Analysis: Sharks rely on experience to turn up heat on Oilers

Analysis: Sharks rely on experience to turn up heat on Oilers

SAN JOSE – There are varying opinions as to whether momentum in a playoff series carries over from game to game. Usully, it’s not worth diving too deeply into the subject.

But after a 7-0 Sharks win in Game 4 over an Edmonton team that lacks playoff experience, it’s fair to contemplate whether the lopsided nature of the victory on Tuesday resonates in a bad way in the Oilers’ dressing room headed into Thursday’s pivotal Game 5 at Rogers Place.

The longer a series goes, the more a team's experience should be able to temper the momentum, both good and bad. The Sharks weren’t gripping their sticks too tightly ahead of Game 4, despite going exactly 120 minutes without a goal, and it showed, especially after captain Joe Pavelski – who missed a wide open net in Game 3 that could have changed the course of the game – got the Sharks the first goal with one of his patented tips just 15 seconds after the opening faceoff.

The Sharks also know that just because they won so easily on Tuesday, Game 5 could quickly get away from them if they’re not ready to compete at the same level.

“It’s one win, that’s it,” Logan Couture said. “It’s 2-2, best-of-three left. We’re going to go try and win a game in Edmonton.”

Game 4, though, was the kind of response that tends to come from a veteran team that has seen and been through it all. The situation was strikingly similar to last season’s second round when the Predators outplayed the Sharks pretty thoroughly in Game 6 before San Jose went home and dominated Game 7, 5-0, to advance to the Western Conference Final.

Although coach Pete DeBoer has downplayed the importance of the experience factor since before the series began, that could be similar to last season when he did the same in the Sharks-Kings series, rejecting the notion of how much it meant for the Sharks to exorcise those playoff demons from the past – only admitting to it after the Sharks had knocked off their biggest rival.

That's not to say the young Oilers can't rise to the challenge and quickly put their awful performance in Game 4 behind them, of course. If Connor McDavid finally breaks through and puts the team on his back, it wouldn’t be overly surprising. This is still just a hockey game, after all.

There’s a chance, though, that McDavid - who looks to be getting frustrated - and his teammates will still be thinking about everything that went wrong in Game 4. And it was, in fact, everything.

Coach Todd McLellan said after the game that he actually wanted his players to ponder it for a little while.

“I don’t want our players to necessarily forget about it tonight,” McLellan said. “I’d like them to think about it, and think about some of the things that they need to do better. But, we will park the game.”

Somewhere in their minds, though, the Oilers will be aware that if they drop Game 5 at home, their season will be on the brink in Game 6 back in San Jose. After the bloodbath on Tuesday, the last thing they want is to have to go back to the Shark Tank in an elimination game.

Is the pressure back on the Oilers now?

“Maybe. I think we’re used to it over here,” Thornton said. “I’d like to think we can go into there and be confident.” 

Joel Ward said: “Hopefully [we can] just carry that momentum for our side. For us, it’s just worry about us. Keep putting on that pressure.”

The pressure was applied by the battle-tested Sharks in Game 4, big time. How the Oilers respond to it for Game 5 could determine the series.


Sharks conclude 2017 NHL Draft with five more forwards in the system

Sharks conclude 2017 NHL Draft with five more forwards in the system

CHICAGO – After nabbing a center in the first round on Friday, the Sharks added four more forwards and one defenseman to conclude the second day of the annual NHL Entry Draft on Saturday, held this year at United Center.

The Sharks weren’t explicitly trying to restock their forward cabinet, according to general manager Doug Wilson and scouting director Tim Burke, although the club did make two separate moves in surrendering some later round picks to move up in the fourth round (to take center Scott Reedy) and sixth round (to take left wing Sasha Chmelevski).

First, though, it was defenseman Mario Ferraro in the second round at 49th overall. The offensive defenseman was a player that the Sharks targeted, using the pick they acquired from New Jersey last Friday as part of the trade for Mirco Mueller.

“He’s got a lot of speed, offensive guy, exciting,” Burke said. “Puck-moving type of guy.”

Wilson said: “We’re very pleased with the d-man. He’s a very dynamic, athletic guy, great skater. He was a guy that we moved up a little bit aggressively to get because that round, you could see people going after who they wanted. He is a guy that we identified.”

