Sharks-Colorado: What to watch for

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Sharks-Colorado: What to watch for

DENVER Everyone needs a day off sometimes, and the Sharks are no different. After arriving in Denver late Sunday night following the 3-2 overtime loss to Chicago, the Sharks regulars had a complete day off on Monday to regroup, refocus and re-energize before tonights game against Colorado.

Everyone who was asked about the down time on Tuesday morning after the teams skate agreed it was much needed.

It was nice to just stay in the hotel and walk around the mall, and just get away from the rink and the grind. Hopefully, it will do us some good tonight, said Joe Thornton.

We had three games in four nights, and its tough on your body, especially back-to-backs against teams like St. Louis and Chicago, both hard forechecking teams, said Logan Couture. It was a tough way to end in Chicago, but I thought we played well for two periods. We have to rebound tonight. We need two points.

Coach Todd McLellan pointed out that it had been weeks since the Sharks had a complete day off from anything having to do with hockey. The team was supposed to be off last Sunday, but a bad 5-3 loss to Florida the night before resulted in an intense 50-minute skate instead.

In hindsight, McLellan seemed to second-guess that decision.

Sometimes, you lose sight of where your team might be. When youre not winning you want to bring them to the rink and work them more, and practice more, he said. Sometimes youre grumpy and you skate them maybe a little extra, and dont realize where they are physically.

I ran into a couple of them walking around in the street yesterday, and it was about 11:00 or 11:30 in the morning and a lot of them were just crawling out of bed. Maybe that day will be good for us, both mentally and physically.

Jamie McGinn, who has four goals in the last six games, said: Guys got a lot of rest, and were ready to go today.

Sticking with Niemi: McLellan wouldnt have shocked anyone if he decided to start Thomas Greiss tonight rather than Antti Niemi. After all, Greiss hasnt played since last Saturdays 5-3 loss to Florida, and won here at the Pepsi Center on Nov. 20 with 37 saves.

That wont be the case, though, as Niemi (11-6-2, 2.30 GAA, .920 SP) will make his fifth start in eight days.

Nemo had a good day of rest yesterday. We expect him to play, and play well, said McLellan.

The Sharks also expect the same lineup forward and defense-wise as played in Chicago, meaning Matt Irwin will have to wait at least one more game to make his NHL debut. Douglas Murray (right hand) and Jim Vandermeer (upper body) remain out, as well.

Semyon Varlamov (9-12-1, 3.07 GAA, .898 SP) will start for Colorado.

More O, same D: Its the ultimate challenge in the NHL how do you generate offense while maintaining responsibility in the defensive zone?

The Sharks have been outstanding in their own zone since that loss against Florida, in which some brutal turnovers led to Panthers goals. Taking a look at the stretch since then, San Jose gave up just 21 shots to Minnesota, 20 to Dallas and 19 to St. Louis.

Before the late charge by the Blackhawks resulted in 34 shots against on Saturday, aided by some exhausted Sharks players, San Jose held a loaded Chicago offense to just 13 shots through two periods.

How do you keep that defensive play strong, while trying to get more goals?

Its a fine line, said Thornton. We feel comfortable in the one-goal games, but wed like to try to get a little bit more offense without giving too much on the back side. Its a fine line, but hopefully we can start scoring some more goals here.

Thats just it, you have to play well in your own end to create offense in this league, said Couture. If you break out clean and you dont spend any time in your own end, youre going to get chances in the other end.

Of course, it doesnt help that some of the Sharks' big offensive weapons have collectively gone cold. Over the last nine games, Joe Pavelski has just two points (1g, 1a); Marty Havlat just three assists; Partick Marleau one goal; and Thornton three assists.

You always have players that struggle, but to have a number of them all at the same time, its not a healthy thing for our team, said McLellan.

Still, he doesnt want it to come at the expense of solid team defense.

You need those top guys to score, but you dont want them to do it at the risk of cheating or anything defensively, said the coach. Our defensive game hasnt been bad. We want to keep that and find a way to get some offensive rewards, eventually.

Power play improvement: The Sharks had just two power plays against Chicago, and although they didnt score on either one, looked better and more organized.

The reason?

Our intent up top was to shoot first and dish later, which was a huge difference, said McLellan. We got into the zone a lot easier and we got pucks back. We looked dangerous, and we reviewed it this morning in our power play meeting, we looked how were supposed to look.

Still, the Sharks are just 1-for-25 in their past eight games. Colorado isnt much better, bringing a 1-for-23 cold streak in their last seven games into tonight.

Both clubs are also near the bottom of the penalty killing rankings. Colorado is 25th in the NHL (79.3 percent) while the Sharks are 28th (75.3 percent).
Odds and ends: The Sharks won 4-1 at the Pepsi Center on Nov. 20, behind a Patrick Marleau hat trick. Tonights game is on Versus at 6 p.m. PST.

Three takeaways: Sharks make life easy on Avs rookie goalie

Three takeaways: Sharks make life easy on Avs rookie goalie

SAN JOSE – It took overtime for the Sharks to surpass the worst team in the NHL, but the points are valuable any way they come in the second half. Here are our three takeaways from the 3-2 victory on Saturday night…

1 – Top guys struggle, but depth comes through

It wasn’t a very good night for the captain’s line, which was particularly sloppy on Colorado’s tying goal in the third period. Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic weren’t much better, as the former was caught out of position a couple times, and the latter was tagged with six giveaways.

