Sharks-Columbus: What to watch for


Sharks-Columbus: What to watch for

PROGRAMMING NOTE: The Sharks and Blue Jackets drop the puck at 4:00 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet California, and be sure to stick around for Sharks Postgame Live following the game.

COLUMBUS The Sharks have lost four of the first five on a current nine-game road trip, but there doesnt seem to be a sense of panic in the locker room just yet.

A loss to the leagues last place team might change that. The Sharks (31-19-7) visit the Columbus Blue Jackets (17-35-7) tonight at Nationwide Arena, looking to complete a four-game season sweep of the club buried in 30th place in the NHL standings.

San Jose has just a two-point lead on Phoenix for first place in the Pacific Division, with two games in hand. After tonight, there are three games remaining on the season-long nine-game trip: Toronto, Nashville and Minnesota.

Weve left some points out there that we feel we should have had. Were not sitting where we want to be on this trip, and obviously these next few games are pretty important for us, Joe Pavelski said.

Todd McLellan gave the old coach-speak about taking things one game at a time, and not looking too far ahead.
RELATED: Vlasic to play in full cage

Nobody in there at all is talking at all about seeding or positioning or anything like that. At least not around me, and not that I know of. I know were not approaching it that way, McLellan said. Were talking about winning tonight.

Some good news for the Sharks is that defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic has declared himself fit to play after getting hit in the face with a puck on Sunday.

Nastiness continued? The Sharks and Blue Jackets faced off three times in January, so its not all that surprising that there seems to be a fair amount of animosity between the two teams.

First, there was Dane Byers elbow to the head of Andrew Desjardins here on Jan. 14 that resulted in a two-game suspension to the now minor league forward. Dan Boyle and Rick Nash have had a couple of encounters in the last two games, nearly dropping the gloves at one point. Finally, the teams combined for 92 penalty minutes in their previous matchup, including five fights, on Jan. 31 in a 6-0 Sharks win.

It got heated at the end (of the last game) but at least on our part, were more concerned about the win than anything else, Boyle said. This teams hopes for the playoff this year are pretty much done, so theyre in a different place than we are right now. Were fighting for our playoff lives and theyre playing a different type of game. I dont think the past has anything to do with it.

McLellan was asked if hell have to remind his club that now is not the time to settle personal vendettas.

We have to put the points in front of anything that we do, whether its evening scores or anything like that. But, thats the way we want to approach this game. We want to play hard, establish our ice, score more goals than they do and leave with two points, he said.

Checking the lineup: Based on line rushes at the full-team skate on Tuesday, Patrick Marleau will return to the top line with Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton; Tommy Wingels will skate with Logan Couture and Ryane Clowe; Dominic Moore is between Benn Ferriero and Jamie McGinn, while the fourth line looked to be Michal Handzus, Brad Winchester, and Andrew Desjardins.

If you dont feel like looking at a roster, that leaves Torrey Mitchell as the odd man out, which McLellan called a consideration after practice.

The head coach has mentioned before that having another forward around could be used as a motivating factor for other guys trying to stay in the lineup. He expanded on that philosophy now that Dominic Moore is here.

"There are some players every night, regardless of how well they play, they probably get the benefit of the doubt a lot of times, he said. Whether thats fair or not, thats sometimes how it works. Their cutback comes within games and on power plays and stuff like that.

Theres another group of players that have to work to stay in the lineup, and Moore gives us some real good depth on any one of the top three to four lines. I think as we find out more about him well have a better idea of how to use him in those roles and hell put pressure on others.

In the crease: Antti Niemi will make his second straight start tonight, looking to improve upon his effort from Sunday after a nightmarish game in Tampa Bay last Thursday. Steve Mason was the first goalie off of the ice for Columbus.

Mason allowed all six San Jose goals in the 6-0 loss to the Sharks on Jan. 31, while Niemi made 30 saves in that game in recording one of his four shutouts this season.

Thomas Greiss got the win in the first two games of the season series, both ending with a 2-1 score.
Blue Jackets talk Sharks: A couple of soundbites from Blue Jackets forward R.J. Umberger and head coach Todd Richards this morning, when asked about tonights game:

You want to go out and beat a good team. Thats what its about right now for us, Umberger said. Were trying to match ourselves up against the best teams and see what we can do. Weve challenged ourselves in here to win some games right now and go into next season with momentum, and thats what were trying to do.

