Anaheim Ducks

After blowing division, Sharks await first round destination

After blowing division, Sharks await first round destination

SAN JOSE – An evening of channel flipping is likely ahead for the Sharks’ coaching staff, and probably a few of the players, too.

Although the Sharks know they’ll start on the road next week for the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it has yet to be determined whether they’ll be headed to sunny Anaheim or still-unthawing Edmonton. 

Anaheim is in the driver’s seat for the division title, which would give it a first round matchup against Calgary. If the Ducks get at least one point against the Kings, or the Oilers lose in any fashion to Vancouver, then the third-seeded Sharks will go to Edmonton. If the Oilers beat the Canucks and the Ducks lose to the Kings in regulation, then the Sharks will charter to Southern California. 

The Kings-Ducks game at Honda Center begins at 5:30 p.m., while Oilers-Canucks at Rogers Place is at 6 p.m. The full first round playoff schedule is typically revealed shortly after the games are complete.

“It doesn’t really matter for us what kind of building we go into. We’ve been able to win tough games on the road before,” Chris Tierney said. “I think when you go on the road in a playoff game you dial in even more almost than home ice. We’re going to be hungry to go, and try to win the first one.”

Brent Burns offered a more unique view when it was pointed out that Anaheim is a much shorter flight than Edmonton. 

“If you travel longer you get to watch more shows,” Burns said.

No matter what kind of spin they want to put on it, though, the Sharks would have surely rather started a series at home. It’s still somewhat remarkable that they had a nine-point lead on the division as recently as March 15, but dropped to third place anyway after a stretch of losing eight of nine games in regulation.

San Jose finished with a 26-11-4 mark at SAP Center this season, as opposed to a 20-18-3 record on the road. They lost six straight on the road from March 20 – March 31, before capturing their road finale against lowly Vancouver on April 2.

Brenden Dillon admitted that seeing that Pacific Division title slip through the Sharks’ grasp was “a little frustrating.” Still, he doesn’t expect anyone to dwell on it, and pointed out that last season the Sharks won the first round against the Kings and Western Conference Final against St. Louis despite not having home ice.

“I think something about this group of guys that we've had this year is managing the highs and lows,” Dillon said. “We were at a high at the beginning of March, and obviously a bit of a low towards the end. But at the end of the day, we understand the road we had last year.

“We had to start on the road in almost every series, except for [the second round against Nashville]. We were able to have success there, and I think it's something that we can have some confidence in going into Edmonton or Anaheim."

While the overall health of the club will surely play a role in whether it has success, as Logan Couture and Joe Thornton remain questionable, head coach Pete DeBoer pointed towards the intangibles that should allow the Sharks to raise their level from the brand of hockey they’ve displayed over the past few weeks.

“I think it's some experience and a veteran group, and I also think it's the character of your group,” DeBoer said. “We've got a lot of character in there. They know this is what we've been waiting for."

 

Three takeaways: Improved Sharks' performance; concern for Hansen

Three takeaways: Improved Sharks' performance; concern for Hansen

SAN JOSE – Some low scoring NHL games can be fairly boring, but that wasn’t the case on Saturday as the Sharks and Ducks staged an entertaining get together at SAP Center in a battle of two surefire playoff teams. Here are our three takeaways from Anaheim’s 2-1 win…

1 – Improved performance from Sharks

Yes, the Sharks lost their second straight game in regulation for the first time in more than two months, but Saturday’s effort against Anaheim was much better than Thursday’s dud against St. Louis. Friday’s day off surely aided the team in finding its legs, but playing against a division rival likely helped get their motors going, too.

The Ducks pushed the pace early, but the Sharks seized the momentum towards the end of the opening frame and were the better team from the second period on, too.

“The other night wasn’t our best game by any means. Tonight was definitely better,” Joe Pavelski said. “I think we got better as the game went on.”

To be fair, Anaheim may have been feeling the effects of its 10-round shootout loss on Friday night by the time that third period rolled around. The Sharks still felt they should have scored more than just one power play goal before the final horn rang.

Logan Couture said: “We were better tonight than we were against St. Louis. With every game you take positives. … They were playing a back-to-back, but in that third period we had a lot of grade-A chances where we should score.”

Pete DeBoer said: “In a typical night we get at least two or three with the looks we had, and we didn’t tonight. Just got to keep at it. Stick with it.”

2 – Hansen’s injury cause for concern

Jannik Hansen wasted to time in getting off of the ice and to the dressing room after taking an apparent stick to the head in the third period. It didn’t look good. Sunday’s recalls of Timo Meier and Danny O’Regan suggest that Hansen might miss some time, and there was no word as of Sunday afternoon whether Hansen was on the flight to Dallas.

Hansen may only have one assist in six games, but his addition has sparked Pavelski and Joe Thornton. They’ll need him back sooner than later, since the primary reason they acquired him was that no one else in the organization looked like a long term fit on the top line. Hansen did.

