday night against the Oilers. Edmonton's forward attack had little problem skating through the neutral zone, and if San Jose isn't careful, they could fall into the same trap against Vegas.

[RELATED: Hertl out, Dell to start in net for Sharks vs. Vegas]

Not to mention that the Oilers got production from all four of their lines and aren't a team known for having depth at the forward position. If the Sharks had trouble containing that team, what's going to happen against a Golden Knights team that regularly rolls out four lines?

This isn't to say the Sharks have no chance of defeating the Knights on Thursday night. It is a big test, however, that can show exactly where San Jose stands this season. If the first two games of the season are any indication, Thursday's game could get ugly in a hurry.

2020 NHL Draft lottery: Sharks benefit from Rangers getting No. 1 pick

2020 NHL Draft lottery: Sharks benefit from Rangers getting No. 1 pick

The Sharks' NHL draft lottery woes didn't go from bad to worse Monday.

The Ottawa Senators won't get the chance to select top prospect Alexis Lafreniere with the Sharks' pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, and none of San Jose's division or conference rivals will be able to select him, either. The New York Rangers won Phase 2 of the draft lottery, grabbing the No. 1 selection in this year's draft after bowing out to the Carolina Hurricanes in the qualifying round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Lafreniere, widely expected to be the No. 1 pick in this year's draft, has franchise-defining talent. He has scored a whopping 297 points in the last three years in the QMJHL, including 112 in 52 games this season. The Sharks can rest easy knowing no team in the Pacific Division or Western Conference will have Lafreniere on a rookie deal for the next three years, though it was a possibility.

The Edmonton Oilers, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators and Winnipeg Jets each had a 12.5 percent chance of landing the top pick (and thus Lafreniere) entering Monday night. Each team had at least 15 more points than the cellar-dwelling Sharks when the NHL season was suspended in March, and San Jose's path back to contention is fraught enough without adding a Lafreniere-starring team in the division or conference.

[RELATED: Why bringing Marleau back makes plenty of sense for Sharks]

The Sharks surely breathed a sigh of relief once they learned the Senators would select No. 3 overall with the pick San Jose used to acquire defenseman Erik Karlsson nearly two years ago, and they can do so again knowing Lafreniere won't be out west. The 2019-20 season will still sting, of course, if Ottawa's selection is used to draft an eventual franchise cornerstone, but the Sharks haven't had many victories to fall back upon in the last calendar year and this would certainly qualify.

It won't mean much if the Sharks aren't soon able to chart a path back to contention, though.

Why Sharks should sign Patrick Marleau for third go-around in San Jose

Why Sharks should sign Patrick Marleau for third go-around in San Jose

It has been widely presumed that if Patrick Marleau returns for a 23rd NHL season, he will do so with the Sharks, back where it all began.

He still is without a Stanley Cup on his career résumé after he and the Pittsburgh Penguins were eliminated by the Montreal Canadiens in the qualifying round of the NHL's expanded playoff format. The Penguins acquired him prior to the trade deadline in exchange for a 2021 third-round draft pick after he returned for his second go-around with San Jose early in the season.

Based on what his wife, Christina, tweeted Friday, it appears Marleau already has made up his mind about playing next season.

That really shouldn't come as a surprise. Though he isn't the top-end player he once was, Marleau showed this past season that he still has some left in the tank. And, on top of that, he only needs to play in 45 more games to pass NHL legend Gordie Howe for the most games played in league history.

Frankly, it would only be fitting if he set the record in a Sharks sweater. And now it would appear the ball is in San Jose's court as to whether or not Marleau will return to the franchise that drafted him with the No. 2 overall pick in the 1997 Entry Draft.

Aside from the appetizing narrative, there's reason why Marleau might get a third go-around in teal. All indications are that the Sharks intend to return to playoff contention next season, but due to their salary structure, don't expect any large salaries to be brought in -- San Jose already has plenty of those. Consequently, the Sharks are going to need to fill the lineup with some minimum-salaried players.

[RELATED: Sharks' Hertl 'finally back' on ice after tearing ACL, MCL]

At this point, you can bet that money isn't a top consideration for Marleau. If a true Cup contender doesn't present him with an offer, it would be difficult to envision a more appealing destination for him than San Jose. Marleau could be signed for the veteran's minimum, and given he scored 10 goals in 58 games with the Sharks this year, that might be a pretty good value.

It's certainly possible the Sharks find a superior player to take Marleau's hypothetical spot, or would rather give it to a younger player that is part of the future.

If that's not the case, though, signing Mr. Shark makes an awful lot of sense.