Joe Pavelski

Sharks' frustration with Marc-Andre Fleury evident after Game 4 loss

Sharks' frustration with Marc-Andre Fleury evident after Game 4 loss

It's hard to take any positives out of being shut out. It's even harder given how well the Sharks played for the first half of Tuesday nights Game 4 in Las Vegas. But that's where the Sharks found themselves after the 5-0 shutout -- frustrated and unable to find the back of the net.

Following the loss, Peter DeBoer talked to the press in Sin City about Vegas' netminder Marc-Andre Fleury and his ability to befuddle San Jose's offense.

"You have to give Fleury credit, he frustrated us," the Sharks' head coach said. "We have to find a way to solve Fleury."

Most of the talk around this first-round series has revolved around players like Ryan Reaves getting under San Jose's skin -- about how the extracurriculars have frustrated the Sharks and worked them up emotionally. But those emotions can also be the product of going up against a netminder on a hot streak. As Sharks pre-and-post game analyst Curtis Brown explained, the situation is a little more nuanced than that.

"I don't think emotionally a goalie's play rattles you," Brown said at NBC Sports California's studios in San Francisco following the loss. "Specifically, you get maybe too emotional maybe not getting rewarded for good play, and their goalie has a hand in that."

Which makes sense, especially when you consider how the Vegas' red hot starting netminder entered the current best-of-seven series. While Fleury has played San Jose well during his tenure with the Knights, he entered the series on a bit of a skid. After missing nearly a month with an undisclosed injury, the 34-year-old goaltender dropped the last two starts of the regular season, giving up four goals in each contest.

That same Fleury showed up in goal for Vegas in Game 1 less than a week ago, looking visibly off his game and frustrated in his own right as the Sharks scored five goals against him.

But ever since the first period of Game 2 -- when the Sharks rallied out of a 3-0 hole to take a 3-3 tie into the first intermission -- San Jose has had trouble matching Vegas' firepower and has been outscore 13-3. That isn't solely because of the goalie, explained Brown, who knows plenty about facing adversity from his 13-year career in the NHL, three seasons of which were spent wearing a Sharks' sweater.

"As a player, you go out doing what you think you have to do individually and as a group," Brown summarized."Whatever they're doing, they're not getting results for it."

Which seemed to be a general message from the Sharks to the press out in Vegas on Tuesday evening -- they aren't going to win games if they don't score any goals. If they're going to make it out of Thursday's Game 5 matchup with their playoff hopes still intact, they'll have to find a solution to beating Fleury.

"You've got to give him some credit, he's made some good saves," captain Joe Pavelski said. "(There've been) some posts, some pucks popping out the other side. But next game that can't happen. Bottom line."

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As hard as it may be to see positives coming out of a 5-0 loss, the Sharks admitted they liked their effort and pressure in the first portion of Tuesday's game. If they're going to pull out a victory on in Game 5, that's all they can focus on and control.  

"There's no other answer than to just continue to do the good things that you're doing," Brown concluded.

NASCAR driver Michael Annett following Joe Pavelski, Sharks in NHL playoffs


NASCAR driver Michael Annett following Joe Pavelski, Sharks in NHL playoffs

Joe Pavelski has a fan in NASCAR driver Michael Annett.

Annett, who picked up his first career Xfinity Series win at Daytona in February, played with the Sharks captain in 2003-04. The two were members of the USHL's Waterloo Black Hawks that season, and won a Clark Cup -- the league championship -- together. 

“You get those 30 guys from all over the country that you can find to play for one team for a season, you all grow really close like brothers,” Annett told NBC Sports' NASCAR Talk. “I’m just really proud of him. I know what it takes, I know how many hot, little kids are hockey players and that’s what they dream of doing. To see him still doing it at the level he is as the captain of a team that’s made the playoffs (in all but one of Pavelski’s 13 seasons), just really proud of him.”

