Sharks-Blue Jackets: What to watch for


Sharks-Blue Jackets: What to watch for

Columbus (10-23-5) vs. Sharks (21-11-4) at 7 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet California.

SAN JOSE -- The Sharks host the Columbus Blue Jackets at home tonight, looking to extend their winning streak to three games. After sweeping a mini-road trip with wins in Vancouver on Monday and Anaheim last night, the Sharks have points in nine of their last 10 games overall and lead the Pacific Division with 46 points.

Greiss to start: Its been more than a month since Antti Niemi has vacated the Sharks crease, but Thomas Greiss will get the call in net against the Blue Jackets. Greiss hasnt played since Dec. 3 when San Jose lost at home to the Florida Panthers, 5-3.

In eight games this season, Greiss is 4-4-0 with a 2.37 goals-against average and .918 save percentage.

Niemi will serve as the backup, while Antero Niittymaki continues to be the odd man out.

No time to rest: The Sharks will play their third game in four nights, while Columbus enters well rested. The Blue Jackets havent played since New Years Eve, when they surrendered a 2-0 third period lead in losing to the Washington Capitals, 4-2. Columbus actually arrived in San Jose on Tuesday, which isnt uncommon for East Coast teams visiting California as they adapt to the time difference.

Rick Nash leads Columbus with 27 points, tied with Vinny Prospal, while newcomer Jeff Carter has 10 goals and seven assists in 27 games.

San Jose concludes a stretch of four games in six nights when it hosts the Capitals on Saturday.
Third period woes: The Blue Jackets, last overall in the NHL, enter with the worst goal differential in the third period. Theyve been outscored by 26 goals combined in the final 20 minutes (52-26), and are just 8-6-2 when leading after two.

The Sharks havent exactly dominated the third period, either. Theyve scored just 25 times, and only the New York Islanders have fewer.

San Jose has allowed just 24 goals in the third, though, the second fewest behind Boston.

Wingels watch: The Sharks made a roster move in time for tonights game, recalling winger Tommy Wingels. Theres a chance Wingels could get into the lineup, as McLellan wasnt too pleased with some of his forwards after the win in Anaheim.

You have to contribute, especially when you play this many games, said the coach. We had some guys that didnt do a lot tonight, and maybe well look at making some changes.

McLellan used a third line of Andrew Desjardins, Jamie McGinn and Brad Winchester, which generated the tying goal against the Ducks when Winchester fired in a wrist shot on a pass from McGinn late in the second period. Torrey Mitchell and Andrew Murray, meanwhile, did not see much ice in the second half of the game.

Wingels is second on Worcester in scoring with 21 points (13g, 8a) in 29 games. In eight career NHL games, all with San Jose, Wingels has one assist and four penalty minutes.

Wingels began the season on the opening night roster, playing three of the first four games before being reassigned.

Odds and ends: Blue Jackets defenseman James Wisniewski, signed in the off-season, is out with a broken ankle. San Jose is 17-1-2 all-time against Columbus at HP Pavilion. Sharks defensemen Jim Vandermeer and Colin White remain on injured reserve.

Burns getting his points, but other Sharks d-men are not

Burns getting his points, but other Sharks d-men are not

SAN JOSE – Brent Burns has resumed his place among the NHL’s highest scoring defensemen. His nine points (3g, 6a) puts him first among all blueliners, and ties him for second overall in the league scoring race with six others.

For the rest of the Sharks’ defense corps, though, the points haven’t been there just yet. Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s overtime score on Tuesday was the first goal by a Sharks defenseman that employs the use of a razor on a regular basis, while he and the four others on the back end have combined for just three assists in seven games.

While that lack of production is reflected in the team’s goals-per game average – 2.26, 26th in the NHL – coach Pete DeBoer isn’t all that concerned. He attributes it more to being unlucky than anything else.

“We’ve put a lot of pressure on the other team five-on-five. The puck has bounced, or we just haven’t finished,” DeBoer said. “We’re getting some chances. Most nights we’re out-chancing the other team, and usually that’s a formula for success for us.”

The Sharks have been a strong team in terms of possession, as the coach indicated. They are averaging 32.4 shots per game, fourth in the NHL, and are second in the NHL in shot attempt percentage in close games (56.3 percent).

Still, they could have more. Vlasic, Justin Braun, David Schlemko, Paul Martin and Brenden Dillon have a combined 51 shots on goal, but they’ve also had 48 attempts that have been blocked. In fact, Braun and Martin both have had more attempts blocked than have that made it through to the goalie.

“Five-on-five we haven’t really been getting the tips or the dirty goals around the net that come off shots, but that starts with us getting it through,” said Braun, who has seven shots, but 12 that have been blocked. “The more shots we can get towards the net the better chance we’ll have for the forwards to bang some home, and go from there.”

David Schlemko is also scoreless through seven games, but he managed six shots against the Ducks on Tuesday and has 17 for the year (with 13 blocked). Other than Burns, he’s been the Sharks’ most effective defenseman at getting the puck through.

