Sharks

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in dominant 4-0 win vs. Penguins

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in dominant 4-0 win vs. Penguins

The Sharks were looking to rebound from a disappointing loss earlier in the week, and they did just that on Thursday evening. San Jose rallied behind Tomas Hertl’s two-goal effort and held on through some late-game fisticuffs to shut out the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-0.

Here are three takeaways from Thursday’s game:

San Jose’s special teams deserved a star on the evening

Both the power play and penalty kill played a huge role in San Jose’s victory, helping to keep the momentum in their favor for the duration of the game. The Sharks started off the game getting a ton of offensive zone time and they doubled down on keeping it that way, thanks to Hertl’s two power-play markers in the first frame.

The penalty kill seemed to get more impressive as the game went on. While Evander Kane’s short-handed goal was a highlight, Martin Jones deserves a lot of credit for standing tall when the Sharks were shorthanded. His stop on Sidney Crosby at the end of the second period helped to keep Pittsburgh frustrated and off the board.

Burns and Simek were on top of their game

The duo was absolutely nails against Pittsburgh. They did a standout job breaking up plays in the Sharks’ defensive zone to help stop the Penguins from creating any momentum and capitalizing. Burns having a three-point night with a late power-play goal and two assists didn’t hurt either.

In doing good work in San Jose territory, Burns also helped set up Kane’s breakaway on the penalty kill that resulted in a short-handed goal. His mix of both offensive and defensive play on Thursday was a perfect example of why he’s in the Norris Trophy discussion.

Thornton has wheels

Jumbo Joe didn’t tally another hat trick, but boy did he put on a show by preventing a goal for the opposition. He easily had the most memorable play of the night, speeding up to prevent Evgeni Malkin from having an opportunity to score on a breakaway coming out of the penalty box.

A lot of attention is given to the milestones Thornton has been reaching, and rightfully so, but plays like that are equally impressive. Considering Thornton missed a few games at the start of the season with knee issues, being able to keep pace with a faster, younger skater like Malkin is a sight to see.

Sharks' biggest threats to winning Stanley Cup: Potential NHL lockout

Sharks' biggest threats to winning Stanley Cup: Potential NHL lockout

Editor's Note: Now that the Blues and Capitals have gotten off the Stanley Cup schneid, there's arguably no NHL franchise more "due" to win a Cup than the Sharks. This week, NBC Sports California will examine the five biggest threats to San Jose's championship aspirations in the relatively near future. We continue with the upcoming CBA negotiations that could result in a potential lockout.

The current NHL collective bargaining agreement expires after the 2021-22 season, meaning there's no need to worry about any sort of lockout occurring before then, right?

Wrong.

Yes, the CBA expires after the 2021-22 season, but both the league and the NHL Players' Association have options to opt-out of it next month, just as teams are convening for the start of training camp. Even if neither side chooses to do so at that time, there is plenty of reason to believe the NHL could experience its fourth work stoppage under commissioner Gary Bettman at some point in the near future.

And, if that indeed does occur, one could make the case there are few teams that would be more negatively impacted than the Sharks.

San Jose has done an incredible job of prolonging its championship window -- more times than once. The Sharks only have missed the playoffs twice since 1998, reaching the Western Conference final five times in that span. The most recent of those trips came just this past season when San Jose was eliminated in six games by the eventual Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues.

The developments of the offseason have done nothing to remove the Sharks from the list of legitimate contenders.

But, all good things must come to an end, and that window -- at some point -- eventually will close. The fact of the matter is, while general manager Doug Wilson has replenished the roster with several quality young players, the ones that have formed the backbone of so many of those playoff runs are getting long in the tooth.

Joe Pavelski is gone. Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Logan Couture will turn 35, 33 and 31 years old, respectively, this coming March. Erik Karlsson, who signed an eight-year contract at the start of the offseason, turns 30 in May. Surefire Hall of Famer Joe Thornton is 40, and while he's currently unsigned, you can count on seeing him in teal for at least one more season. 

