Three takeaways: Ward gets a much-needed goal in Sharks loss

Three takeaways: Ward gets a much-needed goal in Sharks loss

SAN JOSE – The Sharks had leads of 2-0 and 4-2, yet couldn’t secure the win in a deflating 5-4 loss to the Wild at home on Thursday. Here’s what we learned from the defeat…

1 – Giving a hot team life

The only other team hotter than the Wild entering Thursday’s game was the Columbus Blue Jackets – incidentally, the only team that had given Minnesota a regulation loss in the month of December. The Wild came in with a plus-37 goal differential, too – 24 better than second place San Jose (plus-13).

In other words, they have been feeling it lately. And when you give a team like that a little opening, they can bust down the door.

That’s what happened on the third goal, when Justin Braun and Logan Couture both were unable to clear the puck from the front of the net, and Eric Staal brought the Wild back to within a goal. They kept coming after that, and neither the Sharks skaters nor goalie Martin Jones could handle it.

“They came out in the third and played well. I don’t think we handled the pressure of them coming as well as we’d like," Braun said. “Some of these games will happen, you’ve just got to learn from it and not let it happen again.”

2 – New lines click, Ward produces

The biggest reason for optimism from the Sharks’ perspective was that their new lines looked dangerous for most of the game. Timo Meier gave the top line an added element, and the rookie was perhaps San Jose’s best player in the first period. Kevin Labanc continued to show flashes of brilliance on a pair of pretty setup to Joonas Donskoi, one of which resulted in the first goal of the game. The fourth line had some good chances, including a Micheal Haley breakaway and team-high five shots by the winger.

The third line scored twice – including a goal by Joel Ward, who was in desperate need of one. Ward also set up Patrick Marleau’s goal that pushed San Jose’s lead to 4-2 in the third period.

For Ward, who was so vital to the Sharks’ success last season, it was his first multi-point game of the season. He ended a 16-game goal drought.

“Hopefully it leads to a bunch more. It was good to contribute, for sure,” he said. “Just try to continue to do some small things, and stay with it. Try to get to the net, of course, and try to make some plays.”

3 – Foundation cracking without Vlasic

The Sharks remain in first place due primarily to the play of their defense and goalie, but they’re having a real tough time dealing without Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who has now missed three straight games – all Sharks losses. 

Braun simply isn’t the same player without his partner, and Brent Burns and Paul Martin aren’t handling the extra minutes and responsibility very well, either. They all have to be better.

“We were turning pucks over on their dumps, we weren’t getting out clean, and we were spending time in the [defensive] zone,” Braun said.

Vlasic is eligible to play on Saturday, but he hasn’t been practicing yet. We’ll see if he’s on the ice Friday, because the Sharks need him back – especially with some important division games looming next week in Alberta.

Erik Karlsson unveils Sharks' black third jersey with an on-ice skate

San Jose Sharks

Erik Karlsson unveils Sharks' black third jersey with an on-ice skate

Erik Karlsson did not play for the Sharks in Saturday's preseason game against the Vegas Golden Knights, but he still managed to suit up. 

Karlsson took the ice in front of the fans at SAP Center as a Shark for the first time, all while wearing San Jose's newest uniform. He officially unveiled a black alternate jersey that the Sharks will wear in 13 home games this season. 

Teal is the only prominent accent color aside from some orange in the shark's eye. It looks like Martin Jones' new mask design offered a bit of a thematic preview of the Sharks' new look.  

The "Stealth" jersey also features a black-and-teal version of San Jose's original secondary logo, a cool nod to the franchise's history. Sharks co-president John Tortora told NBC Sports California's Brodie Brazil in February that the logo would "start showing back up again."

In all, it's the third black jersey in the club's history, and the team's first alternate uniform since Adidas took over as the NHL's jersey manufacturer last season. 

