Mailbag: Which teams pose biggest threat to Sharks in 2017 playoffs?

Mailbag: Which teams pose biggest threat to Sharks in 2017 playoffs?

Some mailbag questions as the end of the regular season draws near…

Which teams pose the biggest threat in the Western Conference to the Sharks’ playoff run? (@Broly2442)

The obvious answers are Minnesota and Chicago. That Wild team, in particular, looks like it may have San Jose’s number based on what we’ve seen in two games in the regular season. I think the Sharks match up slightly better against the Blackhawks, who have more top end talent but aren’t quite as deep as the Wild. Last season, the Sharks did a great job shutting down the opposition’s top players in the first three rounds. It's was Pittsburgh's depth that did them in.

If you’re looking for a dark horse team that could be trouble for the Sharks, though, I’d suggest Nashville. San Jose struggles most of all with speedy teams, and that’s the Predators’ identity, especially after swapping Shea Weber for P.K. Subban in the offseason. If there’s one team I would hope to avoid in the first round if I’m a Sharks fan, it’s Nashville.

Anaheim is another club that the Sharks probably don’t want to see in the first round. Although they’ve had an uneven regular season, the Ducks are a team with a Stanley Cup-winning coach, have given the Sharks problems in recent years, and will be out to make up for some recent playoff failures. The records could go out the window if the Sharks and Ducks face off.

Jones and Dell have been great, but with Groesnick on fire in AHL, are we going to see him called up? (ichael @mleeb)

Well there’s no reason to carry three goalies or to use Troy Grosenick at this point on the NHL club, but I imagine he’ll stick around as the third goaltender for the playoffs if the Barracuda get knocked out before the Sharks do.

The 27-year-old has picked a good time to have a standout year in the AHL, too. There’s very little chance of him returning here, since Aaron Dell is signed through next season and Martin Jones obviously isn’t going anywhere. As a pending unrestricted free agent Grosenick should draw some interest around the league, especially considering how many teams have struggled with their goaltending this season. 

Do you think Micheal Haley makes [the] playoff roster or do you think they'll put a scorer in his place? (Marcus Zimmerman @3zimmem45)

I like what Haley’s brought this season. Whether that earns him a place in the active lineup when the postseason starts could depend on the opponent, much like it has throughout the season. Obviously, guys like Haley tend to become less important in the playoffs, but it’s not like he’s hurt the team when he’s been in there. His 10 points (1g, 9a) and plus-six rating in 47 games are evidence enough of that. 

That all said, I would still be a little surprised if he’s in the lineup for Game 1 of the first round, as young guys like Kevin Labanc and/or Timo Meier could be back by then. But it wouldn’t shock me, either.

With Jannik Hansen part of the team, do you see him as someone they want to expose or protect during the expansion draft? (Joshua Williams @JWill_707)

Very little doubt in my mind that the Sharks will protect Hansen. He’s signed through next season, and the Sharks are on the hook for just $2 million of his salary. They are much more likely to expose forwards Mikkel Boedker and Joel Ward.

On another note, I’ve canvassed quite a few scouts lately about the Sharks’ acquisition of the 30-year-old Hansen, and not one of them thought it was a bad move. According to one, the Sharks acquiring Hansen may have been the best move of any team in the league before the deadline.

Given the age of the team and the fact they were runners up [last season], do you think they could have gone more all-in at the deadline? (@ZaakJiwa)

If you’re suggesting could they have made a bigger move, that wouldn't have been the correct approach. Keeping in mind they were already up against the salary cap, if they were going to try for, say, a Matt Duchene, they would have had to part with at least one or two key players. 

That wouldn’t have made much sense based on where they are in the standings, and how much they value this team’s chemistry.

 

In return to San Jose, McLellan emerges victorious, ends Sharks' season

In return to San Jose, McLellan emerges victorious, ends Sharks' season

SAN JOSE – To borrow a phrase from Chuck Woolery, Todd McLellan was back in two and two.

Saturday’s Game 6 between the Sharks and Oilers marked exactly two years and two days since the Sharks-McLellan love connection was broken up, as the coach and his staff were all essentially fired on April 20, 2015. But McLellan and assistants Jim Johnson and Jay Woodcroft quickly resurfaced with the Oilers a few weeks later, and now they’re moving on to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs at the expense of their former employer.

At what was his home for seven seasons, McLellan took the press conference podium at SAP Center as the victorious visiting coach after Edmonton’s 3-1 win clinched the series in six games. Asked what the moment meant to him, McLellan preferred not to focus on himself or his staff.

“It’s not about Todd, it’s not about Jay or Jimmy. It’s about the Oilers and the group of players there that are growing up in front of us,” McLellan said.

“We’re part of this team now. I obviously have a soft spot for a lot of the players that are here in San Jose. They gave us a hell of a series. They helped us grow up by pushing us, and we’re lucky to get through. That’s an important thing for us.”

Amazingly, the Oilers managed to prevail with just one even strength point from Connor McDavid, who led the league in scoring in the regular season. That point came with less than a second remaining on the clock on Sunday when McDavid converted on an empty net.

The focus from the outside, among many of the Edmonton and San Jose media, was that the Sharks were doing an admirable job of defending the 20-year-old, who had 30 goals and 100 points in the regular season. Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun, in particular, were keeping McDavid frustrated.

