Can season adversity bring playoff success?


Can season adversity bring playoff success?

EL SEGUNDO More than any other NHL team since the leagues work stoppage, the San Jose Sharks know the feeling of starting the playoffs after a dominant regular season.

Thats not going to happen this year, should the Sharks qualify, which could happen as soon as tonight in Los Angeles. Its been a struggle for just about the entire run, beginning with three losses in the first four games. The Sharks look like they can beat the best in the league on one night, and then fall flat on their faces against a bottom-feeder the next.

With so much on the line in the last month, and especially the last week, can the Sharks take any positives from having to fight tooth and nail just to get in to the postseason?

Logan Couture thinks so.

Weve battled through a lot of adversity, and that makes teams stronger and brings it closer together. I think that definitely helps, he said.

It hasnt been a dream season, but sometimes those seasons, if you get in, you can make them work in your favor, Todd McLellan said. We know what it feels like to cruise through a season and be number one, and then all of a sudden the pressure comes. In this situation, weve been playing with pressure for a month now. I dont know how much can change if were lucky enough to get in. Well just keep on playing and do our thing.

Step 1 is securing a playoff spot, something the Sharks can do with a win against the Kings tonight.

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I dont want to speculate because weve still got to win some games to get into the postseason, but its been a struggle and hopefully it will smooth out during the playoffs, Joe Thornton said.

Ryane Clowe credits the Sharks coaching staff for keeping things positive around the team, even while it was in the midst of a miserable road trip at the end of February and continued with poor results for a couple weeks in early March, too.

I think if youre on the outside looking in at a team, kind of the way its been going with us with high expectations, you probably say wow, it must be miserable in that dressing room. But, every day coming to the rink has been real positive, trying to keep things as light as possible. Guys are upbeat, and still have a lot of confidence. Thats the biggest thing Ive noticed.

I think the coaches are doing a great job. Todds been great as far as being positive, and every day has been a move-forward kind of approach.

One of the biggest criticisms of the Sharks in recent years, of course, is that the team may be a little too loose or too relaxed, but Clowe doesnt see it that way.

I dont think its been a negative loose. If anything, its shown at times, especially in the last couple games weve played free, as far as being able to score goals, make plays, and not take any dumb penalties.

When you get to this situation you dont want to be constantly grinding it out and pushing. I think thats what wears on you. Were fresh mentally, and were good to go.

Kings talk Sharks

The Los Angeles Kings bring a 2-1-1 advantage into the final two games of the season with the Sharks, including a 5-2 win at Staples Center on March 20.

I think theyve played us hard. We always expect a hard game against them, Drew Doughty said. I think we kind of built a rivalry against them, especially with losing to them in playoffs last year. As a team, we match up well against them. Theyve got those two really big lines that put up a lot of points.

Vezina Trophy candidate Jonathan Quick said: Theyre a great team. They know what they have on the line, as much as we know what we have on the line. We know what to expect.

Rewind: Power play paces Sharks in strange night at the Tank

Rewind: Power play paces Sharks in strange night at the Tank

SAN JOSE – First, there was a delay in the Sharks-Blue Jackets game when the lights suddenly went out late in the second period. Another interruption occurred in the third, when the referees decided to spend more time on an offside challenge that overturned a Brenden Dillon goal than the Warren Commission did on the Zapruder film.

In a few months, those occurrences may end up being more notable to many in the SAP Center crowd than the actual game result, a 3-1 Sharks win on Thursday night. Inside the home dressing room, though, it was a pair of goals by the second power play unit and a strong performance by goalie Martin Jones that will be how they remember this one.

Joonas Donskoi’s first period goal with Markus Nutivaara in the box staked the Sharks a 1-0 lead, while Tomas Hertl’s marker in the third period with Jack Johnson serving a tripping minor increased it to 2-0. Hertl added a late empty netter to seal it, after Scott Hartnell brought the Blue Jackets to within one with less then three minutes to go.

It was the second straight game the Sharks didn’t get an even strength goal in regulation (other than the empty-netter), yet found a way. They beat Anaheim in three-on-three overtime on Tuesday, 2-1.

“Right now the five-on-five goals are hard to come by,” Pete DeBoer said. “We're creating chances, but the power play won us the game tonight." 

Hertl said: “Exciting night for us, the second [power play unit], because we scored two goals.”

The newest addition to that unit, defenseman David Schlemko, assisted on each of the first two goals. He spotted Donskoi wide open in the circle on the first, and got a secondary helper on Hertl’s first goal.

Although they were his first two points of the season, Schlemko is quickly proving to be the second-most talented offensive defenseman on the team. He’s managed 20 shots on goal through eight games – exactly half of Burns’ 40, but nearly double Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s 11.

“It's nice to get [the points] of the way,” he said. “I feel like I've been getting lots of pucks to the net, so it's nice to see a couple go in finally."

