Sharks maintain controversial penalty was turning point in loss to Vegas

Sharks maintain controversial penalty was turning point in loss to Vegas

SAN JOSE – You could point to a couple of reasons why the Sharks lost the second game of their best-of-seven first-round matchup against the Golden Knights, but the controversial goalie interference call early in the second period was perhaps the biggest turning point of the entire contest.

Not surprisingly, the two teams are split on how everything unfolded and whether the officials made the right call.

At roughly 51 seconds into the second period with the scoreboard knotted up 3-3, Marc-Andre Fleury came out of the crease to defend a shot from Brent Burns, which Logan Couture appeared to tip into Vegas’ net. But the goal was almost instantly waived off, with the ref calling goaltender interference on Couture before sending him to the box to serve a two-minute minor. 

Instead of the Sharks going up 4-3 on Couture's tip-in, the Knights converted on the ensuing power play less than a minute later on their way to a 5-3 victory. 

Here’s where some explanation is necessary. According to NHL Rule 69.4

“If an attacking player initiates any contact with a goalkeeper, other than incidental contact, while the goalkeeper is outside his goal crease, and a goal is scored, the goal will be disallowed. A goalkeeper is not “fair game” just because he is outside the goal crease. The appropriate penalty should be assessed in every case where an attacking player makes unnecessary contact with the goalkeeper.”

The issue of whether the “appropriate penalty was assessed” is where things get messy.

When Sharks’ head coach Peter DeBoer discussed what he referred to as a “devastating” call, he argued that Couture should not have been penalized and that San Jose should have been able to challenge the ruling on the ice.

[RELATED: Sharks and Golden Knights combine for historic first period]

“The problem I’ve got with that is that, for one, (Couture’s) entitled to that ice,” DeBoer recounted, “and because Fleury is outside the crease and he’s just going to that area outside the crease there’s no intent at all to run into Fleury.
“The travesty of the call is that if they had called it goalie interference, we could have challenged it,” he continued. “I think the league would’ve recognized Fleury was outside the crease, probably would have awarded us a goal and we’re up 4-3 at that time and it’s a different game. But it’s a two-goal swing, because he calls the penalty, even though there’s zero intent to hit Fleury and Fleury’s outside the area he should be.”

Members of the Sharks agreed, not holding back that they thought Fleury was too far outside of the paint for Couture to avoid him. 

“They do a lot of complaining about Fleury and the traffic in front,” Evander Kane said. “But, when you’re exiting the blue paint three extra feet, it makes it awful tough as an opposition to try and stay away from him without battling a d-man in front of the net. So, it was a pretty good reaction by [Fleury] and he tricked us. Tricked them.”

It probably doesn’t help that the players don’t think there is much consistency in enforcing the rule. “I was under the impression that if it was outside the blue, it’s not goaltender interference,” said backup netminder Aaron Dell, who was on the other side of the ice when the call occurred. “It looked like [Couture] barely touched him, from what I could see. I’m not sure what the ref saw on that side, he had a better angle of it. I don’t know, it’s just been kind of murky on the consistency on that one.”

Knights’ head coach Gerard Gallant, on the other hand, saw something very different from where he was standing behind Vegas’ bench. 

“(Couture) hit him in the head,” Gallant said to the press after the game, using the word “awesome” in reference to the call. “(Fleury) tried to play the puck, he's defending his goal. He's trying to play the puck, and the guy skates through the blue paint and bumps him in the head. So, to me, it's pretty obvious. I don't know what they're saying over there, but did you guys see? Did you guys see it? I mean, it's pretty obvious to me."

Fleury had his own view of the play when asked about it after the game. "I didn't have much of a view, it was just somebody in my face,” the netminder said. “I don't know. I was looking at the puck, and then I couldn't move to my right because he was there and that's where the puck was going. I'm glad the ref made a call."

The results of the call put Vegas in a position to take back the momentum of the game. Even though San Jose had four opportunities on the power play after that, they weren’t able to add to their score. Although the Sharks could have tied the contest back up, it’s hard to ignore the turning point less than a minute into the second period.

“That one call is a two-goal swing in the game and it’s devastating for our group,” DeBoer said. “It’s a shame.”

Martin Jones 'really solid' in preseason debut despite Sharks' loss

Martin Jones 'really solid' in preseason debut despite Sharks' loss

SAN JOSE - Martin Jones didn't give up a goal in the first few minutes of Saturday's game against the Vegas Golden Knights. In many of his starts last season, that was not the case.

And even though Saturday's game was a preseason tuneup, it was a good sign.

Jones is entering the upcoming season under a bit more scrutiny than some of his previous campaigns. His save percentage dipped in 2019 from .915 to .896, and his habit of giving up the first goal early in games had the team in front of him playing from behind on one too many occasions.

