Hot-handed Pavelski pushes Sharks to rare win over Sabres

Hot-handed Pavelski pushes Sharks to rare win over Sabres

SAN JOSE – One of the biggest differences in the Sharks’ play under the former coaching staff as compared to the current one, now in its second season, is their ability to routinely get up for any opponent no matter where that opponent may be in the standings. 

Entering Tuesday night San Jose had an impressive record of 24-4-6 mark against teams not in the playoff picture, after playing down to the level of the competition was a real problem under former coach Todd McLellan.

Of course, there was a leadership change in the dressing room, too. Joe Pavelski took over as the captain in a move that might have been just as vital to the Sharks’ recent success as the hiring of Pete DeBoer.

Determined to get past a rebuilding Sabres team that still had the Sharks’ number despite the regime change, it was Pavelski who led the way with a pair of goals in a 4-1 victory. Yes, the Sharks can even beat the Sabres now, too, after getting just one overtime win against them in the previous 11 meetings before Tuesday.

The surging captain, who has seven goals in his last five games, drove the bus.

While the time off during the bye week at the end of February likely helped Pavelski, “in the short time I've known him, he cranks it up this time of year,” DeBoer said. “Those type of guys see the finish line here, and the playoffs, and they start to get really excited. I think you're seeing a little bit of both of those things."

Pavelski added, “the bye week was great,” but he’s “definitely [getting] some confidence. Shooting the puck, finding it in good spots recently.”

Dylan DeMelo got the primary assist on Pavelski’s second goal, when his slap shot bounced off of Josh Gorges’ rear end to the Sharks captain’s tape.

"He's got the hot hand. He does it every night, though,” DeMelo said. “If it's not scoring goals, he's doing something. He works hard all the time in practice. They maybe weren't going in as much as he'd like to early on, but he stays with it, and he's got such great talent around the net. We knew he'd break through, and he's playing huge for us right now."

Beyond Pavelski’s performance was that the Sharks kept their foot on the gas against the Sabres for the duration of the evening. Even after they managed 20 shots on goal in the first period without beating Robin Lehner, including getting a goal waved off, they kept coming in the second and third periods. 

They are the types of efforts have become a staple under the DeBoer/Pavelski partnership – they’ll put forth an honest game on a nearly nightly basis. 

Of course, there was motivation to beat the Sabres, too, considering they are a club that has had the Sharks number of the years, including this one. They erased a three-goal third period deficit to stun San Jose on Feb. 7 in upstate New York, 5-4 in overtime.

It helped that the Sharks got a few bounces. On the game-winning goal that made it 2-1, Micheal Haley got a slight piece of a Cody Franson pass to Jack Eichel, and the sophomore sensation booted it into his own goal at 19:10 of the second period. Logan Couture added third period insurance when he pushed a puck off of Lehner’s stick after the goalie’s ill-advised poke-check attempt, making it 4-1.

“That’s one of those ones, you can’t plan that. It was lucky,” Haley said of his second goal of the season, and first game-winner of his career. “I thought we played pretty well, and luckily we got some bounces.”

Regardless of the hockey gods looking favorably on the Sharks, they deserved to win this one based on their effort.

“We didn't win because of a bounce. We won because we earned that win, and we were the better team all night right from the drop of the puck,” DeBoer said. “I think we knew the history, and we wanted to put an end to it."

Especially Pavelski.

“Buffalo's always found a way to kind of get one on us, for the most part,” Pavelski said. “It's encouraging to see guys really stay with it.”

Sharks' Vlasic joins Canada for World Championships

Sharks' Vlasic joins Canada for World Championships

Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic will compete in the upcoming IIHF World Championships for Team Canada, it was announced on Friday.

The tournament runs from May 5-21 in Paris, France and Cologne, Germany. 

Vlasic, 30, a native of Montreal, has played in the tournament twice before in 2009 and 2012. He also represented Canada in the 2014 Olympic Games, helping it to a gold medal, and the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, which Canada also captured.

