Everything Else

vs.

SCHEDULE

Game 1 in San Jose – Tonight, 9pm

Game 2 in San Jose – Sunday, 6:30

Game 3 in Denver – Tuesday, 9pm

Game 4 in Denver – Thursday, 9pm

This is where the Sharks are supposed to be, just not how they’re supposed to be here. It took a miracle, they somehow overcame Martin Jones, the NHL’s favorite pet, and various injuries. Do they have anything left? The Avs are here because they have the player who might be playing the best hockey in the world right now, and that their goalie was also as good as anyone. The Sharks benefitted from Marc-Andre Fleury rediscovering his 2010-2013 form. They won’t get such benefits here. Can they overcome a good goalie with less than their full compliment of scorers?

Goalies: While MacKinnon stole all the headlines, along with Mikko Rantanen, Phillip Grubauer was becoming what the Avs thought they were getting when they traded for him in the summer. He put up a .939 against the Flames, who don’t lack for snipers. He only had to work hard a couple times, but giving up 10 goals in five games is a football in the groin. Grubauer has been galactic since February 1st, and it should probably be a given at this point that he’s going to be good.

What to make of Martin Jones. Swinging wildly between really good and slapstick comedy with almost no in-between against Vegas, Jones looked to have tossed away all that the Sharks are with that poor goal from Pacioretty in the 3rd period of Game 7. The Knights’ bed-wetting saw that wasn’t the case, but it wasn’t the stirring performance the Sharks would hope they can build on. He was excellent in Games 5 and 6 when he had to be, but the Sharks can’t have any idea what they’re getting. And they’ll be seeing MacK and Rantanen, who are better scorers than anything the Knights cough up, despite what they tell you.

Defense: The Avs got a boost from the addition of Cale Makar, but this is still a teenager playing his fourth game ever. They were much better than you would have guessed against the Flames, who kept falling apart in front of them. Tyson Barrie was everywhere, and they didn’t pay for having Zadorov and Nemeth on the team. I still won’t buy Ian Cole or Erik Johnson, or Zadorov and Nemeth, but they’re here. There’s more depth they have to deal with from San Jose than Calgary, and if anyone is going to expose them, it’s the Sharks.

The Sharks would have a bigger advantage if Erik Karlsson‘s groin didn’t sound like trying to pull the rack out of an oven that’s never been cleaned right now. He’s moving maybe at 60% of his usual grace, and that’s a problem. Still, it was enough to barely outlast the speed of the Knights, and the Avs aren’t any faster. Brent Burns is a disaster waiting to happen at any moment, But that’s why you have Marc-Edouard Vlasic around. Peter DeBoer finally figured out that Brenden Dillon blows, and was actually playing Joakim Ryan in OT of Game 7. That should continue, but won’t because DeBoer has his idiotic tendencies. Again, they got through the Knights, and here they really only have one line to deal with.

Forwards: This is easy. The Avs have one line, and probably the best line left in the West, and it was more than enough to kick the Flames’ dick into the dirt. Nathan MacKinnon isn’t going to be stopped, and he’ll bring Rantanen and ThreeYaksAndADog with him. But beyond that, you can have it. Yes, they were enough against the Flames, but Colin Wilson and J.T. Compher and Matt Nieto will return to their own level. There’s a collection of nice players under the top line, but no game-breakers here. The top line just might be enough, though.

The Sharks would have a big advantage here if Joe Pavelski was going to play, and we have no idea if he will. Without him, Logan Couture lacks wingers. Sure, there’s still Hertl, Kane, Thornton, Meier, and Nyquist and a few competent bottom-sixers. They’re still deeper than the Avs without Pavelski, but that gap is monumental with him. I think it’s doubtful he shows up, but this being hockey, who can say for sure?

Prediction: Tough one. The Sharks are much deeper than the Flames, and won’t have their top center just completely go Copperfield on them like Sean Monahan did. They should, should, expose the middle and bottom pairing of the Avs, which even with Makar isn’t up to this. And with Pavelski, I’d be much more assured that happens. But Grubauer over Jones makes up for that, or most of it. The Sharks might want a rest. They won’t get one. But they’re just a better team, especially if they get a Pavelski return.

Sharks in 7. 

Everything Else

vs.

