NHL on NBCSN: Sharks, Islanders close out season series

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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2014-15 campaign when the San Jose Sharks host the New York Islanders at the SAP Center at 10:30 p.m. ET tonight. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

The New York Islanders and San Jose Sharks enter November with a similar goal: avoid many of their pitfalls from October.

San Jose might be feeling a little better about things lately, as the Sharks just ended a three-game road trip with a 2-0-1 mark. That’s not to say that everything’s perfect (they’re still just 6-4-2 and two of those games went to shootouts), yet things look brighter than they did considering their recent four-game skid.

After starting the season with a four-game winning streak, the Islanders are stumbling lately. They’ve lost two games in a row by a combined score of 8-3 and have dropped four of six. They face a tough first half of November, too, as this is the second game of a five-game road trip against Western Conference teams.

Similar strengths and weaknesses

There are some interesting parallels between the two squads. Both boast offenses that can unleash torrents of shots, yet the Sharks and Islanders would likely acknowledge that they’ve been struggling to protect their own nets, as well.

In 10 games, the Islanders have allowed 36 goals while the Sharks ceded 34 in 12 contests. Some of the Isles struggles are on Jaroslav Halak and Chad Johnson, though: the Islanders are out-chancing opponents by more than three shots per game (32.8 vs. 29.6).

Islanders search for answers

One would think that offense wouldn’t the biggest concern for Islanders head coach Jack Capuano, yet it appears that he’s done some line juggling in preparation for tonight’s game.

Brock Nelson will play on the wing with John Tavares and Kyle Okposo, Ryan Strome will center Anders Lee and Matt Martin while Cory Conacher gets knocked down to a grinding line, according to New York Newsday.

“We’ve given it 10 games; now we’re going to see what Brock can do up there,” Capuano said on Friday. “That’s also our first power-play unit, so it makes sense to try it five-on-five.”

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Fans of explosive hockey might be disappointed to learn that the Sharks and Islanders will meet for the last time (barring a Stanley Cup Final series) in 2014-15 tonight. The Isles won the teams’ Oct. 16 meeting 4-3 via a shootout as John Tavares and Kyle Okposo dueled Joe Thornton and Brent Burns. That game came before both squads staggered through the rest of October, so it will be interesting to see if tonight’s action is any different.

There’s a pretty good chance it will be exciting, though.

Note: John Scott won’t be in the lineup tonight, so it sounds like there won’t be any attempted retribution for his hit on Mikhail Grabovski.

Struggling Sharks bump Pavelski down to third line

After three straight regulation losses, it seems like the San Jose Sharks might be facing another crisis of confidence (though not quite at the level of this offseason’s borderline meltdown). Perhaps a notable lineup change might help the Sharks find some stability?

CSNBayArea.com reports that the Sharks will bump Joe Pavelski down to the third line against the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday. Here’s how San Jose’s top nine forwards are expected to look:

Patrick Marleau – Logan Couture – James Sheppard

Matt Nieto – Joe Thornton – Tomas Hertl

Tommy Wingels – Pavelski – Chris Tierney

If one thing stands out about this alteration, it’s that it gives the Sharks better depth. Wingels has been drawing strong reviews as a depth winger even before his two-goal performance against the Los Angeles Kings in the 2014-15 opener, but skating with a center like Pavelski could make him that much more effective.

Sharks head coach Todd McLellan explained that this move is more about improving defense than creating more scoring chances.

“We’re kind of going in waves where we have a line or two that’s responsible and then one that falls off, and it varies,” McLellan said to CSNBayArea.com. “It’s not just the top lines or the third or fourth lines. It varies. We’re trying to find some balance defensively.

“I think offensively we’ve been fine. I’m not too concerned about creating chances or anything like that. It’s the play in our zone, and it comes from a variety of different areas. It’s not just one thing.”

Of course, the biggest defensive improvements would theoretically come from improving the defense, yet the Sharks don’t enjoy the same array of options among their blueline corps.

If nothing else, Saturday’s game against Buffalo could provide a confidence boost. The first real test for such a tweak – assuming this even sticks – would come against the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday.

(H/T to Rotoworld.)

Sharks ‘let one slip away’ in Boston

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The San Jose Sharks looked in good shape, a lead heading into the third period on the road against the Boston Bruins. And then, it all got away from them.

Boston scored three times in the final period and Milan Lucic suddenly went all playmaker on everyone with the hat trick in assists, as the Bruins came back for a 5-3 win. In a back-and-forth contest, the Sharks grabbed the lead on goals from Logan Couture and Joe Thornton just 37 seconds apart late in the second period.

But the Bruins, on only nine third-period shots, took it back. Seth Griffith, a fifth-round pick of Boston’s from 2012, scored his first NHL goal to tie the game early in the final period.

The loss concluded a five-game road trip through the Eastern Conference for the Sharks. It started off just fine, two wins in the first three games. But it ended with back-to-back losses, in which San Jose was outscored a combined 9-3.

“That’s a game we needed to get at least a point,” Couture told the San Jose Mercury News.

“We kind of let that one slip away. Those goals that we gave up, they were very preventable. It’s not like they were making great plays — we were giving them their chances.”

Thornton’s 1,200th point helps Sharks past Devils

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Joe Thornton’s third period, empty net, goal was his 1,200th career NHL point – it was the insurance marker as the San Jose Sharks doubled up the New Jersey Devils 4-2 Saturday night.

Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau had the other Sharks goals while Adam Henrique and Mike Cammalleri scored for New Jersey.

Antti Neimi made 35 saves for his third win in as many starts.

Cory Schneider made 28 saves in the loss.

With his goal, Thornton becomes just the 46th player ever to reach the 1,200 point plateau.

No captain, only alternate captains tonight for Sharks

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It’s official: The San Jose Sharks will not have a player wearing the ‘C’ – at least not for tonight’s season opener against the defending Stanley Cup champions and rival L.A. Kings.

Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski will be wearing an ‘A’ on their jerseys, with defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic rotating into that group as well, the club announced just prior to puck drop on Wednesday.

This development continues the long saga that was the Sharks’ off-season. You’ll recall they had a 3-0 series lead over the Kings in the opening round, only to cough that up, losing the series 4-3.

The Kings went on to win hockey’s Holy Grail just months later. The captaincy was then stripped away from Thornton. He’s certainly not happy about the talk from San Jose’s general manager Doug Wilson about the Sharks being a “tomorrow team.”

Tonight, you might consider this a revenge game for the Sharks after a tumultuous summer.