Sharks-Oilers: What to watch for

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Sharks-Oilers: What to watch for

PROGRAMMING ALERT: Sharks Pregame Live begins at 6 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet California, with the puck drop at 6:30 p.m., followed by Sharks Postgame Live.

EDMONTON The Sharks have two games remaining before the NHL All-Star break, tonight in Edmonton and Tuesday in Calgary. After losses in three of their last four games, though, their hold on first place in the Pacific Division is down to a single point over the surging Los Angeles Kings, who host Ottawa tonight.

Is it important to still have the top spot in the division when the league takes the week off after Tuesdays action?

Whats important right now is that we dont open up the newspaper and look at where we stand, Todd McLellan said after the morning skate on Monday at Rexall Place. We open up our playbook, and we look at how were playing. Thats the most important thing when it comes down to it.

The Sharks do have four games in hand on the Kings, as the division devolves, so to speak, into a two-team race.

Even so, finishing strong before the break against two clubs out of playoff position, and putting behind a brief stretch of losing hockey, is vital.

It would be nice to win tonight and get some confidence going into Calgary before the break, Joe Thornton said.

Well carry this effort with us over the All-Star break, and when we get back together well still have that same taste in our mouth, McLellan said. Wed prefer it to be on the positive side, theres no doubt about it, but there are two Alberta teams telling their teams the exact same thing. Were going to have to go earn it.

Greiss going: Thomas Greiss will get the call in net tonight, making his third start in the last 10 games. His previous two have been successful, as hes surrendered just one goal in each in a pair of wins over the lowly Columbus Blue Jackets.

Thomas has been able to play and give us some real good games after long breaks, McLellan said. Im not overly concerned with his ability to come in after extended periods. Tonight, we need a good goaltending performance, especially early in the game against a team that Im sure will have a growl and be very hungry. We are very comfortable that he can pitch that for us.

Conversely, regular starter Antti Niemi is enduring a rough patch. Hes surrendered four goals in three of his last four games, going 1-3 over that span. Furthermore, some of the shots that beat him were very stoppable.

Starting Greiss against Edmonton isnt a reflection of Niemis questionable play of late, according to the coach, whose Sharks play again tomorrow night in Calgary.

Its a reflection on Thomas ability to come in and play. His last two games that hes played hes given up one goal against. He has the capability of playing, and you guys drilled me with these questions in December when we werent playing any games, and I said when we get into this busy time we were going to access the goaltenders that we have. Its Thomas opportunity to play.

Greiss faced the Oilers once in his career, more than two years ago a 4-2 win in which he made 27 saves on Jan. 16, 2010. Hes been better on the road this year, too, with a 3-1 record, 1.25 goals-against average and .959 save percentage in four games. At home hes 3-3 with a 2.65 GAA and .900 SP.

Devan Dubnyk will start for Edmonton. Hes 2-2 with a 2.77 GAA and .917 SP in four career games vs. San Jose.
Desjardins continues to impress: Andrew Desjardins recorded his first multiple-point game since opening night in the 4-3 loss to Vancouver on Saturday, with a pair of assists. He took Tommy Wingels spot on the top line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski now that Wingels is out with a left shoulder injury.

Playing with those guys is an honor and a lot of fun, Desjardins said Monday morning. I try not to stray from what I do and what Im here to do and just try to contribute.

I feel comfortable with the puck, and just growing and getting more confident and getting used to the league more. You start to understand the game better and better. I feel pretty good out there, so I just hope it keeps going.

Desjardins is also playing more, taking regular shifts on the penalty kill again. He saw more than 13 minutes of ice time on Saturday for just the third time this season.

When asked if he liked Desjardins game on Saturday, McLellan replied: Yep, or we wouldnt keep using him as much as we are. Very good penalty killer, hes grinding in the corners, and doing what hes supposed to do. He continues to earn a spot in the lineup.

Ornery Oilers: The Oilers have dropped eight of their last nine games as they continue to sink in the overall standings. Edmonton got blown out by Calgary on Saturday, 6-2, and endured a hard practice from coach Tom Renney on Sunday.

Even though theyve been struggling, theyre going to come out hungry tonight and try to beat us, so weve got to be focused, Thornton said.

The Oilers still possess a ton of speed up front, with players like Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle, and that will be the biggest challenge for the Sharks defensively.

They are a very quick team and very good transition team, McLellan said.

If you dont manage the puck properly and allow them to get away on you, with outnumbered rushes and give them time and space, they can make you pay.

Odds and ends: The Sharks are 7-1-1 in their last nine games at Edmonton. Their last regulation loss here was March 21, 2010, a 5-1 defeat. The Sharks are 19-9-3 when getting at least 36 shots on goal. They are 11-8-2 when getting 35 or fewer. San Jose has allowed 67 five-on-five goals, the third fewest in the league. San Jose has killed 38 of its last 43 opponent power plays in the last 16 games (88.4 percent). In the last 33 games, the Oilers goalies have allowed 3.44 goals per game. Edmonton is -17 in the third period. The Oilers own the leagues third best power play (21.0 percent).

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.”