Sharks-Panthers: What to watch for


Sharks-Panthers: What to watch for

SAN JOSE The Florida Panthers visit HP Pavilion tonight to face the Sharks as one of the more pleasant surprises in the NHL. They lead the Southeast Division with 30 points (13-8-4), as rivals like Washington and Tampa Bay have struggled to find consistency.

A new coach Kevin Dineen as well as key offseason additions like Kris Versteeg, Brian Campbell, Tomas Fleischmann and Jose Theodore have rejuvenated a franchise that has been at or near the bottom of the standings in recent years.

Now that the NHL season has passed the quarter point, though, the rebuilt Panthers are sneaking up on teams no longer.

The team was torn down somewhat, and rebuilt with a number of new bodies. Its a clean slate, and everybody had a chance to prove themselves to a new coach or manager in the organization, said Todd McLellan. Theyve done a very good job, and theyre a hell of a hockey team.

The Panthers are the second straight club to visit HP Pavilion that the Sharks rarely see, after San Jose managed to defeat the Montreal Canadiens in a shootout on Thursday, 4-3. The teams met just once last season, a 3-2 win for the Panthers in South Florida.

The Panthers are concluding a four-game road trip, looking to fly home with a 2-2 mark. Theyve scored just eight goals in their last five games, but are getting leading scorer Kris Versteeg back after he missed the 2-1 loss in Los Angeles on Thursday with a broken nose, courtesy of former Shark Derek Joslin.

Hes a game breaker, he adds a lot to our lineup, and it will be good to get him back in there, said Dineen of Versteeg.

Rebound effort for top line: As good as the Sharks second line of Ryane Clowe, Logan Couture and Marty Havlat was in Thursdays win, the top line of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski struggled. Those three were scoreless and a combined -8 after being reunited at the start of a game for the first time in more than three weeks.

Marleau, who was the Sharks most consistent scorer with 11 points in nine games while centering the second line, said there was an adjustment period for him in moving back to the wing.

There was a little bit in the first. Sometimes as a winger you get stuck on the boards a little bit and have to remind yourself to get skating and push the pace a little bit and try to create things that way, he said. As a center youre always in and around the play, but as a winger you have to make sure that you go to it.

The second lines combined five points masked the poor performance of the top line, but McLellan points out that the opposite has been true on plenty of other nights.

The top lines teammates bailed them out, much like theyve done for them in the past, said the coach. I have no problem putting them back on the ice tonight, and I expect much better from them.
Battle of the backups: Thomas Greiss is the confirmed starter for San Jose, while all signs point to the Panthers inserting Scott Clemmensen in the net in favor of regular starter Jose Theodore.

Greiss last appearance was Nov. 20 at Colorado, when he made 36 saves in a 4-1 Sharks win over the Avalanche.

Hes played well for us, and I say the same thing every time he goes in, said McLellan. We trust him and we think hell give us a good night.

Griess is 4-3 with a 1.99 goals-against average and .929 save percentage.

Clemmensen, on the other hand, has played in just a single game while Theodore has impressed in getting the bulk of the work. His one was an excellent one, though, as he recorded a shutout by making 25 saves in Dallas on Nov. 15.
Pressure the D: The Panthers generate much of their offense from the blue line, led by former Shark Brian Campbells 20 points (tied for second in the NHL in points among defensemen). Jason Garrisons eight goals are tops among NHL defenders, while Dmitry Kulikov has 14 assists.

Pressuring the defensemen on the points and getting in hard on the forecheck are the keys to countering Floridas impressive blue line corps.

Campbell is the passer and Garrison is the shooter, and hes got eight goals already. Five-on-five, the penalty kill, it will be very important to get in the lane on him, and Campbell too, who can skate it and pass it, said Marc-Edouard Vlasic. It will be a big challenge for our forwards and our d-men.

Were going to have to be aware of where their d-men are. It starts in the offensive zone, said McLellan. If you get lazy on the forecheck or get caught on the boards, theyll beat you up ice.