Pavelski led Waterloo in goals (21), was second in points (52) that season, and the team entered the postseason as the lowest seed in the East Division. The Black Hawks upset two higher-seeded teams en route to the Clark Cup, and Pavelski earned a reputation as a playoff performer with 12 points (six goals, six assists) in 12 games. 

Annett follows his old teammate's exploits in the NHL, but it's not a one-way street. He said Pavelski reached out to him after his first Xfinity win in February, and the two still talk occasionally. 

“It’s all through Instagram messages,” Annett said. “When somebody does something pretty cool you reach out and tell him that ‘That was pretty awesome, I’m still following you.'”

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Annett told NASCAR Talk he has followed the Sharks' run in the Stanley Cup playoffs so far, noting that the team has "got to get their act together if they're going to beat the [Vegas Golden Knights]" in the first round. San Jose trails 2-1 in the series, and Pavelski has two points through three games. 

Pavelski will have to be a big part of the Sharks' potential comeback, and his old teammate will be pulling for him. 

Sharks' power play beaten on both ends of ice in Game 2 loss vs. Vegas

Sharks' power play beaten on both ends of ice in Game 2 loss vs. Vegas

SAN JOSE -- The Sharks once again spent a lot of time on the power play in Friday's series-tying 5-3 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 2 of the first round.

But once again, San Jose could only match Vegas' output on the man advantage, as each team finished the night with a power-play goal. This time around, the Golden Knights scored outside of 5-on-5 situations and the power play, tallying short-handed goals in the first and third periods. Each marker gave the second-year franchise a two-goal advantage, and the second short-handed tally all but clinched Game 2.

In all, the Sharks are just 2-for-13 on the power play through two games. They've given up a total of two high-danger chances on those opportunities, according to Natural Stat Trick, and both ended up in the back of their net Friday.

"It's hard to win this time of year if you don't win the special teams," Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said after the loss. "And when you go down, you give up the first three goals of the game and you lose that battle, you're playing with fire. That was disappointing."

The Sharks' eight power-play opportunities Friday included a minute of 5-on-3 time in the first period. San Jose trailed 1-0, but only managed one shot on goal.

But when Colin Miller's penalty expired, he stepped out of the box to intercept Erik Karlsson's pass intended for fellow defenseman Brent Burns, and scored on the ensuing odd-man rush the other way.

The Golden Knights capitalized again in the third period. Vegas forward Reilly Smith grabbed a loose puck after Joe Thornton's shot went wide, and threaded a pass to streaking linemate William Karlsson who only had Sharks backup goaltender Aaron Dell to beat.

Dating back to the end of the regular season, the Sharks have now allowed four short-handed goals in their last five games and six in the last 11. At least on Friday, San Jose winger Evander Kane thought the Sharks' power-play problems could be boiled down pretty easily.

"We just got out-worked," Kane said. "Plain and simple. You can't give up two short-handed goals, and expect to win in the postseason."

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Golden Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who stopped all but one of the 12 shots he faced on the penalty kill, credited his teammates for quickly getting to loose pucks and blocking shots in front of him. The Sharks attempted 27 total shots on their eight power-play opportunities, but 15 were blocked or missed the net entirely.

But San Jose was not able to consistently establish zone time in the offensive zone. Logan Couture noted that the Sharks' zone entries were "decent," but that they looked to pass one too many times, and the Golden Knights were able to clear the danger. Joe Pavelski agreed, and said the Sharks needed to get more shots through to Fleury.

"I think at times it probably wasn't direct enough," the Sharks' captain said. " ... We would get turned back and try to make the play up top, and then they would take that away and they'd be out of the zone. So, it can be a little cleaner. A little quicker. A little more direct, and go from there."

Pavelski noted Friday morning that the Sharks "can't bank on getting power plays," especially as the postseason drags on. The Sharks averaged two fewer power plays (4.5) in last year's second-round series against the Golden Knights, and over three fewer (3.25) in four regular-season matchups.

San Jose's 5-on-5 play was strong once again on Friday, but converting on the man advantage will become even more important if the opportunities aren't as abundant. The Sharks couldn't with ample chances in Game 2, and it cost them.