Three takeaways: Sharks have all but clinched the division

Three takeaways: Sharks have all but clinched the division

SAN JOSE – Apparently sick and tired of not having any success against Buffalo, the Sharks controlled much of Tuesday night’s game against the Sabres in a 4-1 win. Here are our three takeaways from the game, as San Jose has now won three of the first four games on its longest homestand of the season…

1 – The Sharks have pretty much clinched the division

The Sharks (42-20-7, 91 points) have opened up a mammoth nine-point lead on the rest of the Pacific Division. Second place Calgary and Anaheim have 82 points apiece, tied for second place. Every team has 13 games remaining.

Even if the Sharks post just a .500 winning percentage the rest of the way, they’ll finish with 104 points. For the Flames or Ducks to catch them in that scenario, they would have to post a record along the lines of 11-1-1 over their final 13.

No one in the Sharks’ dressing room would say that the race is over, of course.

“We’re not taking anything for granted here, we want to keep winning hockey games,” Martin Jones said. “We’re trying to play for playoffs here. Just got to keep building our game.”

The Sharks are setting their sights on Chicago (93 points) and Minnesota (92 points) instead, assuring home ice advantage throughout the first three rounds.

Pete DeBoer said: “We’ve got to keep our eye on the ball, and that's winning as many games as possible, make sure we're playing the right way heading into the playoffs, and tracking down the teams ahead of us. There's no doubt [the division lead is] nice, but we’ve got a lot of work left to do."

San Jose has not won the Pacific Division since 2011. Anaheim has won it each of the last four seasons, while the Coyotes claimed it in 2012.

2 – Jones benefiting from extra rest

Perhaps no one on the Sharks’ roster, other than maybe captain Joe Pavelski, looks more rejuvenated coming out of the bye week than Jones. The Sharks’ number one netminder has allowed two or fewer goals in each of his last seven starts, and made another 22 saves on Tuesday against Buffalo.

Jones has been getting more rest than usual even after the bye week, as Aaron Dell has started three of the last seven games and figures to get at least four or five more starts before the end of the regular season.

Jones’ biggest save on Tuesday came in the third period, when he sealed his five-hole on a Jack Eichel on a breakaway and Pavelski increased the Sharks’ lead to 3-1 just after that.

“He’s got a lot speed,” Jones said of the Sabres’ young forward. “Our guy was kind of flat-footed, [Eichel] took it to the net. He didn’t have a lot of time or space, so just tried to make sure there wasn’t any holes there.”

The Sharks didn't surrender many prime scoring chances on Jones, as the puck was in their offensive zone for the majority of the night.

“We were in and out of our end pretty quick,” Dylan DeMelo said. “We got in on the forecheck and turned some pucks over, sustained some pretty good O-zone time. The shot totals obviously speak for that.”

3 – Haley adds more than the game-winning goal

Micheal Haley clearly got lucky on his second period goal that put the Sharks up to stay, but he also offered some insight on his more notable role of keeping things honest out there.

In the game’s first minute, Buffalo’s Evander Kane hammered Justin Braun on the forecheck, shaking up the Sharks’ defenseman. Haley found himself on the ice with Kane a few shifts later, and decided to remind Kane that he was in the active lineup, too.

“I was just letting him know that there’s two sides to each team. I can start running people, too,” Haley said. “It was fine, it was nothing. It was just a big hit to start the game, and when I went on [the ice] he was there, so I thought we’d have a little chat.”

Did play calm down after that?

“I think so. I don’t know. I didn’t see anymore big ones,” Haley said.

A good reminder for the advanced stats-only crowd that the game isn’t played in a vacuum, eh?

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.”