SCHEDULE

Game 1 in San Jose tonight, 9:30

Game 2 in San Jose Friday, 9:30

Game 3 in Vegas Sunday, 9pm

Game 4 in Vegas Tuesday, 9:30

I suppose I should stand my ground, as I’ve believed in the Sharks all season, until their late-season pants-filling without Erik Karlsson. The fact that they finished where they did and their metrics are where they are despite having the worst goaltending in the league is a testament to how good they actually are. All they need really is league-average goaltending and not only would they come out of the West, they’d probably amble or mosey out of it. And yet the universe seems intent on shoving the Knights down our throats even though it took their GM less than two seasons to completely bork a blank cap situation and no one cares. Mark Stone showed up, everyone lost their mud, and he scored at a 22-goal, 50-point pace, which is fine, except it’s not fine  for the $9.5 MILLION DOLLARS HE’S GOING TO GET PER SEASON WHY AM I THE ONLY ONE FLABBERGASTED I MUST BE ON THE WRONG DRUGS!!!

But Stone’s contract doesn’t have much bearing on this series. His play does. And boy does this seem a nightmare for the Sharks, and could potentially swing the direction of the entire organization.

Goalies: Before we get to the disaster that is the Sharks’ net, Marc-Andre Fleury is reasons 1-4 the Knights made it to the Final last year. While some want to attribute it to magic dust or a genius front office or a secret style of playing or Ryan Fucking Reaves, just about any thrown-together bunch of fuckwits can win a series or three when their goalie is going .945, as Fleury did in the first three rounds. When he stopped doing that, you’ll notice the Caps dispatched them tout suite.

Fleury was a tick above league average, with spotty health all season. He was marvelous in five March starts, and bad in three April starts, so current form is hard to diagnose. Fleury’s playoff pedigree is also hard to figure, as there’s just as much buffoonery as there has been brilliance. If anyone thinks he’s a sure bet just because of the last two seasons, you’re not paying much attention. It would not be a shock if he’s terrible. He was just a short time ago February.

That still makes him a better bet than Martin Jones, who was just woeful this year. The Sharks had the worst goaltending at evens this year, and in fact were the only team lower than .900. You can’t roll into the playoffs with that and expect to do much. If there’s any silver lining, it’s that Jones’s playoff pedigree is rather strong. In three tries with the Sharks he’s at .926 over 42 games. At 29, he really shouldn’t be in a career abyss. Maybe the fresh start of the playoffs lets him reset everything mentally. That’s the only thing the Sharks can be counting on right now.

Defense: You’ll never get me to buy into the Vegas defense. But I’ll also readily admit they basically take them out of the equation, by just asking them to get the puck up to the forwards as quickly as possible and not much else. They don’t get a ton of scoring from there but they don’t have to. And the forwards have the puck so much that they don’t have to do that much defending. But the Sharks have the puck a ton, too. And the more you’re asking Colin Miller and Brayden McNabb and Deryk Goddamn Engelland to do in their own end, the more likely it is they’ll turn back into the players we’re fairly sure they still are. Because I have to believe eventually things return to as they are, no matter how much of a fantasy land Vegas is of dreams and money and tits.

If Erik Karlsson is healthy, then the Sharks’ blue line is way better. He appeared for the last game and says he’s ready to go, but premature returns from a groin injury have sent him back to the darkness twice already this season. With him, the Sharks boast three pairs the Hawks would honestly kill for. Maybe Vlasic and Braun are a touch slow to deal with the speed of the Knights over a long series, but they know how to take the dungeon shifts. If they can keep the roof from leaking, Karlsson and Burns can get up in it. And they do the scoring the Vegas’s back end doesn’t. Yes, the Knights have four lines, but the Sharks are the rare team with three pairings. If anyone’s equipped…

Forwards: I still may be in denial or not “get it,” but there’s a reason the Knights are here again. They just have a lot of speed and depth. Wild Bill may have crashed back down to Earth, but it’s a real boon to have a second line of Stastny, Pacioretty, and Stone. The Ginger Ninja lurks on the third line with Alex Tuch, and somehow Bellemare and Reaves and whatever other jackass they punt out there come up with big goals. And there’s never a break in pace. It’s so much to deal with when it’s on song.

But again, if you sift through the mishegas, the Sharks have the same depth, but better. The Sharks boast six forwards with 55 points or more. The Knights have two. There are four 30-goal scorers in teal. The Knights don’t have one. They can annoy the piss out of you too with Meier and Sorensen. They could even match center depth by moving Pavelski back to the middle if they so choose. Nyquist performed at the same pace Stone did in Vegas and yet I didn’t see anyone erecting statues of him in their publications like they did with McPhee and Stone. Starting to get the impression the Sharks have better skaters?

