Sharks-Coyotes: What to watch for

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Sharks-Coyotes: What to watch for

PHOENIX If youre looking for the moment where things started to go south really south then the Sharks 5-3 loss in Phoenix on Feb. 4 is a good place to start.

Since then, the Sharks (33-24-9, 76 points) have won just four of 17 games (4-10-3) and are fighting to stay in the Western Conferences top eight. Theyll try and stop a current four-game losing skid (0-2-2) tonight when they visit the slumping Coyotes again at Jobing.com Arena.

Weve had some good battles against them this year. Last time in here against these guys we werent real good, so I think the start is key for us, Ryane Clowe said. We have to get the first goal, because thats not been happening for us lately. The first goal against a team like this is a big one.

Clowe is right. The Coyotes are 26-4-5 when scoring first, and just 7-21-5 when falling behind. Phoenix gets better as the game goes on, too, as it's 11 in the third period but a combined -7 through the first two frames.

The Coyotes (33-25-10, 76 points) went an incredible 11-0-1 in the month of February to get back in the playoff picture, but are just 0-4-1 in March. They lost in a shootout to Minnesota on Thursday night.

The Sharks would move into seventh place in the conference with a regulation win, leapfrogging the Coyotes, with whom they have two games in hand.

Power outage: For the first time this season, the Sharks have gone five straight games without a power play goal. They are a combined 0-for-11 over that span.

The unit did have its chances against Dallas, though, including Patrick Marleaus look at an open net that was stopped by Kari Lehtonen early in the game.

I liked our power play in Dallas. We had a lot of shots, had a lot of opportunities, and Lehtonen made a couple big saves that one on Patty with a wide open net, Logan Couture said. If were getting those chances, theyre going to start going in for us.

Todd McLellan said: Its one of those ebbs and flows right now. We need it to get over the hump. Weve played a lot of one-goal games here lately, and we do need it to get over the hump. The penalty kill has been fairly good over the last few games and hasnt given up anything, so the power play has to make the difference.

San Joses penalty kill hasnt allowed an opposition goal in four of the last five games. The Coyotes are just 2-for-28 on the power play in their last eight games.
Better efforts, results not there: Theres no question that the Sharks last two losses have been better efforts from the team. They could easily be carrying a two-game winning streak into tonights game with Phoenix, having lost to Edmonton and Dallas in shootouts.

Even looking back at the Edmonton game, we feel like we did a lot of good things. A couple days before that we had been working on the defensive zone, and we did a great job, I felt, the last game, Clowe said.

Obviously theres still work to be done. But for us right now, its just getting that win under our belt. Get on a streak. I think were a confident team, but its always nice to get on a streak.

Couture seems to agree with his linemate, but reminds that effort doesnt always translate into points in the standings.

You need to see results at some point. Its getting too late in the season; we need to see some results right now, he said.

Niemi vs. Smith: Antti Niemi will make his sixth straight start tonight, opposing Phoenixs Mike Smith.

Niemi is 1-2-2 in his last five starts, but has allowed just nine goals over that span. Smith did not play against Minnesota, and is riding a four-game losing streak. He was pulled after just four minutes on March 6 in Columbus, allowing two goals on seven shots.

In nine career games against the Coyotes, Niemi is 5-2-1 with a 2.34 goals-against average and .924 save percentage. Smith is 3-3-0 against San Jose, with a 2.95 GAA and .922 SP.
Odds and ends: These teams meet twice more after tonight; March 24 in San Jose and March 29 in Phoenix. ... All signs point to TJ Galiardi returning to the Sharks lineup tonight. San Jose is just 1-5-2 in its last eight road games. Phoenixs Martin Hanzal is questionable with a wrist injury suffered in the last game.

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.”