Sharks-Penguins: What to watch for


Sharks-Penguins: What to watch for

SAN JOSE Its been a little while, but the Sharks will play in front of their home fans tonight for the first time in more than two weeks. Theyll be looking for their first win at HP Pavilion since the very first game of the season when they host the Sidney Crosby-less Pittsburgh Penguins.

Here are some notes and quotes to get you ready for the rare appearance from one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference.

Special teams: The Penguins own one of the more remarkable stats of the year so far. Through 13 games, the club is actually even on the penalty kill. They have allowed just three goals on 39 opponent power plays, but have scored three shorthanded goals, tying them for the league lead.

Furthermore, Pittsburgh is five for its last 18 chances on the power play over the last four games.

The Sharks, on the other hand, have struggled on the penalty kill. They sit at just 26th in the league at 73.7 percent, and have allowed at least one power play goal in their last four games.

Michal Handzus, brought on in the offseason to help shore up the PK, explained what the Sharks need to do better.

It wasnt very good the first 10 games, he said. We have to block more shots, have to pressure up the point when we can and if theres no chance to pressure, dont do it. Just play our system. I think we have a good system in place, we just have to execute and well be alright.

They have to be better: The biggest reason the Sharks were able to win five of six games on their recently completed road trip was the play of the first two lines. All six of the top forwards contributed on the scoresheet, and of the 20 goals scored, all but two came from that group.

Only Brent Burns overtime winner against the Islanders and Benn Ferreiros goal in Boston did not come from the top six.

Todd McLellan was blunt when asked about his third and fourth lines, offering up a laundry list of things they can improve upon.

Our third and fourth lines have to be better. I cant make it any clearer than that, said the coach. When I say that, I dont mean they have to score a bunch of goals. They have to create some momentum, they have to hold onto the puck in the offensive zone, draw penalties, they have to be heavy and hard to handle, have to be responsible defensively, they cant get involved in too many men on the ice penalties.

I can go on and on. They have to be better.
Boyle recovering, but changes on D? Dan Boyle battled through some flu-like symptoms for most of the road trip, even though it didnt cost him any games. The Sharks veteran defenseman didnt skate with the team yesterday, but is fine to go tonight.

Really slow recovery, and just a whole bunch of stuff going on. The main thing was it was just kind of sucking the energy out of me, said Boyle on Thursday morning. It started early in the road trip and just kind of got worse.

Boyle said that Saturdays game in Long Island was the worst, and although he wasnt completely recovered by Sunday in New York, still played more than 23 minutes.

While Boyle will be paired with regular partner Douglas Murray, there could be more changes in the Sharks third d-pairagain. Jason Demers was on the ice well after his teammates yesterday, and stayed on late again today, meaning he could be out of the lineup again. Demers was scratched for three of the six road games, although he has played in the last two.

Justin Braun and Jim Vandermeer were the first defensemen off the ice for the Sharks, although Colin White came off shortly after Vandermeer.

Better faceoffs: For a team like the Sharks, who rely so much on puck possession, winning faceoffs is a key element to their success. San Jose was strong at the start of the year, winning 57.7 percent through their first five games, but have lost the faceoff battle in four of the last five (44.3 percent over that span).

Its even worse on the power play, as they have won a staggeringly low 36.6 percent over the last five when on the man advantage.

Weve been one of the top teams in the last few years, so we want to get back up there, said Patrick Marleau. Thats our standard, to be in the top three. When you win faceoffs you control the game and control the pace of the game, and thats when were at our best.

Odds and ends: Penguins defenseman Kris Letang and center Jordan Staal will be game-time decisions. Antti Niemi will face Marc-Andre Fleury in net. Fleury is the NHLs winningest goaltender since Nov. 12, 2010, with 42. Niemi is second with 38. The Penguins and Sharks both had five-game winning streaks snapped in their previous games.

Sharks sign defenseman from Czech Republic


Sharks sign defenseman from Czech Republic

The Sharks have signed Czech defenseman Radim Simek to a one-year contract.

The two-way deal, originally reported by Radio Praha in the Czech Republic, is expected to be announced by the Sharks later this week, according to a source. Simek just finished competing for his country in the 2017 IIHF World Championships, skating in all eight games for the Czech Republic while posting one goal, one assist, 11 shots and a minus-two rating.

Simek, 24, has spent the last five seasons in the Czech League. In 42 games for Liberec in 2016-17, he posted 24 points (11g, 13a) and 30 penalty minutes with a plus-18 rating. A left-handed shot, he is listed at five-foot-11 and 196 pounds on the IIHF website.

The New York Rangers were also interested in Simek, according to the report.

Simek will likely begin next season with the AHL Barracuda.

The Sharks have signed a number of free agents out of Europe in recent seasons, including Joonas Donskoi in 2015 and Marcus Sorensen and Tim Heed last May.


Future with Sharks still uncertain for Thornton, Marleau

Future with Sharks still uncertain for Thornton, Marleau

More than four weeks have passed since the Sharks were dispatched by the Edmonton Oilers in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau appear no closer to signing contract extensions than when the season ended. 

Sharks general manager Doug Wilson faces some of the toughest decisions of his 14-year tenure as the head of the hockey department in the coming weeks, beginning with the two best players in franchise history.

