Antti Suomela

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in exciting 5-2 win over Maple Leafs

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AP

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in exciting 5-2 win over Maple Leafs

BOX SCORE

In a thoroughly entertaining, back-and-forth game, the Sharks continued their recent stretch of strong play with a 5-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday night at SAP Center. Stefan Noesen scored the game-winner early in the third period and Martin Jones made several incredible saves in net to preserve the victory.

Against the uber-talented Maple Leafs, San Jose got contributions from throughout its lineup, with the first and fourth lines each scoring multiple goals. Evander Kane was flying all night long, and added two more goals to his team-leading total.

Jones got his third consecutive start in goal, and rewarded interim coach Bob Boughner with a highlight-reel performance that included a number of jaw-dropping saves. With the win, the Sharks are now halfway through an undefeated six-game homestand.

Here are three takeaways from San Jose's second straight win over an Eastern Conference contender:

Talent mismatch 

The Sharks had the higher quantity of goals in the game, but the talent mismatch between the two teams was evident in how the Maple Leafs scored theirs. Toronto has quite a stable of extremely talented forwards, and they left their mark on the night.

San Jose took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission, but that was erased when Auston Matthews scored his 46th goal of the season, which ranks as the second most in the NHL. Tuesday marked Matthews' seventh career game against the Sharks, and the San Ramon native has now accounted for eight goals in those contests, including at least one in each game.

Later in the second frame, Matthews was one-upped by his linemate Mitch Marner, who went between the legs for a goal that you'll be seeing on all the highlight shows for plenty of time to come.

Toronto certainly had the quality. San Jose had the advantage where it mattered, though.

Quite a response

Just over a minute after Matthews tied things up, the Sharks went back in front thanks to Antti Suomela's first goal of the season. 

It was exactly the kind of response that had been lacking throughout much of San Jose's struggles this season. All night long, the Sharks kept the pressure on, and didn't allow Toronto to carry the play for many extended stretches.

With the score tied entering the third, the game was hanging in the balance -- temporarily, that is. Suomela got the only assist on Noesen's game-winning goal less than six minutes into the frame, and 50 seconds later, Kane doubled San Jose's advantage. From that point on, whenever Toronto threatened, Jones had an answer.

The Maple Leafs are fighting for playoff positioning. The Sharks aren't. You wouldn't have been able to tell by the fight San Jose showed Tuesday night.

[RELATED: How health scare altered John McCarthy's Barracuda career]

Ample motivation

While the Sharks' three-game winning streak is admittedly a small sample size, it's certainly better than the alternative. San Jose could have thrown in the towel and given up on the season a while ago -- and at times, it looked like the team might have done so -- but based on the last week, it's abundantly clear the Sharks are taking this opportunity seriously, even if it's not the one they hoped to have.

Suomela's performance was the latest example of some of San Jose's younger forwards showing signs of life. Jones has been on quite a roll, and Tuesday might have been his most promising showcase yet. For those who next season isn't enough of a motivating factor, playing the role of spoiler appears to be doing the trick.

There are 16 games remaining on the Sharks' regular-season schedule. They're not going to the playoffs, but they still have plenty left to play for.

How Tomas Hertl's season-ending injury has changed Sharks' mindset, approach

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AP

How Tomas Hertl's season-ending injury has changed Sharks' mindset, approach

SAN JOSE -- Tomas Hertl's season-ending knee injury likely wiped out what little remained of the Sharks' slim playoff hopes, and a change in mindset was palpable ahead of their game against the visiting Tampa Bay Lightning at SAP Center on Saturday night.

"We know we got a lot of hockey left to play," San Jose interim coach Bob Boughner said following Saturday's optional morning skate. "We talked about that this morning about how we want to approach these next two months of hockey. Obviously, we've been kicked-in a little bit with the injuries and you have two choices how you want to handle that, and I think we're going to go with the option two where we're just going to come to the rink every day and we're going to work hard together. We talked about being more detailed than the opponent, structure and all those things. We can control our compete, and those are the things we're going to concentrate on."

Hertl will have surgery to repair a torn ACL and MCL in his left knee on Monday after an awkward collision with two Canucks players in the Sharks' 5-2 loss to Vancouver on Wednesday. It was actually a fairly similar kind of collision to the one that ultimately fractured Logan Couture's ankle in a loss to the St. Louis Blues on Jan. 7, which will keep the captain sidelined for several more weeks.