Prediction: Last year’s series, after the 7-0 Game 1 in Vegas for the Knights, was pretty even. Fleury made a huge difference. The Knights are maybe better than they were last year, though without William Karlsson and Smith doing what they did maybe not? The Sharks definitely are. Jones could undo it all and they could be done in four. But the possibility of Fleury having a gasoline fight with him are higher than most think. But honestly, I’m tired of the Vegas story and I think the Sharks have just been twiddling their thumbs waiting for this. And once they snap into gear, everyone in the West should be awfully worried.

Sharks in six.

 

Everything Else

vs.

RECORDS: Hawks 33-33-10   Sharks 43-24-9

PUCK DROP: 9:30pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago

ALSO FAKING THEIR VOICE LIKE ELIZABETH HOLMES: Fear The Fin

If you were to ask both fanbases, both would tell you their team is a mess, a disaster, an embarrassment. One has lost six in a row, and one has lost four of its last five. Neither is living up to the expectations the front offices themselves set for their respective team. But really, only one of these teams is a true mess.

The Sharks are the ones who have lost six in a row. They’ve lost touch with the Flames at the top of the division, and the Bay Area faithful are already chewing their nails down to the quick over a first-round matchup with the Knights (who happened to paste the Sharks a few games ago, at least on the scoreboard but as analytics have told us that doesn’t count). Erik Karlsson won’t play until the playoffs, and it’s no guarantee he’ll be 100% then. And rushing him back is what got them in this predicament in the first place. Joe Pavelski has missed the last four games, isn’t a sure bet for tonight, and nagging injuries with 10 days to go to your best forward who happens to be 34 doesn’t set anyone’s nerves at ease.

What’s really causing the angina-kicks in San Jose is that the Sharks can’t get a damn save anywhere. Both Martin Jones and Aaron Dell have gone Little-League-Outfielder-With-The-Glove-On-His-Head in the crease, and the Sharks have the worst SV% at even-strength in the league. Which makes their 95 points and glittering metrics something of a wow, and also exemplifies how good this team really is. If they were getting league average goaltending, they’d probably be able to see where the Lightning are. Most nights, the Sharks demolish teams, and then watch Jones or Dell either make it much harder than it should be or ruin the work altogether. Even in this six-game punt, the Sharks have carried a 56+% share in every game and the same in scoring chances save one.

So yeah, the Sharks bet that Martin Jones would figure it out as the spring invaded seems a shaky one right now (and Jones has the playoff pedigree where you could see the logic). And the Sharks have more riding on these playoffs than just about anyone. Karlsson’s a free agent. Thornton’s a free agent and might retire. Pavelski is a free agent. There’s a heavy now-or-never feel to this.

As for the Hawks…who knows? The season is officially toast now. When you’re tired with the Oilers with six to go, you’re toast. Them’s the rules. So what do you watch for now? I don’t know. There’s nothing that Dylan Strome or Brendan Perlini or the like are going to do in the last six games that’s going to make you feel any differently about them come next year. You already know what the defense is. Maybe Crawford will get a day off now, or the chance to close out the season strongly.

So I guess the thing to watch is the emotional response. Do the Hawks chuck it and mail in the last six games? Do they still try and play well and be professional about it? It might give you some indication about what the players as a whole think of Coach Cool Youth Pastor. If this team isn’t going all out, then the results for these last games could be ugly/hilarious/high art. And also make for a very curious tone heading into camp next year. Once you chuck it on a coach, it’s nearly impossible to get it back. Recall that the Hawks showed some spikiness at the very end of last year for Q.

There’s no doubt the Sharks would be looking at this as their get-well night. They’ve pulverized the Hawks twice already, and they never looked like they had to get out of second gear to do so. And they probably want to get right, because their next two are Calgary and Vegas, and they at least need to throw down a marker for themselves in those. Otherwise, if they somehow puke this one tonight, they could be looking at eight or nine games biffed in a row, and that’s not how you want to enter the last week and playoffs.

I’m still high on the Sharks, but it’s more out of hope than expectation now. If Pavelski and/or Karlsson are iffy, and the goalies are the goalies, it’s quite a challenge. You would expect the antenna will be up for San Jose tonight. That’s probably very bad news for a questionably interested Hawks team.

