Meier back with Sharks after working on his game in AHL

Meier back with Sharks after working on his game in AHL

ST. PAUL – On paper, Timo Meier’s production after he was reassigned to the AHL Barracuda on Feb. 16 was down. The former first-round pick had just six points (3g, 3a) in 14 games, and was scoreless in his last five, a far cry from what he was doing there earlier in the season and way off his numbers in juniors.

But at just 20 years old, Meier is still in the learning phase of his professional career. And as impressive as the Barracuda have been this season, they’re still playing in a developmental league, first and foremost. Meier got a chance to work on some of the aspects of his game he needed to work on.

“It was obviously hard going back,” said Meier, who has three goals and two assists in 28 games, before Tuesday’s game in Minnesota. “Sometimes you go back there and you try too much, but they told me to work on some things in my game, and I tried to do that.

“For me, going down there it was all about learning stuff on the ice, off the ice. … It’s my first year [in pro hockey], so as a young guy you want to learn and listen to the coaches, too. Just get better.”

Coach Pete DeBoer went into pretty good detail on what the ninth overall pick in the 2015 draft needed to do with the Barracuda, and what he needs to show now that he’s back in the NHL.

“I think with a lot of big, talented young guys, they have to realize when they can make an extra play with the puck and when they have to chip it in,” DeBoer said. “They’re so used to dominating at the levels they’ve been at for so long, that [it’s] easier said than done. It’s habits you have to learn, and you don’t learn unless you’re doing them on a consistent basis.”

Meier’s shot selection, too, is something that needed some improvement, according to the coach. While the power winger might be generating plenty of shot attempts, no doubt pleasing the advanced stats crowd, there’s more to being an effective forward than running up numbers on the Excel spreadsheets.

“You don’t want to shoot [just] to shoot up here, or to just get shots on net. You’re not scoring on NHL goalies like you are on junior goalies from 30 or 40 feet out,” DeBoer said. “You’ve got to pick your spots. Sometimes you have to look for a better play than a shot.”

Meier said: “It’s a really tough league. As a young guy coming in, sometimes you’ve got to stay patient, too, try not [to do] too much. … Sometimes I tried [to do] a little too much.”

Meier has been in the Sharks’ lineup for each of the last two games. He started on the fourth line before getting bumped up to Tomas Hertl’s third line on Monday in Dallas, and returned to the fourth line with Chris Tierney and Micheal Haley for Tuesday’s tilt in Minnesota. He is scoreless with two shots on goal over those two games.

He could be a temporary fill in for Jannik Hansen, who remains out with an upper body injury but could potentially return before the end of the road trip this weekend. Or, perhaps Meier does enough to stick around for the stretch run and the playoffs. There would seem to be an opportunity to push someone else out of the lineup, as the Sharks’ depth scoring has been a season-long problem.

“It’s a great opportunity for me, getting that chance again later on in the season,” Meier said. “I want to put it all on the ice, leave it all out there and just make the best out of every shift I get. Play my game, play within my strengths, [do] the things that got me here, and I’m sure I’ll be successful like that.”

Three takeaways: Sharks' third line woes continue

Three takeaways: Sharks' third line woes continue

ST. PAUL – The losing streak endures, as the Sharks dropped their fourth straight, 3-2 in Minnesota on Tuesday night. A quick start from the home team, and an even quicker response after the Sharks tied it up late in the second keyed the Wild win. Let’s dig a little deeper, though, with our three takeaways…

1 – Wild come out flying

The Sharks’ general lack of panic after their latest loss, as we touched on in the recap, surely had something to do with the circumstances. Minnesota had an extra day of rest while the Sharks were on their second of a back-to-back, with travel. San Jose was also capping off a stretch of seven games in just 11 days (I believe we’ve mentioned here before just how monumentally foolish this year’s NHL schedule is). 

Frankly, the start was predictable. Minnesota was a ticked off team having lost five straight, and even though it had dropped is previous game in Winnipeg, 5-4, it erased a 4-0 deficit in that one only to lose it late. Surely that was a sign that the Wild were ready to break through in the win column.

Pete DeBoer said the Sharks “expected” an early push from Minnesota.

“They’ve been sitting here waiting, they’re desperate, they’re fresh, they’re healthy. We’re coming in on a back-to-back. We knew the first period would be tough. It wasn’t pretty, but we escaped only down 1-0 and I thought from that point on we started to fight back a little bit. Did some good things, just too little too late.”

The Sharks were competitive over the final two periods, finally getting their first goal in more than 138 minutes of game play to make it 1-1 (it was originally credited to David Schlemko, but has since been changed to Patrick Marleau). At that point, though, it was Minnesota’s turn to respond. It did, and that was the game.

2 – Third line woes

We touched on the Sharks’ lack of secondary scorers yesterday, and it was on full display against the Wild again Tuesday night as the third line of Tomas Hertl, Joonas Donskoi and Mikkel Boedker failed to do anything productive. Hertl had one decent chance in the first period from the slot that Devan Dubnyk turned away, but was later too soft and too slow on Minnesota’s third goal, as Zach Parise outhustled and outmuscled him before dishing to Charlie Coyle.