Couture and Hertl are not only San Jose's arguably two best forwards -- they're also the Sharks' top two centers, and their combined absence leaves a gaping hole in the middle of the ice. While there will be some positional adjustments to help fill the void, the injuries to Couture and Hertl also have created chances for lesser-established players to prove themselves.

"It's opportunities for young guys," Boughner explained. "[Barclay Goodrow] is going to go back to center. We feel that he's very responsible in his own end. He's a two-way guy, he's got detail to his game, so he's going to have to see a lot of the big lines, especially at home. But the other guys -- you've got [Joe Thornton] and [Antti] Suomela and [Joel] Kellman and even [Dylan] Gambrell can play some center, he'll take some draws on the right side -- those guys are getting an opportunity, and it's up to them to obviously show us what they can do and what they have, and I think it's up to the veterans as well to be very professional in how they handle the situation. Stay positive and let those guys lean on them a little bit, because they were all in that position at one point in time, too. So, it's got to be a group effort."

Clearly, San Jose's approach has changed since the start of the season, but that's bound to happen after a combination of terrible luck and poor performance. The playoffs are all but out of the picture now, but Boughner insists there is still plenty left to build towards.

"There's going to be some mistakes made and there's going to be some mismatches at times," Boughner said, "but we want to make sure that we're being patient and we're developing and we're improving and we're teaching. ... As much as I'm asking the veterans to do that, it's the same with the coaching staff. I think that we have to make sure that we realize what we have and what we're trying to do here in the next 30-plus games, and make sure that we're sticking together on that."

[RELATED: Five things to watch over final 30 games of Sharks' season]

This is not the position the Sharks expected to be in, to say the least. This season has turned out to be a transitional one from the start, and the injuries they've endured have only cemented that fact.

Sharks' game vs. Golden Knights good barometer for division standings

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USATSI

Sharks' game vs. Golden Knights good barometer for division standings

Fans probably don't want to talk about it. Or just wish it never happened. But it wasn't that long ago that the Sharks opened up their 2019-20 campaign with a home-and-home against the Golden Knights, plunging the team into a 0-2-0 hole.

Fast forward to late November and San Jose, while just recently having a six-game winning streak snapped, still is trying to dig themselves out of that hole. They find themselves, once again, facing off against their rivals from Vegas. And while the Knights have run into their own share of roadblocks through the early part of the season, they're still four points ahead of the Sharks in the Pacific Division standings.

Thursday's game is a big test for San Jose. One that can expose whether the Sharks have a chance of completely crawling out of the division cellar.

Vegas is only 3-4-2 in the month of November and went on a five-game losing skid while the Sharks were stringing wins together. They haven't been very healthy either, with everyone from Cody Eakins to Marc-Andre Fleury being sidelined with injuries through the first month and a half of the season. 

That being said, the Knights have won their last two contests, having shut out the Flames 6-0 and upending the downtrodden Maple Leafs 4-2. In the process, they have wiggled their way into third place in the Pacific Division standings.

Plus -- while fans probably hate to admit this -- the Knights have a way of getting into the Sharks' heads. Through just 10 regular-season contests between the two teams, San Jose is 3-6-1 and has given up an average of 4.1 goals per game.

While the sample size is small, it's still the largest goals-against margin the Sharks have against any team in the entire league.

Facing off against a tough Vegas team isn't the only obstacle San Jose will face on Thursday night -- they will also be missing one of their top forwards. Tomas Hertl will miss Thursday's contest at T-Mobile Arena with a lower-body injury, forcing the Sharks to shuffle up their lines and add Antti Suomela -- who has yet to play an NHL this season -- into the mix.

Losing a player like Hertl, who ranks second on the team with 21 points, will put even more pressure on San Jose when it comes to scoring against a Vegas squad that has outscored them 41-23 over the course of two-plus seasons.

Needless to say, San Jose's defense has to be significantly tighter against Vegas than it was on Tuesday night against the Oilers. Edmonton's forward attack had little problem skating through the neutral zone, and if San Jose isn't careful, they could fall into the same trap against Vegas.

[RELATED: Hertl out, Dell to start in net for Sharks vs. Vegas]

Not to mention that the Oilers got production from all four of their lines and aren't a team known for having depth at the forward position. If the Sharks had trouble containing that team, what's going to happen against a Golden Knights team that regularly rolls out four lines?

This isn't to say the Sharks have no chance of defeating the Knights on Thursday night. It is a big test, however, that can show exactly where San Jose stands this season. If the first two games of the season are any indication, Thursday's game could get ugly in a hurry.