Getting in shooting lanes is always important on the penalty kill, and will be even more so tonight for San Jose due to the Panthers defense. The Sharks penalty kill enters the game last in the league at home (73.0 percent), although San Jose has been shorthanded just 68 times fewest in the NHL. The Panthers have the second fewest with 71.

Thats a good sign, but at the same time if we only have one or two we have to make sure we kill them off, said Vlasic.
Odds and ends: Colin White will likely replace Jim Vandermeer on the teams third defense pair, along with Jason Demers. Floridas roster features several former Sharks, including Marco Sturm, who was acquired from Vancouver on Oct. 23. He and Brian Campbell are the only ones expected in the lineup tonight, though, as Marcel Goc, Mikael Samuelsson and Matt Bradley are all hurt. Florida is still without winger Scottie Upshall (upper body). San Jose has won its last four home games against Florida, outscoring them 18-3 in the process.

Sorensen returns to Sharks after having 'positive impact' last season

Sorensen returns to Sharks after having 'positive impact' last season

Editor's Note: The above video is from March 2, 2017

One of the Sharks’ young forwards expected to challenge for a full time roster spot this season has been re-signed.

Marcus Sorensen, who started the year in the AHL before working his way up to the Sharks, signed a two-year contract extension the team announced on Tuesday. A source told NBC Sports California that the deal is worth $700,000 at the NHL level for each of the next two seasons.

In 19 regular season games with the Sharks, Sorensen, 25, posted one goal and three assists. He appeared in all six playoff games against Edmonton, posting one goal and one assist.

In 43 games with the AHL Barracuda, Sorensen had 17 goals and 17 assists for 34 points.

"The time he spent with the Sharks this season, and the positive impact he had, proved that he can be an effective player at the highest level,” assistant general manager Joe Will said in a statement.

Sorensen originally signed with the Sharks as a free agent on May 13, 2016. He was originally drafted by Ottawa in the fourth round of the 2010 draft, but spent six seasons playing in Sweden before joining San Jose.

Sorensen was a restriced free agent. The Sharks have just one RFA left to sign in forward Barclay Goodrow.

Mailbag: Will Sharks miss Marleau's leadership? Thornton to be bumped?

Mailbag: Will Sharks miss Marleau's leadership? Thornton to be bumped?

Now that the dust has settled on the draft and free agency, here’s a meaty offseason Sharks mailbag before my vacation…

Who will replace Patty's leadership? (philip malan‏ @pmalan1979)

Patrick Marleau was a good example for other players in that he always came to camp in great shape and took care of himself between games, allowing him to be very productive into his later years. 

But let’s not overblow it. From what I understand, Marleau preferred to avoid confrontation, and was never the guy in the dressing room challenging other players to step up. That was left more to guys like Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski, with Logan Couture growing into that role in recent years, too. When it comes to veteran leadership there are other guys still in the dressing room of more value than Marleau. His leaving town shouldn’t change the dynamic.

Will Thornton be bumped from the top line center role? Who do you think will replace Marleau on the PP? (Elle‏ @LikeShiningOil)

The whole “top line” designation is something that us writers and broadcasters like to use, and I’m going to keep using it for Thornton so long as he and Pavelski are on the same line. That said, there will be plenty of games where the Couture line gets more even-strength ice time than the Thornton line. I guess my point here is don’t read too much into the labels. I don’t expect Thornton’s ice time to go down from what it was last season. He’s averaged 18 minutes and change in each of the past five seasons, and probably will again.

As for replacing Marleau on the power play, I would tab Tomas Hertl as the frontrunner, but I’m sure the Sharks will try a number of different looks there in training camp. After finishing 25th in the NHL last season they pretty much have to, right?

How will the lines roll this season, if you were to prognosticate now? (Erik Kuhre @Puckguy14)

It seems like we say this every year, but it depends on where the Sharks see Hertl slotting in. Last season Hertl started out on the wing of the top line after offseason knee surgery before moving to center fairly quickly. I know he battled through yet another knee injury during the season, but Hertl’s 22 points in 49 games was a disappointing total.

