San Jose Sharks v Vancouver Canucks - Game Five

2011-2012 season preview: San Jose Sharks

2010-2011 record: 48-25-9, 105 points; 1st in Pacific, 2nd in West

Playoffs: Defeated Los Angeles 4-2 in Western quarterfinals, defeated Detroit 4-3 in Western semifinals, lost to Vancouver 4-1 in Western finals

Even though the Sharks are the only team to make the conference finals over the last two seasons, some people continue to hold onto the notion that they choke in the playoffs. Not anymore. The past two seasons, the Sharks have proven throughout the regular season and the beginning of the playoffs that they’re one of the elite teams in the league. Two years ago they fell to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks and last year they lost to the stacked Vancouver Canucks. Now that they’ve proven they’re among the league’s elite, will they be able to take the next step?

Offense

The Sharks have high-end scoring forwards that most teams would kill to have in their lineup. Joe Thornton is still one of the premier playmakers in the league, Patrick Marleau can sleepwalk through a season and score 30-plus points and newcomer Martin Havlat should be able to reap the benefits of playing next to some highly-skilled forwards. Down the middle, the Sharks have the likes of Calder Trophy finalist Logan Couture, underrated two-way veteran Michal Handzus, and Andrew Desjardins — not to mention guys like Torre Mitchell and Joe Pavelski who broke into the league as centermen. Wingers like Ryane Clowe and Jamie McGinn could mix in the needed grit to give the Sharks everything they could ever want up front.

Defense

The Sharks made a huge blockbuster trade on draft day to add a little more star power to their blue line. By trading away Devin Setoguchi, highly-touted prospect Charlie Coyle and a first-round pick, San Jose was able to land Minnesota defenseman Brent Burns (then they subsequently signed him to a multi-year contract extension). Burns will join Dan Boyle as the offensive catalysts from the blue line. Douglas Murray has evolved into a top-flight shutdown defenseman and Marc-Edouard Vlasic has proven that he’s a good stay-at-home defenseman as well. All in all, the Sharks have a solid defense that will get more respect with Burns’ arrival.

Goalies

The Sharks were ready to go into the season with Antero Niittymaki as the No. 1 last season until Antti Niemi suddenly became available. Now, there’s no question that this is Niemi’s job. He showed with the Blackhawks that he can steal games in the playoffs and is capable of leading his team to a Stanley Cup. It’s probably the quality that most sold the Sharks organization on the Finnish goaltender in the first place. Niemi will have to be good early on in the season because Niittymaki will be out 2-3 months after hip surgery. Sharks fans shouldn’t worry — Niemi proved in the second half of last season that he thrives under pressure and a heavy workload.

Coaching

All Todd McLellan has done since taking over in San Jose three years ago is win three Pacific crowns, averaged 112 points per season and made back-to-back appearances in the Western Conference finals. He’s managed to combine the high-skilled stars perfectly with the heart-and-soul two-way players. He has guys like Thornton, Couture and Marleau buying into a two-way game as well.

Breakout candidate

Is it really possible for a guy like Havlat to be considered a breakout player? Consider this: after a pair of relatively healthy seasons in Minnesota, he could be playing on a line with Thornton and Marleau. If you wonder what that can do for a guy’s statistics, just ask former linemates like Setoguchi or Jonathan Cheechoo. The last time Havlat played on a lineup with this much talent, he scored 29 goals and 77 points with Chicago. If he can stay healthy, Havlat could a sniper on one of the most dangerous lines in all of hockey.

Best-case scenario

Expectations are high in San Jose. The Sharks added an All-Star defenseman in Burns to their blue line who will be able to create offense on the power play and reduce the workload for Boyle. They added an All-Star sniper in Havlat to the right wing who will bring more speed and a better locker room presence than the departed Dany Heatley. Handzus can still kill penalties with the best of them — there’s no reason that fans in San Jose should shoot any lower than a Stanley Cup.

Reality

The Sharks will be in a dogfight for the Pacific title with much-improved Los Angeles. San Jose has proven over the last few seasons that it has very few weaknesses and only the elite teams can exploit those flaws. As usual, the Sharks will hit the 100 point mark and should be a force to be reckoned with come playoff time. We think they’ll fall just short of the Kings in the standings — but will still earn home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

Report: Habs’ Holloway signing in KHL

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One of the few bright spots from Montreal’s disappointing campaign could be on his way to Russia.

Per Championat, Bud Holloway — the 28-year-old journeyman that made his storybook NHL debut with the Habs last season — has opted to join KHL powerhouse CSKA Moscow.

Holloway joined the Habs last season after four highly productive years in Europe.

In 2011, he emerged as a Swedish League star — Holloway set a record for most points in a SHL postseason (23 in 19 games) and, in his second season, became just the second player in league history to score eclipse the 70-point plateau.

In ’14-15, Holloway signed in Switzerland and continued to be a productive scorer, with 37 points in 42 games for SC Bern.

His scoring exploits translated over to the AHL, as he led St. John’s with 61 points in 70 games.