Brenden Dillon (nine shots, eight blocked) and Paul Martin (five shots, 10 blocked) have one assist each.

Martin indicated that it gets harder and harder every year to get shots through, as more teams commit to getting in lanes. The Sharks also make it a point to put the puck on Burns’ stick as much as they can, considering how much of a weapon he is. Both are factors in those low point totals.

“A lot of times we key on making sure that [Burns] gets the puck. But teams do a better job each year at getting in lanes and blocking shots and fronting pucks and packing it in [around the net],” Martin said. “It’s harder to get pucks through to the net than it used to be.”

The primary role of the defense, of course, is to defend. Except for some notable lapses against the Rangers and Red Wings, the Sharks have been doing that fairly well, holding the opposition to just 24.9 shots per game, second in the NHL.

As long as they keep that up, and Burns continues to produce, the Sharks will be in a good position to win on a nightly basis.

“We’re defending well,” DeBoer said. “That’s our team defense, and that starts with us controlling the play, playing in the other team’s end [and] putting pressure on the other team. I think that’s something that we’ve prided ourselves on all the way back to the beginning of last year.”

Rewind: Vlasic the unlikely hero in Sharks OT win

Rewind: Vlasic the unlikely hero in Sharks OT win

SAN JOSE – Prior to the season’s start, Marc-Edouard Vlasic mentioned that the Sharks’ blue line group might not get the league-wide respect it deserves due to it only having “one offensive defenseman.” He was, of course, referring to Brent Burns.

Through the first six games, that was the truth. Burns entered Tuesday night’s action with nine points, tied for the league lead in scoring, while the other five Sharks defenseman had just three assists – combined.

For at least one night, though, it wasn’t Burns who was the offensive hero. That honor went to Vlasic, who seized a loose puck in the neutral zone in overtime against Anaheim, raced ahead towards goalie John Gibson on a partial breakaway, and finished off a beautiful goal in giving the Sharks a much-deserved 2-1 win at SAP Center.

“Put my head down, breakaway, cut across and I was able to put it in,” said Vlasic, who had the presence of mind to use his skate to keep a backchecking Corey Perry from knocking the puck away. 

Pete DeBoer said: "He's got some speed when he wants to use it, and he's a big game player. That's what he does. Those guys find another level at key times, and he's one of those guys.”

The goal served as poetic justice in that the Sharks were the much better team throughout three periods. San Jose held a 35-20 advantage on the shot clock but only managed one goal, a power play marker by Joe Pavelski in the first period. Chris Wagner answered that late in the second period, despite San Jose registering 15 of the 20 shots in the middle frame.

DeBoer rearranged all four of his forward lines after the Sharks were shut out in Detroit on Saturday, and the Sharks looked much more dangerous despite just the single lonely marker before overtime.

“There’s a lot of good little things that we did well,” Pavelski said. “We were on the attack, felt like we were on the inside. We just weren’t cashing in or getting that bounce.”

Logan Couture said: “We created some chances. We could have had a couple. Each line played pretty well.”

DeBoer, too, liked what he saw from his new combos.

“If we keep playing like that, it's going to come,” he said. “But, it was a nice response game after the Detroit game.”

Perhaps the most consistent part of the Sharks’ game through seven games has been their penalty kill. San Jose fought off all three Ducks advantages, including a brief five-on-three in the first period shortly after Pavelski had opened the scoring.

Micheal Haley took exception to a high hit by Clayton Stoner on Patrick Marleau, and dropped the gloves with the Anaheim defenseman. He was issued an instigation minor to go along with a fighting major and 10-minute misconduct, and one minute and 24 seconds later, Tomas Hertl was busted for a faceoff violation.

Couture, Burns and Paul Martin worked to nullify the two-man advantage, and the Sharks proceeded to kill the remaining time on the Hertl penalty, too.

“It was an important time of the game with a one-goal lead,” said Martin Jones, who made seven saves on the PK and 19 total.

Penalties like Haley’s, where he was sticking up for a teammate, are also easier to get up for according to the goalie.

“I don't think he was expecting to get an instigator call on that one, but yeah, we'll kill that off, for sure,” Jones said. “Hales is a good team guy to go out and do stuff like that."

San Jose is 18-for-22 on the penalty kill overall, including a third period kill of a Joe Thornton holding-the-stick minor at 4:09.

“We’ve allowed [four] goals against, but they were unfortunate bounces or really nice shots from them that we could do nothing about,” Vlasic said. “Penalty kill has been good. Guys have been bearing down, blocking shots when we need to.”

The Sharks will remain at home where they will host the rebuilding Blue Jackets on Thursday and Predators on Saturday. After an odd training camp with many players missing and a tough five-games-in-eight-days road trip after the home opener, they’ll get a chance now to enjoy a much more normal day-to-day routine, with practice.

Tuesday’s win could serve as a solid foundation on which to build.

“That was definitely one of our better games this year,” Couture said. “It was good from basically start to finish.”

Especially the finish.