Sharks

Sharks praise Kevin Labanc after he tallies his first career NHL hat trick

Sharks praise Kevin Labanc after he tallies his first career NHL hat trick

Sharks veteran Joe Thornton recently commented on the depth of the team’s lineup, pointing out that a different player can step up in any game and lead the way.

On Saturday night in Edmonton, that player was Thornton’s linemate, Kevin Labanc.

The 23-year-old winger has been playing a confident game since the Sharks returned from their bye week, being reunited on a line with Thornton and Marcus Sorensen. His game reached new heights against the Oilers as he tallied his first career hat trick and led the way for San Jose to a 5-2 win.

“First one – that’s awesome to see,” Joe Pavelski said after the game. “They were nice goals too. He shot the puck really well tonight. Quick, accurate, hard.”

All three of Labanc’s goals were, indeed, nice to watch. From his tricky snap shot to open up scoring in the first frame to his nifty wrister on a second-period power play and his nice shot to split the defense in the third. On a night where the Sharks got contributions from different parts of the lineup, Labanc’s performance was a standout.

“He made some good plays out there and that was big for us,” Pavelski continued. “When we’ve come in here, we have guys that step up and have big nights. Kevin had a good one for us tonight.”

Labanc went a month without finding the back of the net, going through a drought between December 16 and January 16. He has since been contributing to the offense on almost a nightly basis. Since the team returned from their break on February 2, he’s registered six points (four goals, two assists) in four games. 

Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer contributed Labanc’s recent success to putting in a lot of time and evolving how his work ethic.

“Kevin’s a kid that has worked at his game since I got here, since four years ago at development camp,” DeBoer said. “He’s learned how to work. He’s learned from the Joe Thorntons and the Joe Pavelskis and the Brent Burnses of the world to put in extra time and take care of your body.

"He’s changed everything about his habits. (You) get rewarded for that.”

Having one of those veterans as a linemate doesn’t hurt either.

“I think playing with Joe Thornton helps,” DeBoer said after Thornton tied Gordie Howe on the NHL all-time assists list with his set-up of Labanc’s third goal on the evening. “You can never underestimate the importance of a guy like that with you and talking to you all the time.”

Above all, Labanc’s performance on Saturday night is a positive sign for the Sharks as regular season games wind down. San Jose needs contributions from all parts of the lineup on a nightly basis. In Edmonton, Labanc showed he can answer that call.

“We’ve had some good conversations with Kevin, and this is the last 30 games of the year,” DeBoer said. “You have to show that you can contribute and that you can be trusted in critical times as we had to the playoffs. I think he’s trying to prove a point.”

Sharks see limiting Vegas' dynamic offense as key to winning Game 7

Sharks see limiting Vegas' dynamic offense as key to winning Game 7

SAN JOSE – The Sharks’ victory in Game 6 on Sunday fit a winning formula they put into play during the regular season: Allow two goals or fewer, and you’ll win the game. That’s something that has proven to be true through the first-round series in the Stanley Cup playoffs against the Vegas Golden Knights, as San Jose has allowed two or fewer goals in all three of its wins. 

But despite that, the Sharks' last two games have showcased some troubling statistics. Namely, they've allowed a lot of shots to get through to goaltender Martin Jones.

Sure, Jones has been on his A-game the last two contests, and San Jose has done a better job of taking the center of the ice away from Vegas. But the Sharks still have room for improvement with the a decisive Game 7 at SAP Center on Tuesday. One of those things is, without a doubt, limiting the number of opportunities Vegas’ offense gets.

“We have to spend less time in our d-zone,” winger Evander Kane said Monday. “Be a little quicker to close and get out of the zone quicker. I think that will help cut down on some shots, and obviously we want to spend a little more time on the attack as well.”

Vegas has outshot San Jose in consecutive games. The Knights held a 32-29 edge in Game 5, then a massive 59-29 advantage in Game 6. They also created 19 high-danger chances compared to 12 for the Sharks, according to Natural Stat Trick. 

All of this happened even though San Jose’s defense has been pushing Vegas’ forwards out to the edges when they try to generate anything off of a rush. But, there’s no denying San Jose will want to bridge that gap in quality -- whether or not that also happens on the shot clock. 