If the season were starting today, I’d put Hertl on the wing of the Thornton line again with, of course, Pavelski on the other side. Here’s what I’ve got in that scenario:

Tomas Hertl – Joe Thornton – Joe Pavelski
Timo Meier – Logan Couture – Joonas Donskoi
Jannik Hansen – Chris Tierney – Mikkel Boedker
Melker Karlsson – Ryan Carpenter – Joel Ward

Extras: Marcus Sorensen, Kevin Labanc, Barclay Goodrow

(One guy who is really going to have to fight to keep his spot is Ward. I could see him getting pushed out, but for now I’m leaving him in).

Will there be a tough guy in the lineup to protect the kids? (Jim Kelley)

The Sharks signed free agent Brandon Bollig a couple weeks ago to replace Micheal Haley, but I don’t seem him as a regular in the NHL lineup. Bollig could be a guy they recall if they think it’s necessary to dress a pugilist, like when Pete DeBoer brought up Haley late in the 2015-16 season for the sole reason of fighting Darnell Nurse, who had jumped Sharks defenseman Roman Polak just two weeks earlier for no real reason.

Do you think Chris Tierney is capable of more point production at this point in his career? (Ian Stephenson)

Count me among those that thought Tierney was ready to have a better season last year after his strong performance in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Still, he’s just 23 years old, and his line in the series against Edmonton with Meier and Sorensen was a very effective one for long stretches of play. This is a huge year for Tierney, who had to settle for the Sharks’ one-year, $735,000 qualifying offer. Perform, and he’ll get paid. Struggle, and he could be on the move.

Do you think the Sharks will trade either Grosenick or Dell? Doesn't seem Grosenick has much more to prove in AHL. (Chris Greni)

No, they’ll hold on to all three for the time being. Getting Troy Grosenick re-signed to a one-year deal was a nice move on the Sharks’ part, considering Aaron Dell still has just 20 games of NHL experience. Perhaps if they both continue to play well the Sharks could dangle one as trade bait later in the year, but it wouldn’t make sense at this point. 

Any thoughts on DW using the offer sheet to bring in scoring help? There’s several serviceable RFAs out there still waiting for contracts. (Tony Martinico)

Keep in mind that some of those high end RFAs, like Colton Parayko, Nino Niederreiter and Tomas Tatar are currently headed for arbitration, which takes the offer sheet off the table.

Purely speculation here, but I have to wonder if the Sharks have at least kicked around trying to ink Leon Draisaitl to an offer sheet. You have to think Berlin native Hasso Plattner would love to add the “German Gretzky” to the roster. I know we're settling into the part of the NHL offseason where typically nothing happens, but it was July 19 when the Flyers signed Shea Weber to a monster offer sheet five years ago.

And, of course, Doug Wilson has used the power of the offer sheet in the past, signing Niklas Hjalmarsson in 2010 and then using the threat of an offer sheet with Boston to acquire Martin Jones.

Which Cuda player, aside from Meier, Labanc and Sorensen, would you expect to be a dark horse and could make the big team out of camp? (olin @sleepymofo)

Keep in mind that the sixth and defensemen spots are open, too. I would presume that Dylan DeMelo is the frontrunner to replace David Schlemko, but Tim Heed and Joakim Ryan are coming off of strong seasons in the AHL. Perhaps one of them overtakes DeMelo in training camp.

As for other forwards than those you mentioned, Goodrow could end challenging for a spot on the fourth line. I get plenty of questions about Danny O’Regan, too, and perhaps he makes a push. The issue with O’Regan is that although he’s a skilled player in the minors, he’s probably not quite skilled enough to make up for his small frame at the NHL level. I view him more as a fill-in guy.

Any word on [Barclay] Goodrow and [Marcus] Sorenson? I'm assuming they didn't sign their QO's? (DaveBPilot‏ @DaveBPilot)

Yes, that’s safe to assume, since the deadline was Saturday. They remain RFAs, and negotiations will surely continue.

Still, it’s worth mentioning what happened last year with Matt Nieto. The forward didn’t sign his qualifying offer, as he was pushing for a multi-year deal, and ended up signing for one year for less than he would have made had he accepted the original offer. He was waived and claimed by Colorado.