No propaganda, just hockey in San Jose

hp_pavilion_san_jose.jpg

No propaganda, just hockey in San Jose

It's been 171 days since the first negotiations, and 93 official days of the NHL lockout.  

With progressive announcements through December 30th, 526 games have been canceled, including 35 involving the San Jose Sharks.

There's no mistaking it, hiding it, or disguising it, we are all thoroughly disappointed that disagreements between players and owners have halted the league for the third time in the last 20 years.  Hard to believe that a $3.3 billion per-year business can't find a way to avoid history repeating itself.

Tonight, the Sharks franchise will extend a symbolic olive branch to frustrated fans, by hosting their ECHL affiliate, the San Francisco Bulls in a regular-season game against the Stockton Thunder. Complimentary passes were distributed to season-ticket holders, with the remaining lot being given away online in a first-come-first-serve process that took only five minutes.  All indications lead to a very crowded HP Pavilion this evening, for the first professional hockey game since April 16, 2012.

The Sharks logo is already painted at center ice, along with many of the familiar touches one would expect for an NHL game in the building.  However, the San Jose franchise is not pushing any lockout propaganda in putting on this "free" game, only making two suggestions which are worthy of passing along here.

First, if you are headed to the game: please support the downtown San Jose businesses and restaurants that normally thrive during hockey season.  They are innocent bystanders in the labor stoppage, just like you, the fan.  One night of higher revenues might not make a huge dent in the 16 home dates that have already been nixed, but it will at least send an appropriate message.

Secondly, consider bringing a new, unwrapped toy that can be collected at either of the main entrances at HP Pavilion.  They will be donated to the "Toys for Tots" Foundation and gifted to less fortunate children during the holiday season.  All donors will receive a raffle ticket for prize drawings to be held during the night.

Many of the Sharks broadcasters will be in attendance, including Randy Hahn and Bret Hedican.  The game will not be broadcast on television, but I will be there covering the contest with live reports at 6:00 and 10:30 on SportsNet Central.  Can't wait to see a lot of familiar faces, in a familiar place tonight!

NHL Gameday: Sharks try to rebound from ugly loss, host Jets in matinee

NHL Gameday: Sharks try to rebound from ugly loss, host Jets in matinee

Programming note – Sharks-Jets coverage starts today at 12:30 p.m. with Sharks Pregame Live on CSN California

WHERE THEY STAND

Sharks: 25-16-2, 52 points, 3rd Pacific Division
Jets: 20-22-4, 44 points, 6th Central Division

PREGAME NEWS AND NOTES

***The Sharks have lost their last two in regulation, and are just 2-4-1 in their last seven games overall. That includes a decisive defeat at SAP Center on Saturday when they were blanked by St. Louis, 4-0.

Monday will be just their second afternoon game of the season. They beat the Islanders on Nov. 25 at home, 3-2, and were 5-2-0 in matinee games last season.

***The Jets have dropped three straight (0-2-1), and are concluding a three-game California swing Monday. They lost in overtime to the Kings on Saturday, 3-2, scoring both of their goals on the power play.

Winnipeg is 10-for-38 on the power play since Dec. 20 (26.3 percent), while the Sharks are just 14-for-19 on the PK over their last seven.

San Jose’s power play continues to scuffle, going 15-for-106 since Nov. 1 (14.1 percent). Perhaps a visit from the Jets will help, as the Sharks were 4-for-15 on the power play against Winnipeg last season.

***Joonas Donskoi did not play on Saturday with an upper body injury, and is questionable for today’s game. 

The Jets remain without Patrik Laine, who is tied for the NHL rookie lead in goals (21) and points (37) but suffered a concussion on Jan. 7.

KEEP AN EYE ON...

Sharks: Joe Pavelski. The captain took the blame for missing a wide open net on a Sharks power play on Saturday against St. Louis, which would have given the Sharks a 1-0 lead and potentially changed the flow of what ended up as an ugly defeat. He’s still second on the team in goals (15) and points (39).

Jets: Nikolaj Ehlers. The Jets forward leads the team in road scoring with 24 points, and saw a seven-game point streak – in which he had nine points over that span – come to an end on Saturday. The 20-year-old former first round pick in 2014 has three points (2g, 1a) in three games against San Jose.