The Sharks will wear the jersey in every Thursday night and Friday night home game -- as well as one Saturday. The full schedule for the uniform is as follows:

  • Thursday, Oct. 18 vs. Buffalo
  • Thursday, Nov. 1 vs. Columbus
  • Saturday, Nov. 3 vs. Philadelphia
  • Thursday, Nov. 15 vs. Toronto
  • Friday, Nov. 23 vs. Vancouver
  • Thursday, Dec. 13 vs. Dallas
  • Thursday, Dec. 20 vs. Winnipeg
  • Thursday, Dec. 27 vs. Anaheim
  • Thursday, Feb. 14 vs. Washington
  • Friday, March 1 vs. Colorado
  • Thursday, March 7 vs. Montreal
  • Thursday, March 14 vs. Florida
  • Thursday, March 28 vs. Chicago

After Erik Karlsson trade, Sharks in line for new defenseman pairings

After Erik Karlsson trade, Sharks in line for new defenseman pairings

SAN JOSE -- Since Peter DeBoer took over as Sharks coach ahead of the 2015-16 season, defenseman Brenden Dillon has played with plenty of partners. Seven defensive pairings have played 500 minutes of five-on-five hockey together in the regular season and playoffs during that stretch, according to Corsica Hockey, and Dillon has played for four. 

He’ll likely join a fifth this season. Dillon’s most regular partner over the last three seasons, Dylan DeMelo, now is in Ottawa after being traded to the Senators in the massive deal that brought two-time Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson to San Jose last week. 

Dillon, like the rest of the Sharks' defensive corps, doesn’t know who he’ll skate with to start the season. But, he said, his experience regularly playing alongside many different players will prove beneficial when he does.

“I think it’ll be to my advantage for sure,” Dillon said Friday at the Sharks' practice facility. “I’m definitely excited. We don’t really know what the lineups are going to kind of shake out as exactly. I think even during the regular season in past years, too, you might start out with a certain guy and finish the game having played with all five guys. … There’s so many different variables.”

Dillon skated with defensive prospect Jeremy Roy on Friday. Marc-Edouard Vlasic paired with Karlsson for the third consecutive practice. Justin Braun, Vlasic’s regular partner to the tune of nearly 3800 regular-season and playoff minutes over the last three years, skated with Burns. 

At least in the Braun and Burns’ case, that was due to availability. Burns’ most common defensive partner last season, Joakim Ryan, played in Thursday night’s preseason game against the Anaheim Ducks, and thus skated in the second session. 

Still, it’s possible Braun will regularly play with someone other than Vlasic for the first time in years. The eight-year veteran last played with someone else for more than 500 five-on-five minutes during the 2013-14 season, when he logged just under 505 such minutes with now-retired defenseman Brad Stuart. 

Braun said there won’t be a big learning curve if he plays with someone other than Vlasic, since he’s played spot minutes with just about everyone else (other than Karlsson). Braun said he’d hope to play a couple preseason games with a new partner, but that practice might be an ideal time to learn their tendencies and develop chemistry. 

“You can learn anywhere,” Braun said. “There’s drills set up where there’s a lot of forechecking. You might chip [the puck], and he’s not there, and you kind of talk about it after. That might be the best place since they’re not scoring goals on you where it counts.”

It might be awhile before DeBoer provides a glimpse into his potential pairings. Karlsson will not play in Saturday’s preseason game against the Vegas Golden Knights at SAP Center, and the Sharks will not cut camp down to one group of up to 26 players (five forward lines, four defensive pairs, and three goaltenders) until Tuesday or Wednesday. 

After Saturday, San Jose will play three more preseason games before hosting Anaheim in the regular-season opener Oct. 3. Who Karlsson, and the rest of the defense, play with then is still to be determined, according to DeBoer. 

“We’ll see,” DeBoer said when asked if he envisioned Karlsson and Vlasic as a long-term possibility. “We’ve had a couple practices, but honestly I’ve got a bunch of different things rolling around in my head. The nice thing about getting [Karlsson] now is that it’s not a trade deadline where you’ve basically got six weeks to figure it out.”

DeBoer added that he hopes his pairings that open the season will stick together stick throughout the season, but he knows the nature of a long schedule will require changes. As Braun and Dillon both noted, that can happen during the ebb and flow of an individual game, too.

No matter who plays with whom, Dillon said he’s confident any new-look pairings will be able to become comfortable. 

“I think that’s just going to come with time,” Dillon said. “But, for us as a group, I think we can all cover for each other if we’re struggling a bit. At the same time, I think when we’re all going well, it’s going to be a tough group to beat.”