Niemi, Sharks blank Flyers at the Tank 1-0

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Niemi, Sharks blank Flyers at the Tank 1-0

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE It seemed like a dangerous combination.

At the heart of the Sharks recent struggles was the fact that the team simply couldnt keep the puck out of its own net. Returning home from a miserable road trip in which it allowed almost four goals-per-game, San Jose hosted the highest scoring team in the National Hockey League in the Philadelphia Flyers.

The result? A 1-0 shutout victory for Niemi and the Sharks in the first of a four-game homestand.

Go figure.

It was a perfect defensive game against the best offensive team in the league, Marc-Edouard Vlasic said. We set the bar pretty high tonight. If we can do it against them, we can do it against any team.

Ryane Clowe broke a 12-game scoreless streak when his wrist shot sailed past Ilya Bryzgalov at 1:12 of the first period on a two-on-two rush with Joe Thornton. It held up as the only goal.

Clowe broke it down.

When I first got it I was thinking about probably throwing it back to Jumbo going to the net, because I thought the defenseman was going to step up, but Jumbo did a good job because he took a couple guys with him. That gave me an opportunity to shoot, and it was nice to see it go in, Clowe said of his 11th goal.

Thornton said: It just shows you never know which shift is going to be the most important of the night.

The win was an important one for San Jose, 1-5-1 in its previous seven games, on a number of fronts. For one, the team would like to quickly move past its miserable nine-game trip in which is finished with just two wins (2-6-1).

Secondly, it allowed the Sharks to stay within striking distance of the Phoenix Coyotes, who remain in first place in the Pacific Division after beating Vancouver earlier in the night. The Sharks trail the Coyotes by two points, and have a game in hand.

Finally, Niemi, who had been pulled in the first period in two of his last three starts, was steady if not outstanding between the pipes making 26 saves and securing his fifth shutout of the season against the team he hadnt seen since winning the Stanley Cup with Chicago in 2010.

This was a huge game, the first game home after a not-that-good road trip, said Niemi, who finished with 26 saves.

He was confident back there making huge saves, playing the way we know he can play. He helped us out, Vlasic said.

The game was feisty and had good action in the first period before slowing down a bit in the second.

The Sharks kept up the pressure in the minutes immediately following Clowes goal, and nearly made it 2-0 when Justin Brauns point shot deflected off of the post. Later in the period, Dan Boyle had all day to line up a wrist shot in the circle, but Bryzgalov stopped it with about six minutes left.

It got physical and nasty at the end of the first, too. Tommy Wingels flattened Danny Briere in the corner in the final minute with a jarring check, while Wayne Simmonds and Vlasic tangled in front of Niemi after the puck was frozen with 3.4 seconds to go. Simmonds and Brad Winchester lined up next to one another on the ensuing faceoff, resulting in a Winchester roughing penalty at the 20-minute mark.

The Sharks killed off that Flyers power play, as well as another later in the period, but Philadelphia had the territorial advantage for most of the frame. Although they were pinned in their end for lengthy stretches, the Sharks did a good job at keeping Philadelphia to the outside and protecting the front of the net.

I guess youd always want to always want to spend less time in your zone while defending well. We did have to spend some time there, said Matt Shaw, filling in for Todd McLellan, who is still suffering from a concussion.

They are probably one of the better teams in the league on offensive zone cycles, net plays, and their strength and skill in and around the net. You dont want to have to play that much time in your zone, but we did our good job in dealing with it, and certainly the goalie was the number one star in there.

Niemi stopped all 17 shots thrown his way through the first 40 minutes.

San Jose had plenty of chances to increase its lead in the third, but the embattled Bryzgalov kept Philadelphia in the game. He stopped Thornton on a two-on-one with a good poke-check, made a pad save on newcomer TJ Galiardi, and then smothered a Winchester wrist shot on a two-on-one.

I know earlier in the year he struggled a bit, but we wanted to try and get on him early and see if he was shaky, but he made some good saves. He was good tonight, Clowe said of Bryzgalov.

Theres a chance that Vlasic, meanwhile, could be hearing from the league. The defenseman drilled Briere from behind, headfirst into the boards, with five minutes left in the third. Briere was slow to get up, but returned before the game was through.

Logan Couture, the Sharks' leading goal scorer with 27, missed his first game of the season still suffering the effects of a lower body injury incurred on Sunday in Minnesota.

Odds and ends: There were just six penalty minutes in the game ... The Sharks have won nine straight against Philadelphia, dating back to 2004. TJ Galiardi and Daniel Winnik were making their Sharks debuts after they were acquired from the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for Jamie McGinn on Monday. The Sharks are still without Dominic Moore (lower body) and Douglas Murray (fractured Adams apple). San Jose won 39 of 63 faceoffs.

Mailbag: Which Sharks player is most likely to be traded?

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Mailbag: Which Sharks player is most likely to be traded?

