Sharks-Rangers: What to watch for

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Sharks-Rangers: What to watch for

NEW YORK, NY The Sharks set out on their second-longest road trip of the season nearly two weeks ago (yes, there is actually a longer trip in February), with a 1-3 mark and looking for answers. Winning five of the six upcoming games away from home would have sounded pretty sweet at the time.

Not now.

San Jose will try to go a perfect 6-0 when the New York Rangers play host at Madison Square Garden tonight.

Our overall record is not staggering, by any means, for our team, said Douglas Murray after Mondays morning skate. Were more back where we should be, and 6-4 is not good enough for us 7-3 is a lot better.

Day of rest: Most of the Sharks top minute guys stayed away from the rink on Sunday, as McLellan held a limited practice. Despite pulling out a 3-2 overtime win on Saturday against the Islanders, the Sharks didnt appear to have the energy or skating legs as they did, say, the night before in Detroit.

The match against the Islanders was the typical trap game a lesser opponent, towards the end of a long trip on a back-to-back, after beating a top rival the previous night. To their credit, the Sharks managed to pull out the victory anyway.

Tonight, expect a more revived bunch.

We have no excuses headed into tonights game, said Todd McLellan. We should be rested, and have a little more juice than we did on the Island.

It might have been more mental, if anything, said Ryane Clowe of Saturdays game. "For the most part, myself and the guys I talked to, felt pretty good. I thought we skated all right, it was just a little mental after the big win against Detroit and going on back-to-back nights. Mentally, those are the games you have to be ready for, and we were probably not our sharpest, but found a way.

Rangers hungry: The first phase of the Madison Square Garden renovation is complete, but that hasnt helped its tenant. The Rangers dropped their first two at home, and have just three wins in their first nine games.

The Sharks will see a familiar face in a blue sweater as Brad Richards signed with New York after more than three seasons in Dallas. He has three goals and five assists, tying him with Marian Gaborik for the team lead in points.

Hes a great passer and always finds a way to get it to the net, said Jason Demers about Richards. Thats something were going to have to watch. He makes their team go and is the offensive catalyst out there, so we just have to make sure we keep in him check and make sure he doesnt get those other guys going.

The Rangers are more than just two players, of course, cautions McLellan.

They are a character team, I think, he said. As soon as you start focusing on one or two of the individuals, the rest of the crew seems to sting you.

It will be a complete Ranger focus. Each team has their go-to guys and Brad and Gabby would be those two here, but they have a number of other players that Im sure are going to compete extremely hard and can make you pay if youre not aware of them.

Martin Biron is expected to start in net for the Rangers and face Antti Niemi, according to several reports and tweets this morning from New York reporters. Regular starter Henrik Lundqvist was in net for New Yorks last game on Saturday, in which they blew a three-goal third period lead to Ottawa and lost in a shootout, 5-4.

Top heavy: A quick glance at the stat sheet during this road trip tells the obvious: The Sharks offense is being led by its big guns.

Joe Pavelski (9 points) is at the top, but Joe Thornton (7 pts.), Patrick Marleau (6 pts.), Logan Couture (5 pts.), Clowe (5 pts.) and Martin Havlat (5 assists) are all enjoying personal hot streaks.

McLellan was asked if hed like to see his other lines contribute a little more on the scoreboard, and although he would, he still says theyve contributed in other ways.

Id like to see our third and fourth line produce a little bit, but for the most part, they havent been scored on. Theyve been playing their games even, he said. They play hard, have contributed on the checking side and penalty kill side, so I cant complain about their contribution to the team.

Torrey Mitchell, who spends most of his time on the third line, would like to see them put the puck in the net.

Our top two lines have obviously been carrying us for our road trip, he said. Were going to need to step up. Even the fourth line, too.

Odds and ends: Judging by the morning skate, the Sharks will ice the same lineup they used on Saturday, with the only change being Niemi in for Thomas Greiss. This is the only meeting of the season between these two teams.

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.”