Playoff hockey arrives in February for Sharks


Playoff hockey arrives in February for Sharks

SAN JOSE -- If the Sharks know whats good for them, and they so often dont, they will regard Tuesdays 1-0 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers as their first playoff game of the 2012 season.

The Sharks found the energy they had left in the airport locker at San Jose International 17 days ago, and played with a frantic purpose that they will have to replicate from this point on if they intend (a) not to miss the playoffs and (b) not to be a four-and-done.

The Sharks are what the standings say they are -- a sixth-place team, and four of the five ahead of them have legitimate claim to say they are better than The Fin. They have been the sixth-best team for a long time now, even though as the Western Division leaders they sat third in your morning standings and therefore looked better in printer ink than they have in real life.

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But the religion they got after their nine-game, five-point road trip has always been difficult for them to recreate consistently. The high revs provided by the full roster -- especially new arrival Daniel Winnik as the right side of the Joe Pavelski-Patrick Marleau line -- were a sight for jaded Sharks fans to behold.

And the defense, which had passed shoddy and eased into borderline unsightly on the trip, was considerably better, keeping the mess in front of goalie Antti Niemi manageable if not necessarily orderly. The Flyers 26 shots seemed a lot more like 38, and the saves Niemi didnt make were goalmouth scrambles that the Flyers will count at somewhere between four and eight goals they should have had.

But thats playoff hockey, and so was the low number of penalties called by Mike Leggo and Marc Joannette. Either by virtue of their veteran status, their understanding that two frustrated teams needed to blow off steam, or having an early flight, the two handled a very physical game like Montessori school teachers, calling only three penalties the entire night, one a delay of game on Colin White for shooting a puck over the glass.

Thus left to settle their issues dhomme a homme, the Sharks and Flyers produced a taut and physical thriller that could only have been better if it led to another game in a series of them.

San Jose isnt there yet, though. Their first period issues, the penalty kill issues and their inconsistency issues all conspire against their skill and general work rate to put in a position where they cannot realistically catch Vancouver or Detroit at the top of the Western Conference. Their world narrows to the Pacific Division, because there isnt much difference between third and ninth except for the golf and hunting.

Thus, San Jose, which has grown accustomed to taking their playoff plans for granted, has a more frantic finish of their own to undertake. Fourteen of their last 20 games are against either playoff locks or contenders, and 11 of those 20 and nine of the final 11 are against division opponents.

In sum, its white-knuckle time for a team that in years past was credited with having a nice manicure. These last 20 games are a hard slog for teams from six through 15, and the Sharks are No. 6. These are the playoffs, starting now, and every slow start, flat effort, bad goalie night or just plain blah performance is a knee in the nethers.

It doesnt get simpler than that. But for the Sharks, who havent experienced this sort of thing for 12 years now, simpler is often not simple enough, so well lay it out for everyone.

There are no more games to give away, period. The playoffs are now. They ignore that at their peril.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for

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.”