Pavelski keys power play surge

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Pavelski keys power play surge

SAN JOSE From late-November until just recently, it was the biggest question surrounding the Sharks that no one could seem to answer.

Whats wrong with the power play?

If there was one facet to the Sharks game in the three seasons before this one that was never in doubt, it was the teams ability to score on a man advantage. San Jose finished in the top four in power play percentage in each of the last three seasons, including 2010-11, when it was second in the NHL with a 23.5 percent success rate.

After a decent start to the season, though, the power play numbers tumbled. From November 26 until January 19, the Sharks scored just 10 power play goals in 82 opportunities (12.2 percent). Something needed to change.

Forward Joe Pavelski has been the key to making the power play dangerous again. San Jose is 5-for-13 in its last five games, sparked in part to Pavelski playing the point on a loaded top unit that also features Dan Boyle, Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Logan Couture.

In fact, it may not be a change as much as it is a return to normalcy, since thats where Pavelski played last year.

Were moving the puck around well. There were times we were trying to get too fancy, but were getting pucks to the top, and with Pavs back there, hes getting them through, Couture said on Friday. Usually were outnumbering teams at the net, and the last couple games, Pavs shot has deflected and gone in. I think were just getting pucks through, and were shooting off of passes, which is tough to defend.

Pavelski, who leads the team with six power play goals, said: The biggest thing is the movement is out there. Its creating a little more, a few more holes opened up and a few more shooting opportunities for us. And, were doing a little better job getting to the net.

San Jose scored multiple goals on the power play in Thursdays 5-2 win over Dallas for just the second time in the last 32 games. They are back in the NHLs Top 10 with an 18.6 percent success rate.

Of course, with Pavelski going back to the point, that means defenseman Brent Burns is seeing less time on the power play. A quick glance at the scoresheet from Thursday night shows that Burns played just 1:36 on the Sharks five power plays against the Stars, down from his season average of more than three minutes.

To give that a little perspective, the last time the Sharks had five power plays in a game before Thursday night was on Jan. 14 against Columbus, when Burns saw almost five minutes of power play time (although, to be fair, the Sharks did have two more minutes of overall power play time in that game against the Blue Jackets).

It hasnt hurt Burns game at all, though, and the defensemans presence on the second power play unit can still pay dividends on the scoreboard. In fact, Burns is playing perhaps his best hockey of the year, and his removal from the point on the top power play unit is based more on Pavelskis effectiveness in that spot.

We went back to familiarity with Pavs being back there. It gives us a Burnsie-Braun, or Vlasic, or Demers pair on that second unit which also helps, McLellan said. That unit in itself is a little simpler of a unit, and more a shooting unit, so that fits Bursies tool set well.

Burnsie was doing a good job back there and he still does, but Pavs is familiar with that point spot, playing there last year, Couture said.

So has the team turned a corner, coach?

Turned a corner, but maintenance is tough. Its hard to maintain that level, McLellan said.

With the skill in this room you want to succeed every time on the power play, Couture said. Obviously, looking around the league, one goal in every four chances is good. The last couple of games were doing that. Were picking it up.

Meier back with Sharks after working on his game in AHL

Meier back with Sharks after working on his game in AHL

ST. PAUL – On paper, Timo Meier’s production after he was reassigned to the AHL Barracuda on Feb. 16 was down. The former first-round pick had just six points (3g, 3a) in 14 games, and was scoreless in his last five, a far cry from what he was doing there earlier in the season and way off his numbers in juniors.

But at just 20 years old, Meier is still in the learning phase of his professional career. And as impressive as the Barracuda have been this season, they’re still playing in a developmental league, first and foremost. Meier got a chance to work on some of the aspects of his game he needed to work on.

“It was obviously hard going back,” said Meier, who has three goals and two assists in 28 games, before Tuesday’s game in Minnesota. “Sometimes you go back there and you try too much, but they told me to work on some things in my game, and I tried to do that.

“For me, going down there it was all about learning stuff on the ice, off the ice. … It’s my first year [in pro hockey], so as a young guy you want to learn and listen to the coaches, too. Just get better.”

Coach Pete DeBoer went into pretty good detail on what the ninth overall pick in the 2015 draft needed to do with the Barracuda, and what he needs to show now that he’s back in the NHL.

“I think with a lot of big, talented young guys, they have to realize when they can make an extra play with the puck and when they have to chip it in,” DeBoer said. “They’re so used to dominating at the levels they’ve been at for so long, that [it’s] easier said than done. It’s habits you have to learn, and you don’t learn unless you’re doing them on a consistent basis.”

Meier’s shot selection, too, is something that needed some improvement, according to the coach. While the power winger might be generating plenty of shot attempts, no doubt pleasing the advanced stats crowd, there’s more to being an effective forward than running up numbers on the Excel spreadsheets.

