Sharks-Canucks: What to watch for

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Sharks-Canucks: What to watch for

SAN JOSE It's been more than six months since the Vancouver Canucks ended San Joses Stanley Cup dream last May when Kevin Bieksa scored one of the wackiest series-ending goals in recent memory.

The Sharks that were a part of that series remember it well, as the two teams meet for the first time tonight at HP Pavilion since the last year's Western Conference Final.

Obviously, theres some carryover there, Patrick Marleau said Saturday morning. You dont like losing to anybody, thats for sure. Our team has changed a little bit, but the players that have been here know what were going to be up against tonight. Its going to be a good challenge.

Its a new season. We put that behind us and try to learn from it, and build a championship team here this year, said Douglas Murray.

The Sharks enter the game on a four-game winning streak, but the Canucks have won three in a row themselves. After an up-and-down start, Vancouver may be playing its best hockey of the season after a 3-0 shutout win in Phoenix on Friday night.

Vancouver enters in 10th place in the Western Conference (12-9-1) while the Sharks (13-5-1) are in third, atop the Pacific Division.

They seem to be out of their doldrums, if you will, same thing we were in (this time last year) after playing in the final four, said Todd McLellan. They are a very committed team, hard on the backcheck, good gaps and not a lot of time and space in the offensive zone for the opposition.

"Obviously, right now youre getting nothing for free from this Vancouver team.

Middle men: The Sharks may have won their last four games, but according to McLellan, they have been outshot and outchanced in our last four games and still came away with victories.

That can't happen tonight, though.

If it does, then well be in a lot of trouble, said the head coach. I think Vancouver can finish with the best of them, and theyve proven that, so weve got to pick our game up a little bit.

The Sharks continue to own the second period, despite some uneven play during long stretches. After scoring the lone goal of the game on Wednesday in Chicago in the middle frame, San Jose is an incredible 20 on the season.

We know that second periods are our best, and I think that guys get that feeling when were going out after the first, that its going to be a good period, said Marleau.

Vancouver, incidentally, has been outscored 27-21 in the second period, but are a combined 14 in the first and third.

Top Jimmy: The Sharks will apparently stick with Jim Vandermeer and Jason Demers as their third defense pair tonight, as those two were the first off of the ice. Demers scored the only goal of the game in the 1-0 win over Chicago, while Vandermeer could be a necessary big body against a Vancouver team that likes to play physical.

Thats what I bring. If those are the games they want me in for, thats what Ill do, said Vandermeer.

The Sharks have rotated their third defense pair in each of the previous three games, with Colin White and Justin Braun playing in Colorado last Sunday while Demers and White played Saturday in Dallas.

Hot goalies: The Canucks and Sharks will both ride their hot hands in net tonight as Cory Schneider will oppose Antti Niemi. Niemi registered his first shutout of the season on Wednesday, while Schneider (5-4-0, 2.02 GAA, .927 SP) has stopped 46 shots combined in blanking Phoenix last night and Colorado on Wednesday.

Niemi (9-2-1, 2.31 GAA, .923 SP) has won his last five starts and allowed two or fewer goals in each of them.

Roberto Luongo (7-5-1, 2.97 GAA, .896 SP), the regular starter for the Canucks, recently returned from an upper body injury that caused him to miss two games. Hell begin the night on the bench, though, for the third straight time.

Odds and ends: The Canucks have the top power play in the NHL (24.5 percent), while the improving Sharks penalty kill has not allowed a power play goal in five of the last six games. Two of the four games between these teams last regular season went to the shootout, with each team winning once. The Sharks were 1-2-1 overall against Vancouver. The Canucks have outscored their opponents 10-1 over the last three games, while the Sharks have a 14-4 advantage in their four straight wins.

Mailbag: Which Sharks player is most likely to be traded?

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AP

Mailbag: Which Sharks player is most likely to be traded?

No one asked, but I’m going to begin this week’s mailbag with my prediction for the Stanley Cup Final – Preds in six. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to a few of your questions…

Most likely to be moved this off-season? (Nik @niknisj25)

If the Sharks do make a move – and I’ve argued here that I think it may be time for a shakeup – they’ll surely be looking for someone up front to boost the offense. In that case, they’d likely have to sacrifice a defenseman or two.

The Sharks defense is the strength of the organization at the moment, as they had one of the best one-through-seven groups in the NHL this season. But it’s also an expensive one. The Sharks have nearly $27 million committed to their top seven defensemen next season, while Marc-Edouard Vlasic is due for a hefty raise beginning in 2018-19.

