Sharks fall to Wild in shootout; win streak ends at four

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Sharks fall to Wild in shootout; win streak ends at four

BOX SCORE

ST. PAUL The Sharks struck for two goals late in the third period in Minnesota to force overtime, but fell in a shootout to the Wild on Tuesday night at Xcel Energy Center, 5-4.

Logan Couture and Partick Marleaus markers with about three minutes remaining allowed the Sharks to gain a point in the standings, but the team trailed the light-scoring Wild throughout most of the night.

Guess which one coach Todd McLellan chose to concentrate on afterwards.

For two and a half periods I thought we werent very good, he said. That will be the focus for our group. Just not hard enough; competitive areas of the rink, in front of our net, in front of their net, along the boards, faceoff circle. They were a lot grittier than we were.

Still, San Jose was able to find its game and erase two separate two-goal deficits in the third period.

After the Wilds Nick Johnson fired a wrist shot past Antti Niemis glove hand at 7:42 to make it 3-1, Benn Ferriero brought the Sharks back to within a goal when he deflected in a wrister by Marc-Edouard Vlasic midway through the third. Matt Cullen gave the Wild their two goal lead back, though, when he drove to the net after the Sharks turned it over in the neutral zone and the puck snuck across the line with just 6:20 left in regulation.

That could have been the final nail in the Sharks coffin. Instead, Couture found a loose puck and banked it in off of defenseman Justin Falk, who was sprawled out in the crease, at 16:54. Then, Marleau tipped in a pass from Joe Thornton as San Jose worked a three-on-two rush to perfection at 17:16.

It was pretty nice, just drove the middle and Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton made two great passes, and I was able to just get a stick on it and redirect it.

Tie game.

The Sharks maintained pressure into overtime on what appeared to be a deflated Wild team. Thornton almost won it with a redirection of a Dan Boyle low wrister just 20 seconds after the faceoff that may have gone off of Marleau, while Marleaus chance alone in front was turned aside by Josh Harding.

Thornton thought his deflection had the game won.

I did. I think it just hit Patty, and then Patty had a pretty good shot at it, he said.

In the shootout, Cullen and Mikko Koivu converted on Niemi while Harding stopped Michal Handzus and Ryane Clowe to give Minnesota just its second win in the last 13 games and snap the Sharks four-game winning streak.

For the Sharks, the biggest question is, why couldnt they play the same way the first two periods as they did late in the game?

I think for 45 of the first 45 minutes we were not a team that played with a lot of energy or emotion or anything, Boyle said. The last 15 of the third and overtime we turned it up a notch. Shoulda, coulda, woulda at the end there, with tons of chances. They probably should have won it after 45, but with 15 to go we missed our chance to steal a game, I guess.

Some nights you get what you deserve, and tonight we probably got a little more than we deserved, McLellan said. We need to adjust and move on, and were going to need a much better effort in the next three games on this trip.

The Sharks visit Winnipeg on Thursday before continuing to Columbus and Chicago this weekend.

The Wild took the lead on Cal Clutterbucks goal at 7:04 of the first period. After Minnesota gained the zone, Casey Wellman found Clutterbuck skating into the zone with speed. Clutterbuck went around Ferriero and fired a wrist shot past Niemi for his 11th goal.

The Sharks tied it up on a two-man advantage with Jared Spurgeon and Kyle Brodziak off for minor penalties just three seconds apart, when Boyle blasted in his third goal at 16:08.

Minnesota jumped out to a 2-1 advantage with the only goal of the second period. Warren Peters soft wrist shot appeared to be headed wide of the net, but it bounced off of Coutures skate and slowly trickled over the goal line at 13:26.

The Wild entered at 29th in the league in goals-per-game, and were down two of their top six forwards as it was announced that Pierre-Marc Bouchard is out indefinitely again with a concussion, while Devin Setoguchi was scratched for reportedly for missing a team meeting in the morning.