“You don’t want to shoot [just] to shoot up here, or to just get shots on net. You’re not scoring on NHL goalies like you are on junior goalies from 30 or 40 feet out,” DeBoer said. “You’ve got to pick your spots. Sometimes you have to look for a better play than a shot.”

Meier said: “It’s a really tough league. As a young guy coming in, sometimes you’ve got to stay patient, too, try not [to do] too much. … Sometimes I tried [to do] a little too much.”

Meier has been in the Sharks’ lineup for each of the last two games. He started on the fourth line before getting bumped up to Tomas Hertl’s third line on Monday in Dallas, and returned to the fourth line with Chris Tierney and Micheal Haley for Tuesday’s tilt in Minnesota. He is scoreless with two shots on goal over those two games.

He could be a temporary fill in for Jannik Hansen, who remains out with an upper body injury but could potentially return before the end of the road trip this weekend. Or, perhaps Meier does enough to stick around for the stretch run and the playoffs. There would seem to be an opportunity to push someone else out of the lineup, as the Sharks’ depth scoring has been a season-long problem.

“It’s a great opportunity for me, getting that chance again later on in the season,” Meier said. “I want to put it all on the ice, leave it all out there and just make the best out of every shift I get. Play my game, play within my strengths, [do] the things that got me here, and I’m sure I’ll be successful like that.”

Three takeaways: Sharks' third line woes continue

Three takeaways: Sharks' third line woes continue

ST. PAUL – The losing streak endures, as the Sharks dropped their fourth straight, 3-2 in Minnesota on Tuesday night. A quick start from the home team, and an even quicker response after the Sharks tied it up late in the second keyed the Wild win. Let’s dig a little deeper, though, with our three takeaways…

1 – Wild come out flying

The Sharks’ general lack of panic after their latest loss, as we touched on in the recap, surely had something to do with the circumstances. Minnesota had an extra day of rest while the Sharks were on their second of a back-to-back, with travel. San Jose was also capping off a stretch of seven games in just 11 days (I believe we’ve mentioned here before just how monumentally foolish this year’s NHL schedule is). 

Frankly, the start was predictable. Minnesota was a ticked off team having lost five straight, and even though it had dropped is previous game in Winnipeg, 5-4, it erased a 4-0 deficit in that one only to lose it late. Surely that was a sign that the Wild were ready to break through in the win column.

Pete DeBoer said the Sharks “expected” an early push from Minnesota.

“They’ve been sitting here waiting, they’re desperate, they’re fresh, they’re healthy. We’re coming in on a back-to-back. We knew the first period would be tough. It wasn’t pretty, but we escaped only down 1-0 and I thought from that point on we started to fight back a little bit. Did some good things, just too little too late.”

The Sharks were competitive over the final two periods, finally getting their first goal in more than 138 minutes of game play to make it 1-1 (it was originally credited to David Schlemko, but has since been changed to Patrick Marleau). At that point, though, it was Minnesota’s turn to respond. It did, and that was the game.

2 – Third line woes

We touched on the Sharks’ lack of secondary scorers yesterday, and it was on full display against the Wild again Tuesday night as the third line of Tomas Hertl, Joonas Donskoi and Mikkel Boedker failed to do anything productive. Hertl had one decent chance in the first period from the slot that Devan Dubnyk turned away, but was later too soft and too slow on Minnesota’s third goal, as Zach Parise outhustled and outmuscled him before dishing to Charlie Coyle.

Donskoi finished with two shots, and didn’t even get one off on a second period breakaway. Boedker had no shots, and just one attempt.

Hertl now has no points in his last 10 games, and Donskoi hasn’t found the scoresheet, either, in nine games since returning from an upper body injury.

Prior to Tuesday night’s game, DeBoer indicated it’s taking some time for both players to get up to speed after being out. Hertl, of course, missed two months with his latest right knee injury.

“You come back, there’s a little bit of adrenaline, you’re on a high, and the reality hits that you missed some time and the league is moving at a really fast pace,” DeBoer said. “Just got to play through it and keep battling.”

Hertl said: “I for sure expect [more] of myself. … I try to stay with my game, try and make plays, be strong on the puck, make my linemates better. I need to just keep working all over [in the] D-zone, O-zone, and even power play.”

3 – Dealing without Vlasic

Marc-Edouard Vlasic was the second Sharks player in two nights to be sidelined by a flu bug, so Schlemko was bumped up to replace him paired with Justin Braun, while Dylan DeMelo and Brenden Dillon comprised the third pair.

Schlemko had a nice game, even if he is no longer getting credit for his third goal of the season. He finished with one assist, a plus-one rating, three shot attempts and three blocks.

“You can’t really replace a guy like [Vlasic],” he said. “He’s one of the best defensive D in the league. Just trying to keep it simple. We switched up the partners and spread out the ice time pretty well. Not the start we wanted, but after the first I thought we played pretty well. Played hard.”

DeBoer said: “We've got a little bit of a flu going through. Tierney was out yesterday with it, [Vlasic] got it today. Hopefully, that’s the end of it.”