Logan Couture

PHILADELPHIA, PA - FEBRUARY 11:  Patrick Marleau #12 of the San Jose Sharks is congratulated by teammate Joe Thornton #19 after he scored in the third period against the Philadelphia Flyers on February 11, 2017 at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.The Philadelphia Flyers defeated the San Jose Sharks 2-1 in overtime.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Sharks have reason to wait on Thornton, Marleau extensions

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Two of San Jose’s most important and longest-tenured players, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, are set to become unrestricted free agents this summer.

Given the Sharks are in the midst of their Stanley Cup window — with Thornton and Marleau playing significant roles — it seems odd neither has put pen to paper on an extension yet.

But the Mercury News has a theory on why:

Here’s where it gets interesting. Next season, the NHL is adding a new team, the Vegas Golden Knights. That franchise will participate in an expansion draft. It will happen in June, a few days before the annual entry draft.  Each existing NHL team can protect either seven or eight forwards from being selected by the Golden Knights. However, pending unrestricted free agents will not be eligible for the expansion draft.

In other words, it behooves Wilson and the Sharks not to sign Marleau and Thornton until after the expansion draft. That way, the two players would not count toward the seven or eight forwards on the Sharks’ protected list (the exact number depends on choices the Sharks make at other positions.)

San Jose’s in a fairly unique position for the expansion draft. It is one of four teams not required to protect anybody — Calgary, St. Louis and Washington are the others — and, with the addition of the aforementioned Thornton-Marleau scenario, GM Doug Wilson would have serious flexibility when it comes to exposing players.

Not that he’s willing to divulge any information.

“My position is that I have no comment on that,” Wilson told the Mercury News. “People can anticipate and speculate about what our approach might be.”

ESPN touched on this potential scenario last month, noting that Wilson has some big decisions to make regardless if he chooses the seven forwards-three-defensemen-one goalie protected list, or the eight-skaters-and-a-goalie setup:

If you go 7-3-1, it means you protect just three defensemen — Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and probably Justin Braun — which then leaves Paul Martin, Brenden Dillon, Mirco Mueller and David Schlemko among those exposed.

What if the Sharks decide to go the 8-1 protection format route in order to protect four defensemen? That means only four forwards could be protected: Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, Tomas Hertl and then take your pick from either Mikkel Boedker, Joel Ward, Melker Karlsson or Chris Tierney. (Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc are exempt.)

The risk in letting Thornton and Marleau get to free agency, of course, is that someone makes an offer neither can refuse. But it could be a risk worth taking. It’s fair to assume any potential offer would have to be massive in scope, given Thorton’s and Marleau’s ties to the Bay Area — the latter has spent his entire 20-year career with the Sharks, while the former has been there for over a decade.

Right now, there’s not much information about what type of extensions San Jose is offering. ESPN reported Thornton is eyeing another three-year deal — his last was a three-year, $20.25 million contract — and things are almost entirely silent on the Marleau front.

WATCH LIVE: Florida Panthers at San Jose Sharks

SAN JOSE, CA - NOVEMBER 05:  Shawn Thornton #22 of the Florida Panthers fights with Micheal Haley #38 of the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center on November 5, 2015 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Both the San Jose Sharks and Florida Panthers have some work to do, even if the Sharks top their division while the Panthers are on the outside of the East playoffs.

Need proof? Merely look at their records in the last 10 games:

Sharks: 5-2-3
Panthers: 5-3-2

Not awful by any means, but there are certainly signs for improvement.

For your viewing pleasure, consider that both teams boast young talent (Logan Couture, Jonathan Huberdeau) to go with some of the league’s most beloved elder statesmen in Jaromir Jagr and Joe Thornton.

You can watch on NBCSN, online and via the NBC Sports App. Click here for the livestream.

NHL on NBCSN Doubleheader: Blues vs. Red Wings; Panthers vs. Sharks

ST. LOUIS, MO - JANUARY 19: Vladimir Tarasenko #91 of the St. Louis Blues is tripped while moving the puck up the ice against Brendan Smith #2 and Niklas Kronwall #55 both of the Detroit Red wings at the Scottrade Center on January 19, 2013 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
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The NBC Sports Group continues its coverage of the 2016-17 NHL season with a doubleheader on Wednesday night. In the early game, The St. Louis Blues visit the Detroit Red Wings at 8:00 p.m. ET. To watch the game online, click here.

