Sharks As Ready As They Can Be

The San Jose Sharks finished the regular season with a little bit of everything: an improbable and awful shutout loss to the Predators, a frustrating loss to the Ducks, a lopsided victory over the Avalanche, and a win with some high points against the Coyotes. What does this portend about the 2014 playoffs? Not much for certain, but there are clues.

The team has a roster to make fans hopeful. Tomas Hertl is back, Raffi Torres should be soon. Martin Havlat’s scoring engine is sparking to life. A hat trick against Colorado threw some light on that. Add these pieces to a team that has been very successful without them, and the roster looks pretty hot.

(Originally published at Sports Radio Service)

The absence of those pieces gave others a chance to shoulder the burden through the 2013-14 season. Matt Nieto, Tommy Wingels and James Sheppard all increased their public profile considerably this season. They did more than fill holes. They each thrived and grew their games, developing into legitimate scoring threats and versatile, reliable members of the team.

The usual suspects, Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Patrick Marleau and Logan Couture all pulled their weight and more. Joe Pavelski hit the 41 goal mark to end the regular season. If the final game in Phoenix left something to be desired, at least it provided that bonus. Pavelski had a career season, can the team follow suit? (more…)

What Might Have Been: Why the Sharks Wanted to Avoid the Kings

(Originally published at Sports Radio Service)

After the 3-0 loss to the Nashville Predators Saturday night, the odds are pretty slim that the San Jose Sharks will face anyone but the Los Angeles Kings in the first round. Facing the Kings carries an expectation of excessive wear and tear. But there are more reasons than that for the Sharks to have preferred a different opponent for the first round. It is worth looking at how they match up against the Kings, as opposed to the Wild and the Stars, the most likely Wild Card candidates.

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“Must Win” Marathon Could Benefit Sharks

(Originally published at Sports Radio Service)

The San Jose Sharks fell behind the Anaheim Ducks again with Saturday’s 3-2 loss to the Colorado Avalanche. While other teams are in a race to make the playoffs, the Sharks are in a race to not face the Los Angeles Kings in the first round. That would be a good thing to avoid, but the Sharks’ schedule won’t make it easy.

Even with a home ice advantage, the Sharks could anticipate a physically gruelling first round if they face the Kings. Los Angeles does present an uncommonly heavy-hitting adversary, but playoff hockey is rough no matter who the opponent is. Minnesota, Phoenix or Dallas will come ready play hard in their own way.  The Sharks’ particular history with the Kings carries extra baggage but history lives only in our heads. If the Sharks face someone else in the first round, they could lose as easily, especially if they underestimate their opponent just because it isn’t Los Angeles.

The Ducks finish the regular season playing five of eight games against teams in the bottom third of the standings. The Sharks play three of six games against top eight teams to finish. One of the other games is against the Phoenix Coyotes, who may well be fighting for a playoff spot to the last game. The race against the Ducks won’t be easy for the Sharks to win.

On the other hand, whether they catch the Ducks or not, the Sharks will have a chance to elevate their game because they are facing such good competition. That could benefit them no matter who they play in the first round. The Sharks, like many good teams, can stumble in “should win” situations. The risk of injury or fatigue could outweigh the mental conditioning benefits of tough games, but over a span of six games the physical wear and tear should not be very different.

The advantage of avoiding the Kings in the first round is a real one, but ultimately the Sharks will have to be the better team if they want to advance to the finals. Maybe ramping up to the playoffs with a rigorous stretch against top opponents will do the trick.

Pavelski’s Third Hat Trick Propels Sharks to 5-2 Win

(Originally published at Sports Radio Service)

Joe Pavelski has found the trick to three-goal games. Tuesday in Edmonton, he scored his third hat trick, after starting the season without even one hat trick in his NHL career. His three goals boosted the San Jose Sharks to a 5-2 win over the Edmonton Oilers.

Patrick Marleau scored the first Sharks goal of the game, and Martin Havlat scored the game winner in the second period. The Sharks scored three  goals on the power play (two were Pavelski’s). Edmonton goals came from David Perron and Taylor Hall. Antti Niemi made 28 saves for the win, Ben Scrivens made 29 saves for the Oilers.

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Sharks Clinch Playoff Berth, Get Burned in Shootout

(Originally published at Sports Radio Service)

The San Jose Sharks clinched a playoff spot for the tenth season in a row with a shootout loss to the rebuilding and improving Calgary Flames. Goals from James Sheppard for the Sharks and Joe Colborne for the Flames sent the game to overtime. Mike Cammalleri scored the only goal in the shootout to give the Flames the extra point.

In addition to losing the game, the Sharks lost Logan Couture after an injury he sustained in the first period blocking shots. Per Todd McLellan after the game, Couture would be fine, though he could not say if he will play Tuesday. On the positive side, Brad Stuart looked very good in his return to the lineup.

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Have the Sharks Figured Out Who’s On Third?

(Originally published at Sports Radio Service)

Before last Thursday’s game in San Jose, Anaheim Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau was asked about the difference between playing the San Jose Sharks and the Los Angeles Kings. He said:

They’re a little further north? I think LA is more of a harder team as far as bigger and more physical, where these guys play physcial but they’re a better skating team and have more depth in their scoring. I mean, if they ever get completely healthy and they have Pavelski back on the third line, that’s… that’s pretty deep. They’re as deep as any team in the NHL I think.

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Third Line Hot: Sheppard, Havlat Picking Up

(Originally published at Sports Radio Service)

The San Jose Sharks started this season with an unprecedented number of injuries, some that occurred before the season and some that happened early in. One of the casualties of those injuries was a reliable third line. The team had trouble generating steady scoring without moving Joe Pavelski up to the top six, though it had been widely presumed he would be most valuable centering the third line. With just 14 games remaining, the Sharks may have finally solved the third line conundrum. The combination of James Sheppard, Martin Havlat and Tommy Wingels could be the line the team has been looking for.

The trade deadline came and went without any moves for the big club, apart from most of the injured players returning to the lineup. Some of those players are still adjusting to game speed, others have been adjusting to new linemates again and again for most of the season. Martin Havlat and James Sheppard fall into that second category. Good games from those two have been a significant factor in the team’s recent winning streak, currently at five in a row. (more…)

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