NHL Gameday: Sharks' Dell faces biggest challenge this year

NHL Gameday: Sharks' Dell faces biggest challenge this year

Programming note: Sharks-Blues coverage starts tonight at 7:00 p.m. with Sharks Pregame Live on CSN California.

WHERE THEY STAND

Sharks: 42-20-7, 91 points, 1st Pacific Division
Blues: 36-28-5, 77 points, 4th Central Division (WC2)

PREGAME NEWS AND NOTES

***After losing the first two games of the season series, the Sharks will get one more crack at the Blues on Thursday at SAP Center. The Blues beat the Sharks on Nov. 17 at St. Louis, 3-2, and blanked them at SAP Center on Jan. 14, 4-0.

San Jose is 3-1 on its six-game homestand, and 7-2-0 in its last nine overall. Aaron Dell will make his fourth start in the last eight games, in what will be the first-year goalie's biggest challenge so far. The Blues are desperate for points, as they try and hold on to the second wild card spot.

“It’s good to play against one of the higher teams, one of the teams fighting for a playoff spot,” said Dell, who has allowed two or fewer goals in 10 of his 13 starts. “I think that shows some confidence in me from the coaching staff.”

Pete DeBoer expects Carter Hutton to go for the Blues, who will be playing in their second of a back-to-back. Hutton made 23 saves in blanking the Sharks in January, and is a career 3-0-1 with a 0.98 goals-against average and .971 save percentage against San Jose.

***St. Louis is at the midway point of a five-game road trip, beating the Kings on Monday, 3-1, but losing to the Ducks last night, 2-1. They are 8-2 in the second half of back-to-backs this season, including six straight wins.

St. Louis is 5-3-0 in its last eight games since trading Kevin Shattenkirk, allowing just 10 total goals. Is it possible the team is coming together after losing such a key piece?

“You see that around the league a lot of times, they move somebody out and the group rallies around that to show that we’re bigger than one piece,” DeBoer said. “I think you’re probably seeing some of that there. I watched them last night in Anaheim, even though they lost they were right in that game and looked really good and they’re playing very well right now.”

The Blues are 12-7-0 since firing Ken Hitchcock and promoting Mike Yeo on Feb. 1.

DeBoer said: “There been some minor changes to their systems from what they were doing under Hitch. Nothing major, but definitely some different wrinkles than they had before.”

***The Sharks could potentially move into a first place tie for the Western Conference’s top seed tonight. Minnesota (92 points) is in Carolina, while Chicago (93 points) is in Ottawa.

“We want to [be] winning every game now because we know how important [it is] starting at home during the playoffs. During the Nashville series it was really important we started at home,” Tomas Hertl said.

KEEP AN EYE ON...

Sharks: Joe Pavelski. The Sharks captain in among the hottest players in hockey. Fresh off being named the NHL’s First Star of the Week last week, Pavelski posted his second straight two-goal game on Tuesday against Buffalo. He’s taken over the team lead in goals from Brent Burns with 28, thanks to seven goals in his last five games, and is on the cusp of his fifth career 30-goal campaign.

Blues: Alex Pietrangelo. The defenseman has become even more important to the Blues’ success since Kevin Shattenkirk was dealt, and has six assists and a plus-one rating in eight games since then. The 27-year-old is 10th in the NHL with 25:08 of ice time per game, but he’s skating 27:23 per game since the trade.

PROBABLE LINES

Sharks
Jannik Hansen – Joe Thornton – Joe Pavelski
Patrick Marleau – Logan Couture – Joel Ward
Joonas Donskoi – Tomas Hertl – Mikkel Boedker
Micheal Haley – Chris Tierney – Marcus Sorensen

Paul Martin – Brent Burns
Marc-Edouard Vlasic – Justin Braun
Brenden Dillon – Dylan DeMelo

Aaron Dell (starter)
Martin Jones

Blues
Jaden Schwartz – Paul Stastny – Vladimir Tarasenko
Alex Steen – Patrik Berglund – David Perron
Nail Yakupov – Ivan Barbashev – Magnus Paajarvi
Scottie Upshall – Kyle Brodziak – Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester – Alex Pietrangelo
Joel Edmundson – Colton Parayko
Carl Gunnarsson – Robert Bortuzzo

Carter Hutton (likely starter)
Jake Allen

INJURIES

Sharks: David Schlemko (right knee) and Melker Karlsson (lower body) are out.

Blues: Robby Fabbri (left knee), Dmitrij Jaskin (upper body) and Jori Lehtera (upper body) are out.

QUOTEABLE

“St. Louis needs the points. They’re coming after a loss, 2-1 against Anaheim. They need every game. Pretty skilled team. We need to be ready for [Vladimir] Tarasenko, [Jaden] Schwartz, and all these guys.” – Tomas Hertl

Tierney, Sorensen among players qualified by Sharks

Tierney, Sorensen among players qualified by Sharks

The Sharks have issued qualifying offers to restricted free agent forwards Chris Tierney, Marcus Sorensen and Barclay Goodrow, while cutting ties with three players in the system.

Tierney, 22, posted 11 goals and 12 assists for 23 points in 80 games last season, serving primarily as the fourth line center. He has 64 points (24g, 40a) in 202 career games over three NHL seasons, all with the Sharks.

Sorensen posted one goal and three assists in 19 games with the Sharks last season, his first in the NHL. The 25-year-old played in all six playoff games against Edmonton, scoring one goal and one assist.

Goodrow, 24, skated in three games for the Sharks last season with one assist. He has 16 points (4g, 12a) in 77 games over three seasons with the Sharks, although has played in just 17 NHL games since the start of the 2015-16 season.

Forward Nikita Jevpalovs, defenseman Patrick McNally and goalie Mantas Armalis - also known for his career as a male model - were left unqualified and are now unrestricted free agents.

Earlier in the offseason, the Sharks signed pending restricted free agents Joonas Donskoi and Melker Karlsson. Donskoi received a two-year deal at a salary cap hit of $1.9 million, while Karlsson was signed to a three-year deal at $2 million annually.

Thornton, Marleau now permitted to speak with other teams

Thornton, Marleau now permitted to speak with other teams

Their futures with the Sharks more uncertain than ever, pending unrestricted free agents Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau are now free to take calls from other teams to gauge their potential interest.

Nothing can be signed with a new team before July 1, and there is a ban on discussing terms of any potential deal. Teams have already reached out to Marleau, per TSN’s Pierre LeBrun, while Thornton is also reportedly receiving interest around the league.

While they could still return to the Sharks, it’s new territory for both, as neither Thornton nor Marleau has ever tested the unrestricted free agent waters. Most recently, they agreed to three-year contract extensions with the Sharks on the same day – Jan. 24, 2014 – in what was the final year of their current deals.

Whether they return to the Sharks could depend on the length of the deal. If other teams are willing to offer multiple-year deals to Thornton and Marleau, it makes their return to the Sharks less likely – particularly in Marleau’s case. Earlier in the offseason, NBC Sports California confirmed that Thornton was seeking a three-year deal, while Marleau preferred a deal of at least three years.

General manager Doug Wilson’s top priority this offseason is to re-sign goalie Martin Jones and defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic to long term extensions. Those contracts would likely cost the team a combined $12-14 million, and would begin in the 2018-19 season.

There is an added risk to any team that signs a player over the age of 35, as it would be on the hook for the entire salary cap hit regardless of whether that player is active (unless that player is on long-term injured reserve). 

Thornton turns 38 on Sunday, while Marleau turns 38 on Sep. 15.