Donskoi figured Schlemko would spot him all alone standing on the faceoff dot.

“He's pretty good with the puck, so I think he just saw me,” Donskoi said. “It's good to have a guy like that."

It’s also good to have a guy like Jones, who made some key saves early on the penalty kill and preserved the lead while Sergei Bobrovsky was making some potentially game-changing stops on the other end. Jones’ 24 saves lowered his goals-against average to 2.32, and upped his save percentage to .908.

“We had quite a few grade-A chances, [Bobrovsky] kept them in it pretty good,” said Joel Ward, who was stopped on an early second period breakaway. “Obviously Jonesy has been there for us since day one. It’s good that he’s feeling the groove, we’ve just got to put some pucks in.”

Neither Jones nor his teammates let the odd circumstances, including Dillon’s apparent goal that was nullified after a seven-minute delay in the third period of a 1-0 game, get to them. 

“There was a couple things there out of our control, but I thought considering that, we stuck with it and found a way,” DeBoer said.

Ward said: “We’ve got a good group and a mature group, and we know how to handle situations.”

The Sharks are also gaining momentum at home with their third win in as many tries, even if their own building doesn’t want to cooperate all the time with pesky details like keeping the ice surface brightened.

“With [the lights going off] and the disallowed goal it felt like a triple overtime type of game,” Ward said. “Haven’t seen that before, but hopefully since we won, maybe it happens again and we can capitalize.”

Schlemko wasn’t here last season, but he heard all about the team’s struggles at SAP Center when it was the only playoff team that didn’t win at least half of its home games (18-20-3).

“I think we wanted to clean up the home record and have teams know it's going to be a tough night coming in here,” he said. “It's been a pretty good start."

Instant Replay: Donskoi, Hertl lift Sharks over Jackets

Instant Replay: Donskoi, Hertl lift Sharks over Jackets


SAN JOSE – Three combined goals from Joonas Donskoi and Tomas Hertl, coupled with 24 saves from Martin Jones, pushed the Sharks to a 3-1 win over Columbus on Thursday at SAP Center.

Both of the Sharks’ goals before a late empty netter came from the second power play unit.

In the first period, David Schlemko found Joonas Donskoi wide open in the circle with a cross-ice pass, and Donskoi squeezed a wrist shot through Sergei Bobrovsky at 12:59. The goal was Donskoi’s first of the season.

Hertl increased it to 2-0 with 7:55 to go in regulation, with Jack Johnson in the box for tripping Patrick Marleau. A Marc-Edouard Vlasic shot hit Hertl in front of the net, and Hertl spun around and swept the loose puck through for what stood as the game-winner.

Schlemko assisted on both goals for his first two points in a Sharks sweater.

Scott Hartnell brought the Blue Jackets back to within 2-1 with 2:50 to go, when he redirected a Lukas Sedlak rebound over the line, but that was as close as the Blue Jackets would get. Hertl’s empty net goal with one second left capped the scoring.

The Sharks (5-3-0) improved to a perfect 3-0 at home, and swept the two-game season series with Columbus, including a 3-2 win at Nationwide Arena on Oct. 15.

Bobrovsky kept it 1-0 deficit for his club in the second period. He denied Joel Ward on a breakaway in the first minute of the middle frame after Justin Braun found him wide open at the blue line, and later robbed Brent Burns cutting towards the net when Chris Tierney’s pass through the slot gave the Sharks defenseman a glorious scoring chance with 12:16 to go.

Columbus’ best chance to tie it came with about six minutes left, when Hartnell missed a tap in after Burns gave it away to Sam Gagner in the defensive zone.

The Sharks seemingly increased their lead to 2-0 a little more than six minutes into the third period when Brenden Dillon’s heavy blast from high in the zone found its way in through traffic. A lengthy review showed that Chris Tierney was offside just before Marleau brought the puck over the blue line, however.

With the Sharks up 1-0, the teams went to their dressing rooms with 2:42 remaining in the second period after the lights illuminating the ice surface went dark. Power was restored, and they played the end of the second and the third period after the early intermission.

San Jose is 21-4-2 all-time against the Blue Jackets in San Jose.

Special teams

For the second straight game, the Sharks failed to score an even strength goal into a manned net in regulation, but won anyway. They were a perfect 2-for-2 on the power play.

Columbus was 0-for-3 on the power play. San Jose is 18-for-19 on the PK over its last five games.

In goal

Jones was making his fourth straight start, and has played in seven of the first eight games. He is 4-3 on the season, and 2-2 in his career against Columbus.

Bobrovsky dropped to 5-4-2 in his career against San Jose. The former Vezina Trophy winner has played every game for the Blue Jackets.


Micheal Haley skated in his second straight game in place of Matt Nieto, who was again a healthy scratch.

Up next

The Sharks close out their homestand with Nashville on Saturday. It will be the first meeting since San Jose eliminated the Predators in seven games in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last May.