Sharks

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in San Jose's 5-4 win vs. Blackhawks

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in San Jose's 5-4 win vs. Blackhawks

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It was about darn time the Sharks played an exciting game.

After four straight games where they never seemed to have much of a chance, San Jose engaged in an entertaining give-and-go with the Blackhawks in Patrick Marleau's heavily-anticipated return to the Sharks. With multiple players elevating their game, San Jose finally got in the win column with a 5-4 victory.

Here are three takeaways from Thursday night's game in Chicago:

Marleau contributed right off the bat

The Sharks brought Marleau back to help out on offense, and the 40-year-old winger didn't disappoint. Marleau scored a power-play goal at the end of the first period and then scored a big goal late in the second -- both of which tied the score. Not bad for a player who missed the preseason and first four games of the regular season.

[RELATED: Watch Marleau score twice in first game back with Sharks]

While one player alone doesn't change the complexion of an entire team, Marleau's return has already added some much-needed depth to San Jose's forward attack. When the Sharks get Marcus Sorensen back healthy, the offense should look much more competitive.

On that subject …

The forecheck was a difference-maker

Through the first four games of the season,  San Jose’s offense wasn’t taking enough chances. As Thursday’s game went on, however, a more tenacious forecheck began to take over, resulting in better chances against goaltender Corey Crawford. Despite the Blackhawks taking four separate leads, the Sharks always found a way to stay in the game.

Additionally, several players did a better job of posting up in the crease in an attempt to make life tougher on Crawford. Tomas Hertl and Evander Kane were particularly good at this, as was their new linemate Barclay Goodrow -- who scored the game-winning goal for San Jose while skating right up to the front of the net.

If more Sharks’ skaters get in those dangerous areas, it will continue to give the offense a boost.

On a less positive note …

The defense still is making too many mistakes

You really have to give Sharks goalie Aaron Dell credit. If it hadn't been for him, Chicago might've scored eight goals on the evening. Dell had a few huge saves, especially on breakaways that San Jose's defense had trouble catching up to. But speedy breaks weren't the only thing helping the Blackhawks' offense along. On Chicago's first goal, the Sharks had numerous bodies in front of their own net and the Blackhawks' Dominik Kubalik still found room to bury his first NHL goal.

While San Jose's game improved considerably as the game wore on, the defense still isn't communicating properly and, consequently, the puck is winding up in the back of the Sharks' net too often. The players have been talking about needing to tighten up the defense since the preseason. So far, that's still a work in progress.

Sharks must avoid letdown vs. Red Wings to keep winning streak alive

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USATSI

Sharks must avoid letdown vs. Red Wings to keep winning streak alive

SAN JOSE - Sharks fans can breathe a sigh of relief now that head coach Peter DeBoer has confirmed that Tomas Hertl and Mario Ferraro are back in the lineup for Saturday's matchup against the Detroit Red Wings.

But just merely having these two pieces in the lineup doesn't mean the Sharks can sit back and take this game lightly. 

San Jose has strung five consecutive wins together, the most recent coming on Thursday night against a tough division rival in the Anaheim Ducks. The key now is to not get comfortable -- especially with the team still trying to climb their way up the standings.

"We talked to our group this morning," head coach Peter DeBoer told the media Saturday morning. "Human nature, (after) you've won five in a row and a big road win against a division rival is to kind of take a deep breath. And we can't fall into that trap."

Sure, San Jose has gotten points in five straight games and has defeated tough Western Conference competition in the Predators, Oilers, and Ducks. However, they're still sitting at just 19 points in the standings, second-to-last in the division and nine points behind the Pacific-leading Edmonton squad. Even with those five straight victories, San Jose still has an uphill climb ahead of them.

The trap becomes even bigger with the Red Wings in town. They might be at the bottom of their division, but that isn't likely to stop them from making the Sharks pay for their mistakes, no matter how small they are.

"This team always plays us hard, always tough," DeBoer said. "They're a speed team, which always gives us trouble. Their first line has been firing on all cylinders. So we've got to make sure we're prepared for this game."

The visiting Red Wings are 4-4-2 in their last 10 contests, having a three-game winning streak snapped by the Kings in LA on Thursday night. Over that span, they've been outscored 38-25 and have gone 7-for-31 on the power play.

While those numbers would seem to indicate that San Jose won't have too much trouble containing Detroit's offense, the top line consisting of Anthony Mantha, Tyler Bertuzzi, and Dylan Larkin has combined for 12 points against the Sharks over their careers.

Not to mention that the Sharks haven't always fared well against the Red Wings in the past, going 34-50-4-6 through 94 regular-season meetings and splitting last season's series 1-1-0.

[RELATED: What we learned as Sharks' win streak reaches five games]

The biggest key for the Sharks on Saturday night is going to be keeping the defense tight and the puck in enemy territory -- and preferably to not take their foot off the gas late in the game and allow Detroit to score any late goals.

This seemingly should be an easier task with Hertl and Ferraro healthy and in the lineup. But with the threat of a letdown looming after winning five straight games, San Jose has to be on top of their game no matter what. 

Sharks' Tomas Hertl day-to-day after suffering knee injury vs. Ducks

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AP

Sharks' Tomas Hertl day-to-day after suffering knee injury vs. Ducks

Any reference to a possible knee injury for Tomas Hertl should make all Sharks fans hold their breath, but it sounds like they can exhale.

After departing San Jose's 5-3 win over the Ducks on Thursday night in the third period following a collision with Anaheim forward Sam Steel, Hertl did not return to the game, and his status was not updated by the team afterward.

That changed Friday when Sharks coach Peter DeBoer told reporters that images of Hertl's right knee taken earlier that morning confirmed, "that it looks like it's minor and that's good news."

When asked Friday, Hertl said he is day-to-day and that he was going to see the team doctor in the afternoon to get treatment. The injury comes at a particularly unfortunate time, as Hertl is in the midst of a career-best five-game goal-scoring streak, which perfectly coincides with San Jose's five-game winning streak.

"I was coming back and the guy was falling, for sure my knee, and fell on it," Hertl described to The Mercury News' Curtis Pashelka. "I’ve got some history, so we just take it back and just check. That’s why they take me out and I couldn’t even finish the game. We’ll see. For now, it’s just day-to-day. But nothing serious and hopefully be OK for game."

The history to which Hertl referred to is the reason for the aforementioned breath-holding. In Dec. 2013, he required surgery to repair damage to the MCL and PCL in the same right knee. He re-injured it again in Game 2 of the 2016 Stanley Cup Final and sprained it the following November and missed 33 games.

"Before it was always way worse, but sometimes even the small things you can make worse," Hertl said. "But this time, hopefully, (it’s) just a little tweak or something and it will be alright."

[RELATED: What we learned as Sharks' win streak reaches five games]

The Sharks go for their sixth straight win when they host Red Wings on Saturday night, and it remains to be seen if Hertl will be in the lineup to face Detroit. San Jose could elect to place Hertl on injured reserve to free up a roster spot if needed, but that would mean he would be ineligible to play for at least a week. As Pashelka notes, another option would be to place rookie defenseman Mario Ferraro -- who hasn't played since Nov. 7 -- on retroactive IR.