Sharks-Predators: What to watch for

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Sharks-Predators: What to watch for

NASHVILLE As poorly as the Sharks road trip started, the club still has a chance to finish with a .500 record with back-to-back games in Nashville and Minnesota this weekend, beginning tonight at Bridgestone Arena.

It wont be easy. The Predators are among the top teams in the Western Conference, and have not lost in regulation at home since Jan. 5, going 8-0-2 over that span. Their recipe for success remains the same a strong blue line corps, speed up front, and a world-class goaltender in Pekka Rinne.

San Jose, 2-4-1 on its nine-game trek, will try to build off of a 2-1 win in Toronto on Thursday night, ending a season-long four-game losing streak.

We need to start putting together good games back-to-back, Logan Couture said. Were getting down to 23 games left in the year, so were pushing for a playoff spot and we need to be playing our best to make the playoffs.

Joe Thornton said: There are still four points out there to be had, so weve still got to focus in on winning some games. Its been a tough trip, but it can be an average trip if we win these two games.

RELATED: Trotz says Sharks, Preds match up well

Positives from Toronto: The improvements from the Sharks win in Toronto, compared with the 6-3 loss in Columbus the previous game, were numerous. First and foremost, the team was a great deal better in its own zone and got a much-needed strong performance from goaltender Antti Niemi.

McLellan rattled off a few more.

The power play got us a goal. We came out on the winning side of a one-goal game instead of the losing side. Kept a team to under three, which is important to our team, said the coach, before mentioning he got solid play from all four of his lines.

The Sharks were not shorthanded even once against the Maple Leafs, after the coach stressed disciplined play following the Columbus game in which the team committed numerous avoidable infractions resulting in Blue Jackets power play goals.

When were playing well, were disciplined and we dont take many penalties, McLellan said. I look at the team were playing tonight, theyre a very low-penalized team. They do a lot of work with their legs, and with their positioning, and we have to be that type of team tonight.

The Predators and Sharks are among the top power play units in the league. Nashville is second in the NHL with a 21.6 percent rate, while San Jose is just behind in third at 21.5 percent. The Sharks are 14-for-46 on the power play in their last 15 games (37.0 percent), but the Predators have not allowed a power play goal in their last five games.

Secondary scoring needed: The Sharks top scorers have been outstanding lately in terms of putting points on the board. In the last six games, Couture has eight points (4g, 4a), while Thornton (1g, 5a), Joe Pavelski (2g, 4a) and Patrick Marleau (5g, 1a) have six apiece.

Playing at home, the Predators will try and get Shea Weber and Ryan Suter out against the Sharks top line of Thornton-Marleau-Pavelski as much as possible, so a goal or two from the bottom two lines would be huge for San Jose.

Those two are tough to score on, and are big plus players for them, Couture said. For our team to be successful, you need some secondary scoring. Weve had that for the majority for the year, we just need to continue it tonight.

Weve got Pav and Patty and Coutch that are doing a lot of scoring for our team, and after that we need some of the grinders to step up, McLellan said. We need them to play solid defensively, but every now and then we need them to chip in. Its no secret when you go back and look at most of our wins, theyve found a way to contribute at some point.

Among the Sharks that havent lit the lamp lately are Torrey Mitchell (15 games), Ryane Clowe (nine games) and Jamie McGinn (seven games).

Niemi vs. Rinne: Antti Niemi will try and win back-to-back starts for the first time since Jan. 24 and 31 (the games immediately preceding and following the All-Star break), when he mans the crease for the Sharks tonight.

In seven career games against Nashville, Niemi is 4-2-1 with a 2.39 goals-against average and .911 save percentage.

Nashville will go with Pekka Rinne, who will start for the 15th time in the last 16 games. Rinne has allowed two goals of fewer in five straight games, and is 4-2-3 with a 2.47 GAA and .931 SP against the Sharks in 10 career games.

Odds and ends: Predators forward Patric Hornqvist will return tonight after a five-game absence due to an upper body injury. ... The Sharks and Predators split two early season meetings this season, with each team winning on the others home ice. In the last 16 games between these teams, 13 have been decided by one goal. Nashville is playing its third game of a five-game homestand, and is 1-0-1 so far. Dominic Moore (lower body) and Douglas Murray (fractured Adams apple) remain out for the Sharks, and wont play tomorrow in Minnesota, either. Todd McLellan expects Moore to play probably over the next week. Nashville is 15-2-2 in its last 19 home games. McLellan on the Sharks nearing the end of their road trip: Youre always concerned as a road trip winds down that guys are looking forward to getting home, but we havent banked enough points at all on this trip to do that.

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.

https://twitter.com/sorensenmarcus/status/887412566447628288

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.