While that may be the case, McLellan said after Game 6 that he had no problem with the McDavid vs. Vlasic showdown. In his view, the Oilers could win the series elsewhere.

“There was a lot of talk in this series about us trying to get Connor away from Vlasic and Braun. Obviously we don’t want to talk about it during the series, but we had an eye on [Ryan Nugent-Hopkins] against [Joe Thornton’s] line, especially since they put them together. That was a match we were looking for.

“You can’t get everything. When you’re a coach, the media experts find something and they keep going to it. But coaches have different plans sometimes. Peter [DeBoer] had his plan, we had ours. Ours wasn’t about getting Connor away from Vlasic and Braun, ours was getting [Nugent-Hopkins] on the ice against [Joe] Pavelski and Jumbo and Patty Marleau. For the most part, it worked in our favor.”

It worked, because as the stars on both teams were essentially neutralized, the Oilers’ depth players contributed just a little bit more than the Sharks group did and at more opportune times.

Zack Kassian had a pair of game-winning goals in games two and three; David Desharnais was the Game 5 hero with a game-tying assist and game-winning goal; and Anton Slepyshev posted the game-winner with a breakaway in Game 6. Not exactly big names.

DeBoer was particularly disappointed with Game 3, a 1-0 loss on Kassian’s third period goal; and Game 5, in which the Sharks had a 3-1 lead that they couldn’t protect. That the Sharks only got one power play goal in 18 chances not counting the Game 4 blowout was also one of the reasons for their downfall.

“If you had told me before the series we would have held McDavid in check, we would have won the special teams battle on paper, I probably would have felt pretty good about our chances,” DeBoer said.

Instead, McLellan will take his up-and-coming team to the next round, where it will face off with the Anaheim Ducks.

“For our team, we’re watching them grow up right in front of us, which is a great thing,” he said.

 

Sharks rue 'key moments' as they are knocked out by Oilers

Sharks rue 'key moments' as they are knocked out by Oilers

SAN JOSE – The clock said there was seven minutes and 48 seconds remaining in the third period. It was frozen there for a bit after Patrick Marleau’s goal brought the Sharks back to within a single score of Edmonton.

Filled to capacity, the Shark Tank came to life, ravenous for the equalizer. The next several minutes offered a reminder of the team’s thrilling 2016 playoff run, when the Sharks finished just two wins away from a championship while taking their fans along for a ride they had never been on in a quarter-century.

But those seven minutes and 48 seconds quickly wound down, leaving the Sharks worlds away from what they did just a year ago. The Oilers held on for a 3-1 win, ending the Sharks’ season in a first round series that lasted six games.

Other than Game 4, a Sharks blowout victory, all the games were competitive.

“There were just a couple key moments in the series,” Joe Pavelski said.

In Game 6, the key moments that won the game for Edmonton came early in the second period. Justin Braun’s point shot was blocked leading to Leon Draisaitl’s goal to open the scoring, and Chris Tierney’s pass to Paul Martin at the point was just off the mark, allowing Anton Slepyshev to glide ahead untouched for another goal. The scores both came within the first two minutes of the middle frame, and were just 56 seconds apart.

That was probably poetic justice in that the Oilers were the much more aggressive and hungry team in the first period, they just weren't rewarded on the scoreboard.

Joe Thornton agreed with a suggestion that the Sharks were “a little bit sloppy” early, “but we got better. I thought we played a great second period and pushed in the third period. Just not enough time left on the clock.”

The Sharks did seem to get their game going just after Slepyshev’s score, but couldn’t solve Cam Talbot more than once. Pavelski nearly tied it with 3:45 to go, but his backhander from down low glanced off of both the crossbar and the post.

Key moments.

“It felt good coming off the stick, it really did,” Pavelski said of his chance. “It was there.”

Connor McDavid’s empty net goal with less than a second on the clock capped the scoring, sending the Oilers and former Sharks coach Todd McLellan on to the second round. 

Other than Game 4, which they dominated 7-0, the Sharks managed just seven goals in the other five games. Brent Burns failed to record a point in five of the six games, while Pavelski had just a single assist outside of Game 4.

The depth scorers also failed to come through, no surprise after the Sharks got little from them for much of the season.

“They defended well, Talbot played well. They were all close games,” Pete DeBoer said. “You’ve got to find a way to win 1-0, 2-1 in the playoffs. It’s not realistic you’re going to get three or four every night. They found a way to win more of the close games than we did.”

Burns said: “Series was pretty tight. I think it’s like Pavs said, it’s just little moments here and there. So much is luck, just puck luck, creating that luck. It’s a tight series, back and forth.”

The Sharks face an uncertain offseason, as there is little reason to believe their current roster, as constructed, will be able to compete with an Oilers team that has not only proven to be better now but is only going to improve. Whether Thornton and Marleau return remains an uncertainty, too.

“This is a big summer. We’ve got some guys that are up, and the expansion draft and whatnot,” Logan Couture said. 

“Every year I’ve been in this league, the team has never been the same the next year. There’s always been changes. Unfortunately, that’s the way that this league works. We’ll see what happens this summer, and come back hungrier next year.”

In the meantime, the Oilers will continue their push for a Stanley Cup while San Jose’s visit to the final round last year will only become more and more of a distant memory.