No one asked, but I’m going to begin this week’s mailbag with my prediction for the Stanley Cup Final – Preds in six. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to a few of your questions…

Most likely to be moved this off-season? (Nik @niknisj25)

If the Sharks do make a move – and I’ve argued here that I think it may be time for a shakeup – they’ll surely be looking for someone up front to boost the offense. In that case, they’d likely have to sacrifice a defenseman or two.

The Sharks defense is the strength of the organization at the moment, as they had one of the best one-through-seven groups in the NHL this season. But it’s also an expensive one. The Sharks have nearly $27 million committed to their top seven defensemen next season, while Marc-Edouard Vlasic is due for a hefty raise beginning in 2018-19.

One name that could be intriguing to other teams is Justin Braun. The 30-year-old has been a part of the Sharks’ top shut down pair with Vlasic for several seasons now, and is signed for the next three years at a reasonable $3.8 million cap hit. The Sharks could potentially move him for offensive help, and slot in a guy like David Schlemko alongside Vlasic, while finally giving Dylan DeMelo a chance to play on a nightly basis on the third pair. A Vlasic-Schlemko pair could be more offensive than Vlasic-Braun, too, because as adept as they were at keeping the puck out of their own net, the Sharks didn’t get many goals from their defenders outside of Burns.

Of course, the upcoming expansion draft all but assures that nothing will happen until Las Vegas selects its team on June 21. If the Sharks lose a defenseman to the Golden Knights, they’ll be more reluctant to move another one. Still, with guys like Joakim Ryan, Tim Heed, Julius Bergman, Mirco Mueller and now Radim Simek in the pipeline, the club might be able to handle a couple departures.

How do we fix the power play next season? Bring in a coach that could help us? Change up the lines, or style of play? (adam smith @kickback408)

One thing that won’t be happening is a new coach, as Doug Wilson recently confirmed that Steve Spott would be back alongside Pete DeBoer. Bob Boughner could move on if he gets hired as a head coach elsewhere, but Boughner’s focus is the team’s defense and penalty kill.

Obviously, the future of the power play depends on who is on the roster, beginning with Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. Both saw their power play production dip this season.

Thornton went from 29 power play points in 2015-16 to 19 this season (he had eight power play goals in 2015-16, and just one this season). Marleau saw a decline from 25 power play points in 2015-16 to 16 last season. Even if both return, it may be time to try other bodies on the top unit.

Do you see Meier, Labanc and/or Sorensen having a breakout season next year? Or anyone else on the Barracuda? (Colin Dunn @ColinDunnACA)

Someone better had, because this team needs to start getting younger, and soon. One of the bigger disappointments of the 2016-17 season is that none of them apparently showed the coaching staff that they were prepared to play on a nightly basis at the NHL level.

Timo Meier and Marcus Sorensen, I would surmise, are at the top of the depth chart as far as forwards go. Their line in the playoffs with center Chris Tierney was the Sharks’ best through the early part of the series with Edmonton. As for Kevin Labanc, I think he’s fallen a bit since he had a brief run of success for the Sharks in December.

While the Sharks did a good job stockpiling some young players through the 2013-15 drafts, they’ve traded away a number of picks in recent years. In last year’s draft they didn’t have a first or third round pick; this year they don’t have any picks in the second, third or fourth rounds; and in 2018 they are already without their second and third round picks. 

It’s great to accumulate young players, but at some point they have to break through. Now is the time.

Sharks, Robinson parting ways after five seasons

Sharks, Robinson parting ways after five seasons

After five seasons with the Sharks, Larry Robinson is leaving the organization.

Robinson, 65, spent the last three seasons as the club's director of player development. He served as an associate coach from 2012-14.

TSN in Montreal and the Montreal Gazette originally reported the news.

The Sharks confirmed that Robinson's contract would be expiring, and general manager Doug Wilson told NBC Sports California that the divorce was amicable, and "because of geography." Robinson lives in Florida.

According to the Montreal Gazette

Robinson’s contract with the Sharks expires on July 1, but agent Donnie Cape said Thursday that San Jose general manager Doug Wilson has given him permission to speak with other teams. Robinson lives in Bradenton, Fla., and the long travel distance to San Jose is one of big the reasons he’s looking for a new team to work for.

Robinson seemed to ponder retirement in 2014, but signed a three-year extension to remain in the Sharks' front office. He worked mostly from his home in Florida the past two seasons, making occasional trips to San Jose, including during training camp.

In the summer of 2015, Robinson underwent surgery for skin cancer.

Recognized as one of the best defensemen in NHL history, Robinson won six Stanley Cup championships with the Montreal Canadiens as a player, and holds the NHL record for playing 20 straight seasons in the playoffs. A 10-time All-Star and two-time Norris Trophy winner, Robinson was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1995.

Robinson was the head coach of the Los Angeles Kings from 1995-99, and the New Jersey Devils from 1999-2002 and again in 2005-06. He led the Devils to the Stanley Cup in 2000. Robinson has nine Stanley Cup rings as a player and coach.

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The Sharks did not renew the contract of pro scout Jason Rowe, who had been with the organization for the past nine seasons. Rowe focused on eastern NHL and AHL teams.