McLellan knew it, and cautioned his team that the Wild would storm out of the gates and clamp down defensively. That made him all the more agitated when it didnt happen.

Expected it, warned our group about it, knew it was coming, he said. They lose a couple of important offensive players, they buckle down and play even better defensively.

Later, he added: Missing a lot of players tonight. A lot of players missing in action.

In net, Niemi finished with 27 saves, while Harding had 34, including a spectacular sliding save on Marleau with 6:20 left in the first period on a pass from Thornton.

The game marked defenseman Brent Burns first appearance back in Minnesota, and he received a warm round of applause from the home fans when recognized in-arena in the first period.

The Sharks are 1-1-1 against the Wild in three meetings this season. The clubs conclude their season series here on Feb. 26.

Odds and ends: Andrew Murray, Frazer McLaren and Antero Niittymaki were the healthy scratches for the Sharks. All five of Benn Ferrieros goals have come on the road. Patrick Marleau recorded his 800th and 801st career points in the NHL. He has nine points in his last six games (3g, 6a). The Sharks have points in 12 of their last 13 games (9-1-4). Faceoffs were even, 35-35. Marc-Edouard Vlasic had five of the Sharks 11 blocked shots.

Sharks sign defenseman from Czech Republic

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AP

Sharks sign defenseman from Czech Republic

The Sharks have signed Czech defenseman Radim Simek to a one-year contract.

The two-way deal, originally reported by Radio Praha in the Czech Republic, is expected to be announced by the Sharks later this week, according to a source. Simek just finished competing for his country in the 2017 IIHF World Championships, skating in all eight games for the Czech Republic while posting one goal, one assist, 11 shots and a minus-two rating.

Simek, 24, has spent the last five seasons in the Czech League. In 42 games for Liberec in 2016-17, he posted 24 points (11g, 13a) and 30 penalty minutes with a plus-18 rating. A left-handed shot, he is listed at five-foot-11 and 196 pounds on the IIHF website.

The New York Rangers were also interested in Simek, according to the report.

Simek will likely begin next season with the AHL Barracuda.

The Sharks have signed a number of free agents out of Europe in recent seasons, including Joonas Donskoi in 2015 and Marcus Sorensen and Tim Heed last May.

 

Future with Sharks still uncertain for Thornton, Marleau

Future with Sharks still uncertain for Thornton, Marleau

More than four weeks have passed since the Sharks were dispatched by the Edmonton Oilers in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau appear no closer to signing contract extensions than when the season ended. 

Sharks general manager Doug Wilson faces some of the toughest decisions of his 14-year tenure as the head of the hockey department in the coming weeks, beginning with the two best players in franchise history.

And, no, there are no back room handshake deals here between the Sharks and either of Thornton or Marleau, allowing the Sharks to protect extra players in the upcoming expansion draft. The two veterans are still pending unrestricted free agents in the truest sense, and it’s no certainty that either will return to San Jose.

* * *

Re-signing Thornton would seem to be more of a priority than re-signing Marleau, as centermen are more valuable than wingers. Thornton’s line, with Joe Pavelski and whoever the left wing happened to be, was still drawing the opposition’s top defense pair on many nights this season. Marleau was on that line at times, but was shuffled up and down throughout the year, spending about half the season on the third line.

Thornton apparently dodged disaster in terms of his left knee, as multiple sources have told NBC Sports California that the brunt of the damage was to his MCL, not his ACL. As long as he recovers fully, as expected, there’s reason to believe that Thornton could be better next season than he was in 2016-17. Last year’s Stanley Cup Final run, the World Cup, and the condensed schedule seemed to take their toll. Thornton, who typically downplays anything remotely negative, admitted more than once that this season in particular was a grind.

But perhaps just as important to the Sharks is what Thornton brings to the team emotionally. Pavelski may still be the captain – and an effective one, at that – but Thornton is still the heartbeat. Pete DeBoer made that clear after Game 2 of the first round against the Oilers, talking about what Thornton’s absence from the bench in those first two games meant to the team in terms of a bench presence.