In 75 games with the Sharks this season, Vlasic posted 28 points (6g, 22a) and a +4 rating. He was second on the team in shorthanded time on ice (2:04 per game) and blocked shots (146).

A pending restricted free agent in 2018, Sharks general manager Doug Wilson called getting Vlasic signed to a long-term deal an offseason priority for the club. The two sides can begin negotiations on July 1.

“Vlasic [is] arguably one of the best defensemen in the league,” Wilson said. “[He] is still one of the most underrated players in the league in the outside world.”

The Sharks lost in the first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs to Edmonton, although Vlasic and partner Justin Braun helped to keep Connor McDavid in check at even strength. The league's leading scorer had just one even strength point in the six-game series, an empty net goal with less than one second left in Game 6.

Boedker tops list of disappointing Sharks depth forwards

Boedker tops list of disappointing Sharks depth forwards

SAN JOSE – The Sharks didn’t make any blockbuster moves last summer, content to make another run in 2016-17 with largely the same group that came within two wins of capturing the Stanley Cup.

They still acquired a notable player, though, when Mikkel Boedker was signed on July 1 to add an element that the Sharks knew they needed more of moving forward – speed. Boedker was expected to make the team faster, after the Sharks were exposed for not having enough of that against Pittsburgh in the NHL’s final round, as well as play in a top six role. 

At the time, it was hailed as a slick, under-the-radar move that wasn’t going to change the dynamic of the club but could help push it over the top.

When Boedker was a healthy scratch in games three and four of the first round against Edmonton, the evidence became clear, though, that this was a decision that fell flat on its face. 

Frankly, Boedker – who is signed for three more years with a $4 million salary cap hit – brings back visions of Sharks bust Marty Havlat. You know the skill is there, but the desire to use it on a nightly basis while showing any semblance of a battle level is lacking. 

Should the Sharks give Boedker another chance next season, or should they do everything in their power to try and move him? That’s a question that will likely be debated in the front office over the next several weeks.

On get-away day on Monday, indications were that the Sharks were planning on sticking with the 27-year-old, who finished with 26 points in the regular season (10g, 16a) and added one goal and one assist in four games in the playoffs.

“He has the things we’re looking for: his career scoring average, his speed, [penalty killing] ability,” general manager Doug Wilson said. “Did he meet the expectations that he had for himself [or] that we had for him? No. Can we get that out of him? Pete [DeBoer] believes we can.”

DeBoer has known Boedker since he played for him in 2007-08 in Kitchener (OHL). Despite scratching him in the playoffs, DeBoer said he saw “huge improvement” in Boedker throughout the course of the season after the forward spent nearly all of his NHL career in Arizona.

“There was an adjustment. He’s played 6-7 years a certain way in the NHL,” DeBoer said. “We’ve asked him to play differently here, and there was an adjustment.”

Boedker still believes that he can be a fit in San Jose.

“I think it will be and it can be,” he said. “It’s learning period, but you’ve also got to look in the mirror yourself and see what you can change and what assets you need to bring. I’ve learned a lot, and I’m ready to do that.”

The list of Sharks depth forwads that had frustrating seasons hardly begins and ends with Boedker, though.

Veteran Joel Ward’s production dipped from 43 points last season to 29 in 2016-17, although that probably isn’t too surprising considering he’s 36. Tomas Hertl is proving to be a streaky player, too, although his season was interrupted by another a knee injury.

The bigger disappointment came from players like Chris Tierney and Joonas Donskoi, who both made big impressions in the 2016 playoffs but struggled to produce consistent offense this year. Both were mentioned by name by DeBoer on Monday.

There are some promising youngsters in the pipeline like Timo Meier, Kevin Labanc and Marcus Sorensen, but it’s still too early to project any of them as can’t-miss scorers at the NHL level.

“I think we’ve got a large group of guys that I like, but need to step up,” DeBoer said. “Is Sorensen [like] Donskoi next year, where he takes a step back, or [does he take a] step forward? We’ve got a lot of guys that there’s a lot of potential there – Chris Tierney. 

“There’s a lot of those guys, but they need to have big summers and take a step, and show that they’re not just one season or one month players.”