PROBABLE LINES

Sharks
Patrick Marleau – Joe Thornton – Joe Pavelski
Kevin Labanc – Logan Couture – Mikkel Boedker
Timo Meier – Chris Tierney – Joel Ward
Micheal Haley – Tommy Wingels – Melker Karlsson

Paul Martin – Brent Burns
Marc-Edouard Vlasic – Justin Braun
Brenden Dillon – David Schlemko

Martin Jones
Aaron Dell

Jets
Nikolaj Ehlers – Mark Scheifele – Blake Wheeler 
Mathieu Perreault – Bryan Little – Joel Armia 
Shawn Matthias – Adam Lowry – Drew Stafford 
Andrew Copp – Nic Petan – Chris Thorburn 

Josh Morrissey – Dustin Byfuglien 
Toby Enstrom – Jacob Trouba 
Mark Stuart – Paul Postma 

Michael Hutchinson 
Connor Hellebuyck 

INJURIES

Sharks: Joonas Donskoi (upper body), Dylan DeMelo (broken wrist) and Tomas Hertl (right knee sprain) are out.

Jets: Patrik Laine (concussion), Tyler Myers (lower body), Marko Dano (lower body), and Ben Chiarot (lower body) are out.

QUOTEABLE

“I think the first period we had a couple [chances], but that’s deceiving. I don’t think we were very good from the start of the game.” – Logan Couture, after the Sharks’ 4-0 loss to the Blues on Saturday

All-Star Jones a model of consistency for Sharks: 'He solidifies our team'

All-Star Jones a model of consistency for Sharks: 'He solidifies our team'

SAN JOSE – Like a handful of NHL goaltenders, Martin Jones prefers not to speak to the media on the morning of nights he’s playing. So when the 27-year-old Sharks netminder was named as an All-Star before a game in Edmonton on Tuesday, the media in attendance respected his typical game day routine.

His friends and family, though, may not have been aware of his preference for limited interaction. Congratulations were in order for Jones, who will be a part of the Pacific Division team in Los Angeles for All-Star weekend from Jan. 27-29.

“I was trying to push it to the next day, obviously we had a game that night,” Jones said. “Lots of texts from family and friends. Everyone was pretty excited.”

Jones knew it was a possibility that he might be named. In his second season as the Sharks’ primary starter, and coming off of a brilliant playoff run, he’s tied for fifth in the NHL with 21 wins and his 2.26 goals-against average is ninth. He’ll return to the venue where he started his NHL career as a backup to Jonathan Quick from 2013-15.

Asked for his reaction when he got the news Tuesday morning, which was also his birthday, he said: “I was excited, it’s going to be a fun event. Just going to be really cool to play with all those guys, and it’s kind of fun that it’s in L.A., as well.”

Other than Brent Burns, a case can be made that Jones’ is the Sharks’ most valuable player through the first half. The club hasn’t been scoring goals at its typical rate; rather, it’s been relying on its defensive structure to keep the other team from getting on the board.

That, of course, includes Jones. Although he doesn’t often see many shots, as the Sharks are give up the third-fewest at 27.0, he usually has to make a handful of difficult saves on a nightly basis. That’s a result of Pete DeBoer wanting his club to play an aggressive style, in which defensemen are encouraged to get involved in the offensive end.

“I’d like to think that we’re aggressive and we still don’t give up a lot of chances, but there’s no doubt we give up a handful of quality chances a night,” DeBoer said. “That’s the difference in the games, and [Jones] knows that. He might not get 40 or 50 shots, but he’s going to get 25 and a handful of quality chances. If he can make a couple big saves a night for us, that’s usually the difference.”

Paul Martin said: “I think he solidifies our team in general. When you have him back there to make the easy consistent saves, and stand on his head and make big saves – you need those in critical parts of the game. I think he’s continued just to get better, as well.”

Jones has been much more consistent than the start of last season, when he got off to a scorching start, cooled off in November and December, but was a rock over the second half and in the playoffs.

This season, he posted a 2.15 GAA and .916 SP in October, followed by a 1.96 GAA and .924 SP in November, followed by a 2.24 GAA and .916 SP in December.

That’s consistency, and it’s all an NHL team wants from it’s goaltender. The knowledge that he will be there to make the routine saves with some spectacular ones mixed in gives confidence to the group to just play its game. Jones is doing that.

DeBoer said: “The guys just want to know what to expect every night, and that he’s going to stop the ones that he should stop. That’s all anyone’s looking for, and I think he does that as well as anyone in the league.”

There’s another part of it, too, according to the coach. It’s something that can’t be measured on scoresheets.

“The guys like him,” DeBoer said. “That’s the other part about goaltending that you have to remember, is the guys have to want to play hard for you. He’s a great teammate, and a real popular guy, and the guys want to go the extra mile when he’s in there because of that.”

That’s why on that morning in Edmonton, while Jones was in game-prep mode, his teammates were happy to comment on their goaltender, who they will need to continue to play well over the next three months and beyond. The All-Star nod is the latest evidence that Jones is well on his way to establishing himself as one of the NHL’s best.

“This year with the year he’s had and getting the All-Star nod, it’s nice to see that he’s become a star in this league now,” Joe Thornton said on that chilly morning in Alberta, while Jones was sitting in the corner, unstrapping his pads.