And, no, there are no back room handshake deals here between the Sharks and either of Thornton or Marleau, allowing the Sharks to protect extra players in the upcoming expansion draft. The two veterans are still pending unrestricted free agents in the truest sense, and it’s no certainty that either will return to San Jose.

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Re-signing Thornton would seem to be more of a priority than re-signing Marleau, as centermen are more valuable than wingers. Thornton’s line, with Joe Pavelski and whoever the left wing happened to be, was still drawing the opposition’s top defense pair on many nights this season. Marleau was on that line at times, but was shuffled up and down throughout the year, spending about half the season on the third line.

Thornton apparently dodged disaster in terms of his left knee, as multiple sources have told NBC Sports California that the brunt of the damage was to his MCL, not his ACL. As long as he recovers fully, as expected, there’s reason to believe that Thornton could be better next season than he was in 2016-17. Last year’s Stanley Cup Final run, the World Cup, and the condensed schedule seemed to take their toll. Thornton, who typically downplays anything remotely negative, admitted more than once that this season in particular was a grind.

But perhaps just as important to the Sharks is what Thornton brings to the team emotionally. Pavelski may still be the captain – and an effective one, at that – but Thornton is still the heartbeat. Pete DeBoer made that clear after Game 2 of the first round against the Oilers, talking about what Thornton’s absence from the bench in those first two games meant to the team in terms of a bench presence.

“It’s old school accountability with Joe. It’s black and white,” DeBoer said. “He came up in an era and at a time and around people who you weren’t worried about hurting feelings. You said what needed to be said. That’s not always the case now in modern dressing rooms and with modern athletes. He’s a great resource for us, because there’s no greater pressure than peer pressure, especially from a Hall of Fame guy like that.”

So what might it take to retain Thornton and keep him from hitting the open market? 

It has been previously reported that Thornton wanted a three-year deal, and that remains the case. As for money, I would expect Thornton – who has taken hometown discounts in the past to stay in San Jose – to ask for at least $5 million per season, minimum. Our best guess here is that a Thornton-Sharks pre-July 1 agreement would probably look something like three years and somewhere between $15 – 17 million.

Whether the Sharks would be willing to make that kind of commitment to Thornton, who will be 38 in July, is unclear. If they are not, Thornton could listen to offers from other teams beginning on June 24, when the window opens for unrestricted free agents to speak with other teams.

Still, Thornton’s first choice is to remain in San Jose. The Sharks don’t have anyone that could replace him on or off the ice. There should be a deal to be made here, either sooner or later.

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Marleau’s future with the Sharks seems much hazier.

Unlike Thornton – who put up with public ridicule from Wilson and had his captaincy stripped – Marleau’s commitment to the organization hasn’t been quite as steadfast. Recall in 2015, of course, when Marleau’s preference for a brief stretch was to leave the Sharks. We reported here in November, 2015 that he was willing to accept a trade to three teams, while ESPN reported that Marleau’s agent was “quietly exploring the market” as late as January, 2016.

While those feelings seem to have passed over time, Marleau hasn’t been as emphatic as Thornton in his desire to return. When asked on April 24 if he would like to come back to the Sharks, Marleau said: “Yeah, it would be nice. We’ll see if that’s an option. A lot of time here before this decision needs to be made.”

At this point, though, Marleau may be asking for a bit much in his next deal. It’s believed that the franchise’s all-time leading scorer is, like Thornton, seeking a contract of at least three years.

That shouldn’t be overly surprising. When asked then if he wanted a multi-year deal on April 24, Marleau said: “Yeah, I think so. … I still feel like I have at least five good years in me, or maybe more.”

As we wrote here in early February, it may not make much sense for the Sharks to commit to Marleau for more than one year for a number of reasons, including potential long-term (and surely expensive) contract extensions for Martin Jones and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, something Wilson has made his top priority this offseason. 

If Marleau is seeking a lengthy commitment from San Jose, I don’t see how that works from a business perspective for San Jose, which has a number of prospects in the system at wing that could potentially fill the hole Marleau would leave. Timo Meier and Marcus Sorensen, in particular, could be ready to take the next step, and both would be much cheaper options (Meier has two years left on his entry level deal, while Sorensen is a pending restricted free agent that won’t require a huge raise).

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Further complicating matters is that Thornton has never been shy about wanting to win with Marleau by his side. The two famously announced their nearly identical three-year contract extensions on Jan. 24, 2014, and Thornton would still prefer to have Marleau return to San Jose with him.

“Hopefully, I can come back and Patty can come back,” Thornton said after the season ended. “I think this team is a very good team. I think this is a Stanley Cup caliber team. I really believe that."

Considering the salary cap for next season has not yet been revealed, and that Wilson can’t officially extend Jones or Vlasic until July 1, the general manager could be forced to wait a little while before finalizing anything with either Thornton or Marleau. That makes it all the more likely that the Thornton and Marleau camps will at least get an opportunity to hear from other clubs and consider other offers in late June.

In short, anything is still possible. And Wilson, Thornton and Marleau all have some difficult decisions on the horizon in a Sharks offseason that is unlike any other.