Richards, a former Sharks assist coach, said: Theyre going to be ready to go. Theyve got great leaders in the room and its a big game for them as far as part of their road trip and where they are in the standings.

Richards also commented on the penalty minute-heavy game on Jan. 31, most of which came when the game was already in the bag for the Sharks, who were ahead by a comfortable margin.

The way the game was going in San Jose, they were all over us. It was a 6-0 game. I think that challenges your pride and I think thats the way the game started to unfold, he said. I expect the intensity only because this is a real big game for San Jose and were still fighting and clawing, so its a big game for us, too.
Odds and ends: The Blue Jackets will be without defenseman James Wisniewski, but are getting Nikita Nikitin back. Columbus has lost three of its last four. Patrick Marleau has three goals and an assist in his last four games. Douglas Murray remains out for the Sharks. Columbus is the leagues worst team on the penalty kill (75.8 percent). San Joses power play is third in the league (21.1 percent). Joe Thornton: Playing against Detroit, we can pull a lot of positives out of that game. We felt like we played well and we competed for three periods. Out of that, just grab some confidence and settle down. We realize how tight we are in the Pacific and weve got to get some points.

Sorensen returns to Sharks after having 'positive impact' last season

Sorensen returns to Sharks after having 'positive impact' last season

Editor's Note: The above video is from March 2, 2017

One of the Sharks’ young forwards expected to challenge for a full time roster spot this season has been re-signed.

Marcus Sorensen, who started the year in the AHL before working his way up to the Sharks, signed a two-year contract extension the team announced on Tuesday. A source told NBC Sports California that the deal is worth $700,000 at the NHL level for each of the next two seasons.

In 19 regular season games with the Sharks, Sorensen, 25, posted one goal and three assists. He appeared in all six playoff games against Edmonton, posting one goal and one assist.

In 43 games with the AHL Barracuda, Sorensen had 17 goals and 17 assists for 34 points.

"The time he spent with the Sharks this season, and the positive impact he had, proved that he can be an effective player at the highest level,” assistant general manager Joe Will said in a statement.

Sorensen originally signed with the Sharks as a free agent on May 13, 2016. He was originally drafted by Ottawa in the fourth round of the 2010 draft, but spent six seasons playing in Sweden before joining San Jose.

Sorensen was a restriced free agent. The Sharks have just one RFA left to sign in forward Barclay Goodrow.

Mailbag: Will Sharks miss Marleau's leadership? Thornton to be bumped?

Mailbag: Will Sharks miss Marleau's leadership? Thornton to be bumped?

Now that the dust has settled on the draft and free agency, here’s a meaty offseason Sharks mailbag before my vacation…

Who will replace Patty's leadership? (philip malan‏ @pmalan1979)

Patrick Marleau was a good example for other players in that he always came to camp in great shape and took care of himself between games, allowing him to be very productive into his later years. 

But let’s not overblow it. From what I understand, Marleau preferred to avoid confrontation, and was never the guy in the dressing room challenging other players to step up. That was left more to guys like Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski, with Logan Couture growing into that role in recent years, too. When it comes to veteran leadership there are other guys still in the dressing room of more value than Marleau. His leaving town shouldn’t change the dynamic.

Will Thornton be bumped from the top line center role? Who do you think will replace Marleau on the PP? (Elle‏ @LikeShiningOil)

The whole “top line” designation is something that us writers and broadcasters like to use, and I’m going to keep using it for Thornton so long as he and Pavelski are on the same line. That said, there will be plenty of games where the Couture line gets more even-strength ice time than the Thornton line. I guess my point here is don’t read too much into the labels. I don’t expect Thornton’s ice time to go down from what it was last season. He’s averaged 18 minutes and change in each of the past five seasons, and probably will again.

As for replacing Marleau on the power play, I would tab Tomas Hertl as the frontrunner, but I’m sure the Sharks will try a number of different looks there in training camp. After finishing 25th in the NHL last season they pretty much have to, right?

How will the lines roll this season, if you were to prognosticate now? (Erik Kuhre @Puckguy14)

It seems like we say this every year, but it depends on where the Sharks see Hertl slotting in. Last season Hertl started out on the wing of the top line after offseason knee surgery before moving to center fairly quickly. I know he battled through yet another knee injury during the season, but Hertl’s 22 points in 49 games was a disappointing total.