 

 

 

Game #77 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

This might be the most pivotal season in San Jose Sharks history for a few reasons. One is it might be Joe Thornton‘s last, and he will go down as the organization’s greatest player (sorry, Patrick Marleau, but you’re too weird). If they’re going to get Joe a Cup, it probably has to be now. It might also be their only season with Erik Karlsson, who has yet to re-sign and may be waiting to see how things play out for the Sharks in the playoffs, his own health, and what happens to the roster after. And another thing to add to the pile is that Joe Pavelski is going to be unrestricted, and gauging just how to handle the re-signing (or not) of their 34-year-old captain is going to be quite the ninja course for Doug Wilson.

Pavelski has a shot at setting a career-high in goals this year, which is 41 (he has 37). It’s the most he’s put up in four seasons, and that total alone might belie some fear about his age. Pavelski could certainly spend a few more years being something of a spot-up shooter and still provide 25 goals for someone.

But look a little deeper, and things get dicier. Pavelski is shooting 20.8% this season, a feat he’s highly unlikely to repeat. It’s some 60% over his career-mark. Digging further, Pavelski is averaging less shots per game at all strengths than he has since his rookie year. His 12 attempts per game at even-strength are by far the lowest of his career. On the other side of the coin, his expected individual goals per 60 (ixGF/60) is the highest it’s been since 2012. Which means he’s attempting less and getting less shots on goal, but he’s getting almost all of his attempts on prime chances or from prime areas. His team-rate marks are still positive, but are some of the lowest relative marks to the rest of the Sharks of his career.

And again, Pavelski is 34. When next season rolls around he’ll be 35. In recent history, plenty of players 35 and older have been able to put up 30 goals or more. Jarome Iginla did it twice, and that’s not a bad comparison for Pavelski. Hossa did it once. However, only one center in recent vintage did it at that age, which was Pavel Datsyuk. Pavelski has spent most recent seasons on a wing, but has played a fair share of center this year to combat Joe Thornton‘s absence and limited usage. Going forward, he’s almost assuredly a wing only.

What happens to Pavelski might hinge on what the Sharks do in the postseason. If they flame out in the first round, which is looking like a distinct possibility given theirs and Vegas’s current form, the Sharks may decide it’s time to blow it all up and let Pavelski, Thornton, and Karlsson head to the door and try again down the road with Hertl, Meier, Kane and the like. We know they haven’t been hesitant to strip a captain before. Might even worth be perusing to see if they can turn Marc-Edouard Vlasic in for a newer model, as he’s 31 and anyone in the Seabrook mold entering their 30s is going to frighten the shit out of their team.

Or the Sharks could turn it around, win a couple rounds, maybe even make it back to the Final where they can get torture-racked by Tampa. That might convince them that even without Thornton they can make another go next year, pay Karlsson and Pavelski and keep the band mostly together with a tweak here and there.

Cap space isn’t too much of a problem, as the Sharks have $25 million in space with Donskoi and Meier the only must-haves, though Meier is going to get a hell of a raise. $10M between the two of them isn’t outlandish, which means you’re basically deciding between Karlsson or Pavelski. Which isn’t much of a choice at all given position and age. That is of course unless Pavelski wants to take a team-friendly deal. Which he might.

Pavelski being captain, and with Thornton on his way meaning he’s the face of the goddamn place, probably means the Sharks can’t let him walk. Especially considering what happened with the last one in Patrick Marleau. Needless to say, the Sharks have more riding on this spring than anyone.

 

Game #77 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

at

Game Time: 8:00PM CST
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720
Elon Musk Is A Sociopath: Fear The Fin

To the remaining 8 people who still held onto any kind of reasonable playoff aspirations for the Hawks, yesterday’s display should have disabused anyone of that notion with a defensive performance against one of the worst offenses in the league that one would have go lunge into oncoming traffic to call “embarrassing”. They’ll get to follow that up tonight in Northern California against one of the prohibitive favorites to come out of the West in the Sharks. Terrific.

Everything Else

You know those people that you only see at punk shows? Like you never run into them at the store or on the street? You don’t know where they come from? That’s @ItWasThreeZero. He’s our Sharks guy. 

