Cross-country road trip looms large for Sharks

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Cross-country road trip looms large for Sharks

Feb. 4, 2011SHARKS PAGE SHARKS VIDEO

Kevin KurzCSNCalifornia.com

With six wins in the last seven games, the San Jose Sharks are feeling pretty good about themselves these days and its a good thing, too, because they are about be spending plenty of time with one another.Technically, their season-long seven-game stretch began with Wednesday nights 4-3 victory in Anaheim, but that was just a jaunt south. The meat-and-potatoes of the expedition started on Thursday with a cross-country flight to Boston, where the Sharks will play the Bruins on Saturday afternoon.REWIND: Sharks edge Ducks, start road trip with 4-3 win
San Jose will play six games in 11 days beginning with that game, and now that the calendar has turned to February and the Western Conference standings are so tight, the trip will go a long way into determining their playoff fate.RELATED: NHL standings
That being said, heres a brief capsule on each of the teams the Sharks play on the remainder of their excursion, and a few things to look out for in each game.Saturday, Feb. 5Sharks at Boston10:00 a.m., CSN California
San Jose visits the former home of captain Joe Thornton and will meet a formidable opponent in the Northeast Division-leading Bruins. Boston may have lost center Marc Savard again with another concussion, but the team still has plenty of firepower and a balanced attack, led by Patrice Bergerons 41 points. Goalie Tim Thomas is probably the front runner for the Vezina Trophy, as his .945 save percentage and 1.82 goals against average are leading the league by a significant margin. The Sharks will have their work cut out for them if they want to keep their streak of seven straight games without a regulation loss intact.Tuesday, Feb. 8
Sharks at Washington
4:00 p.m., CSN CaliforniaThe Washington Capitals season is somewhat comparable to that of the Sharks. Both teams were regarded as preseason contenders for the Stanley Cup, but both have their work cut out for them if they want to challenge for even a division title. Obviously, when talking about the Capitals, Alex Ovechkins name comes to the forefront. The Russian star is not having an Ovechkin-like season though, and his 19 goals puts him in a tie for 22nd in the NHL in that category (although hes still 11th in the league in scoring with 51 points). It will be up to players like Dan Boyle to keep Ovechkin, who is known to struggle against top defenses, in check. Washington visits San Jose on Feb. 17 in their first home game after the road trip.Wednesday, Feb. 9
Sharks at Columbus
4:00 p.m., CSN CaliforniaAfter two tough games, San Jose begins a stretch of three straight against teams not in playoff position (and not expected to be in the playoffs). Its also the only time on the trip that San Jose will be playing in a back-to-back situation. Fortunately for them, the Blue Jackets are, too, with a game in Pittsburgh the night before. Columbus has struggled in the goals-against department, at 3.14 per game (26th in the league), so the Sharks should get plenty of chances offensively if they maintain their recent offensive pressure. Its the fourth and final meeting of the two teams, who faced off in Sweden to start the year, and San Jose is 1-1-1 in the first three games.Friday, Feb. 11
Sharks at New Jersey
4:00 p.m., CSN CaliforniaThere are several adjectives available in the English language when describing the New Jersey Devils season this year, and none of them are positive. New Jersey has set up shop in the basement of the NHL, and prized free agent and 100 million-dollar man Ilya Kovalchuk has been a major disappointment. Having said all that, the Devils have been playing much better hockey lately, going 8-1-1 in their last 10 games. With Jacques Lemaire re-installed as head coach, they play with a defense-first mentality. Scoring the first goal of the game and getting a lead is of utmost importance because the Devils will just sit back in their zone if they are ahead, making it much harder to beat Martin Brodeur. Thorntons hat trick led the Sharks to a 5-2 home win over the Devils on Oct. 27.Sunday, Feb. 13
Sharks at Florida
2:00 p.m., CSN CaliforniaFlorida is one of those teams that plays hard most nights, but just doesnt have the talent level to keep up with the NHLs big boys. That is, except, in goal, where annual trade-deadline rumor Tomas Vokoun has been known to steal games for the Panthers. Floridas strength lies with Vokoun and the defense, which includes Dennis Wideman and Bryan McCabe, who are strong on both ends of the ice. The teams rarely see one another as this is just their third meeting in the last three-plus seasons, and San Joses first visit to Florida since Oct. 24, 2008.Tuesday, Feb. 15
Sharks at Nashville
5:00 p.m., CSN CaliforniaThe most important game of the trip for the Sharks will probably be the last, when they visit the Nashville Predators. The pesky Preds are right in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race, and are a team that the Sharks know well. Like San Jose earlier this year, the Predators have been blowing third period leads lately -- a bad sign at this point in the season. In fact, three of their last four losses have come in games in which they led in the final frame. Nashville has, however, won both of its games with the Sharks this season, including Jan. 8 when Pekka Rinne made 42 saves in a 2-1 victory. Its a good bet these teams will still be neck-in-neck in the standings when the puck drops at Bridgestone Arena.

