Niemi's scoreless streak ends as Sharks lose in Phoenix


Niemi's scoreless streak ends as Sharks lose in Phoenix


PHOENIX Lauri Korpikoski scored twice and Brent Burns' inadvertent deflection into his own net at the end of the second period helped the Phoenix Coyotes to a 5-3 win over the Sharks at Arena on Saturday night.Phoenix broke a 2-2 tie late in the second when Martin Hanzal got credit for his sixth goal of the year at 19:16 on a two-on-one rush with Ray Whitney. Whitney fed Hanzal to his left, and when Hanzal shot it, the puck deflected in off of Burns stick while the Sharks defenseman was diving back with an outstretched arm.It was a pretty lucky bounce, Burns said.

It wasnt the only break that the Coyotes got, either. They increased their lead to 4-2 at 8:03 of the third period, when Boyd Gordon threw the puck on net from the corner and it deflected in off of Korpikoskis left skate.It was an important goal, too, as Patrick Marleau cut the Phoenix lead to 4-3 with 32.3 seconds left, finishing off a pretty passing play that began with Joe Thornton and Ryane Clowe, but it wasnt enough. Radim Vrbata sealed the Phoenix win on an empty-net goal with less than a second remaining.It would be easy to say that the Sharks were the victims of a few unlucky bounces, particularly regarding the Hanzal marker off of Burns. That goal, which gave Phoenix a lead it would not relinquish, probably could have been prevented even before the odd man rush developed.Thornton was involved in the play as the puck bounced around in the neutral zone, but decided to peel off and head to the bench while Burns hustled back in his attempt to break it up.Todd McLellan didnt like the first Coyotes goal, either, when the Sharks won a faceoff just outside of their defensive zone but allowed the Coyotes to gain possession in the zone before Raffi Torres fired in a shot from the slot at 4:16 of the second period, just 32 seconds after Logan Couture had given San Jose a 1-0 lead.When you look at the five goals they got, I didnt like the first one at all. It was a faceoff we won and we let people go, McLellan said. Then the line change, neutral zone fiasco that we had going for the third one was disappointing. Weve got to clean that up. We give up four, were not winning. Its as simple as that.The Sharks three-game winning streak was halted in the loss. Although they continue to lead the Pacific, their record fell to just 7-6-0 against teams in their division.Phoenix, which entered the game 12th in the Western Conference and in desperate need of points, has won two of three against San Jose after dropping a 6-3 decision on opening night.Every team judges us a measuring stick. Thats the reality of it. We know that and we expect everybodys A-game every night, Thornton said. Theyre excited to play us and theyre in the hunt to get in the postseason, so thats a big two points for them tonight.McLellan looks at it differently.When other teams play against each other and were not involved, they are intense games. So, Im not buying that theory a whole lot that teams get up for you.We better be prepared. We better not let our guard down. We better not assume that teams below us in the standings arent going to come out and go after us. I dont think its a good motivational tool. I think we have to be ready regardless of who and when, said the coach.After a scoreless first period, the teams combined for five goals in a back-and-forth second period.Couture got it started. He deposited his team-leading 22nd when he corralled a loose puck in front of the net and went backhand-to-forehand before sliding it through goaltender Mike Smith at 3:44.Phoenix responded just 32 seconds later when Torres lifted it past Niemi, ending an impressive run for the Sharks goaltender. Niemi entered with back-to-back shutouts against Calgary and Columbus after missing Thursdays 5-2 win against Dallas with a minor injury. Officially, the streak ended at 148:33, more than a period shy of Evgeni Nabokovs team record of 170:58 set in 2009.The Coyotes took their first lead on Korpikoskis first. A hard forechecking Boyd Gordon forced Colin White into a turnover behind the net, and Shane Doan found Korpikoski open in the slot for a one-timer at 9:29.San Joses power play remained hot, tying the game on Jamie McGinns redirection from the slot on a pass from Burns at 12:28 for his 11th of the season.Im just trying to find a soft area and Burnsie made a great kind of shot-pass and it worked out," McGinn said.The Sharks finished 1-for-2 with a man advantage, and are 6-for-15 in their last six games.Niemi was pulled for an extra attacker with 2:20 left in the third period, and Smith, who finished with 32 saves, nearly scored a goal himself. After a dump in on net from behind the red line by the Sharks, Smith shot the puck the length of the ice and missed the open net by about a foot.The Sharks return home to face Calgary on Wednesday, Feb. 8 and Chicago on Friday, Feb. 10. Following the Blackhawks game, the team embarks on a nine-game, 15-day road trip.Odds and ends: Ryane Clowe had three assists. ... Logan Couture increased his point-scoring streak to six games (4g, 5a), and had a game-high five shots. The Sharks and Coyotes next meet in Phoenix on March 10. San Jose lost 31 of 56 faceoffs. Each team had 14 blocks. Marc-Edouard Vlasic was a -2 for the second time in six games.

Marleau wants to return, but extension with Sharks could be tricky

Marleau wants to return, but extension with Sharks could be tricky

SAN JOSE – Just like his longtime teammate and fellow pending unrestricted free agent Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau said on Monday that he would like to return to the Sharks next season.

“Yeah, it would be nice. We’ll see if that’s an option,” Marleau said. “A lot of time here before this decision needs to be made.”

When asked if there have been any talks yet about an extension, Marleau said: “Not really, no.” Marleau, who was actively exploring his options to leave the Sharks early in the 2015-16 season, would be eligible to sign with another team on July 1.

The 37-year-old forward said he still feels like he has “at least five good years in me, or maybe more.”

