Sharks-Canadiens: What to watch for

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Sharks-Canadiens: What to watch for

SAN JOSE When a team is mired in a scoring slump, as the Sharks are with just three goals in their last three games, an ugly goal can be just what the doctor ordered to break out of it.

The best way to do that is get in front of the goaltender and look for a rebound, or even a puck to deflect in off of a skate of a shin pad. Battling their way to the blue paint is something the Sharks will make a conscious effort to do when they host the Montreal Canadiens at HP Pavilion tonight.

It seems to always be the way to get out of it. When youre not scoring, it always seems to be the goal that you get is a second rebound chance, or third chance, or one that just squeaks in somehow, said Joe Pavelski. If you want to score consistently, you have to find a way to get those.

Sometimes youre around the net and youre not really assertive or hungry for second chances, so I think youll see us more assertive around the net, said Ryane Clowe, who hasnt scored since Nov. 3 vs. Pittsburgh.

Clowe went on to say that just because youre around the net, doesnt mean youre doing whats necessary to create the so called dirty or greasy goals.

Sometimes you think youre there, but are you getting pushed out easily? Are you getting boxed out? Just because you go there for a second chance doesnt mean they are going to give it to you, he said. You have to make sure youre committed to working for rebounds. A lot of times if you can get in the goalies face a little bit, you get pucks that go off your shin pad or get tips-ins.

Clowe will be back on a line with Logan Couture and Marty Havlat, a trio that had early success together when Havlat made his season debut in the fifth game of the season in New Jersey on Oct. 21. Patrick Marleau is back with Pavelski and Joe Thornton on the top line.

Havlat is another player mired in a scoring slump, with just one goal this season and only one assist in his last nine games. From the sound of it, Havlat is one guy in particular that McLellan would like to see get his nose a little dirtier in trying to create scoring chances.

Eventually, hes got to find a way to get himself into scoring situations, said McLellan. Hes got to put himself in spots where he can get second opportunities. Maybe this shuffle will help.

Find the shooting lanes: The Sharks are second in the NHL with 34.2 shots per game, but may find it difficult to generate that many against Montreal. The Canadiens are third in the NHL in shots-against per game with 27.7, and lead the NHL with 231 blocked shots.

In fact, the Canadiens have two of the top six players in the NHL when it comes to blocked shots. Josh Gorges leads the league with 68, while Hal Gill is sixth with 61.

Combine that with Carey Prices steady goaltending, and breaking out of their scoring slump won't be easy.

Theyve got big guys who like to block shots. Obviously, Hal Gill is a huge guy and sometimes hell just lay out there and act like a goalie, almost, said Clowe. But, sometimes it can work to your detriment, if you can lay them out and find someone off the side of the net.

Price, who had the night off in the Canadiens 4-1 loss in Anaheim on Wednesday in favor of Peter Budaj, is considered one of the top goalies in the NHL according to McLellan. Price is 9-8-4 with a 2.26 goals-against average and .916 save percentage.

Hes a hell of a goaltender and has got to be one of the top three or four in the league, and is having a very good year and is very confident, said the Sharks coach. Their team does very well blocking shots in front of him, and eliminating second chances. That part of their game is going to be a real good challenge for us.

Handzus returns: The Sharks will get Michal Handzus back in the lineup tonight, after he has recovered from what he described as a high fever.

Handzus played just 12:34 minutes last Saturday against Vancouver, and missed Mondays game in Los Angeles.

With a high fever, I had headaches and the respiratory system came into play a little bit, so it was longer than I thought, he said.

Monday would have been his first game in Los Angeles since he signed with the Sharks this summer as a free agent. He spent the previous four seasons as a member of the Kings.

It doesnt really matter if its L.A. or somewhere else, he said. I want to play every game.

Odds and ends: This is the first and only meeting between the Canadiens and Sharks this season. They last met on Dec. 3 at Bell Centre, a 3-1 Sharks win. Joe Thornton has six assists in the last five games. Antti Niemi will start in net for the Sharks. Injured Canadiens include Andrei Markov (knee), Jaroslav Spacek (upper body), Scott Gomez (lower body) and Chris Campoli (leg). Max Pacioretty is serving the second of a three-game suspension. San Jose has won its last five games against Montreal at home. The Canadiens last won here on Nov. 13, 1999.

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.”