Five Sharks season-defining moments

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Five Sharks season-defining moments

Whether or not the San Jose Sharks had a successful regular season is debatable (sure, they're in the playoffs, but were expected to be a much higher seed), but at least one thing is certain it was interesting. Below are five season-defining moments for the club, for better or for worse, as the playoffs loom.

Did we leave any out? Let us know in the comments section below.

Early (only?) road success The Sharks opened the regular season with a dominant 6-3 win over the Phoenix Coyotes at HP Pavilion, in a game that wasnt as close as the score would indicate. Immediately after that, San Jose dropped three straight to the Ducks (twice) and Blues, with a long East Coast road swing on the horizon.

RELATED: Sharks scheduleresults

It was there that the club put together its longest winning streak of the season of five games, including impressive wins in New Jersey, Boston, Nashville and Detroit. The trip culminated in a 5-2 loss to the Rangers, in which Sharks captain Joe Thornton called New York the softest team they faced on the trip, garnering some national media attention in the process.

The Havlat hop The season wasnt going particularly well for Sharks winger Marty Havlat. The winger missed all of training camp and the first four games of the regular season, and after an initial push, was fairly invisible for the next six weeks.

RELATED: Marty Havlat 2011-2012 game logs

On Dec. 17 against Edmonton, it got worse. The oft-injured scorer crumpled to the ice after what should have been a simple line change, missing the next 39 games with a partially torn hamstring. Havlat was much more effective upon his return in mid-March, recording 12 points in the final 13 games, and has been a strong playoff performer in the past. The Sharks will need him to be just that beginning on Thursday in St. Louis.

Wilder in Van They were among the two most entertaining games of the season. Its always notable when a team faces the club that ended its playoff run the previous year, and the Sharks got a chance to end 2011 and begin 2012 with a home-and-home against the Vancouver Canucks.

On Dec. 28, the Sharks fought back from a 2-0 deficit and lost in overtime to the Canucks, 3-2. At Rogers Arena on Jan. 2, the Canucks fought back this time with a goal midway through the third period, only to see San Jose win it in a shootout, 3-2. Even more than earning three of a possible four points, though, was the fact that the Sharks proved they could play inspired and determined hockey (and entertaining, to boot) against one of the best teams in the NHL.

REWIND: Box Scores -- 12.28: Van. 3, Sharks 2 1.2: Sharks 3, Van. 2

Travel issues Things were already trending downward when the Sharks left for a brutal nine-game, 15-day road trip in the middle of February. It promptly got much, much worse.

The club had lost five of nine games before dropping a 3-0 decision in St. Louis on Feb. 12 in the first game of the trip in what was a sign of things to come. San Jose continued on to lose to some of the worst teams in the NHL, such as Carolina, Columbus and Minnesota, while ineffective goaltender Antti Niemi was pulled in two of the final four games of the trip. A 1-0 win over Philadelphia in the first game back on Feb. 28 provided some temporary relief, but the Sharks promptly lost five more in a row after that. The season was slipping away.

Finishing strong The Sharks sat in ninth place out of playoff position headed into their final four games against rivals Dallas and Los Angeles. Furthermore, the club was coming off of two particularly disheartening losses in Anaheim and Phoenix in the two games leading up to a March 31 meeting with the Stars.

The Sharks prevailed in that one, though, 3-0, and followed it up with an equally important 5-2 victory in Dallas. Their playoff position was solidified just before an April 5 meeting with the Kings, in which they beat Los Angeles in a wild 6-5 shootout. The season ended on a high note when Dan Boyle scored in the third period and again in overtime to put San Jose in the seventh seed and allow them to avoid Vancouver for at least one round.

Meier back with Sharks after working on his game in AHL

Meier back with Sharks after working on his game in AHL

ST. PAUL – On paper, Timo Meier’s production after he was reassigned to the AHL Barracuda on Feb. 16 was down. The former first-round pick had just six points (3g, 3a) in 14 games, and was scoreless in his last five, a far cry from what he was doing there earlier in the season and way off his numbers in juniors.

But at just 20 years old, Meier is still in the learning phase of his professional career. And as impressive as the Barracuda have been this season, they’re still playing in a developmental league, first and foremost. Meier got a chance to work on some of the aspects of his game he needed to work on.

“It was obviously hard going back,” said Meier, who has three goals and two assists in 28 games, before Tuesday’s game in Minnesota. “Sometimes you go back there and you try too much, but they told me to work on some things in my game, and I tried to do that.

“For me, going down there it was all about learning stuff on the ice, off the ice. … It’s my first year [in pro hockey], so as a young guy you want to learn and listen to the coaches, too. Just get better.”

Coach Pete DeBoer went into pretty good detail on what the ninth overall pick in the 2015 draft needed to do with the Barracuda, and what he needs to show now that he’s back in the NHL.

“I think with a lot of big, talented young guys, they have to realize when they can make an extra play with the puck and when they have to chip it in,” DeBoer said. “They’re so used to dominating at the levels they’ve been at for so long, that [it’s] easier said than done. It’s habits you have to learn, and you don’t learn unless you’re doing them on a consistent basis.”

