Sharks-Lightning: What to watch for

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Sharks-Lightning: What to watch for

PROGRAMMING ALERT: The Sharks and Lightning drop the puck at 4:30 on Comcast SportsNet California, followed by Sharks Postgame Live.

TAMPA BAY The Tampa Bay Lightning may be out of the playoff race, sitting a full 10 points out of eighth place in the Eastern Conference, but that doesnt mean the Sharks are expecting to blow them out of the water like they did at HP Pavilion on Dec. 21.

In case youve forgotten, the Sharks scored five first period goals en route to a 7-2 victory in front of their home crowd.

REWIND: Sharks strike lightning with seven goals

Start, early energy, forcing them to play in their end, said Todd McLellan, when asked what his team did right in that victory. That was important. I dont know that theyve had a start that poor since then, so we expect a different game from them. Theyre very capable of getting to three goals, and thats been our number all along, so that becomes a scary thing for us.

Dan Boyle spent six seasons with the Lightning, winning a Stanley Cup here in 2004, and played with a couple of their star players that are still around like Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis.

He expects a better effort out of the Lightning in the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

Theyre at home, number one. Theyre going to be looking to come back from their loss last game, said Boyle, referring to the Lightnings 4-0 loss to Ottawa on Tuesday night. Even though theyre out of the playoff picture, theyre a team thats very capable of coming back and earning a spot. Theyve got a lot of offensive weapons, and Ive played with a lot of them so I know first hand.

KURZ: Boyle says to bring the red line back

The Lightning will also be able to keep the Steven Stamkos line, which also features Steve Downie and Teddy Purcell, away from the Sharks top defensive pair of Boyle and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, by getting the last change at home.

Youre on the road, sometimes you dont get the matchups you want so youve got to be aware every time youre on the ice, Boyle said.

Stamkos remaining confident: It may be a down year for the Lightning, Eastern Conference finalists from a year ago, but the same cant be said for Stamkos. He leads the league with 37 goals, five more than Pittsburghs Evgeni Malkin.

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The 22-year-old superstar was asked what he expects to see in tonights game.

Weve got to stay disciplined tonight against San Jose, he said. They have one of the best power plays in the league, and arguably one of the best offenses in the league. Weve got to stay disciplined defensively and find a way to score goals.

Weve got to go to the net, and maybe capitalize on our power play thats been struggling lately. There are a lot of things we realize we need to be better at, and its going to be a good test.

On Dec. 21, Stamkos was scoreless and a -1 in just over 20 minutes. How will McLellans team defend against him again?

As soon as you zero in on one individual, three or four others come back and bite you in the butt, said the coach. Were well aware of Stamkos ability to score. He does it on a regular basis. We do have to pay attention to him. We have to know where he is and how he scores.
Wingels on second line: The Sharks are still tinkering with their top two lines, but it looks like Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski will start tonights game as the top line while Logan Couture, Ryane Clowe and Tommy Wingels make up the second line.

The rookie Wingels returned from a nine-game absence due to an apparent left shoulder injury in Mondays 5-3 win in Washington, starting the game in that place before getting bumped in the third period. He played less than two minutes in that final frame for a game total of just 8:08.

I think it was just the way the game was going, he said. Im not the one calling out the lines, but there were other guys who were going. It was my first game back and I dont know what the plan was to use, me but I was just happy to be in there.

As for what he aims to do on that that second line, Wingels said: I try to bring some speed and a forecheck. Those guys work great together so I just look to compliment them and stick to my game.

The Sharks third line will remain the same, while the fourth line looks to be Andrew Desjardins, Brad Winchester and John McCarthy. That leaves Benn Ferriero and Jim Vandermeer as the odd men out.
Thorntons shot totals: As mentioned here yesterday, Thornton and Pavelski have paced the San Jose offense lately with a combined 22 points in the seven games since the All-Star break.

McLellan mentioned one reason for that was Thornton was shooting the puck more. In the first four games after the break, Thornton had a whopping 19 shots on goal, but in the last three games, has just one shot in each.

He did have three assists against the Capitals, though, and was asked if hes made a conscious effort to get more pucks to the net.

Does it help? Im not sure, but obviously Im a passer at heart, he said. You want to shoot because Pavs goes to the net and so does Patty. Yeah, Id like to shoot more, but Im a passer, what can I say?

Thornton leads the Sharks in scoring with 50 points (12g, 38a) and is tied for sixth in the league in assists.

Goalie matchup: Antti Niemi will return to the net to face Tampa Bays Dwayne Roloson.

Niemi made 22 saves in the win against the Lightning on Dec. 21, and is a career 2-0 with a 1.00 goals-against average and .952 save percentage against Tampa Bay. Hell be trying to rebound from a 3-0 loss against the Blues on Sunday, in which he allowed two goals on 27 shots.

In 30 career games against San Jose, Roloson is 11-12-4 with a 2.98 GAA and .903 save percentage. He allowed four goals on 35 shots on Dec. 21, after starter Mathieu Garon gave up three goals on his first eight shots in the first period of that 7-2 loss.

Odds and ends: The Lightning will be without defenseman Pavel Kubina, after G.M. Steve Yzerman told reporters they are trying to trade him. Hell be held out of action until the situation is resolved. Matt Gilroy (upper body injury) is also out. Jason Demers (lower body) and Marty Havlat (torn hamstring) remain out for the Sharks. The Sharks are 1-1 on their nine-game road trip, which takes them to Carolina tomorrow. San Jose is 6-1 against the Lightning since the start of the 2005-06 season, outscoring them 31-13. Tampa Bay is 2-3-2 in its last seven games. Ryane Clowe has seven points in the last six games (1g, 6a).

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.