One name that could be intriguing to other teams is Justin Braun. The 30-year-old has been a part of the Sharks’ top shut down pair with Vlasic for several seasons now, and is signed for the next three years at a reasonable $3.8 million cap hit. The Sharks could potentially move him for offensive help, and slot in a guy like David Schlemko alongside Vlasic, while finally giving Dylan DeMelo a chance to play on a nightly basis on the third pair. A Vlasic-Schlemko pair could be more offensive than Vlasic-Braun, too, because as adept as they were at keeping the puck out of their own net, the Sharks didn’t get many goals from their defenders outside of Burns.

Of course, the upcoming expansion draft all but assures that nothing will happen until Las Vegas selects its team on June 21. If the Sharks lose a defenseman to the Golden Knights, they’ll be more reluctant to move another one. Still, with guys like Joakim Ryan, Tim Heed, Julius Bergman, Mirco Mueller and now Radim Simek in the pipeline, the club might be able to handle a couple departures.

How do we fix the power play next season? Bring in a coach that could help us? Change up the lines, or style of play? (adam smith @kickback408)

One thing that won’t be happening is a new coach, as Doug Wilson recently confirmed that Steve Spott would be back alongside Pete DeBoer. Bob Boughner could move on if he gets hired as a head coach elsewhere, but Boughner’s focus is the team’s defense and penalty kill.

Obviously, the future of the power play depends on who is on the roster, beginning with Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. Both saw their power play production dip this season.

Thornton went from 29 power play points in 2015-16 to 19 this season (he had eight power play goals in 2015-16, and just one this season). Marleau saw a decline from 25 power play points in 2015-16 to 16 last season. Even if both return, it may be time to try other bodies on the top unit.

Do you see Meier, Labanc and/or Sorensen having a breakout season next year? Or anyone else on the Barracuda? (Colin Dunn @ColinDunnACA)

Someone better had, because this team needs to start getting younger, and soon. One of the bigger disappointments of the 2016-17 season is that none of them apparently showed the coaching staff that they were prepared to play on a nightly basis at the NHL level.

Timo Meier and Marcus Sorensen, I would surmise, are at the top of the depth chart as far as forwards go. Their line in the playoffs with center Chris Tierney was the Sharks’ best through the early part of the series with Edmonton. As for Kevin Labanc, I think he’s fallen a bit since he had a brief run of success for the Sharks in December.

While the Sharks did a good job stockpiling some young players through the 2013-15 drafts, they’ve traded away a number of picks in recent years. In last year’s draft they didn’t have a first or third round pick; this year they don’t have any picks in the second, third or fourth rounds; and in 2018 they are already without their second and third round picks. 

It’s great to accumulate young players, but at some point they have to break through. Now is the time.

Sharks, Robinson parting ways after five seasons

Sharks, Robinson parting ways after five seasons

After five seasons with the Sharks, Larry Robinson is leaving the organization.

Robinson, 65, spent the last three seasons as the club's director of player development. He served as an associate coach from 2012-14.

TSN in Montreal and the Montreal Gazette originally reported the news.

The Sharks confirmed that Robinson's contract would be expiring, and general manager Doug Wilson told NBC Sports California that the divorce was amicable, and "because of geography." Robinson lives in Florida.

According to the Montreal Gazette

Robinson’s contract with the Sharks expires on July 1, but agent Donnie Cape said Thursday that San Jose general manager Doug Wilson has given him permission to speak with other teams. Robinson lives in Bradenton, Fla., and the long travel distance to San Jose is one of big the reasons he’s looking for a new team to work for.

Robinson seemed to ponder retirement in 2014, but signed a three-year extension to remain in the Sharks' front office. He worked mostly from his home in Florida the past two seasons, making occasional trips to San Jose, including during training camp.

In the summer of 2015, Robinson underwent surgery for skin cancer.

Recognized as one of the best defensemen in NHL history, Robinson won six Stanley Cup championships with the Montreal Canadiens as a player, and holds the NHL record for playing 20 straight seasons in the playoffs. A 10-time All-Star and two-time Norris Trophy winner, Robinson was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1995.

Robinson was the head coach of the Los Angeles Kings from 1995-99, and the New Jersey Devils from 1999-2002 and again in 2005-06. He led the Devils to the Stanley Cup in 2000. Robinson has nine Stanley Cup rings as a player and coach.

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The Sharks did not renew the contract of pro scout Jason Rowe, who had been with the organization for the past nine seasons. Rowe focused on eastern NHL and AHL teams.