Sharks-Blue Jackets: What to watch for

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Sharks-Blue Jackets: What to watch for

PROGRAMMING NOTE: Sharks Pregame Live airs tonight at 7, followed by Columbus-Sharks at 7:30, and Sharks Postgame Live immediately following the final horn -- all on Comcast SportsNet California.

SAN JOSE In the first game back from the All-Star break, which for many teams, including San Jose, was an entire week, the focus is straightforward.

Keep it simple, get your legs, your body and mind into it early, and kind of go from there, Patrick Marleau said. The attention to detail is going to be important really early.

Douglas Murray said: Youve got to be sharp from the get-go. A big thing is to get your confidence back, in your skating, your puck handling and your passing. Just try to be as sharp as possible from the beginning, and usually if you feel good about yourself you play good.

The Sharks went into the break on a positive note, with a 1-0 win in Calgary on Jan. 24 that was their first in regulation in five games, ending a 1-3-1 stretch. They lead the Pacific Division by two points, but have three games in hand on the second place Los Angeles Kings.

BRODIE & KEVIN: Finding scoring

San Jose has already beaten the NHLs last place Blue Jackets twice this month, by identical 2-1 scores on Jan. 5 at HP Pavilion and Jan. 14 in Columbus. The Sharks may have an advantage tonight, as Columbus flew across the country on Monday and had an evening practice after touching down.

We practiced hard yesterday and hopefully weve got the rust off. You have to start up again at some point, and its no different from what Columbus is going through. I understand they had to fly and then practice here so thats probably completely out of character for them, Todd McLellan said.
Burns ready, Clowe not: The All-Star game came at the perfect time for defenseman Brent Burns, who looked like he suffered a potentially serious knee injury in Edmonton on Jan. 23. He was limping badly after that game, but walking better the next day, and is good to go after resting up in Hawaii during the All-Star break.

Burns is having a down year offensively, but has points in five of his last nine games and was looking more aggressive in the offensive zone in the weeks leading up to the injury.

Would he like to see his numbers improve in the seasons second half?

I dont think Ive been changing anything. Just the battle of the year, you keep trying to get them in and kind of go through the roller coaster of them going and them not going.

Clowe, however, will miss his sixth straight game while recovering from a facial fracture. His goal is to return in time for Thursdays game against Dallas.

With Clowe and Marty Havlat out, that has obviously hurt the Sharks depth among their forwards.

When youre not as deep, players can get away with it a little bit more. Coaches dont have as many tools to send messages, McLellan said. Were excited about getting both of those guys back eventually. The extended break wont hurt them at all as far as rest and building their bodies back up for the push, but we do miss them.

In other injury news, Jason Demers is out tonight with a lower body injury.
In the crease: Antti Niemi will start for the Sharks, coming off of his third shutout of the season in Calgary one week ago. It was a big game for the goalie, who struggled in his two previous outings before the impressive win over the Flames.

In five career games against Columbus, Niemi is 3-1-0 with a 2.89 goals-against average and .906 save percentage, although he hasnt faced them yet this season. In the two recent wins over the Blue Jackets on Jan. 5 and Jan. 14, it was Thomas Greiss who allowed one goal in a pair of 2-1 Sharks wins.

Curtis Sanford suffered a pair of hard-luck losses against San Jose this season by allowing just four goals in two losses, but it will be Steve Mason in net tonight for the Jackets. In nine career games against the Sharks, Mason is just 3-5-1 but has a solid 2.39 goals-against average and .932 save percentage.
Searching for offense: The Sharks have scored two goals or less in six of their last eight games, and will look to break out of that slump against Columbus, which is 29th in the NHL in goals-against per game (3.22).

One area they could improve upon? Getting those second and third chances in the so-called dirty areas around the net.

If youre getting those second and third opportunities, those are the quality chances, Patrick Marleau said. You can get those first ones, but youve got to have guys battling in and around the paint and getting at those loose rebounds to put a couple home.

McLellan said that the Sharks have been getting plenty of bodies there, but the aggressiveness in that area of the ice could improve.

The fact is, there are people around the net, and sometimes theres two many people around the net, believe it or not. For every two guys we send there, they probably send three, and all of a sudden youve got five players and goaltender. Shots dont get through.

That doesnt mean we cant be better around the net and cant be harder and more determined, and well challenge our team to be that down the stretch.
Odds and ends: Logan Couture has three goals and an assist in his last three games. Columbus will host the 2013 NHL All-Star game. The Blue Jackets are 1-18-1 when trailing entering the third period. Dan Boyle will play in his 800th NHL game; Brent Burns his 500th; and Douglas Murray his 400th. Only Murray has played all of them with the same team. Of San Joses 35 remaining games, 13 are against the Pacific Division and 19 are on the road. Columbus is on pace for just 54 points this season, which would be a franchise-low. The Blue Jackets are a -39 on the road in goal differential.

Marleau wants to return, but extension with Sharks could be tricky

Marleau wants to return, but extension with Sharks could be tricky

SAN JOSE – Just like his longtime teammate and fellow pending unrestricted free agent Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau said on Monday that he would like to return to the Sharks next season.

“Yeah, it would be nice. We’ll see if that’s an option,” Marleau said. “A lot of time here before this decision needs to be made.”

When asked if there have been any talks yet about an extension, Marleau said: “Not really, no.” Marleau, who was actively exploring his options to leave the Sharks early in the 2015-16 season, would be eligible to sign with another team on July 1.

The 37-year-old forward said he still feels like he has “at least five good years in me, or maybe more.”