Reports: Bogut agrees to buyout with 76ers, considering four teams

Reports: Bogut agrees to buyout with 76ers, considering four teams

Andrew Bogut is reportedly searching for a new home.

The big man agreed to a buyout with the 76ers on Monday and is considering four teams for his next destination, according to The Vertical's Shams Charania.

Cleveland, Houston, San Antonio and Boston are reportedly in the running for Bogut's services.

On Sunday, ESPN's Tim MacMahon reported that two of his sources said they expect Bogut to sign with the Cavs.

Last week, Dallas traded Bogut to Philadelphia.

The Warriors are eligible to re-sign Bogut, but Golden State is looking to add a guard in the coming days.

Ahead of trade deadline, Sharks must decide on top line

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Ahead of trade deadline, Sharks must decide on top line

SAN JOSE – Less than 48 hours before the NHL trade deadline on Wednesday at noon, the Sharks’ brain trust has at least one important decision to make.

Are they comfortable rotating left wingers in and out of the Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski line, or should an upgrade be attempted via the trade market? There are a number of players said to be available that could provide the team with some forward depth and scoring punch ahead of the playoffs.

Seven different wingers have played on that so-called top line, none of them lasting more than one continuous stint there than Patrick Marleau from Nov. 21 – Jan. 3. 

In total, seven different players have started a game on that line, including Marleau (25 games), Tomas Hertl (13 games), Kevin Labanc (6 games), Mikkel Boedker (5 games), Timo Meier (4 games), Joel Ward (4 games) and Melker Karlsson (4 games). Injuries have played a role, of course, but it seems as if coach Pete DeBoer has been looking for someone to seize that position. 

Pavelski, though, didn’t seem overly worried about the ongoing alternation.

“We’ve had a few different players there, and I don’t think it’s a concern,” said the captain. “You’re always looking for chemistry and something set in stone if you can get it, but throughout a game, things change.”

DeBoer laid out what he’s looking for in a player to skate alongside Thornton and Pavelski, as well as the kind of player that wouldn’t fit in that role.

“You have to play [at Pavelski and Thornton’s] level and their work ethic,” said the coach. “They want the puck. They want to hunt the puck and want someone to get in there and retrieve pucks so that they can have possession. 

“I can tell you a guy who doesn’t fit would be a guy who is strictly a shooter, or kind of lets other people do the work and just goes to holes. They need somebody that’s going to work at their level and hunt the puck, so that’s got to be part of it.”

Labanc is the latest player to hold down that spot, starting there for the last four games and remaining there for Monday’s practice at Sharks Ice. Just 21 years old, Labanc has contributed a respectable seven goals and 18 points in his first 46 NHL games. Still, he hasn’t scored a goal in his last 22 games, and has just one assist and four total shots in the last four games.

It’s debatable whether the still-smallish Labanc is ready for the rigors of an NHL schedule on a full-time basis, which would make it dangerous for the Sharks to go into the postseason with someone like him in such a key position. DeBoer, though, praised the rookie’s recent efforts.

“I thought he’s done a good job. He’s got some of those [aforementioned] attributes,” DeBoer said. "He’s an offensive guy, [and] he thinks on their level offensively.”

Other teams in direct competition with the Sharks for a Western Conference title are adding pieces, particularly up front. Anaheim acquired scoring winger Patrick Eaves from Dallas, the Blackhawks brought in Detroit forward Tomas Jurco, and Minnesota gave up a haul to Arizona for center Martin Hanzal.

If the Sharks don’t make a move, they will likely go the whole season without bringing in a single player from the outside other than their young prospects. That would be unique, especially for a team that has championship aspirations.

Pavelski seemed to insinuate that he expects at least one body to arrive.

“Whoever we get, hopefully they’ll fill a little depth or add a little something, and we’ll go from there,” he said.

But if not?

“It doesn’t change anything if nothing happens, that’s for sure. We’re going to keep trying to get better.”