Did the Sharks err by not getting a goalie at the deadline? Martin Jones‘s playoff record is stout but this regular season has been awfully bad…
There’s no question that goaltending has been the Sharks’ Achilles heel this season. Frankly it defies logic that the Sharks have the fourth-best record in the league while ranking dead last in both overall and 5v5 SV%. In fairness to Martin Jones (and Aaron Dell), the team adopted a high-risk, high-reward style of play this season that would deflate any goalie’s numbers. System changes alone don’t explain or justify both goalies sporting sub-.900 save percentages in March though. I think the hope, both organizationally and among the fanbase, is that Jones’ playoff numbers will more closely resemble his career average of .912. That’s probably why we didn’t see them make a move at the deadline despite rumors of interest in Ryan Miller. It’s easy to envision how this team, with its elite offense, possession numbers and special teams, could make a Cup run if the goaltending can be anything close to average. But it’s hard to have any confidence in Jones pulling that off at this point.
Did you like the pickups of Nyquist?
Despite having the league’s third-best offense, the Sharks don’t have a Nikita Kucherov or Johnny Gaudreau or even a Mark Scheifele or Filip Forsberg-calibre player up front. In order to have a chance at beating the teams that do have elite forward talent they need to continue to score by committee (led, of course, by huge contributions from Burns and Karlsson on the back end). The addition of Nyquist allows the Sharks to roll out a top nine that features six players on pace for 60 or more points this season plus two others scoring at a 50-point pace. Throw in double digit goal scorers Marcus Sorensen and Melker Karlsson on the fourth line and you have arguably the best forward depth in the league that the addition of Nyquist makes even deeper.
Brent Burns is on track to blow past the 76 points that got him a Norris two years ago. Should he be in contention to get another one?
To the extent that the Norris Trophy just goes to whichever defenseman puts up the most points these days, sure. If we’re talking about whether Burns has been the best overall defenseman in the NHL this year, it’s hard to make that argument. He starts over 70% of his 5v5 shifts in the offensive zone, usually against opposing second and third lines. That’s not a knock on Burns at all – the luxury of having both Karlsson and Burns on the same blueline has allowed Peter DeBoer to deploy him in the kind of specialized offensive role he’s always been best suited for and the results speak for themselves. Burns has unquestionably been a huge part of the Sharks’ success this season but he hasn’t quite had the same all-around impact as defensemen like Mark Giordano or Morgan Rielly who aren’t far behind Burns in terms of production either.
It looks like the Sharks path is going to have to go through Vegas and Calgary to even get to Winnipeg or Nashville. Is that just too daunting for a pretty old team?
It’s a brutal road and underscores the importance of winning the Pacific Division to avoid that 2 vs. 3 matchup, a feat that may be out of the Sharks’ grasp at this point depending on the health of Erik Karlsson. This is, at least on paper, the best roster in franchise history though. And while the Sharks’ average age might be a little high, key players like Karlsson, Hertl, Kane, Couture and Meier are at least theoretically still in their respective primes and it’s not like age has slowed Burns or Pavelski down significantly either. They should be good enough to beat Vegas and Calgary if they can get anything resembling average goaltending. If last year’s Capitals can win the Cup after running the gauntlet of Columbus, Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay there’s no reason this Sharks roster can’t pull off a similar achievement.

 

Game #66 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

It only feels like we’ve been slogging through previews of teams that are, at best, not all that impressive, or just straight up bad. That’s what happens when you are stuck in the Pacific Division with nowhere to go and no escape route. But now we get to the good stuff.

Although it’s slightly painful, because the Sharks did, and have done the past couple years, what the Hawks couldn’t or wouldn’t do. They know there’s not much tread left on the tires of Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture. Even Brent Burns is past 30. So is Marc-Edouard Vlasic. So when the timeline is limited, you say fuck it it’s free cake and you go get a generational player when he’s out there to be had. They cleared the decks for John Tavares. Didn’t work. The decks were still clear for Erik Karlsson. That did. And now they’re favorites in the West because they can get out of their division in about 10 games and then pick the carcass of whoever survives the Jets-Predators (maybe Blues?) tango of death in the Central.

It’s a fuck of a lot better than hoping your goalie who hasn’t played in a year can somehow find Vezina form in about seven minutes to shore up all the cracks in your team that you caused to begin with. Or watching Luke Fucking Johnson.

Let’s to it.

2017-2018: 45-27-10 100 points  252 GF 229 GA  50.8 CF% 51.9 xGF%  7.5 SH% .916 SV%

Goalies: You can’t really be more consistent than Martin Jones has been with the Sharks the past three seasons. He’s not been great, as he’s stayed between .912-.918 in save-percentage, but he’s never been terrible. He’s also brought it in the playoffs something serious, as he has averaged a .926 in them. He will turn 29 this season, so barring any type of injury there’s no reason to expect any kind of drop-off. And considering how much the Sharks might score, he probably doesn’t even need to be that good. If he played in Canada, you’d probably hear a fuckton more about him. You will this year.

