Playoff hockey arrives in February for Sharks

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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.

RELATED: Sharks schedule Flyers-Sharks postgame video

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 CSNBayArea.com.

Report: Division rival interested in Joe Thornton

Report: Division rival interested in Joe Thornton

The mere thought of Joe Thornton wearing a Kings sweater may be enough to cause some Sharks fans to lose their lunch.

But it might be a possibility.

According to LA Kings Insider Jon Rosen, the Kings consider Thornton to be a “priority” should be hit the open market as a free agent. While the two sides are currently allowed to express mutual interest, NHL rules forbid them from discussing terms of any deal until Saturday at 9 a.m. PT.

Rosen points to a number of individuals in the Kings' organization that have ties to Thornton, including general manager Rob Blake, who played on the Sharks with Thornton from 2008-10. Mike O’Connell was Thornton’s general manager in Boston and currently serves as the Kings’ senior advisor to the general manager. Glen Murray, a former teammate and frequent linemate of Thornton’s with the Bruins for three-and-a-half seasons, is in Kings player development.

The Kings, under new management since replacing Dean Lombardi with Blake, and head coach Darryl Sutter with John Stevens, have put a priority on finding players this offseason that can get pucks to dangerous scoring areas. 

Adding one of the best passers in the history of the NHL would surely help in that regard. Thornton sits 13th in the NHL all-time with 1,007 assists.

Rosen writes: “Los Angeles has been a dominant possession team without being a high scoring team for the better part of the last six-plus seasons, and it was articulated earlier in the off-season that the team needed to do a better job of taking advantage of that possession discrepancy. In trying to find players with the ability to turn possession into actual production, the team has placed an emphasis on finding players capable of distributing the puck into high-danger in the attacking zone. There might not be another player in the NHL – let alone unrestricted free agents – who is as gifted of a passer of Thornton, which places the team’s needs in concert with the future Hall of Famer’s skill set.”

As reported here previously Thornton, who turns 38 on Sunday, is seeking a deal of three years. That might not be agreeable to the Sharks, who are likely to sign Martin Jones and Marc-Edouard Vlasic to long-term and expensive contract extensions that would kick in with the 2018-19 season.

Of course, Thornton could also be using the Kings as leverage to get a new deal in San Jose, where he would prefer to remain.

Tierney, Sorensen among players qualified by Sharks

Tierney, Sorensen among players qualified by Sharks

The Sharks have issued qualifying offers to restricted free agent forwards Chris Tierney, Marcus Sorensen and Barclay Goodrow, while cutting ties with three players in the system.

Tierney, 22, posted 11 goals and 12 assists for 23 points in 80 games last season, serving primarily as the fourth line center. He has 64 points (24g, 40a) in 202 career games over three NHL seasons, all with the Sharks.

Sorensen posted one goal and three assists in 19 games with the Sharks last season, his first in the NHL. The 25-year-old played in all six playoff games against Edmonton, scoring one goal and one assist.

Goodrow, 24, skated in three games for the Sharks last season with one assist. He has 16 points (4g, 12a) in 77 games over three seasons with the Sharks, although has played in just 17 NHL games since the start of the 2015-16 season.

Forward Nikita Jevpalovs, defenseman Patrick McNally and goalie Mantas Armalis - also known for his career as a male model - were left unqualified and are now unrestricted free agents.

Earlier in the offseason, the Sharks signed pending restricted free agents Joonas Donskoi and Melker Karlsson. Donskoi received a two-year deal at a salary cap hit of $1.9 million, while Karlsson was signed to a three-year deal at $2 million annually.