Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 5-0 loss in Game 4 vs. Vegas

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 5-0 loss in Game 4 vs. Vegas


If watching the Sharks lose Game 3 for their first-round Stanley Cup playoffs series was painful for fans, watching Game 4 was just downright frustrating.

San Jose outshot and outplayed the Vegas Golden Knights for stretches Tuesday, but the Sharks now are facing elimination after a 5-0 loss in Game 4. Some lineup changes injected life into the team, but the puck did not bounce their way -- or stay out of their net. 

Here are three takeaways as the Sharks trail 3-1 in the series.

Fleury on fire

There's just no denying it. The Sharks could have had a lead over the Golden Knights at the end of the first period with how hard they were working offensively. All four of San Jose's newly-fashioned lines were pressing to find the back of the net, not showing any let-up or quit.

But Fleury, who San Jose's offense was able to frustrate so well in Game 1, just wouldn't budge. Even before he stopped Evander Kane on a breakaway chance in the second period, it was clear he was making a case for being the first star on the evening.

Fleury's defense also did their part to halt the Sharks' best attempts to get on the board. Even though San Jose did good work to keep the puck in the offensive zone and continued applying pressure, Vegas' defensive effort added to Fleury's magnificent performance by blocking 18 shots on the evening.

Even when the Sharks wre able to get around Vegas defense, they couldn't find a way to score. On the other side of the ice, however ...

No help between the pipes

Sharks fans might've been tempted to breathe a sigh of relief when goaltender Martin Jones didn't allow the first goal of the game in the first minute of the first period -- until Max Pacioretty put the Knights up 11 seconds after it ended. San Jose's offense grinded on the other end to try for the equalizer, outshooting Vegas 18-7 in the first period.

But, the Knights scored the next goal, taking a 2-0 lead into the second period. It arguably was the goal that changed the game, and it wasn't much of a surprise when Aaron Dell took over duties between the pipes starting in the second stanza.

The Sharks' defense shouldn't have allowed Shea Theodore to maneuver his way through the Sharks' zone so easily, but Jones still needed to stop the puck on that play. Sharks coach Peter DeBoer noted during the team's losses down the stretch that they weren't getting the saves they needed, and the first period of Game 4 was the perfect example of that.

Given the number of goals Jones has surrendered in the last three games -- within the first five minutes of the period or otherwise -- it goes to wonder if DeBoer decides to start Dell in net when the series returns to San Jose for Game 5 on Thursday.

[RELATED: Déjà vu all over again for Sharks to open Game 4 vs. Vegas]

Defensive effort isn't getting it done

San Jose has had the bodies to fill in for injured players, but it was evident in Game 4 they still miss Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Really, the Sharks' big defensive woes started back in Game 2 after Vlasic left after getting hit by a Shea Theodore shot.

It hasn't helped that Erik Karlsson hasn't looked healthy since Game 3, nor have the Sharks' abundance of turnovers since the series shifted Sin City. Poor puck management has given the Knights plenty of chances to capitalize, and they have done just that. 

San Jose now faces elimination Thursday when the series returns to SAP Center for Game 5, and the Sharks' defensive effort has let the team down two games in a row. If they are going to have any chance of defeating the Knights on Thursday and keeping their playoff hopes alive, their defense can't play the way it did on Tuesday in Las Vegas. There's just no other way around it.

NHL rumors: Patrick Marleau only wants trade to Sharks by Maple Leafs


NHL rumors: Patrick Marleau only wants trade to Sharks by Maple Leafs

As he's linked to a trade away from salary cap-strapped Toronto, Maple Leafs winger Patrick Marleau reportedly has one destination in mind above all else this offseason. 

Marleau, the longest-tenured player in Sharks history, wants to return to San Jose, Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos said during a Tuesday appearance on "Prime Time Sports" on Sportsnet 590 in Toronto. A reunion won't be so simple, according to Kypreos.

"So right now, my understanding is San Jose's not sure yet," Kypreos said. "[Sharks general manager] Doug Wilson's in a position to say, 'Yeah, maybe I'm interested, but not certainly at the price of the last year of the contract.' So, I would probably believe that a third team would need to get involved, a team that needs to get to the [salary] floor. The Leafs would have to entice that team to take [Marleau's] contract, and have to give up something. And then if [the third team] were to buy out Marleau, then San Jose could come in and sign him at a number that they're satisfied with."

Marleau, who will turn 40 in September, is entering the final year of a three-year, $18.75 million contract that he signed with the Leafs in 2017. He has a full no-movement clause, and can veto any potential trade.

The veteran forward is coming off his worst offensive season (37 points) since he was a rookie, and the Leafs reportedly want to trade him in order to clear enough cap space to re-sign pending restricted free agent winger Mitch Marner. Marleau took Marner and Leafs star Auston Matthews under his wing in his first two seasons in Toronto, but he’s no longer creating offense or driving play as well as he once did. 

While the Leafs can retain up to 50 percent of Marleau's cap hit -- or $3.125 million -- in any trade, that's still likely a bit rich for what the forward brings to the table at this point in his career. Throw in the Sharks' own cap concerns, as evidenced by trading Justin Braun to the Philadelphia Flyers one day after making Erik Karlsson the NHL's highest-paid defenseman, and it's hard to envision a trade outside of the three-team scenario that Kypreos outlined.

With recent reports indicating the salary cap might rise to $82 million rather than the $83 million the NHL first projected, San Jose would have about $15.3 million in cap space with just seven forwards under contract. Toronto retaining salary still might not leave enough space for the Sharks to re-sign their cadre of free agents. Joe Pavelski, Gustav Nyquist and Joonas Donskoi all can hit the market as unrestricted free agents, and Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc are due to hit restricted free agency. 

[RELATED: What should the Sharks do with Joakim Ryan?]

Pursuing a post-buyout Marleau is another matter entirely. He remains a popular figure among fans and his former teammates alike, but Marleau's production is more in line with a bottom-six forward at this stage of his career. The Sharks didn't get enough production from depth forwards in the playoffs, and it's possible that returning to his longtime NHL home with his family in pursuit of his -- and the franchise's -- first Stanley Cup would rejuvenate Marleau.

But as things stand right now, Marleau is a Maple Leaf, and the Sharks have more pressing priorities. 

Sharks' Joe Thornton 'feels great', will return for 22nd NHL season

Sharks' Joe Thornton 'feels great', will return for 22nd NHL season

It's sounding like Joe Thornton will be back with the Sharks next season.

Thornton had previously expressed that if he were to return for a 22nd NHL season, it would indeed be with San Jose.

"I’m a Shark,” Thornton said at the Sharks' end-of-season availability. “There’s one team, and it’s here.”

At the NHL Awards media availability on Tuesday, Thornton eliminated whatever mystery remained and confirmed he would put off retirement for at least another year, per Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman.

Thornton went even further while clarifying his comments to TSN's Pierre LeBrun.

Thornton can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, but it's fully expected he and San Jose will come to an agreement on a contract -- a task made somewhat easier by the trade of defensemen Justin Braun on Tuesday morning, which provides some much-needed salary cap relief.

[RELATED: Sharks trade Braun to Flyers, acquire two draft picks]

"He can have all the time he needs to make whatever decision’s right for him," Sharks general manager Doug Wilson said of Thornton back in May. "But we love him. I think I’ve been in this business a long time, I’ve never met anyone like him and we cherish the days we have him."

Thornton's announcement Tuesday would seem to indicate there are plenty of more days left to cherish.