“I still think I can contribute and play,” he said. “Until I think I can’t do that anymore, I’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”

Marleau has spent his entire 19-year NHL career with the Sharks. He’s the franchise leader in just about every offensive statistical category, including games played (1,493) goals (508) and points (1,082). Marleau became just the 45th player in NHL history to reach 500 career goals on Feb. 2 in Vancouver. In 82 games this season, he posted 27 goals (third on the team) and 46 points (fifth).

He was asked what it would mean to spend his entire career in San Jose.

“There’s only a few people who have ever done that in their careers,” he said. “That’s something special.”

If Marleau wants a multi-year contract, which is likely, it could make it tricky for Doug Wilson to keep him, though. Players such as Martin Jones and Marc-Edouard Vlasic are due sizable raises in their next contracts, as both will enter the final year of their current bargain deals in 2017-18.

Wilson called it “a priority” to get Jones and Vlasic signed before training camp. He can begin talks on July 1, per NHL CBA rules.

“Certainly Martin Jones is everything we expected him to be, and he’s crucial,” Wilson said. “Marc-Edouard Vlasic [is] arguably one of the best defensemen in the league. You saw what he did against one of the top players in the league (Connor McDavid). Marc-Edouard is still one of the most underrated players in the league in the outside world. 

“Both of them are extremely important to get under contract, and we can start those discussions in the next little while.”

Both Jones and Vlasic indicated they would like to stay in San Jose past next season, too, and it’s conceivable that the combined price tag for those players will be somewhere in the $13-$15 million range. Both made just a combined $7.25 million in 2016-17 ($4.25 million for Vlasic, $3 million for Jones).

“Oh, absolutely,” Jones said, when asked if he could see himself with the Sharks long term. “I love it here. The guys are great. It’s a lot of fun coming to the rink every day. City has been great. The fans are awesome, and we have a great team. I’m excited.”

Vlasic said on March 14 that he would like to play his whole career with the Sharks, and confirmed that sentiment again on Monday, although the timing of an extension gets seemed of little importance to the 30-year-old.

“When it happens it will happen. It doesn’t matter if it’s July 1 or during the season,” he said.

The Sharks also have several pending restricted free agent forwards this summer in Chris Tierney, Marcus Sorensen, Melker Karlsson and Joonas Donskoi. It’s likely that they’d prefer to keep all of those players, and some multi-year contracts could be the result. Other players like Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc showed flashes of becoming solid NHL contributors, too.

Along with the salary cap (still yet to be revealed), Thornton’s future, and which player the Sharks lose in the upcoming expansion draft, there are plenty of factors both sides need to weigh before any decision on Marleau gets made.

“[Marleau and Thornton] have been cornerstones of this franchise for a long time, not only as players, but as people,” Wilson said. “There’s a lot of variables that go into that decision, and the first one is me sitting down and talking with both of them. We haven’t had a chance to do that, so we’ll get there.”

DeBoer: Joe Thornton played through torn knee ligaments in playoffs

DeBoer: Joe Thornton played through torn knee ligaments in playoffs

SAN JOSE – There was finally some clarification on Monday on what Joe Thornton was playing through, as the Sharks gathered one final time at their practice facility before the offseason.

And, it was significant, as the 37-year-old was dealing with a “torn MCL and ACL” in his left knee, according to coach Pete DeBoer.

“I don’t know if the injury report has come out yet, but I’ve never seen a player play with a torn MCL and ACL,” DeBoer said. “Basically, his knee is floating there. It was as courageous an effort, him doing what he did, as I’ve ever seen.”

Thornton was scheduled to have surgery on the knee later on Monday afternoon, according to general manager Doug Wilson. Prior to that, the longtime centerman met with the local media.

"I'm going to go see the doctors right after this and see what they say,” he said. “So, I'll know more about it today. I just know it was pretty sore playing."

Wilson said: “I’ve been in the business a long time. To see a player play with that type of injury tells you everything you need to know about him.”

As for a timeframe for Thornton to return, Wilson said: “Don’t know. We’ll know after [surgery].”

Thornton, an unrestricted free agent who has spent the last 12 seasons with the Sharks, said that he would like to return.

"Yeah, I want to come back. I think this is a Stanley Cup caliber team and I think I'm a little bit older and I realize how good this team is,” he said. “Of course I'd like to [return]. But, we'll have to see. I'm sure we'll be talking. But right now I haven't been a dad for a long time. I need to turn into a family man for a couple months."

Thornton said there have not been any talks yet about a contract extension.

“I just wanted to focus on hockey this year,” he said. “There's no hurry, but yeah, I want to be back. This team is a real talented team, and I love playing here."

Wilson said: “We have lots of time … We’ve got four-and-a-half months until we’re back at it.”

Thornton, who has been downplaying the injury since it occurred on April 2 – including when he said three days later that there was “no doubt” he would return for the playoff opener, and then missing the first two games of the first round series with Edmonton – struck the same tune on Monday when asked what he had to go through to suit up.

"Just the normal stuff that hockey players deal with,” he said. “It was just unfortunate, the time of the year, that it happened three games before the end of the season and the playoffs [and] you’ve got to deal with something like that. 

“Hockey players are a different breed. There's probably five or six guys that had to deal with different stuff. But it is what it is. I'll go get it checked out today, and go from there."

Although Thornton’s was the most severe, there were other Sharks playing through injury as is commonplace at the end of any NHL season. 

Tomas Hertl suffered a broken foot in the same game as Thornton on April 2 in Vancouver, while forward Patrick Marleau had a broken thumb. Logan Couture played through a mouth injury that he has already revealed will require extensive dental work this summer, while Joonas Donskoi separated his left shoulder twice over the second half of the regular season.