Donskoi finished with two shots, and didn’t even get one off on a second period breakaway. Boedker had no shots, and just one attempt.

Hertl now has no points in his last 10 games, and Donskoi hasn’t found the scoresheet, either, in nine games since returning from an upper body injury.

Prior to Tuesday night’s game, DeBoer indicated it’s taking some time for both players to get up to speed after being out. Hertl, of course, missed two months with his latest right knee injury.

“You come back, there’s a little bit of adrenaline, you’re on a high, and the reality hits that you missed some time and the league is moving at a really fast pace,” DeBoer said. “Just got to play through it and keep battling.”

Hertl said: “I for sure expect [more] of myself. … I try to stay with my game, try and make plays, be strong on the puck, make my linemates better. I need to just keep working all over [in the] D-zone, O-zone, and even power play.”

3 – Dealing without Vlasic

Marc-Edouard Vlasic was the second Sharks player in two nights to be sidelined by a flu bug, so Schlemko was bumped up to replace him paired with Justin Braun, while Dylan DeMelo and Brenden Dillon comprised the third pair.

Schlemko had a nice game, even if he is no longer getting credit for his third goal of the season. He finished with one assist, a plus-one rating, three shot attempts and three blocks.

“You can’t really replace a guy like [Vlasic],” he said. “He’s one of the best defensive D in the league. Just trying to keep it simple. We switched up the partners and spread out the ice time pretty well. Not the start we wanted, but after the first I thought we played pretty well. Played hard.”

DeBoer said: “We've got a little bit of a flu going through. Tierney was out yesterday with it, [Vlasic] got it today. Hopefully, that’s the end of it.”

Sharks not overly concerned with losing streak after latest defeat

Sharks not overly concerned with losing streak after latest defeat

ST. PAUL – Despite losing four in a row in regulation for the first time this season to put what was a commanding division lead just one week ago in jeopardy, the Sharks apparently aren’t ready to hold any closed door meetings or shouting sessions with two-and-a-half weeks to go in the regular season.

There’s a modicum of distress with some aspects of their game, of course, following a 3-2 loss in Minnesota on Tuesday night. But they’re not as concerned as might be expected, if you believe the captain and the coach.

“To be honest, not that concerned,” Joe Pavelski said. “We’ve played games, they’re close games, a lot of these games are one-goal games. It’s such a fine line being on the winning side or losing side. I think we all understand we can be a little bit better.”

Pete DeBoer said: “When I look at the losing streak, we dominated some of those games for long periods and found ways to lose. You never like to lose, but I’m not that concerned. We’ve got to obviously end it. We’ve got to get healthy. I don’t see a bunch of symptoms of a team that can’t get this fixed pretty quickly.”

The difference in Tuesday’s game, the Sharks' third straight by a single goal, was the start. The Wild, attempting to halt a five-game losing streak itself, had the puck in the Sharks’ defensive zone for the majority of the opening frame and early in the second, too. That was aided in part by the Sharks taking three minor penalties over the first 21 minutes.

Joel Ward’s avoidable neutral zone hooking penalty led to Matt Dumba’s power play goal midway through the first, and Dylan DeMelo and Joe Thornton took subsequent minors themselves. Playing in the second of a back-to-back against a rested opponent that would surely be fired up, the Sharks even discussed staying out of the box before puck drop.

Didn’t happen.

“That was something that we talked about before the game that we can’t do tonight, especially considering the circumstances,” DeBoer said. “We didn’t want to tire ourselves out killing penalties or getting behind. We did that, so didn’t help ourselves.”

David Schlemko said: “We wanted to stay out of the box. Not the start we wanted. I thought overall the kill was pretty good, but they got one there and we’re playing from behind again, which is not ideal.”

Although they managed to tie it on Schlemko’s goal late in the second – ending a scoreless streak of more than 138 minutes – the Wild came right back with a pair of quick scores by Martin Hanzal and Charlie Coyle to claim a 3-1 lead. 

Patrick Marleau’s aggressive forecheck and some miscommunication between Devan Dubnyk and Ryan Suter brought San Jose back to within striking distance before the intermission to cap off what was a furious sequence of four goals in a little more than one minute, two by each team.

DeBoer said: “We had earned that [Schlemko] goal. We played a really good period. We put a lot of pressure on them, I thought we threw a lot of pucks to the net. … It’s unfortunate that the next two shifts, they got two more.”

“We had a lot of good [offensive] zone time [in the second period], so we were feeling good about coming back,” Marleau said.

But the Wild locked it down in the third, surrendering just five shots to San Jose and forcing the Sharks into a number of turnovers as they tried to move through the neutral zone. Dubnyk’s most important save came with a little more than four minutes left, when he froze a Ward attempt as the big winger drove the puck to the net. That was essentially the Sharks’ only good chance of the final frame.

The Sharks will now get two days off now before returning to American Airlines Center for a game in Dallas. There’s a chance they won’t be in sole possession of first place in the Pacific Division anymore by then.

They’re not overly concerned about that, either.

“I’m more worried about how we’re playing,” Logan Couture said. “Try not to look at the standings, and worry about how we’re playing in here.”