A few leftovers from the Sharks post-All-Star break schedule, including that tough four game road trip and a wild game in their return home against the Flames…
1) The Sharks should be commended for their furious comeback against Calgary on Thursday in which they dominated after the first period, even if it didn’t result in two points. This team seems to have more resiliency and drive than any Sharks team over the last few years. The game did, however, expose the two biggest issues on the roster – they simply need a more reliable backup goalie, and another depth defenseman in case of injury.
We’ll start in goal. I don’t know if Thursday was Alex Stalock’s last start for this team, but it very well may have been for the pending free agent. The backup’s save percentage is down to .884 for the season, and among the 63 NHL goalies that have played at least 10 games, that’s dead last – 63 out of 63.
If the Sharks were to waive and reassign Stalock and recall Troy Grosenick, the salary cap hit would essentially be negligible this late in the season. The next most likely date for Martin Jones to sit is the second of a back-to-back in Carolina on Feb. 19 – the same place Grosenick had his memorable 45-save shutout in his NHL debut last season.
I get that Stalock is a popular guy in the dressing room, and Doug Wilson and Pete DeBoer may not want to mess with the team’s chemistry. But the points may be too important now to risk giving Stalock even one more game.
2) The Sharks have now played nine games without one of their top five defensemen, and their record is 1-6-2 with a team goals-against average of 4.11. They probably would have gotten a win last night if they got even average goaltending, but it’s still a concerning number, and a reminder that they are too thin on the blue line if they run into even minor injury issues in the playoffs.
3) Which brings us to Matt Tennyson. The 25-year-old defenseman played just 7:48 against Calgary, and was benched for most of the second half of the game after a fairly soft (although not necessarily egregious) misplay in the defensive zone.
I just don’t think DeBoer is a huge fan of Tennyson for one reason or another, and I go back to that game on Dec. 20 in Chicago when Melker Karlsson was a late scratch with the flu. Tennyson dressed as a seventh defenseman but didn’t take a single shift, sitting on the bench for all three periods and overtime. That’s rare. It’s probably safe to say DeBoer is hoping for another option if anyone else on defense has to miss time down the stretch.
4) In a recent radio hit on the Sirius/XM NHL Radio Network, hosts Steve Kouleas and Matt Barnaby put me on the spot a bit by asking me to fill in a blank. “The Sharks are a playoff team if…” they asked.
It took me a second, but my reply was “if the goaltending holds up,” and I still think that’s the case. Jones, although he’s been a clear upgrade over Antti Niemi, is still this team’s biggest unknown over the next few weeks as the season grinds on.
Keep in mind that the Sharks were in talks with the Rangers at the draft for Cam Talbot, who has struggled somewhat in Edmonton (albeit in front of a bad defense). Jones was clearly the right choice, and I think he gets the job done and the Sharks make the playoffs.
5) Also regarding Jones, DeBoer offered a subtle hint as to how much he’ll use him during the playoff push after Tuesday’s 2-0 win over Chicago, and it sounds like it will be a heavy workload for the 25-year-old.
“I think it’s a whole new job for him at this level. I had Cory Schneider in that position, and I think I started him 20 games in a row in New Jersey. … You have to learn it’s different preparation, different practice, and a different mindset. I think he’s staring to get the hang of that, and he’s getting in a rhythm. The schedule has worked where we’ve had days off between games, so we’ve been able to play him.”
6) If it seems like that rookie Joonas Donskoi is handling the puck more, well, that’s by design.
After the Sharks’ win in St. Louis on Feb. 4, DeBoer said: “We’ve added some transition where he gets a chance to get back and skate with the puck and get it in his hands, which he’s probably used to a little bit more in the European hockey he’s played. He’s been fantastic, and getting better every night.”
“I think that’s a little bit [of a] strength of my game,” Donskoi said. “I try to play with the puck and be strong. I try to make good decisions offensively and handle the puck in the offensive zone. I think that’s my game.”
7) Blues forward Troy Brouwer and the Sharks’ Joel Ward have remained friends since playing together in Washington and got a chance to catch up in St. Louis. Ward is on pace for a 50-point season, which would eclipse his career high of 49 in 2013-14.
I asked Brouwer at the morning skate last week if he’s surprised that Ward is finding success with the Sharks.
“The last couple years when I was in Washington with him, he’s been trending that way, getting better and better. He’s been given a lot of good opportunities in San Jose. You always keep tabs on the guys you used to play with, and it’s good to see. I talked a little with him last night and [he said] that he’s getting good ice time with quality players, which as a player, that’s all you want.”
As for Ward’s reputation as a quality guy off of the ice, Brouwer said: “I think just his attitude and his demeanor as a person is a phenomenal thing to have. … He’s a great guy to have in the room. He’s easy going, keeps the guys laughing and smiling. He’s one of those guys everyone wants to be friends with.”
8) The first notable date for naming the upcoming teams for the World Cup next September is fast approaching, with 16 names due by March 1. The deadline for the final 23-man roster is June 1.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who played for Canada in the 2014 Sochi Olympics, will almost certainly get consideration with another strong season in San Jose. When asked if it has been on his mind, he admitted on the off-day in Nashville last Friday, “Yeah, I want to make that team.”
“It’s coming up soon. They look at what you’ve done in the past and what you’re doing this year, as well. Hopefully I’ve done enough, and will do a lot more in the coming months to make that team,” Vlasic said.
One Sharks player that should probably be considered unlikely to make it is Logan Couture, who missed most of the first half due to a pair of injuries. “He’s going to have a tough time. There are so many centers,” a Team Canada scout told me about Couture’s chances last week.
9) Culture is a key word when it comes to the Blackhawks, and for good reason. Chicago has been able to integrate new players around its core group and have success, including a pair of former Sharks in Michal Handzus and Andrew Desjardins – both fairly ineffective in San Jose before they helped the Blackhawks to Stanley Cups in 2013 and 2015, respectively.
I asked Desjardins to talk about that Chicago culture on Tuesday morning.
“They definitely make you feel comfortable, coming in nervous or shy, they break you in pretty quick,” he said. “I think the coaching staff, also, does a good job of preparing you and making sure they know exactly what they want.”
10) Finally, one more non-related Sharks note. The Blackhawks are set to play in their fourth outdoor game since 2009 later this month when they take on Minnesota on Feb. 21 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. They are also reportedly being considered to play the Blues at Busch Stadium in St. Louis in next year’s Winter Classic.
While many hockey fans would like to see other teams involved, Joel Quenneville has no problems with it from his perspective.
“It’s no trouble at all, we love it,” said the Blackhawks coach. “It’s a great opportunity, and players love it. Special setting for families, as well. It’s always a privilege to be involved with those games.”