But those guys have been playing the bulk of the minutes lately, so they’re allowed to have an off night. At least, that’s how Pete DeBoer saw it.

“We've ridden our big guys pretty hard,” DeBoer said. “They played some tough minutes with some of the opponents we played this week, in L.A. and on and on. Tonight's a night you're looking for your depth guys to step up and give you some energy, and I thought we got that."

The Sharks’ fourth line was probably its best from start to finish, including Melker Karlsson’s goal, from Ryan Carpenter.

“[Tomas] Hertl's missed 30 games, so we needed somebody to come in and help us out in that area, and he's done that,” DeBoer said of Carpenter.

2 – Making it too easy on Martin

Spencer Martin was making his NHL debut in difficult circumstances, playing in front of what has been an incredibly loose team in its own end against one of the best teams in the Western Conference. But, the Sharks made it easy on him most of the night.

Avs forward Nathan MacKinnon, who had a tremendous game, told the Denver Post that he thought Colorado was the better team.

“Tonight, we outplayed them,” he said. “We outplayed the team that went to the (Stanley Cup) Finals last year, and there were some bright spots for us. We have to climb out of this hole and have a good last 30, 40 games here and go into next season feeling pretty good about ourselves.”

They’ll get another chance against the Sharks on Monday at Pepsi Center as the teams conclude their two-game season series. San Jose will try and give the Colorado goalie, whoever it is, a more difficult time.

“When we’re on our game, we’re making it tough with grind time and traffic at the net, some chances,” Joe Pavelski said. “Tonight we didn’t have as many as we could have had. We’ll try to find a little bit more for next game.”

Schlemko said: “We just didn’t have as much grind time in the o-zone as we usually do. If you’re not playing in their end you’re usually playing in your end.”

3 – Ward gets another on the power play

Joel Ward’s resurgence continues, as the forward again found a way to contribute on the scoresheet. His first period power play goal was one of the easier scores he’ll have, on a nice setup by Joe Thornton.

“[Thornton] had it behind the net and came around the side, and sent it to me on the far side, so it went in,” Ward said.

The 36-year-old Ward has nine points (3g, 6a) in his last 13 games. To put that in perspective, the last time he was a healthy scratch on Dec. 20, he had just nine points in 31 games on the season.

Sharks win 'ugly' vs Avs as they fight through brutal schedule

Sharks win 'ugly' vs Avs as they fight through brutal schedule

SAN JOSE – Playing their fifth game in eight days thanks to the condensed (some would say foolish) NHL schedule this season, perhaps it’s not all that surprising that the Sharks looked like they hit a wall on Saturday night at home against Colorado.

Still, this was the Avalanche, who have been far and away the NHL’s worst team for the past six weeks. Even a subpar effort should be enough.

And, it was. The Sharks got a power play goal by Joel Ward and another from their fourth line, while David Schlemko pounced on a rebound in overtime to push the Sharks to a 3-2 win.

It was an uninspiring victory, but a victory nonetheless.

“Two points is what was the important thing,” Ward said. “It wasn't our best, but we found a way."

Joe Pavelski said: “We had some moments where we were good. Some that we could have been better. It’s a game right now that you’ve got to really stick to your foundation, because there’s a lot of games in a lot of nights here.”

Coach Pete DeBoer, who has skillfully managed his veteran team’s rest since taking over at the start of last season, wasn’t all that critical of the Sharks’ effort, either, even though they made life far too easy on rookie goalie Spencer Martin making his NHL debut.

To DeBoer, the Sharks may be in the midst of their toughest stretch of games on the calendar. By the time they host the Oilers on Thursday in the final game before the All-Star break, San Jose will have played seven games in just an 11-day span.

“I feel the fatigue, and I haven't played a game. I'm just coaching,” he said. “We found a way to win. It was ugly, but we found a way."

Perhaps the most encouraging aspect from the Sharks’ perspective is that their fourth line continues to make an impact, scoring a goal for the third straight game. Ryan Carpenter got on the scoresheet for the second straight, floating a puck towards the net that was redirected by Melker Karlsson. It gave the Sharks a 2-1 lead with five minutes to go in the second period.

“I think we fit pretty good together,” Karlsson said of playing with Carpenter. “Good centerman, good guy. It’s fun.”

Pavelski said: “You can see [the fourth line is] playing with confidence. They’re playing hard. They’re in on a lot of pucks, and giving us energy that way, and they’re getting rewarded.”

The game-winner was a simple one from Schlemko’s perspective. He hopped over the boards, slithered towards the crease, and stickhandled in a Logan Couture rebound for his second goal of the season.

“The rebound came right to me and I just had to tap in,” Schlemko said. “I’ll take those any day.”

While the Sharks were fighting through some physical and mental sluggishness, Colorado looked better than a team that hasn’t won a regulation game in a month and a half. Playing in front of a goalie making his first NHL start likely had something to do with that, as they tried to give Martin an honest effort.

Nathan MacKinnon was particularly effective, generating a game-high seven shots and setting up Colorado’s first score. Just before that goal that was finished off by Mikhail Grigorenko, MacKinnon breezed through the neutral zone untouched, and Pavelski mentioned that area of the game as a troublesome one for his club.

“Whether they were good in the neutral zone or we weren’t as sharp – that wasn’t a very strong point of our game, I don’t think. Turned over a few too many pucks,” he said.

The Sharks will have a better idea of what to expect headed into Monday’s rematch in Denver. Whether they have their legs back by then is uncertain.

“It was hard from an energy point of view for us today,” DeBoer said.