Backing him up is Aaron Dell, and once you wade through the obnoxious amount of Silicon Valley jokes with him, he’s been about as sturdy a backup as you can find in the league. Because of him the Sharks don’t have to push Jones any more than 55-60 games and he’s fresh for their playoff runs. They could probably even get out of a couple weeks if Jones were to get hurt with Dell. This is something more GMs really should pay attention to.

Defense: Clearly this is where the fun begins. For 50 minutes a night at least, the Sharks can throw out either Brent Burns or Erik Karlsson, and basically know they’re going to get their foot in the ass of anyone up to the throat. No team is going to be able to boast anything close to this, and if you’re any kind of hockey fan you have to be at least a little excited to see what it looks like.

The only question is what Pete DeBoer lines this up as. Before, Vlasic and Justin Braun basically did the mine-sweeping for Burns, who then gooified lesser competition to his historic shot-rates. Obviously, Karlsson will take Braun’s right-sided role with Vlasic, and they’ll do more than just mine-sweep. Braun, unless he flips to the left-side and there hasn’t been much talk of that, slides down to the third-pairing with Brendon Dillon. But he’ll be used late in close games I would imagine with Vlasic to shore up the defensive zone. Basically, when you have Braun on your third-pairing but can slot up when needed, you have the best defense in the league.

DeBoer isn’t the most aggressive of coaches, but he’s also far from an idiot. It would be senseless to have these two horses on your team and not let them run. Considering what’s in front of them, this could be SHOWTIME! if they so choose.

Forwards: It’s the same story as always up top for the Sharks. It’s a bit top-heavy, and Pavelski is forced to play wing because they don’t have quite enough wings to make a top-six. Thornton-Couture-Pavelksi down the middle would probably be the best center-depth in the West, but you can’t turn down the 30-35 Pavelski will get on Thornton’s wing. That’s if Thornton is healthy, and after missing a big chunk of last year, this has to be a huge concern for a player who’s 39. Wouldn’t be shocked if Joe gets the back ends of back-to-backs off just because.

Hertl and Meier are going to flank Couture again, which is not a bad place to be. The third and fourth lines aren’t going to blow your eyelids off or anything, but Joonas Donskoi and Kevin LeBlanc have flashed being very useful in the past. They lost 40 points in Chris Tierney, but that’s the kind of thing you do to get the 80 you’ll get out of Karlsson, minimum. Don’t worry, the Sharks will call up someone with a really dumb name to fill in on the fourth line and it’ll be fine.

Outlook: Considering this power play was self-aware before, with Karlsson who knows where it goes. Yeah, maybe they’re a touch heavy at forward. They can throw Karlsson out behind the third and fourth lines a lot of shifts and make that not matter. Burns can continue to light it up behind the top two lines and against bums or both. The division sucks. This is the ultimate go-for-it. There aren’t any excuses left for the Sharks. Anything short of a Cup is a disappointment, and it very well might be their only chance.

Previous Team Previews

Detroit Red Wings

Buffalo Sabres

Boston Bruins

Florida Panthers

Montreal Canadiens

Ottawa Senators

Tampa Bay Lightning

Toronto Maple Leafs

Carolina Hurricanes

Columbus Blue Jackets

New Jersey Devils

New York Islanders

New York Rangers

Philadelphia Flyers

Pittsburgh Penguins

Washington Capitals

Anaheim Ducks

Arizona Coyotes

Calgary Flames

Edmonton Oilers

L.A. Kings

Everything Else

 vs. 

RECORDS: Sharks 43-23-9   Hawks 31-36-9

PUCK DROP: 7:30

TV: NBCSN Chicago

THEY CAN’T AFFORD IT EITHER: Fear The Fin

A friend of the program, one Kevin Kujawa–guitarist and singer for great local band of the past Mannequin Men– used to refer to the first game after the trade deadline as “New Toy Day.” Well, the Hawks didn’t get that this year as it was clearance sale time, but Hawks fans will get some of that this week as the Hawks show off what they hope will be a couple pieces that matter in the future.