“I still think I can contribute and play,” he said. “Until I think I can’t do that anymore, I’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”

Marleau has spent his entire 19-year NHL career with the Sharks. He’s the franchise leader in just about every offensive statistical category, including games played (1,493) goals (508) and points (1,082). Marleau became just the 45th player in NHL history to reach 500 career goals on Feb. 2 in Vancouver. In 82 games this season, he posted 27 goals (third on the team) and 46 points (fifth).

He was asked what it would mean to spend his entire career in San Jose.

“There’s only a few people who have ever done that in their careers,” he said. “That’s something special.”

If Marleau wants a multi-year contract, which is likely, it could make it tricky for Doug Wilson to keep him, though. Players such as Martin Jones and Marc-Edouard Vlasic are due sizable raises in their next contracts, as both will enter the final year of their current bargain deals in 2017-18.

Wilson called it “a priority” to get Jones and Vlasic signed before training camp. He can begin talks on July 1, per NHL CBA rules.

“Certainly Martin Jones is everything we expected him to be, and he’s crucial,” Wilson said. “Marc-Edouard Vlasic [is] arguably one of the best defensemen in the league. You saw what he did against one of the top players in the league (Connor McDavid). Marc-Edouard is still one of the most underrated players in the league in the outside world. 

“Both of them are extremely important to get under contract, and we can start those discussions in the next little while.”

Both Jones and Vlasic indicated they would like to stay in San Jose past next season, too, and it’s conceivable that the combined price tag for those players will be somewhere in the $13-$15 million range. Both made just a combined $7.25 million in 2016-17 ($4.25 million for Vlasic, $3 million for Jones).

“Oh, absolutely,” Jones said, when asked if he could see himself with the Sharks long term. “I love it here. The guys are great. It’s a lot of fun coming to the rink every day. City has been great. The fans are awesome, and we have a great team. I’m excited.”

Vlasic said on March 14 that he would like to play his whole career with the Sharks, and confirmed that sentiment again on Monday, although the timing of an extension gets seemed of little importance to the 30-year-old.

“When it happens it will happen. It doesn’t matter if it’s July 1 or during the season,” he said.

The Sharks also have several pending restricted free agent forwards this summer in Chris Tierney, Marcus Sorensen, Melker Karlsson and Joonas Donskoi. It’s likely that they’d prefer to keep all of those players, and some multi-year contracts could be the result. Other players like Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc showed flashes of becoming solid NHL contributors, too.

Along with the salary cap (still yet to be revealed), Thornton’s future, and which player the Sharks lose in the upcoming expansion draft, there are plenty of factors both sides need to weigh before any decision on Marleau gets made.

“[Marleau and Thornton] have been cornerstones of this franchise for a long time, not only as players, but as people,” Wilson said. “There’s a lot of variables that go into that decision, and the first one is me sitting down and talking with both of them. We haven’t had a chance to do that, so we’ll get there.”

DeBoer: Joe Thornton played through torn knee ligaments in playoffs

DeBoer: Joe Thornton played through torn knee ligaments in playoffs

SAN JOSE – There was finally some clarification on Monday on what Joe Thornton was playing through, as the Sharks gathered one final time at their practice facility before the offseason.

And, it was significant, as the 37-year-old was dealing with a “torn MCL and ACL” in his left knee, according to coach Pete DeBoer.

“I don’t know if the injury report has come out yet, but I’ve never seen a player play with a torn MCL and ACL,” DeBoer said. “Basically, his knee is floating there. It was as courageous an effort, him doing what he did, as I’ve ever seen.”

Thornton was scheduled to have surgery on the knee later on Monday afternoon, according to general manager Doug Wilson. Prior to that, the longtime centerman met with the local media.

"I'm going to go see the doctors right after this and see what they say,” he said. “So, I'll know more about it today. I just know it was pretty sore playing."

Wilson said: “I’ve been in the business a long time. To see a player play with that type of injury tells you everything you need to know about him.”

As for a timeframe for Thornton to return, Wilson said: “Don’t know. We’ll know after [surgery].”

Thornton, an unrestricted free agent who has spent the last 12 seasons with the Sharks, said that he would like to return.

"Yeah, I want to come back. I think this is a Stanley Cup caliber team and I think I'm a little bit older and I realize how good this team is,” he said. “Of course I'd like to [return]. But, we'll have to see. I'm sure we'll be talking. But right now I haven't been a dad for a long time. I need to turn into a family man for a couple months."

Thornton said there have not been any talks yet about a contract extension.

“I just wanted to focus on hockey this year,” he said. “There's no hurry, but yeah, I want to be back. This team is a real talented team, and I love playing here."

Wilson said: “We have lots of time … We’ve got four-and-a-half months until we’re back at it.”

Thornton, who has been downplaying the injury since it occurred on April 2 – including when he said three days later that there was “no doubt” he would return for the playoff opener, and then missing the first two games of the first round series with Edmonton – struck the same tune on Monday when asked what he had to go through to suit up.

"Just the normal stuff that hockey players deal with,” he said. “It was just unfortunate, the time of the year, that it happened three games before the end of the season and the playoffs [and] you’ve got to deal with something like that. 

“Hockey players are a different breed. There's probably five or six guys that had to deal with different stuff. But it is what it is. I'll go get it checked out today, and go from there."

Although Thornton’s was the most severe, there were other Sharks playing through injury as is commonplace at the end of any NHL season. 

Tomas Hertl suffered a broken foot in the same game as Thornton on April 2 in Vancouver, while forward Patrick Marleau had a broken thumb. Logan Couture played through a mouth injury that he has already revealed will require extensive dental work this summer, while Joonas Donskoi separated his left shoulder twice over the second half of the regular season.