Despite ending the season tied for the third-most regular-season wins among goalies across the league last year, there's no denying he needs to be better in his 2019-20 campaign.

Although the Sharks fell to the rival Golden Knights 3-1 on Saturday evening, Sharks' head coach Peter DeBoer was happy with Jones' first preseason outing.

"I thought he was really solid," DeBoer said afterward. "I thought he played a really good game."

Jones appeared to see the game pretty well for most of the evening, flashing the leather a few times when the Vegas offense began to pick up steam.

Even though Vegas' next two goals -- scored by familiar foes Max Pacioretty and Alex Tuch -- were a bit reminiscent of goals scored against Jones last year, the goalie was able to rebound and shake off a little more of that preseason rust. 

Score aside, Jones' first preseason contest gives more hope that San Jose's goaltending arsenal can bounce back this season. Jones' backup, Aaron Dell, impressed in his first preseason showing last week against the Anaheim Ducks.

This has created some suspicion that one of San Jose's young netminders have a window to fight for the backup job. With just two preseason games left until the Sharks' 2019-20 campaign opens up on the road in Las Vegas, both goalies are bound to get more work in as they gear up for the regular season.

On that same note, San Jose still has roles to fill on their roster, and just about a week to make some decisions as to who will skate with the big club on opening night. 

In Saturday's game against the Golden Knights, forward Lean Bergmann and defenseman Mario Ferraro were the big standouts. But as DeBoer told the press after the game, this audition period is now drawing to a close and his roster needs to be put together.

[RELATED: How Sharks can fill void on defense until Radim Simek re-joins team]

"You start running out of evaluation nights," the head coach said. "We're getting close. We have to start getting our group together and start to get ready. That's what this is about. So the guys, I think, between the training camp scrimmages and the exhibition games, have had more than enough opportunity to show us what they can do."

San Jose's final three preseason games will be against the Ducks, Flames, and Golden Knights. 

How Sharks can fill void on defense until Radim Simek re-joins team


How Sharks can fill void on defense until Radim Simek re-joins team

It's a darn good thing the Sharks have a bevy of talent coming up the pipeline -- especially on defense.

With news coming out of training camp Friday that Radim Simek is questionable to be ready for game-action when the season opens on Oct. 2, the focus shifts not just to when he might finally rejoin the team, but to who will most likely fill in that void on San Jose's blue line.

With four preseason games remaining, San Jose has a couple of options when it comes to filling in that roster spot.

Being that Simek is a left-handed shooter, the best bets to pencil into the roster from San Jose's group of young talent are Jacob Middleton and Mario Ferraro. Middleton has a strong chance of being the go-to guy, having been recalled from the Barracuda on a few occasions last season to fill in when the injury bug bit the Sharks' blue line especially hard.

Fans might remember Middleton's surprise NHL debut back in January when he went from prepping for a road trip with the Barracuda one night to practicing alongside Brent Burns the following morning. At that time, left-handed defensemen Simek and Marc-Edouard Vlasic were both out of the lineup.

Even with Middleton's prior experience at the NHL level, Ferraro will likely still be a consideration to make the opening night roster. The 21-year-old has been impressing the organization since he participated in rookie development camp back in July and has continued that trend through training camp. Ferraro also has recently been paired up in camp with Dalton Prout -- who the Sharks will likely keep in mind to fill in should one of their right-handed defensemen be sidelined.

Having a few different players who can file into the lineup also gives DeBoer more options as far as mixing and matching his d-pairs. Middleton filled right into Simek's spot alongside Burns last year, and should the pairing of Brenden Dillon and Erik Karlsson stay intact, the Middleton-Burns pairing could be reunited with Vlasic being paired up with Tim Heed. If both Ferraro and Prout demonstrate they're a reliable pair to start, the duo might get the nod which would keep Vlasic and Burns skating together as they have been through the start of the preseason.

Of course, those are just guesses as to how DeBoer's lineup will shake up until Simek comes back healthy.

Naturally, the best-case scenario is that Simek gets into the lineup sooner rather than later. San Jose did go 29-9-3 with a healthy Simek in the lineup last season, after all. Plus, Simek's ticket into a regular roster spot was his uncanny chemistry with Burns.

[RELATED: Why Sharks expect Meier to take step forward]

That being said, the Sharks don't want to rush the Czech defenseman back into the lineup too quickly. Sure, Simek has been training for some time now, following surgery to repair the ACL and MCL in his right knee. Teammate Tomas Hertl told the press on the first day of camp that he talked to Simek over the summer and that the blueliner has been "working his ass off" to get back into playing shape. Nevertheless, the Sharks don't want to bring Simek back to quickly and risk him re-injuring himself.

At least the Sharks have good options for filling out their blue line until he returns.