The first one arrives tonight in Victor Ejdsell, probably referred to from here on out as “Eggshell.” He’s a big center, whom they’re probably already envisioning taking Anismov’s place so they can punt him to the nearest taker this summer that’s also on his list (YOU’RE ON OUR LIST. HE NAMED NAMES!). Ejdsell comes with plus-hands, so we’re told, though the Hawks are probably already telling him to get his ass to the front of the net which will kneecap his playmaking abilities we’re told he has a bit. Whatever, there will be plenty of time to worry about that next year. The big concern is whether or not he can skate enough to make any of it matter, or if he’s just a monolith the Hawks hope they can park at the other crease but which hurts you in every other aspect. He’d better be the former, otherwise the trade of a definitely useful Ryan Hartman is just simply running in place (because he was a first-round pick at #30, which seemingly everyone evaluating that trade forgot). The Hawks were after Ejdsell when he chose the Predators, and generally the European players they’ve been hot on tend to work out at least ok (Jan Rutta excluded and they’re going to give that one another go anyway).

The other one is Dylan Sikura, who will arrive Thursday. We’ll talk more about him then but he’ll be an interesting watch because he’s got a big chance to more than just ballast on the team next year, even if he’s in desperate need of a sandwich. Just a shame he couldn’t bring Adam Gaudette with him.

As for the rest of the story with the Hawks, there isn’t one really. Toews is still out, with some mystery injury that definitely isn’t either “tired of this shit” or “has been playing with something for months and can’t be bothered anymore but don’t think it’s a head injury” or “we’re actually trying to tank.” After Anton Forsberg looked decent against the Isles he’ll get the start again, but we know what it’s looked like when he’s tried to put two starts together. So JF Berube should probably be properly warmed and stretched, as Q pulls a goalie switch for the 46th time this season.

This game matters a little to the Sharks, though not that much. They’ve pretty much held off either the Kings or Ducks for the second spot in the Pacific, especially with the seven-game winning streak they’re currently on (you can do that?). They’re four up on the Ducks and have a game in hand, and six up on the Kings with a game in hand. So they’ll start the playoffs at home against either, and really they should beat either. But these are the Sharks, and without a healthy Thornton anything is possible for them. Pavelski has been great at center, and that should be enough to see off either of their California brethren. But again, the Sharks have found a way in the past to drive their car into a swimming pool.

After a hiccup around the turn of the year, Martin Jones has been excellent the past two months and the Sharks would enter either series with the better goalie, which is a leg up (sorry Jonathan Quick but we know what you are). While it doesn’t jump out at you, the Sharks are deeper than most teams even without Thornton. Pavelski and Evander “I’m The Other Fuckstick Named…” Kane have been quite the force on the top line, Couture and Hertl have dovetailed on the second line, and Tierney andLeBanc have been a surprise on the third. A Thornton return along with Joonas Donskoi (who’s only day-to-day) only adds to that. They’ll be deeper up front than either the Ducks or Kings, that’s for sure.

You know the story on the blue line. Marc-Eduoard “This Is What Seabrook Was Supposed To Be” Vlasic and Justin Braun are the human shield for Brent Burns on the second pairing, and he simply runs wild. Again, a unique weapon to have. And Brenden Dillon and Dylan “Fine And” DeMelo on the third pairing aren’t really a disaster. Again, sneaky depth.

Even with all that, it’s hard to know if the Sharks are that good. Their special teams for sure are, and that’s gotten them a long way. But this is one of the more boring Sharks teams we can remember, who play in a terrible division and when you watch them nothing really jumps out. Then again, that’s the exact kind of team that comes alive in the playoffs when things get choppier. Secondly, in that division there’s no one who’s going to turn up the pace on them that they can’t handle, which is what Edmonton did last year and the Penguins the year before. You could see if they ran into a misplaced Colorado team in the second round where that could be a problem, but that’s one line and specifically one guy. Vegas, if it somehow shambles its way out of the first round even without Fleury, will see it all pop against the vastly more experienced Sharks. Really, this team merely has to stand still to get to a conference final, where it probably will be laced by Nashville or Winnipeg, assuming there’s anything left of either of those teams after they’re done bludgeoning each other in the second round.

Let’s have fun with our new toys these last two weeks. It’s all we got.

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@ItWasThreeZero always answers our questions about the Sharks. We’d really like to think he has something better to do, but we and he know that he doesn’t. 

Ignoring the fact that he’s a raging dickbag, what’s it been like on the ice having Evander Kane?

Kane’s off-ice history of sexual assault makes him an impossible player to cheer for but the on-ice results speak for themselves. With 7 goals and 12 points in 12 games, Kane has been the jolt of offense the Sharks expected when they traded for him and then some. They’d been looking for a Patrick Marleau replacement since the longest-tenured Shark signed in Toronto and at least on the ice they have one in Kane, another big fast winger who can score, kill penalties and fit in on just about any line.