All of this is to say, the Sharks can't afford to waste any time. They've come close -- very close -- to winning it all multiple times, but last year's team might have been the most talented in franchise history, and still it fell short. One naturally would assume that if San Jose is going to end its lengthy Stanley Cup drought, it will occur while some or most of that talented and decorated core still is intact.

Any sort of work stoppage -- for however long -- would therefore rapidly increase the speed with which that window closes.

Now, there is optimism that the two sides will be able to avoid any such lockout, but there are a few contentious issues that will be at the heart of the negotiations, most notably the percentage of player contracts held in escrow, and the feasibility of NHL players participating in the Winter Olympics mid-season. Given how certain star players have set up their contracts for the 2020-21 season, it's clear that optimism isn't shared by all.

[RELATED: Why 2021 NHL Expansion Draft is threat to Sharks' cup hopes]

For instance, $12 million of Edmonton Oilers star Connor McDavid's $13 million 2020-21 contract is in the form of a signing bonus to be paid in July. Similarly, Toronto's John Tavares will make more than $11 million of his $12 million 2020-21 salary in the form of a lump sum, thereby ensuring he'll receive the vast majority of his salary whether there's a lockout in 2020 or 2022, or not at all.

The most recent NHL lockout reduced the 2012-13 season to 48 games. The one before that eliminated the 2004-05 season altogether. If the next one occurs anytime soon, it will steal time from the Sharks that they simply don't have.

Sharks' biggest threats to winning Stanley Cup: 2021 NHL Expansion Draft

Sharks' biggest threats to winning Stanley Cup: 2021 NHL Expansion Draft

Editor's Note: Now that the Blues and Capitals have gotten off the Stanley Cup schneid, there's arguably no NHL franchise more "due" to win a cup than the Sharks. This week, NBC Sports California will examine the five biggest threats to San Jose's championship aspirations in the relatively near future. We begin with the 2021 Expansion Draft.

In less than a month, the Sharks will convene for training camp, marking the beginning of another pursuit of the elusive Stanley Cup.

San Jose has seen each of the last two champions bring an end to lengthy title droughts, an accomplishment for which it hopes to follow suit. The Sharks have been a frequent contender over the last two decades -- having qualified for the playoffs in all but two seasons since 1998 -- including each of the last four under Pete DeBoer.

Given the construct of San Jose's current roster, there's no reason to believe they'll fall precipitously from contention anytime soon. They've got an enviable collection of star players, most of which are locked up long-term. Those players have formed the core of a Cup finalist before, and after pushing the Blues to six games in the conference finals last year, clearly can do so again.

But what if one of those key players that the Sharks have depended on so often -- and will continue to moving forward -- suddenly is no longer around?

That is a legitimate possibility afforded by the upcoming 2021 NHL Expansion Draft, through which the Seattle franchise will join the league as its 32nd team. Which forwards, defensemen and goalies the Sharks might protect have been covered in great detail, as have which players might be exposed.

If someone like Brent Burns or Evander Kane departs San Jose via the expansion draft, that obviously could have a drastic impact on the Sharks' ability to contend.

[RELATED: Why Sharks' defense has Hahn excited for 2019-20 season]

There is another angle to consider, as well. The last time the NHL had an expansion draft, it produced the Sharks' newest and most formidable rival in the Vegas Golden Knights. If the unnamed Seattle franchise -- who will join the Pacific Division -- can capitalize on the expansion draft like Vegas did, that could be yet another daunting intradivision competitor for San Jose, which could make the path to a cup all the more challenging.

The Sharks will lose just one player in the expansion draft, and it won't necessarily be one of the more high-profile players on their roster. Additionally, teams learned from the Vegas expansion draft, and have begun their preparation much further in advance than the last time around, meaning some of the mistakes the Golden Knights capitalized on might not be available to Seattle.

As such, who San Jose loses in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft and how good Seattle becomes as a result isn't the biggest threat to the Sharks' championship hopes in the near future -- but as recent history has proven -- it can't be entirely discounted.