Sharks-Red Wings: What to watch for

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Sharks-Red Wings: What to watch for

SAN JOSE For the first time in weeks, the San Jose Sharks will face a team thats struggling to get a win even more than they are.

The Detroit Red Wings visit HP Pavilion tonight, looking to avoid their first four-game losing streak since October. Meanwhile, the Sharks are finally showing signs of gaining momentum, with wins in two of their last three games and points in five of the last six (2-1-3).

The Sharks will try for back-to-back victories for the first time since Jan. 31 Feb. 2, after beating the Predators, 2-1, in a shootout at home on Thursday.

Winning a shootout is something we havent done in awhile, so that lifts us a bit, Todd McLellan said. Playing at home, challenged by a good team, we should have a little momentum and feel a little better about ourselves than we did two weeks ago.

We worked hard 60 minutes, found a way to win, so just build from that, Marc-Edouard Vlasic said. Get pucks to the net, keep crashing the net, a lot of good offensive plays last game, the D were involved in the rush. All those things weve done in the past, just keep doing that.

Niemi going strong: Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi will make his 10th straight start tonight, facing Detroits Jimmy Howard.

Niemi has allowed just 18 goals over his last nine starts (3-3-3). McLellan senses his goaltender is settling in for the stretch run.

I do sense that hes starting to feel more comfortable. He knows when he wakes up in the morning that hes coming to the rink to play, said the head coach. Hes tightened things up since the road trip, and weve tightened up around him defensively since the road trip. Thats something that well need tonight.

In 10 career regular season games against Detroit, Niemi is 7-2-1 with a 2.09 goals-against average and .932 save percentage.

Howard is just 3-4-1 with a sub par 3.12 GAA and .903 SP against San Jose.

Datsyuk in, Franzen and Lidstrom out: The Red Wings will welcome Pavel Datsyuk back to the lineup tonight, after the center has missed 11 games with a knee injury. His absence, though, seems to have given head coach Mike Babcock a chance to assess the rest of his team.

I think any time you have injuries its great because you get to evaluate what you have, the Red Wings' coach said on Saturday. You get to see who can do it by themselves, and whos a support player. Obviously, weve seen some support players. When youre a dominant player like Pavel, you can drag people along, and he makes a line go by himself.

Datsyuk is expected to play with Todd Bertuzzi and Danny Cleary, and that line will likely see a healthy dose of Sharks defensemen Vlasic and Dan Boyle.

Hes probably the top guy with the puck in the whole league and the world, Boyle said. You cant bite on anything. If you bite on any of the moves theres a very good chance youre going to get beat. Its important to keep him between yourself and your goalie and try to keep him on the outside as best you can.

Johan Franzen, however, will miss the game with back spasms after leaving Detroits practice early on Friday. So will Nicklas Lidstrom, who has missed eight straight games with a bruised ankle and flew home to Detroit ahead of the team.

He means a lot to that team, obviously Im well aware of that from just the locker room out, said McLellan, a former assistant coach with Detroit, of Lidstrom. The rest of the hockey world gets to see him play every night, and when you combine both hes as good as there is. Not having him in is certainly is an advantage or us, but that opens up advantages on there team for others to step up.

Detroits power play hasnt scored in its last 28 tries with Lidstrom out of the lineup.
Crash the net: The Sharks have just 13 goals in their last nine games, and, as is often the case when a team is struggling to find the scoreboard, the players say that getting to the net more is the way to change that.

Just getting quality shots through, and traffic, Justin Braun said. The goalies are good, youre not going to beat them clean from the point very often. If we can get some traffic, get some rebounds, that will help us out.

The Sharks lead the league in 34.4 shots per game, but many of them are too routine for the opposing goalie.

We get a lot of pucks to the net. I think we could get in front of the goalie more, Vlasic said.

Familiarity breeds contempt: The Sharks have won two of three games against the Red Wings, but dropped a 3-2 decision in the most recent match up at Joe Louis Arena on Feb. 19. That was the 23rd and final win of the Red Wings record home streak.

San Jose, of course, has knocked Detroit from the playoffs in each of the last two seasons. These are two teams that know each other well.

Weve played this team more than anybody else in the last two or three years, so not a lot of secrets, McLellan said.

Its a relatively easy game to prepare for; a very tough game to play.

Overall, San Jose has won five of the last six regular season games.

Its a very easy game to get up for. Weve done a good job, Boyle said.

Odds and ends: The Sharks enter tonights game in ninth place in the Western Conference, but could move as high as seventh following tonights action. Other games to watch include Colorado at the Rangers and Nashville at Los Angeles. Detroit has lost seven of eight on the road, and is 16-20-1 overall away from home. Patrick Marleau has an assist in three straight games. Detroits Valtteri Filppula has five points in the last five games. Joe Thornton has eight points (2g, 6a) in the last five games. Tommy Wingels remains out with an upper body injury. ... Brad Winchester will likely return to the lineup, possibly in place of Benn Ferriero. Colin White, Michal Handzus and Jim Vandermeer are also probable scratches.

Sharks sign defenseman from Czech Republic

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AP

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.