Sharks-Coyotes: What to watch for


Sharks-Coyotes: What to watch for

PHOENIX Goaltender Antti Niemi will return to the crease tonight in Phoenix and try for his third consecutive shutout when the Sharks visit the Coyotes for an early evening match at Arena.

Niemi took a slap shot in the wrong place during Wednesdays practice, so Thomas Greiss filled on for Thursdays 5-2 home win over Dallas. Niemi is coming off of a 1-0 shutout on Jan. 24 in Calgary in the game just before the All-Star break, and a 6-0 win over Columbus in the first game back from the break on Tuesday.

NEWS: Niemi returns, Demers still not skating

He said that hes not really thinking about his personal streak, but

Maybe it gives me a little extra spark, a little extra energy, he said on Saturday morning.

Niemi has good career numbers against the Coyotes, too. In eight games, hes 5-1-1 with a 2.11 goals-against average, .933 save percentage and one shutout.

He has yet to face them this season, though, as Greiss played on opening night in a 6-3 Sharks win, and took a 3-0 loss on Nov. 12. Both of those games were at HP Pavilion.

They have some of the same core guys and Ive seen the games, so I dont think it really matters, said Niemi of not facing Phoenix yet this year. Its a Western Conference, team so I know them pretty well.

Mike Smith, who was the goaltender for Phoenixs shutout win on Nov. 12, will oppose Niemi. In six career games against the Sharks, Smith is 2-3-0 with a 2.94 GAA and .923 SP.

Sharks confident: San Jose has two comfortable wins under its belt in the first two games after the All-Star break, has won three in a row overall, and is a pretty positive bunch headed into tonight.

Is this the most confident theyve been all season?

Yeah, and its a good time to have our dads here, too, Torrey Mitchell said, referring to most of the team members having their fathers along in what has become an annual event. We want to play hard for them. Were feeling good about ourselves right now, definitely. Were scoring some goals the last two games and playing well so it feels good right now, but we obviously cant get too confident.

We should feel good about our game, coach Todd McLellan said.

After struggling on the scoreboard going into the break, the Sharks have exploded for 11 goals in their last two games while maintaining a strong team defense.

I think the fact that we have scored some goals and buried teams, guys get confident, Ryane Clowe said. When that happens, too, guys get hungry to score. You see guys scoring and putting points up, and then everyone wants to try to contribute.
Coyotes getting desperate: Phoenix enters the game in danger of fading out of the playoff race. They are in 12th place in the Western Conference with 52 points, five behind the eighth place Minnesota Wild.

They have just two wins in their last nine games, and have not played since a 4-1 loss to Anaheim on Jan. 31 in which Smith was pulled in second period.

Its tough to make huge moves in the standings, especially with the one point reward for an overtime or shootout loss. A lot of teams, including our team, have to be desperate, McLellan said.

We want to play well and win as many games as possible, and if you dont have that sense of desperation in your game, you have no chance of winning in the second half it gets ramped up so much.

Despite Phoenixs struggles, the Sharks remember that 3-0 loss on Nov. 12 and wont take the Coyotes lightly.

Theyre a tough team to play and have always been a pretty tough team to play, especially the last couple of years, Mitchell said. Theyre tough to beat here, and were expecting that.

Power play surging: The Sharks power play is five for its last 12 over the past five games, and back in the NHLs top 10 after a pretty dismal two month stretch.

As we reported yesterday, one big reason is Joe Pavelski is back on the point and Logan Couture is on a loaded top unit that also features Dan Boyle, Joe Thornton Patrick Marleau and Pavelski. Theres more to it than that, though, according to Clowe.

I think more than anything, if you see the goals were scoring, its just shooting, he said. The pucks have taken a couple bounces and went in, and were running the plays we want to run, but were shooting.

The Sharks second power play unit consists of Clowe, Brent Burns, Justin Braun, Michal Handzus and Jamie McGinn.

Crowd sourcing: The Coyotes, plagued by relocation rumors for the past several years, are the worst draw in the NHL. Officially they are averaging 11,589 fans per game, but on many nights its much, much less.

Is it more difficult to play in front of a light crowd?

Its fun to play in front of a lot of people when youre on the road, but youve got to deal with it. Its the same for both teams, Mitchell said. Its almost like a road game for them too, sometimes. But, you get up for the game. Theres two points on the line, so everyones ready to go.

Odds and ends: Joe Thorntons 58 points against the Coyotes are his most against any team. Logan Couture has a five-game point streak, with five goals and three assists. Jason Demers (lower body) and Tommy Wingels (left shoulder) remain out for the Sharks. Phoenixs power play is just 2-for-26 in the last 11 games. Joe Pavelski has six goals in his last six games against Phoenix.

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.