“I thought there was a lot of perimeter stuff, but we’re still allowing those pucks to get to the net,” coach Peter DeBoer said. “So we’ve got to shut that down.”

Above all, limiting Vegas’ chances gives Jones the support he needs. After being pulled twice in three straight Sharks losses, their beleaguered starter has been absolutely nails, especially in the Game 6 win. San Jose center Logan Couture said Jones “was probably the reason we won that game.” Keeping the Knights – who will extra hungry after dropping two straight games – from getting any kind of a jump on Jones will be huge.

So how do the Sharks make that happen? Spending more time out their own zone, according to DeBoer.

"In order to do that, we have to forecheck better,” he said. “We have to play in the other team’s end more. I thought were a little disjointed offensively and excepted the game a little bit too much last night during some periods.”

That effort, however, doesn't start in the offensive zone. The Sharks, according to Couture, have to be more effective exiting their own zone. 

“I think we can forecheck better. Break out better," he said. "We can’t spend so much time in our own end and give up 59 shots again.”

[RELATED: How Sharks can (and can't) advance past Vegas in Game 7]

San Jose is all too aware of how momentum can shift back and forth in a crucial Game 7 situation. But the Sharks are more than up to facing that challenge.

“Things are going to happen, there are going to be swings throughout the game,” Couture said. “They’re fun games to play in. You relish it and enjoy it. This is what hockey is all about. That’s why it’s a fun sport to play.”

Five observations from Sharks' historic win to force Game 7 vs. Vegas

Five observations from Sharks' historic win to force Game 7 vs. Vegas

Easter Sunday 2019 will live in the history books for San Jose’s hockey team.  The hope is that it gets eclipsed with elation from the upcoming Game 7. But as for Game 6, it was a storybook thriller in all senses.  

Here are some takeaways from a 2-1 double-overtime win, where franchise history was made on a couple of different fronts.

Jones saves the day

Martin Jones made 58 saves. That’s never been done in any Sharks game, regular or postseason. Ever. What a statement from a goalie who was put on the ropes after Games 3 and 4 in Las Vegas.  Pulled in both, and not widely favored by critics to even be the starter in Game 5.  But Pete DeBoer made the bold statement, and Jones has now responded twice. What he did the last time in San Jose is not a “one-off”, and if the series finale turns out to be a goalie battle, you have to feel good about the guy in Teal.

First-timer

Tomas Hertl’s double-overtime, short-handed, game-winner… was also the first ever in Stanley Cup Playoff history.

Again, ever.  

It had been done before in single-overtime, but never after that. It was amazing to see Hertl fed with the puck and cross center ice seeming to lose some gas. Instead, he snapped one past Marc-Andre Fleury, and just like that, became the hero for a second straight game.  He predicted a Game 7, during that interview after Game 5… and here we are.

Another first-timer

Never in history had the Sharks been down in a series 3-1, and forced a seventh game. Until now. Sure, there’s a lot of work to be done for San Jose as it relates to advancing. But the way this series has played out in regard to momentum should clearly give them all the mental edge heading into Tuesday night. Las Vegas could have escaped the first round long ago, but now after missing on two opportunities, they have to come back to California again.  

Feelin' it, stealin' it

The Sharks stole one, on Sunday. They got out-shot 59-29. They got out-drawn 56% to 44%. San Jose didn’t always start with the puck, or have the puck, and didn’t always dominate gameplay.  But they did collapse in front of Jones and support their goalie with excellent net-front presence. It’s rare that the offense has a slow night, but they did, and fortunately, it wasn’t costly.

[RELATED: Hertl's double-OT winner in Game 6 highlights breakout season]

#TwoOrFewer

#TwoOrFewer lives on. The Sharks were 34-0 this season entering Sunday in games where they allowed two goals or fewer to the opponent. In fact, both their wins in this series had been earned that way, with respective 5-2 victories. But tonight, had Las Vegas won after regulation, it would have been their first loss while allowing two or fewer… and it would have also ended their season. Instead, the trend moves on to 35-0, and the thought has to be that if San Jose can win Game 7, it will largely be predicated on their play without the puck.