Tomas Hertl has 10 points in his last 11. We’ve sort of been waiting for him to replicate what he looked like as a rookie. Is this it or just another hot streak?

Hertl’s talent level is always on display but the trouble with him over the past few seasons has been finding linemates he can click with. During the Sharks’ 2016 run to the Cup Final, those were Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski but a need to spread out the offense more in Marleau’s absence has meant that’s a line Peter DeBoer hasn’t had the luxury of putting together very often this year. Over the past dozen games, Hertl has slotted in with Logan Couture and Mikkel Boedker on a very potent second line and it looks like he’s found linemates he’s comfortable playing with again.

Is Thornton going to play in the playoffs? What does it mean for his future as a Shark?

No one really seems to have any idea including Thornton himself. But given the fact he played in the majority of last year’s first round loss to Edmonton while both his knees were suspended in Jell-O, it’s going to take a lot to keep Thornton out of the lineup in late April regardless of whether that’s the most medically prudent move at this stage of the 38-year-old’s career. Even if he doesn’t return this season, there’s no indication Thornton intends to retire over the summer so I’m sure he’ll be brought back on a one-year deal with a more modest salary than this year’s $8 million.

How far can the Sharks go in the playoffs? The Pacific is something of a mess…

Their underlying numbers are still fairly middling but the Sharks have been generating a lot more offense in the 2018 calendar year even without Joe Thornton and Joonas Donskoi for much of that time, and despite a once 2nd-ranked power play falling apart. If Thornton and Donskoi can be healthy in time for the playoffs, there’s no reason the Sharks can’t advance to the conference final. They match up against their own division as well as any team in the league. Of course they’re still the Sharks so a first round choke job against the Kings isn’t out of the question either.

 

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Brent Burns is crazy. You knew this. You’ve seen the clothes and the beard, and it doesn’t really appear to be an act. Sure, it’s tailored for the cameras and Iphones, but one gets the impression he’d be this way anyway if no one was watching. Hockey has just given him a bigger platform.

Brent Burns is also crazy on the ice. One of the most remarkable statistics of this year is that Brent Burns, a defenseman mind you, leads the league in attempts per 60 at even strength. He’s tied with Vladimir Tarasenko. He averages 22.3 attempts per 60 minutes. You have to go down to 11th to find the next d-man, which is Yohann Auvitu. To find the next d-man who actually matters, you have to go all the way down to 37th for Johnny Boychuk. And he’s at 16.3 attempts per 60. Again, this is at even-strength. Again, this is a defenseman.

And this is not unusual for Burns. Burns led the league last year in attempts per 60. And again, you’d need a telescope to find the next d-man on the list. Burns was fifth the year before that. And this season he’s averaging more attempts than he ever has.

While it obviously doesn’t quite connect that if you lead in attempts you will score a lot, Burns’s uniqueness is what marks him out. He’s headed for another 60+ point season from the back, so you can hardly argue with the results. And it’s not as if Burns is just firing to fire. Burns leads all d-men in shots-on-goal, and by some distance. He has 247, over four per game. The next d-man on the list is Roman Josi at 202. It was the case last year, when Burns led all d-men in shots by nearly 100! Burns already has the first and fourth most shots by a blue-liner in a season, and if he doesn’t get hurt and continues at this pace this season will probably rank in the top three or four as well.

While it looks like Burns’s production has dropped off, and it has, it can be mostly blamed on a 4% shooting-percentage overall and 2.3% at even-strength. His career shooting-percentage would see him with 17 goals instead of the 10 he has now, and the chances he’s getting are of the same quality.

It’s such a unique weapon. Given how offense is produced these days, and how teams defend, if you have a d-man who can open himself up for shots this much you create all that furor in front of the net that result in most of the goals scored now. It’s not much of a shocked that all of one of Joe Pavelski’s goals have come with Brent Burns on the ice, given his usual proximity to the net.

Sadly, Burns may soon be toiling in obscurity if he isn’t already. We know he’s paid $8 million until the universe explodes. And what happens when Burns can’t get these shots off at this rate anymore? Burns is 32, and the fact that he can do this even now is really astonishing. You’d have to think in the next two or three years, the Sharks would have to find a way to get him into a bum-slaying role where he could still shoot this much. We know the end can come quick for mobile d-men.

The Sharks have all of Thornton, Couture, and Pavelski with expiring contracts this year or next. Burns is going to be around for the next iteration of the Sharks when they’re competitive. What he’ll be then is anyone’s guess. For now, he’s truly a phenomena.

 

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