Meier’s shot selection, too, is something that needed some improvement, according to the coach. While the power winger might be generating plenty of shot attempts, no doubt pleasing the advanced stats crowd, there’s more to being an effective forward than running up numbers on the Excel spreadsheets.

“You don’t want to shoot [just] to shoot up here, or to just get shots on net. You’re not scoring on NHL goalies like you are on junior goalies from 30 or 40 feet out,” DeBoer said. “You’ve got to pick your spots. Sometimes you have to look for a better play than a shot.”

Meier said: “It’s a really tough league. As a young guy coming in, sometimes you’ve got to stay patient, too, try not [to do] too much. … Sometimes I tried [to do] a little too much.”

Meier has been in the Sharks’ lineup for each of the last two games. He started on the fourth line before getting bumped up to Tomas Hertl’s third line on Monday in Dallas, and returned to the fourth line with Chris Tierney and Micheal Haley for Tuesday’s tilt in Minnesota. He is scoreless with two shots on goal over those two games.

He could be a temporary fill in for Jannik Hansen, who remains out with an upper body injury but could potentially return before the end of the road trip this weekend. Or, perhaps Meier does enough to stick around for the stretch run and the playoffs. There would seem to be an opportunity to push someone else out of the lineup, as the Sharks’ depth scoring has been a season-long problem.

“It’s a great opportunity for me, getting that chance again later on in the season,” Meier said. “I want to put it all on the ice, leave it all out there and just make the best out of every shift I get. Play my game, play within my strengths, [do] the things that got me here, and I’m sure I’ll be successful like that.”

Three takeaways: Sharks' third line woes continue

Three takeaways: Sharks' third line woes continue

ST. PAUL – The losing streak endures, as the Sharks dropped their fourth straight, 3-2 in Minnesota on Tuesday night. A quick start from the home team, and an even quicker response after the Sharks tied it up late in the second keyed the Wild win. Let’s dig a little deeper, though, with our three takeaways…

1 – Wild come out flying

The Sharks’ general lack of panic after their latest loss, as we touched on in the recap, surely had something to do with the circumstances. Minnesota had an extra day of rest while the Sharks were on their second of a back-to-back, with travel. San Jose was also capping off a stretch of seven games in just 11 days (I believe we’ve mentioned here before just how monumentally foolish this year’s NHL schedule is). 

Frankly, the start was predictable. Minnesota was a ticked off team having lost five straight, and even though it had dropped is previous game in Winnipeg, 5-4, it erased a 4-0 deficit in that one only to lose it late. Surely that was a sign that the Wild were ready to break through in the win column.

Pete DeBoer said the Sharks “expected” an early push from Minnesota.

“They’ve been sitting here waiting, they’re desperate, they’re fresh, they’re healthy. We’re coming in on a back-to-back. We knew the first period would be tough. It wasn’t pretty, but we escaped only down 1-0 and I thought from that point on we started to fight back a little bit. Did some good things, just too little too late.”

The Sharks were competitive over the final two periods, finally getting their first goal in more than 138 minutes of game play to make it 1-1 (it was originally credited to David Schlemko, but has since been changed to Patrick Marleau). At that point, though, it was Minnesota’s turn to respond. It did, and that was the game.

2 – Third line woes

We touched on the Sharks’ lack of secondary scorers yesterday, and it was on full display against the Wild again Tuesday night as the third line of Tomas Hertl, Joonas Donskoi and Mikkel Boedker failed to do anything productive. Hertl had one decent chance in the first period from the slot that Devan Dubnyk turned away, but was later too soft and too slow on Minnesota’s third goal, as Zach Parise outhustled and outmuscled him before dishing to Charlie Coyle.

Donskoi finished with two shots, and didn’t even get one off on a second period breakaway. Boedker had no shots, and just one attempt.

Hertl now has no points in his last 10 games, and Donskoi hasn’t found the scoresheet, either, in nine games since returning from an upper body injury.

Prior to Tuesday night’s game, DeBoer indicated it’s taking some time for both players to get up to speed after being out. Hertl, of course, missed two months with his latest right knee injury.

“You come back, there’s a little bit of adrenaline, you’re on a high, and the reality hits that you missed some time and the league is moving at a really fast pace,” DeBoer said. “Just got to play through it and keep battling.”

Hertl said: “I for sure expect [more] of myself. … I try to stay with my game, try and make plays, be strong on the puck, make my linemates better. I need to just keep working all over [in the] D-zone, O-zone, and even power play.”

3 – Dealing without Vlasic

Marc-Edouard Vlasic was the second Sharks player in two nights to be sidelined by a flu bug, so Schlemko was bumped up to replace him paired with Justin Braun, while Dylan DeMelo and Brenden Dillon comprised the third pair.

Schlemko had a nice game, even if he is no longer getting credit for his third goal of the season. He finished with one assist, a plus-one rating, three shot attempts and three blocks.

“You can’t really replace a guy like [Vlasic],” he said. “He’s one of the best defensive D in the league. Just trying to keep it simple. We switched up the partners and spread out the ice time pretty well. Not the start we wanted, but after the first I thought we played pretty well. Played hard.”

DeBoer said: “We've got a little bit of a flu going through. Tierney was out yesterday with it, [Vlasic] got it today. Hopefully, that’s the end of it.”