Earlier this month, the St. Louis Blues fired Ken Hitchcock and they replaced him Mike Yeo. Before the firing, the Blues were a mess. They couldn’t string together wins, neither of their goalies were able to stop the puck and they were plummeting in the standings.

But since Yeo took over, he’s been able to get the team back on the right track. The Blues have won four games in a row and they’re 5-1-0 under their new head coach.

What’s been the biggest difference? Well, the easy answer is to say that they’re finally starting to get some solid goaltending from Jake Allen, but it goes beyond that. They’ve been able to help Allen out by limiting their opponents’ time and space in the defensive zone and they’ve also blocked a ton of shots.

“A lot of the stuff that’s changed is us in front of him,” Alex Pietrangelo said, per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “We’re taking care of stuff in front of the net more now than (we have) ever, not allowing second opportunities like we were before. It seems like they’re making the first save like they have all year and then we’re taking care of the rest.”

St. Louis will come into tonight’s game well-rested, as they haven’t played since their big win in Montreal on Saturday night. They’ll play four games over the next six days before heading on their bye week from Feb. 21-25.

The Red Wings’ 25-year playoff streak is in serious jeopardy of being snapped if they don’t turn things around quickly. Detroit enters tonight’s action in last place in the Eastern Conference. They’re nine points behind Toronto for the final Wild Card spot, but they need to leap over eight teams to get there.

With so few sellers emerging at this point in time, it might be in Detroit’s best interest to sell off assets and recuperate prospects and draft picks.

“Certainly, we’re in a way more difficult position today than we were a week ago,” GM Ken Holland said, per MLive.com. “There’s about a third of the season to go. Our players and coach, everybody is going to get ready and try to win a game on Wednesday against St. Louis. I’m looking at the standings, but at the same time I’m talking to people and seeing what their needs are.”

As mentioned above, the Blues are coming into this game hot, but the good news for Detroit is that Petr Mrazek has dominated St. Louis during his NHL career.

As MLive.com points out, Mrazek has four wins in five games against the Blues and he has a 1.25 goals-against-average and a .951 save percentage during that span.

In the late game, the Panthers will take on the Sharks in San Jose. You can watch that game online by clicking here.

After winning the Atlantic Division last season, the Panthers have been a bit of a disappointment in 2016-17. They’re currently on the outside looking in when it comes to the Eastern Conference playoff picture, but the return of Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleskander Barkov has given them a boost.

The Panthers are 2-1 since Huberdeau made his way back from an Achilles injury and he’s recorded an impressive five points during that time.

No matter how well they’re playing right now, going out West is never an easy task for any team in the East.

“This is a tough arena to come into,” Nick Bjugstad said, per the Miami Herald. “We have to be ready for the environment, they come hard the first 10 minutes and their fans are really into it. We have to be ready like we were in Nashville.”

The Sharks have picked up points in eight of their last 10 contests. That’s allowed them to get a little breathing room at the top of the Pacific Division. They’re three points ahead of Anaheim with a game in hand and five points ahead of Edmonton.

Even though there’s a bit of distance between them and their division rivals, the Sharks are still coming back from a tough road trip that saw them go 1-1-2 in Buffalo, Boston, Philadelphia and New Jersey.

They were able to salvage that trip with a 4-1 victory over New Jersey on Sunday thanks to Brent Burns‘ two goals.

“His shot is unbelievable,” Logan Couture told CSN Bay Area. “The ability he has to get his shot through, there’s nobody in the league that does it better.”

Burns enters tonight’s game with 24 goals and 59 points in 57 games.

Can you say “Hart Trophy”?

Hertl’s late goal garners ‘big celly’ as Sharks beat Blackhawks

San Jose Sharks' Tomas Hertl, top left, scores past Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford (50) during the third period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017, in San Jose, Calif. San Jose won 3-1. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)p
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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) Tomas Hertl‘s long wait between goals ended and Patrick Marleau closed in on a major milestone for the San Jose Sharks.

Hertl’s first goal in more than three months broke a tie with 2:03 remaining in regulation after Marleau scored his 499th career goal, helping the Sharks win for the seventh time in eight games, 3-1 over the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday night.

