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

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.”