If the season were starting today, I’d put Hertl on the wing of the Thornton line again with, of course, Pavelski on the other side. Here’s what I’ve got in that scenario:

Tomas Hertl – Joe Thornton – Joe Pavelski
Timo Meier – Logan Couture – Joonas Donskoi
Jannik Hansen – Chris Tierney – Mikkel Boedker
Melker Karlsson – Ryan Carpenter – Joel Ward

Extras: Marcus Sorensen, Kevin Labanc, Barclay Goodrow

(One guy who is really going to have to fight to keep his spot is Ward. I could see him getting pushed out, but for now I’m leaving him in).

Will there be a tough guy in the lineup to protect the kids? (Jim Kelley)

The Sharks signed free agent Brandon Bollig a couple weeks ago to replace Micheal Haley, but I don’t seem him as a regular in the NHL lineup. Bollig could be a guy they recall if they think it’s necessary to dress a pugilist, like when Pete DeBoer brought up Haley late in the 2015-16 season for the sole reason of fighting Darnell Nurse, who had jumped Sharks defenseman Roman Polak just two weeks earlier for no real reason.

Do you think Chris Tierney is capable of more point production at this point in his career? (Ian Stephenson)

Count me among those that thought Tierney was ready to have a better season last year after his strong performance in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Still, he’s just 23 years old, and his line in the series against Edmonton with Meier and Sorensen was a very effective one for long stretches of play. This is a huge year for Tierney, who had to settle for the Sharks’ one-year, $735,000 qualifying offer. Perform, and he’ll get paid. Struggle, and he could be on the move.

Do you think the Sharks will trade either Grosenick or Dell? Doesn't seem Grosenick has much more to prove in AHL. (Chris Greni)

No, they’ll hold on to all three for the time being. Getting Troy Grosenick re-signed to a one-year deal was a nice move on the Sharks’ part, considering Aaron Dell still has just 20 games of NHL experience. Perhaps if they both continue to play well the Sharks could dangle one as trade bait later in the year, but it wouldn’t make sense at this point. 

Any thoughts on DW using the offer sheet to bring in scoring help? There’s several serviceable RFAs out there still waiting for contracts. (Tony Martinico)

Keep in mind that some of those high end RFAs, like Colton Parayko, Nino Niederreiter and Tomas Tatar are currently headed for arbitration, which takes the offer sheet off the table.

Purely speculation here, but I have to wonder if the Sharks have at least kicked around trying to ink Leon Draisaitl to an offer sheet. You have to think Berlin native Hasso Plattner would love to add the “German Gretzky” to the roster. I know we're settling into the part of the NHL offseason where typically nothing happens, but it was July 19 when the Flyers signed Shea Weber to a monster offer sheet five years ago.

And, of course, Doug Wilson has used the power of the offer sheet in the past, signing Niklas Hjalmarsson in 2010 and then using the threat of an offer sheet with Boston to acquire Martin Jones.

Which Cuda player, aside from Meier, Labanc and Sorensen, would you expect to be a dark horse and could make the big team out of camp? (olin @sleepymofo)

Keep in mind that the sixth and defensemen spots are open, too. I would presume that Dylan DeMelo is the frontrunner to replace David Schlemko, but Tim Heed and Joakim Ryan are coming off of strong seasons in the AHL. Perhaps one of them overtakes DeMelo in training camp.

As for other forwards than those you mentioned, Goodrow could end challenging for a spot on the fourth line. I get plenty of questions about Danny O’Regan, too, and perhaps he makes a push. The issue with O’Regan is that although he’s a skilled player in the minors, he’s probably not quite skilled enough to make up for his small frame at the NHL level. I view him more as a fill-in guy.

Any word on [Barclay] Goodrow and [Marcus] Sorenson? I'm assuming they didn't sign their QO's? (DaveBPilot‏ @DaveBPilot)

Yes, that’s safe to assume, since the deadline was Saturday. They remain RFAs, and negotiations will surely continue.

Still, it’s worth mentioning what happened last year with Matt Nieto. The forward didn’t sign his qualifying offer, as he was pushing for a multi-year deal, and ended up signing for one year for less than he would have made had he accepted the original offer. He was waived and claimed by Colorado.