Sharks will have their hands full trying to contain McDavid

Sharks will have their hands full trying to contain McDavid

SAN JOSE – No part of the Sharks’ game was more vital to their run to the Stanley Cup Final last season than their team defense, and, more specifically, their ability to nullify the opposition’s top scorers.

In the first round against Los Angeles, it was 31-goal man Tyler Toffoli that was limited to just a single assist in five games. Nashville’s Filip Forsberg, the Predators’ leading scorer with 64 points, posted one point – a goal – in seven games in the second round. Vladimir Tarasenko tallied 40 goals and 74 points in the 2015-16 regular season, but didn’t get on the scoresheet at all in the series until garbage time in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final, when the Sharks were already preparing to pose with the Clarence Campbell Bowl.

This season, no one in the NHL had more points than Edmonton’s Connor McDavid, who hit the century mark with a pair of assists in the Oilers’ regular season finale, and whose game is a level above those aforementioned players from last season. Shutting him down is probably a pipe dream, but keeping him under control? The Sharks have shown they have the ability to do it.

“It was by committee, and whoever was on the ice [was] getting the job done,” coach Pete DeBoer said of last season’s playoff success. “We're not changing the formula because we're playing Connor McDavid or the Edmonton Oilers, or this is new. We know how to handle good players, and that's on us to get the job done.”

The Sharks will be at a disadvantage in the first two games, as Edmonton will get the last change at home. Todd McLellan knows just as well as DeBoer that San Jose’s best shutdown pair is Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun, so the former Sharks coach will try and keep his top line away from those two defenders, in all likelihood.

Still, Vlasic and Braun will see plenty of McDavid’s loaded up line with Leon Draisaitl and Pat Maroon by the time the series is through. Braun spoke of the challenges of playing against the 20-year-old Hart Trophy favorite, who had eight points (4g, 4a) in five games against San Jose this season.

“He gets his eyes up, he’s going to make plays,” Braun said. “If you can get on him early – good gap in the neutral zone will be huge. Other than that, you’ve just got to play those guys hard.”

According to Logan Couture – who may or may not get a chance to face McDavid, depending on his health – McDavid is most dangerous off the rush. The Sharks saw that recently on March 30, when the Oilers captain set up Maroon on a two-on-one, and later scored a shorthanded goal in which he had plenty of time and space to built up his unparalleled speed in the neutral zone.

Managing the puck with McDavid and his line on the ice will be of utmost importance.

“You can't turn the puck over against him,” Couture said. “Obviously, he had 100 points this year. He's scoring on the power play, scoring even strength. He's finding ways to put the puck in the net."

Jannik Hansen said: “He’s so fast, so skilled. You want to make sure that he doesn’t get easy opportunities, odd man rushes. Make sure he’s coming through three or four guys.”

McDavid is coming into the playoffs hot. In the final 14 games he posted 25 points (7g, 18a), notching at least one point in all 14 for the longest point streak in the NHL this season. The Oilers won 12 of their final 14 to take home ice away from struggling San Jose. 

There’s no question who is the head of the snake, and who the Sharks are going to have to keep under control if they have any chance at advancing.

“When you look at the analytics and the percentage of the offense he's involved in with their team, it's something you'd be crazy not to pay attention to,” DeBoer said.

Sharks avoid arbitration, re-sign Chris Tierney to two-year deal


Sharks avoid arbitration, re-sign Chris Tierney to two-year deal

Just two days before one was scheduled, the Sharks avoided an arbitration hearing with center Chris Tierney, and re-signed the restricted free agent to a two-year deal on Wednesday, the team announced. The deal is reportedly worth just shy of $2.94 million annually, according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman

"Chris had his best season as a professional last year and stepped up his level of play in multiple areas," San Jose general manager Doug Wilson said in a statement. "We've always known he was a responsible, defensive-minded player, but he took his offensive game to the next tier and showed that he can be a productive player in all three zones. We look forward to watching him continue his evolution in 2018-19." 

Last season, the 24-year-old Tierney set career-highs in goals (17), assists (23), points (40), shots on goal (118), and ice time (16:00). Tierney also generated expected goals at the highest rate of his career (0.62 per hour), according to Corsica Hockey. 

A 2012 second-round pick, Tierney entered last season in an uncertain place. He signed his one-year, $735,000 qualifying offer last summer, and head coach Peter DeBoer challenged him to improve. 

“I came into the year wanting to prove a point. I believe in myself. I think I’m a good hockey player,” Tierney told the San Jose Mercury News in December. “I wanted to come in and show people that I could play an offensive role on the team.”  

DeBoer used Tierney slightly differently this season, as the forward started a career-high percentage of five-on-five shifts in the offensive zone (31.12 percent) and a career-low percentage of defensive zone starts (29.68 percent), per Corsica Hockey. Tierney responded in kind with his aforementioned career-best offensive numbers, and seized the third-line center role after versatile forward Tomas Hertl stayed on the wing.  

With Tierney back in the fold, the Sharks now have just under $4.4 million in salary cap space, according to CapFriendly. That’s for a roster carrying 14 forwards, seven defenseman, and two goaltenders, and San Jose’s actual cap space may change depending on the outcome of various positional battles in training camp. 

This summer, Tierney became the fourth Sharks player since 2008 to file for arbitration. In every case, including with Tierney on Wednesday, a settlement was reached prior to a hearing. 

The Sharks also signed a pair of prospects to entry-level contracts on Wednesday. Defenseman Ryan Merkley, San Jose’s first-round pick this June, and 21-year-old forward Alexander True, who scored 28 points in 68 games with the AHL’s San Jose Barracuda last season, both inked deals with the organization.

Martin Jones' new goalie mask will have Sharks fans seeing double


Martin Jones' new goalie mask will have Sharks fans seeing double

Sharks goaltender Martin Jones won't just enter the season with a different paycheck, the result of entering the first year of a five-year, $34.5 million contract extension that he signed last July. He'll also have a new mask.

Toronto-based artist Steve Nash unveiled a look at Jones' mask design for the upcoming season Monday morning on Twitter. The design again features San Jose's secondary logo but with some subtle differences.

Eagle-eyed mask afficionados will notice a couple of tweaks. First, there now are two sharks on the side, compared to only one last season. Those sharks boast orange eyes seen on the back of his mask last season

For comparison, here's a look at Jones' mask from last year.

The 28-year-old netminder is entering his fourth season in San Jose's crease. Jones posted a .915 save percentage in 60 regular-season starts and followed that with a .928 in 10 postseason starts as the Sharks advanced to the second round. 

We'll get our best look at Jones' new mask in action when training camp opens in mid-September, and, assuming he plays, in a game as soon as the Sept. 18 preseason opener against the Ducks.