Sharks-Blackhawks: What to watch for


Sharks-Blackhawks: What to watch for

SAN JOSE Todd McLellan showed off his vocabulary when describing how he imagines the Chicago Blackhawks are feeling headed into tonights game at HP Pavilion.

Surly, grumpy and growly, to be specific, as Chicago brings a two-game losing streak into San Jose, including a 9-2 thrashing by the Edmonton Oliers on Saturday.

McLellan said after the morning skate that he doesnt have to remind his players to expect the Blackhawks to bust the proverbial hinges off the door at game time.

Theyve been through it before and we know how we would respond. Its as simple as that, said McLellan. We dont have to post anything or tell them. We expect the Blackhawks to be the top-notch team that they are.

You have to look at it as a good challenge for our club, said Patrick Marleau, who is coming off of his fourth career hat trick in Sundays win over the Avalanche. They are going to be desperate to get some wins, and to play the way theyre capable of. We have to combat that by playing our best game.

Home improvement: As good as the Sharks have been on the road (7-2-0), San Jose would like to improve on its home record. The Sharks are just 5-3-1 at HP Pavilion.

We want to put a good product in front of our fans, and theyre pretty loyal fans, said Torrey Mitchell.

The Sharks have scored the first goal at home in just two of their nine games at the Tank.

We have to sharpen up at home, especially our starts, said Mitchell. Getting the first goal sets us up for victories, so hopefully we can do that tonight.

The Sharks and Blackhawks are among the leagues best teams when taking a 1-0 lead. San Jose is a perfect 6-0, while Chicago is a nearly perfect 8-0-1.

We havent been as good as we could be at home, said Joe Pavelski, who leads the Sharks with 11 goals.
Clowe still adjusting? Like Marty Havlat (one assist in last six games), Sharks forward Ryane Clowe is in a bit of a goal-scoring slump. He hasnt found the back of the net since Nov. 3 against Pittsburgh, and may still be getting used to playing with Marleau and Mitchell.

Clowe, though, brings more to the ice than Havlat in terms of physical play and an ability to win puck battles. Not to mention, Marleau has five points in his last two games, and has likely benefited from Clowes ability to create space.

According to the coach, its only a matter of time before Clowe starts scoring again.

I think there is an adjustment phase, but I think thats a healthy thing for our team, the ability to play with different people and adjust, said McLellan. Clowie has done some really good things away from scoring, along the boards, sticking up for his teammates, managing the neutral zone right now. The goals and assists will come.

As for Mitchell, Marleau had nothing but good things to say about his new linemate, while at the same time helping to guide him.

Hes definitely got some skill that you have to be ready for. When he gets the puck down low hes hard to play against, said Marleau. I know that from practice, and I try to remind him that. He beats guys sometimes one-on-one and then he looks to take it to the net.

Im just trying to let him know how good he really is.

Center stage: The Sharks and Blackhawks are among the best teams when it comes to a 1-2 punch at center. San Jose, of course, has Marleau and Joe Thornton, while the Blackhawks have Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane in the middle of their top two lines.

Thats a different look that what Chicago has used in years past, as Kane and Toews have been on the same line for much of the previous few seasons.

It gives them two very dynamic centermen and each of them plays the game a little bit different one in straight lines and a little more physical and the other one a playmaker, said McLellan. It presents some problems, but we feel good about our centermen. Weve got Marleau and Thornton spread apart right now, so we have size and the ability to skate, so we think it will be a good match.

Odds and ends: Antti Niemi will oppose Corey Crawford in net. ... Jason Demers and Jim Vandermeer were the first two defensemen off of the ice for the Sharks, a good sign that they will make up the third defense pair tonight. The Blackhawks may get injured defenseman Brent Seabrook (lower body) back tonight, after he missed the last three games due to injury. Hes a game-time decision according to Joel Quenneville, while Michal Frolik (shoulder) is likely to play. Thornton has seven points in the last three games, as does Marc-Edouard Vlasic.

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.