Tomas Hertl filled in there after Hansen left the game, and he could start in that familiar position on Monday against Dallas. That would move Chris Tierney up to third line center, while O’Regan could potentially center the fourth line. That’s all me speculating, though, so stay tuned.

3 – Don’t panic about losing the division lead…yet

The Sharks may have squandered a chance to really put the Ducks behind them, but there’s no reason to panic about losing the Pacific Division yet. Although the upcoming road trip presents some challenges with a pair of back-to-backs, two of them are against the Stars, who are a complete disaster right now. That should be four points in the bank.

If the Sharks gain just 11 of 22 points available to them from now until the end of the season, Anaheim will have to gain 16 points in their final 10 games to catch them, as San Jose would almost certainly have the tiebreaker of more regulation/overtime wins. Still, burying the Ducks – who are looking for their fifth straight division title – would have been preferable.

“Obviously teams are going to be up and down, you’ve just got to try to hammer your games out as much as you can,” Joel Ward said.

 

Ducks squeak past Sharks in another low scoring, tight affair

Ducks squeak past Sharks in another low scoring, tight affair

SAN JOSE – Some recent trends have emerged in games between the Sharks and Ducks, and they were again on display on Saturday night at SAP Center.

They’re close, and they’re low scoring, to be specific.

Anaheim’s 2-1 triumph was the eighth straight head-to-head matchup that has been decided by just one goal. Furthermore, the teams have combined for just 28 total goals in those eight meetings, or 3.5 per game.

Of course, in those types of games, one mistake can be deadly. In this case, it came when Paul Martin’s attempted pass to Joe Pavelski was blocked by Jakob Silfverberg, who raced in on a breakaway to beat Martin Jones at 13:29 of the second period. It was the final goal of the game.

Martin described the play.

“[The puck] kind of rolled on me or jammed me a little bit. I was going to shoot, and then I saw Pavs kind of slide up in the slot and I just tried to slide it to him. Hit a shin pad, or hit something, so…yeah,” Martin said.

Logan Couture said: “Obviously it’s a tough break to give up that one, to that guy, with that shot. He picks his corners pretty good. We rebounded and had a good third period.”

Couture is correct in that the Sharks did press Anaheim in the final frame, outshooting the Ducks 14-4 but failing to get the equalizer.  The Sharks had a 34-27 advantage in shots in the game, and a 76-53 advantage in shot attempts.

His line with Patrick Marleau and Joel Ward was the Sharks’ most effective of the evening, and all of them had chances. Ward was stopped in front of the net about four minutes into the third period, though, and Marleau was denied on a breakaway with nine minutes left. Couture finished with a game-high six shots, including a first period power play goal on a two-man advantage.

In one sequence in the second period, Couture’s wraparound try ended up on Ward’s tape on the other side of the net, and with goalie Jonathan Bernier sprawled out in the crease, Ward tried getting it over the goaltender to Marleau in front of an empty net. He didn’t get it high enough, though, and Bernier froze it.

The Sharks were much more pleased with their effort on Saturday than in Thursday’s 4-1 loss to the Blues in which they were thoroughly outplayed. 

“I didn’t like our first 10 minutes, but after that I thought we played a real good game,” Pete DeBoer said. “It was a playoff-type atmosphere. We had enough opportunities to get three or four tonight. We didn’t. That’s a credit to their goalie. But, we did a lot of good things.”

Joe Pavelski said: “They had their chances, we had ours. It was a game, it was physical, it was a fun one. Crowd was into it right from the start, and guys showed up to play.”

There are no points for effort, though, so the Sharks still have some work to do if they want to close out the Pacific Division. They were well aware that they had a chance to essentially bury the Ducks by potentially opening their lead up to seven points with a game in hand.

Instead, they’re now just four points ahead with a pair of back-to-backs on the road on the immediate horizon. The Sharks visit Dallas on Monday and Minnesota on Tuesday, and will have to keep an eye in the rear view mirror on surging Anaheim, which has won five of its last seven (5-1-1).

“I think as the games get closer to the end, you kind of know who’s up and down,” Ward said of the contracting standings.

The primary takeaway from Saturday’s game, though, was that if the Sharks put forth the same kind of effort and performance over their final 11, they’ll be fine.

Martin said: “As long as we’re playing the way that we want to play, I think it will take care of itself.”

“If we play like we did tonight, most nights we’re going to win,” DeBoer said.

* * *

DeBoer didn't offer any sort of update on Jannik Hansen, who left the game in the third period after taking a stick up high from defenseman Brandon Montour as the two came together in the corner. "I don’t have anything for you on that yet," DeBoer said.

Pavelski talked to his linemate after the game.

“I think [Hansen] said he got a stick in the head, or something like that. I don’t really know for sure," Pavelski said.