Montreal called up Holloway for his first-ever big league game in late November, and head coach Michel Therrien was effusive in his praise.

“This is a great story,” Therrien told ECHL.com. “The guy has showed a lot of resilience through his career to come back after playing a few years in Europe, and he did really well for [St. John’s].

“For him to get an opportunity to play his first game in the NHL, those are great stories and he certainly deserves to finally get a shot in the NHL because he’s had success wherever he goes.”

Seidenberg doesn’t want to think about waiving no-trade

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Another offseason, another round of trade talks surrounding Dennis Seidenberg.

Boston’s veteran defenseman — who, last year, said he wanted to stay in Boston, then told reporters being involved in trade rumors was a “slap in the face” — is now facing another round of questions.

Why?

Seidenberg’s full no-trade clause expires in December. After that, it becomes a modified NTC in which he submits a list of eight teams he’s willing to accept a move to.

More, from the Boston Herald:

“No, nothing was mentioned,” Seidenberg said [of being asked to waive]. “I’m planning to come back here. I’ve got two more years here, so we’ll see.”

And if management came to him sooner asking him to waive his no-trade?

“I haven’t thought about that . . . and right now I don’t want to think about it,” he said.

Seidenberg has said in the past that if the team didn’t want him any more, then he’d be amenable to a move.

Boston’s in a bit of a tricky spot with the soon-to-be-35-year-old.

Injuries have really taken their toll since he signed a four-year, $16 million extension in ’13. Specifically, a torn ACL and last year’s back injury, which cost him the first four weeks of the campaign and seemed to throw his entire season out of whack.

Seidenberg certainly isn’t part of Boston’s future on defense, but could have some value across the league as a veteran depth guy.

If you’re thinking “hey, $4M is a pretty hefty cap hit for a depth d-man,” remember that GM Don Sweeney could facilitate a move by retaining some salary. Financially, it wouldn’t be much different that buying Seidenberg out — something the Herald floated as a potential move — and there could be the potential to net an actual asset in return.

Of course, the B’s could stand pat and hope Seidenberg gets healthy, and contributes.

Do remember that, after returning from that serious knee injury, the German rearguard appeared in all 82 games during the ’14-15 campaign, scoring 14 points while averaging over 22 minutes per night.

Jagr confirms he’s not available for Czechs at World Cup

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 14: Jaromir Jagr #68 of Czech Republic looks on in the first period against Latvia during the Men's Ice Hockey Preliminary Round Group C game on day seven of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Bolshoy Ice Dome on February 14, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images)
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PRAGUE (AP) The Czech Republic will have to do without Jaromir Jagr at the World Cup of Hockey after the star winger confirmed he won’t be available to compete in September.

Czech Republic general manager Martin Rucinsky says Jagr announced his decision in a telephone call over the weekend.

Jagr retired from the national team after last year’s world championship, and was not included in the first 16 players for the Czech’s World Cup squad.

But Rucinsky hoped the 44-year-old Jagr would change his view after yet another decent NHL season. Jagr led the Florida Panthers with 66 points (27 goals, 39 assist) in 79 games in the regular season, and added two assists in the playoffs.

Rucinsky told Tuesday’s edition of the Sport daily he respects Jagr’s decision.

The Blues could sure use a goal or two from Tarasenko

SAN JOSE, CA - MAY 19:  Vladimir Tarasenko #91 of the St. Louis Blues and Marc-Edouard Vlasic #44 of the San Jose Sharks fight for control of the puck in game three of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at SAP Center on May 19, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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The “hard lessons” continued last night for Vladimir Tarasenko. For a fifth straight game — i.e. the entire Western Conference Final — the Blues’ sniper went goalless. In his last three games combined, he’s managed just four shots total.

“He’s a guy that’s struggled this series,” conceded coach Ken Hitchcock after Game 5, a 6-3 loss that put St. Louis on the brink of elimination. “He’s struggled offensively. He hasn’t got the looks offensively that he normally gets. But he’s one shift away from breaking it open.”

Tarasenko was a big reason the Blues got through the first two rounds. The 24-year-old had four goals against Chicago, then potted three more versus Dallas. In 14 games, he had 13 points.

Against the Sharks, he doesn’t even have an assist. And if plus-minus still means anything, he’s a minus-four.

Credit to the under-appreciated Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and his defensive partner Justin Braun, for much of that.

“Take away his time and space,” Vlasic said when asked the key to shutting down Tarasenko. “Our forwards have been doing a good job as well supporting us. Good back pressure does not allow them to have one-on-ones with our D.”

Not to downplay the challenges he’s facing, but if Tarasenko doesn’t start contributing offensively, the Blues are going to find it extremely tough to beat San Jose two straight times. During the regular season, he scored 40 of the Blues’ 224 goals. That’s almost 20 percent of them. Yes, some of his teammates need to step up too, but he’s the one with the most goal-scoring talent.

“It’s like any other goal-scorer, when they don’t score, there’s a frustration level that comes in,” said Hitchcock. “It’s my job to make sure and correct the frustration level if I can.”