Sharks-Oilers: What to watch for

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Sharks-Oilers: What to watch for

EDMONTON After a pair of key divisional losses, the Sharks will get yet another chance to try and reverse what is becoming a dramatic downfall tonight in Edmonton.

San Jose has won just four of its last 18 games (4-11-3) and sits in 11th place in the Western Conference. The Sharks lost in Dallas on Thursday, 4-3 in a shootout, and in Phoenix on Saturday, 3-0, in the first two games of a four-game trip that concludes tomorrow night in Calgary.

With a win and a Colorado loss in Anaheim, the Sharks would move back into eighth place in the West.

Its a fight. Today we sit in the 11th spot and we have to win some games, Joe Thornton said. The good thing is fate is in our hands, so as long as we win well be fine. Well be in the party. Weve been playing better as of late. Were just not scoring, but the urgency is there right now.

The Sharks have fired 178 shots on net during their five game losing streak (0-3-2), but have scored just seven times. They believe the chances are there, and that the goals will soon follow.

Patrick Marleau said: If we were only putting up 20 shots a night and not getting many goals it would be a little bit concerning, but were getting the chances and getting the shots so weve got to stick with it.

Weve still got to get some more guys in front of the net. We keep putting 40, 45 shots on net well be fine, Thornton said. A lot of guys are squeezing their sticks, theyve just got to relax and let ability take over.

Playing loose: The Edmonton Oilers are out of the playoff race, and, consequently, are playing a looser brand of hockey and taking more chances as they try to play the role of spoiler down the stretch. Theyve won just once in their last six games (1-4-1, with the lone victory a 3-2 shootout win over the Sharks last Tuesday), but still have some of the more talented young players in the game like Jordan Eberle, Sam Gagner, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

Theyve got a lot of young players that like to make a lot of plays. They obviously dont have a lot of pressure on them so theyre playing loose, Ryane Clowe said.

Todd McLellan thinks that the frustrated Sharks could take notice of the Oilers attitude.

We know theyre fast, we know theyre skilled, and we know theyre playing very loose right now and can just come out and really have fun and enjoy the game, said the head coach. Thats something that Id like our guys to do, but with the situation were in, they seem to squeeze the sticks a little bit too much.

Clowe agreed.

As much as you can relax, I think thats a good thing, he said.

New look lines: In an effort to generate more offense, McLellan mixed up his lines for the full-team morning skate at Rexall Place on Monday morning.

Thornton skated between Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski; Marleau was in the middle of Clowe and Daniel Winnik; Dominic Moore centered Torrey Mitchell and Tommy Wingels, while the fourth line looks to be Andrew Desjardins, TJ Galiardi and Benn Ferriero.

Trying to find some goals. Trying to continue with good defensive play. Were looking for maybe some of the unusual suspects to maybe come up with one or two, McLellan said.

Moving Marleau from the top line to the second line center, and putting Couture on Thorntons line are the most noticeable changes.

Marleau has got some size and he can have some speed through the middle. Maybe he can help a guy like Ryane Clowe out, McLellan said. Coutch, on the other hand, has dried up a little bit so well try and mix him up with some different players and see if we can get him going, as well.

Marleau has just one goal in the last six games (his only point), while Couture has one assist in four games since returning from a lower body injury.

For those keeping track, that would leave Michal Handzus and Brad Winchester as the odd men out against Edmonton.

Playoffs starting now: With just 15 games in the regular season and the Sharks sinking in the standings every day, the team is trying to embrace a playoffs start now philosophy. That includes the proverbial one-game-at-a-time mantra.

Thats where you get in trouble, when you start counting down the games and say you have this many games to turn it around, Wingels said. I think our whole team looks at one game at a time. You cant look past tonights game. Obviously, if you dont win the games in hand, it just puts you in a bigger hole.

McLellan likened the pressure the Sharks are feeling now to getting down in a playoff series.

Weve been in this situation before, it just so happens that its usually in the first round, where were fighting for our lives and where the stress is a little bit higher than it normally is. Its a month earlier, he said. Weve been through this before for many years straight, it just happens that it comes in April.

Were dealing with it well. Guys are working hard and trying to play a team game. A lot of times when its not going well, you find guys turning to individuals trying to do too much. For the most part were playing in a team game and we believe in each other, so we have an opportunity to get where we want to go.

In the net: Antti Niemi will make his seventh straight start in net for the Sharks. Hes won just one of those six, but has a 1.96 goals-against average and .928 save percentage over that span.

Niemi is 2-0-1 in his career against Edmonton, with a 1.44 GAA and .936 save percentage.

Devan Dubnyk, who made 28 saves through overtime and then stopped all three Sharks attempts in the shootout on March 6, starts for the Oilers.

Odds and ends: This is the fourth and final game between the teams this season. The last time the Sharks were out of playoffs position this late in the year was in 2006. They finished the season 14-4-2 and ended up as the fifth seed in the West. Marty Havlat remains out for the Sharks.

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.”