Sharks-Oilers: What to watch for

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Sharks-Oilers: What to watch for

Editor's Note: It's Saturday Night on Ice! Download your Shark-O cards and play along with the Oilers vs. Sharks!

SAN JOSE The Sharks will complete a busy stretch of seven games in 11 days on Saturday night when they host the Edmonton Oilers at HP Pavilion.

A dormant offense finally erupted in Thursdays 5-4 come-from-behind win against Colorado with three goals in the third period. Now, it will be up to the Sharks to carry the momentum gained from that final 20 minutes into tonights matchup with struggling Edmonton.

Its something to build off for us, said Torrey Mitchell. We didnt get the start we wanted to, but it was obviously positive coming out in the third like that.

"I think we need to carry over that type of play; that dire need to finish and win games, said Andrew Desjardins.

Coach Todd McLellan is also hopeful that the team is starting to regain its confidence, one player at a time.

For me, confidence is feeling good about yourself first, about the team and the game that youre playing. We dont have enough players that can honestly say that right now, said McLellan. Were gaining more back. I would say that were coming out of it. As we build on that a little bit more we should feel better about ourselves, and our game should improve.

The Sharks, who had an optional morning skate on Saturday, will be looking for back-to-back wins for the first time since Nov. 20-23, as they are 3-5-2 in their last 10.

First look at Oilers: Edmonton is just 2-6-1 in its last nine games, including four regulation losses in its last five games. Still, the Oilers have some of the games top young talents in players like rookie Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall.

Nugent-Hopkins, the first overall pick in the 2011 Entry Draft, leads Edmonton with 33 points (13g, 20a), tying him for 14th in the NHL in scoring.

The Sharks have had a bit of trouble with teams that feature speedy, shifty forwards like the Oilers possess. Colorados Matt Duchesne was the Avalanches best player in the two games this week, for example.

Smaller players, you need to close on them quick and not give them space to spin and turn guys like Duchesne and Brian Gionta on Montreal, said Mitchell. They are really dangerous. Bigger bodies tend to slow the play down a little bit and those guys are fast and dynamic.

Keeping the puck out of the net has been a problem for Edmonton, though, after it was a strength early on. The Oilers have allowed 61 goals in their last 17 games, after allowing just 23 through their first 14.

The Sharks visit Rexall Place on Jan. 23.

Win the special teams battle: Its become a theme over the last two weeks, but the Sharks' failure to win the special teams battle has been costing them points in the standings.

In the last seven games, San Jose has just two power play goals (2-for-21). Over that same stretch, the Sharks have killed off just 13 of 21 opponent man advantages.

McLellan notes that the Sharks last four losses have come by a margin of just one goal, making their special teams woes all the more glaring.

Your power play or penalty kill in that situation can make a huge, huge difference, and it didnt in those games, he said. Thats the difference between winning and losing. The penalty kill is a huge, huge factor in our games right now.

The Sharks havent won outright the special teams battle since Nov. 23, when they scored one power play goal against Chicago and killed off all four Blackhawks power plays in a 1-0 win.

Niemi again: Sharks goalie Antti Niemi (12-6-3, 2.41 GAA, .916 SP) will make his 11th start in the last 12 games when he plays against the Oilers tonight.

McLellan isnt worried about his goaltenders heavy workload.

Our schedule has been fairly friendly when you look at it compared to some other teams, other than this stretch of seven in 11. He didnt have training camp and an early start to the season, said the coach, referring to Niemi's September surgery to remove a cyst on his leg.

At this point in the season, Im not worried about his workload one bit. In fact, I think much like last year, hes getting better as we play him more.

Nikolai Khabibulin (10-6-3, 1.95 GAA, .933 SP) is expected to be in net for the Oilers after missing the last two games.

In 34 career appearances against the Sharks, the 39-year-old is 17-11-2-2 with a 2.48 goals-against average.
Lines the same: The Sharks will keep their lines the same as they were in Thursdays win over Colorado. That is, Joe Thornton will play with Torrey Mitchell and Joe Pavelski; Logan Couture will skate with Ryane Clowe and Patrick Marleau; while Michal Handzus will center Marty Havlat and Jamie McGinn. The fourth line remains the same, as well.

Mitchell spoke about his new linemates on Saturday morning.

Obviously those two guys Im with are a little more dynamic offensively. Its more of an opportunity to get points, but no different from my mindset, he said.

Eleven Sharks tallied at least one point on Thursday.

Odds and ends: The Sharks lead the NHL in shots per game (34.1) while the Oilers are 29th in the league (26.2). Douglas Murray and Jim Vandermeer remain on injured reserve. Edmontons Taylor Hall returned from a shoulder injury that sidelined him for three weeks on Thursday in Phoenix, a 4-2 loss for the Oilers.

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.”