After missing 32 games with a knee injury, Hertl got his first goal since Oct. 27 in his second game back in the lineup when he knocked in the rebound of Brent Burns‘ shot to give San Jose the win in the first game back from the All-Star break.

“I should have buried a couple goals before,” Hertl said. “But I’m happy I scored because it was a long time, like three months. It was a big celly for me.”

Joe Pavelski added an empty-netter to cap a night that nearly included a milestone for Marleau. He had an apparent goal wiped off by an offside call on replay before scoring No. 499 in the second period. That gave Marleau six goals in the past four games as he surges toward becoming the 45th player to reach 500.

“It always feels good when you score and win, so it’s good,” Marleau said. “Hopefully I won’t have too long.”

Read more: A ‘special player’ — Marleau’s latest goal gives Sharks sixth straight win

Martin Jones made 24 saves as the Sharks matched last season’s home win total of 18 games.

Dennis Rasmussen scored and Corey Crawford made 26 saves for the Blackhawks, who have lost three straight games. Chicago led going into the third period in losses to Tampa Bay and Winnipeg before the break before giving up the late tiebreaking goal to the Sharks.

“We had two minutes to go there, we just wanted to make sure we could get it to overtime and look for the extra point,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “Three games in a row we’ve given up some points. It’s a tough pill to swallow.”

After a slow start to the game with few chances for the first 30 minutes, the action picked up in the last half of the second period. It started when Marleau appeared to score when he took the rebound of Logan Couture‘s missed shot off the back boards and tucked it in for a goal. But the Blackhawks challenged the play, believing Mikkel Boedker was offside on the entry, and replay wiped the goal off the board.

Just a few minutes later with Artem Anisimov in the box for holding, Marleau did get No. 499 when he beat Crawford with a shot from the circle for his 18th goal of the season.

“Patty’s been excellent,” coach Peter DeBoer said. “Best hockey I’ve seen him play since I’ve been here. He’s just got to keep going.”

The Sharks had a chance to add on to the lead, but Crawford stopped Timo Meier on a breakaway. Chicago then got the equalizer when Rasmussen beat Jones with a shot off the inside of the post from the top of the circle on a rush.

But that was all the Blackhawks would get.

“I thought it was better than the last two or three games,” defenseman Duncan Keith said. “We did a lot of good things. It’s just a tough way to lose in the last couple of minutes.”

 

It’s Allen versus Pavelec in a very interesting goaltending matchup

NEWARK, NJ - NOVEMBER 10:  Jake Allen #34 of the St. Louis Blues stops a shot in the third period against the New Jersey Devils on November 10, 2015 at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.The St. Louis Blues defeated the New Jersey Devils 2-0.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Tonight in St. Louis, Jake Allen will make his first start for the Blues in almost two weeks. He’s only seen three shots in between; those came Thursday after Carter Hutton was pulled in a 5-1 loss to Minnesota.

Allen, whose save percentage has fallen all the way to .897 on the season, hasn’t won a game since the Winter Classic on Jan. 2. He was even left at home for a road trip in order to get reset mentally, in the wake of three starts that all ended with him on the bench.

“I’m ready to go,” Allen said yesterday, per the Post-Dispatch. “I’m looking forward to it. It’s felt like a decade, to be honest. I think the break did well for a lot of us and we have a really condensed schedule coming up and a lot of big hockey to play.”

The Blues’ opponent tonight has had its own goaltending issues. Ondrej Pavelec will start for the Winnipeg Jets, even though Connor Hellebuyck helped send the team into the All-Star break on a winning note with a 38-save performance Thursday in Chicago.

Pavelec is 2-2-0 with an .894 save percentage since being recalled from the AHL. He allowed four goals on just 26 shots in Tuesday’s 4-3 loss to the Sharks at MTS Centre.

“(Pavelec) has really good numbers against St. Louis,” Maurice told reporters, per the Winnipeg Sun. “The San Jose game, I didn’t think he had much of a chance on the two backdoor (goals, from Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau) and the penalty shot (from Melker Karlsson). I like where his game is at.”

The Jets are starting a three-game road trip tonight. They also play Thursday in Dallas and Saturday in Colorado. Three points back of the second wild-card spot, and holding no games in hand, Winnipeg really needs to start stringing some wins together. A win over the Blues, currently in the first wild-card spot, would be a great start to the stretch drive.