“It’s old school accountability with Joe. It’s black and white,” DeBoer said. “He came up in an era and at a time and around people who you weren’t worried about hurting feelings. You said what needed to be said. That’s not always the case now in modern dressing rooms and with modern athletes. He’s a great resource for us, because there’s no greater pressure than peer pressure, especially from a Hall of Fame guy like that.”

So what might it take to retain Thornton and keep him from hitting the open market? 

It has been previously reported that Thornton wanted a three-year deal, and that remains the case. As for money, I would expect Thornton – who has taken hometown discounts in the past to stay in San Jose – to ask for at least $5 million per season, minimum. Our best guess here is that a Thornton-Sharks pre-July 1 agreement would probably look something like three years and somewhere between $15 – 17 million.

Whether the Sharks would be willing to make that kind of commitment to Thornton, who will be 38 in July, is unclear. If they are not, Thornton could listen to offers from other teams beginning on June 24, when the window opens for unrestricted free agents to speak with other teams.

Still, Thornton’s first choice is to remain in San Jose. The Sharks don’t have anyone that could replace him on or off the ice. There should be a deal to be made here, either sooner or later.

* * *

Marleau’s future with the Sharks seems much hazier.

Unlike Thornton – who put up with public ridicule from Wilson and had his captaincy stripped – Marleau’s commitment to the organization hasn’t been quite as steadfast. Recall in 2015, of course, when Marleau’s preference for a brief stretch was to leave the Sharks. We reported here in November, 2015 that he was willing to accept a trade to three teams, while ESPN reported that Marleau’s agent was “quietly exploring the market” as late as January, 2016.

While those feelings seem to have passed over time, Marleau hasn’t been as emphatic as Thornton in his desire to return. When asked on April 24 if he would like to come back to the Sharks, Marleau said: “Yeah, it would be nice. We’ll see if that’s an option. A lot of time here before this decision needs to be made.”

At this point, though, Marleau may be asking for a bit much in his next deal. It’s believed that the franchise’s all-time leading scorer is, like Thornton, seeking a contract of at least three years.

That shouldn’t be overly surprising. When asked then if he wanted a multi-year deal on April 24, Marleau said: “Yeah, I think so. … I still feel like I have at least five good years in me, or maybe more.”

As we wrote here in early February, it may not make much sense for the Sharks to commit to Marleau for more than one year for a number of reasons, including potential long-term (and surely expensive) contract extensions for Martin Jones and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, something Wilson has made his top priority this offseason. 

If Marleau is seeking a lengthy commitment from San Jose, I don’t see how that works from a business perspective for San Jose, which has a number of prospects in the system at wing that could potentially fill the hole Marleau would leave. Timo Meier and Marcus Sorensen, in particular, could be ready to take the next step, and both would be much cheaper options (Meier has two years left on his entry level deal, while Sorensen is a pending restricted free agent that won’t require a huge raise).

* * *

Further complicating matters is that Thornton has never been shy about wanting to win with Marleau by his side. The two famously announced their nearly identical three-year contract extensions on Jan. 24, 2014, and Thornton would still prefer to have Marleau return to San Jose with him.

“Hopefully, I can come back and Patty can come back,” Thornton said after the season ended. “I think this team is a very good team. I think this is a Stanley Cup caliber team. I really believe that."

Considering the salary cap for next season has not yet been revealed, and that Wilson can’t officially extend Jones or Vlasic until July 1, the general manager could be forced to wait a little while before finalizing anything with either Thornton or Marleau. That makes it all the more likely that the Thornton and Marleau camps will at least get an opportunity to hear from other clubs and consider other offers in late June.

In short, anything is still possible. And Wilson, Thornton and Marleau all have some difficult decisions on the horizon in a Sharks offseason that is unlike any other.