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.”

Analysis: Wilson could be taking calculated risk with Thornton, Marleau

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AP

Analysis: Wilson could be taking calculated risk with Thornton, Marleau

The NHL offseason is about to heat up with the draft this weekend in Chicago and the start of free agency on July 1. Here’s what we’re hearing in regards to the Sharks, who could be at an organizational crossroads…

What’s the latest with Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau?

It’s been quiet regarding to two franchise cornerstones that could officially become unrestricted free agents in eight days and are free to speak with other teams on Sunday. There has been dialogue, as Doug Wilson has said, but the general manager always prefers to keep contract negotiations private.

We do know that there have never been any gentleman’s agreements between the Sharks and Thornton and Marleau for after the expansion draft. I continue to see this theory suggested by some – both media and fans alike – but it’s simply not true, as we've reported here in the past.

At this point, Thornton and Marleau will surely wait until June 25 to see what kind of offers roll in from other clubs. They should learn pretty quickly what kind of interest is out there.

From the Sharks’ perspective, the term of any potential deal is vital. If Thornton and Marleau still want at least three years – as we’ve reported here previously – that might not work for the Sharks, as their top offseason priority is to sign Martin Jones and Marc-Edouard Vlasic to long-term extensions. 

Wilson could be taking a calculated risk, especially in Thornton’s case, as the general manager no doubt knows that Thornton would prefer to stay in San Jose (it’s less clear how much Marleau wants to return). If there aren’t any other teams out there willing to sign a 38-year-old player coming off of a significant knee injury to a three-year deal, Thornton could settle for a one or two-year deal to stay with the Sharks. If another team is willing to go that long, Thornton could always give the Sharks a chance to match.

Which Sharks players could be on the move in a potential trade?

There have already been a few huge trades as of Friday morning, including the Blue Jackets snagging Artemi Panarin from Chicago for Brandon Saad, the Coyotes acquiring Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta from the Rangers, and Niklas Hjalmarsson from Chicago.

Could the Sharks join the party? It’s certainly possible, as the team could probably use another forward or two than can put the puck in the net.

I could see the Sharks dangling Chris Tierney, for reasons that I laid out last week on my Facebook page when I thought that the club might protect a fourth defenseman and leave Tierney unprotected. In short, Ryan Carpenter’s return should make Tierney more expendable; coach Pete DeBoer has been pretty critical of Tierney in the past; and Tierney, a pending restricted free agent, remains unsigned. 

Further, you have to wonder if Tierney might be better off on another team for his own growth. If the Sharks re-sign Thornton, Tierney will be firmly entrenched as the fourth line center behind Thornton, Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl. Could his camp be pushing for a trade, prompting the Sharks to make sure they kept Carpenter around?

As for other potential trade bait, the Sharks have some organizational depth at defense right now, even after they shipped Mirco Mueller to the Devils. Perhaps they try and move one of their established defenseman for the right price, if they think any of the youngsters are ready to make the leap to the NHL, or maybe they could move one of the blue line prospects for an established veteran scorer.

It’s worth noting, too, that one source texted me last week, “I think there is more coming from Doug and crew.”

Is Micheal Haley going to return?

The only other UFA from the Sharks’ NHL roster last season, other than Thornton and Marleau, is Haley.

There continues to be mutual interest between the two sides. Pete DeBoer likes Haley, he’s a respected guy in the dressing room, and his teammates appreciate the role he plays. That doesn’t mean a deal will get done, as the Sharks have more pressing matters to navigate through first, but Haley could be back in the fall.

The Sharks have some key restricted free agents, too. What’s going on with those guys?

The deadline to qualify restricted free agents is Sunday. Expect the Sharks to qualify Tierney, Marcus Sorensen and Barclay Goodrow.

The remaining RFAs are Nikita Jevpalovs, Mantas Armalis and Patrick McNally. All three could be allowed to walk, and therefore become unrestricted.

Sharks have bevy of young defensemen to replace Schlemko

Sharks have bevy of young defensemen to replace Schlemko

CHICAGO – If there were a best-case scenario for the Sharks regarding the expansion draft, it probably would have been the Vegas Golden Knights selecting Mikkel Boedker, and the three years and $12 million remaining on his contract.

Instead, the Golden Knights swiped David Schlemko. While the 30-year-old was a nice third pair defenseman in his only year with the Sharks, it was probably the second-best case from San Jose’s perspective. The team should be able to fill the vacancy internally without too much difficulty. Schlemko had two goals and 18 points in 62 games last season, and has three years left on his contract at $2.1 million annually.

“I think it’s worked out well for all parties involved,” said general manager Doug Wilson. “You go into expansion, you know you’re going to lose a player. David came in and played well for us. We signed him as a free agent, so we didn’t have to give up an asset to get him. So, we think we moved through the expansion phase with the good young players coming in that are ready to play and compete for that spot. That’s probably as good as we could have expected to come out of expansion, in that position.”

If there are no other major moves on the Sharks’ blue line this offseason, the spot to play alongside Brenden Dillon will be there for the taking in training camp. There’s no reason, of course, to break up the top four of Marc-Edouard Vlasic-Justin Braun, and Brent Burns-Paul Martin.

Dylan DeMelo would figure to have the inside track on the job, but there are others like Tim Heed and Joakim Ryan, each of whom signed two-year contract extensions on June 17. They served as the AHL Barracuda’s top defense pair for most of the season.

The 24-year-old Ryan, a sixth round pick in 2012, posted 10 goals and 49 points in 65 games last season in the AHL. He was recalled once by the Sharks but did not play. Heed, 26, is an offensive defenseman that tallied 14 goals and 56 points in 55 games with the Barracuda and played in one game with the Sharks on Jan. 11 in Calgary. Ryan is a left-handed shot; Heed, like Schlemko and DeMelo, shoots right.

Regarding Ryan, Wilson said: “He’s right on track. He’s the type of guy that – if you look around the league at the number of young defensemen that are making an impact – he thinks and plays the game the right way.”

“Watching [Ryan and Heed] play together, I would say they were arguably the best defense pair in the AHL last year.”

There are other defensemen to monitor, too. The Sharks signed soon-to-be 25-year-old Czech Radim Simek to a one-year contract on May 23, beating out several of other NHL teams to acquire his services. 

“He’s a puck-moving guy,” Wilson said. “He’s got a little bite to him, too. Not tall, but thick and strong. We think he’s a guy that has the skill set to step right in and play. We’ll see how much time it takes him to adjust to the smaller rink.”

And don’t forget about Jeremy Roy, either. The first pick of the second round in the deep 2015 draft (31st overall), Roy is expected to join the organization next season, likely starting his pro career with the Barracuda after recovering from a significant knee injury that ended his junior season in late October.

“He had a major repair, but he’s back healthy,” Wilson said. “We’ll see him this summer, and he’s a puck-moving guy. … Injuries you can’t control, but we have high expectations for Jeremy.”

* * *

Vegas shipped Schlemko to the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday for a fifth round pick in the 2019 draft.