After moving up from the fifth round to the fourth round last Friday, again because of the Mueller trade, the Sharks jumped up 21 more spots in the fourth round by obtaining the Rangers pick at 102nd overall for the 123rd and 174th selections.

Center Scott Reedy is a player that Burke has high hopes for, projecting the Minnesota native as a “second line right winger [with] high-end potential.” Burke pointed out that Reedy, who is friends with first round pick Josh Norris, occasionally played on the same line with Norris for each of the last two seasons with the U.S. Under-18 team.

“He’s a big, strong forward that can play both positions (center and right wing),” Burke said.

Right wing Jacob McGrew, an Orange, CA native, went to the Sharks in the fifth round despite missing all of his first season in junior with a lower body injury suffered in training camp with Spokane (WHL).

“We knew about him before he went up there,” Burke said. “He’s a California kid. … If he was healthy he probably would have gone earlier.”

The Sharks again moved up to snag Huntington Beach native and center Chmelevski at 185 overall, and made their sixth and final pick in the 212th position by taking left wing Ivan Chekhovich in the seventh round. Both players look to have some offensive skill, based on their numbers and Youtube highlights.

Burke was surprised that both players were around so late.

“I thought they had pretty good years and they kind of slipped in the draft,” he said. “We weighed that versus some other more project-type guys, and we thought they had more offense and finish to their game. They just kept sliding, so we took a chance on them.”

Wilson said: “We moved up for the guys we wanted, and then there were some skilled guys at the end that we were surprised were still there. … We’ll go back and take a look how it all went, but we feel, I think, really good about where we ended up with this.”

Sharks coach DeBoer had 'good relationship' with Kovalchuk

Sharks coach DeBoer had 'good relationship' with Kovalchuk

CHICAGO – Ilya Kovalchuk is still reportedly mulling over a return to the NHL, four years after he surprisingly walked away from a monstrous contract with the New Jersey Devils to play in the KHL.

The Sharks have been linked to Kovalchuk, in large part because of Pete DeBoer, who was Kovalchuk’s most recent head coach. In 2011-12, Kovalchuk was a dangerous scoring winger under DeBoer, helping the Devils reach the Stanley Cup Final.

It was apparently a good working relationship between the player and the coach for the two seasons they were together, DeBoer said on Friday at the NHL Entry Draft at United Center.

“I loved Kovy in New Jersey,” DeBoer said. “We went to a Stanley Cup Final together. He was a huge piece for us there. I really enjoyed coaching him. I haven’t seen him in four or five years now. I’m sure there’s still a lot of game left there.”

DeBoer said he’s had no contact with the 34-year-old Kovalchuk, who would have to be traded by New Jersey before signing a new contract with any other NHL club. Still, it seems like the Sharks’ coach might welcome a reunion with Kovalchuk, who posted 78 points in 60 games with SKA Saint Petersburg last season, and has 816 points (417g, 399a) in 816 career NHL games with Atlanta and New Jersey.

“I had a really good relationship with him. I had a lot of respect for him as a player and a person,” DeBoer said.

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DeBoer seemed as uncertain as everyone else as to whether Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau will return to the Sharks or move on to other clubs as free agents.

But, naturally, it’s on his mind.

“You think about it all the time,” DeBoer said. “They’re obviously important pieces in the history of the franchise, and in our group. I also understand the business side of this, and there’s always tough decisions to make. The way I approach these type of things is I’m going to go to Canada and relax, and Doug [Wilson] is going to make those decisions. I’m sure we’ll have a good group come training camp.”

“We’ve got a really good core group of guys and some tough decisions that have to be made. The one thing Doug and his group has shown over the years is their ability to stay competitive, to find a way even after making tough decisions. I have all the faith in the world in that, and I’m excited about training camp.”

* * *

The Sharks lost David Schlemko in the expansion draft earlier in the week. Vegas then flipped him to the Canadiens for a fifth round pick in 2019.

“I think for David, it’s a great opportunity for him, especially going to Montreal,” DeBoer said. “For us, it’s an opportunity for a young guy to jump in. The one thing we have in the organization is some depth. There’s a lot of guys knocking on the door, and guys hungry to grab that job.”