Surging Sharks in perfect position

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While most of this year’s wild Western Conference flails about looking for the last wild card spot, the San Jose Sharks can smell blood in the water.

After throttling the Vancouver Canucks Monday night 7-2, the Sharks have now won six straight games – five of them on the road – and seized the top spot in the West. They’re averaging five goals per game during that stretch and they’ve done it all without Erik Karlsson.

San Jose’s depth has been exemplary. Fourteen of 18 skaters registered at least one point against Vancouver alone. Eleven different players on the Sharks have multiple game-winning goals this season, tied with the New York Islanders for most in the league. Led by Norris Trophy winner Brent Burns, their 166 points by defensemen leads the NHL. The Sharks are also the only team in the league to have five different players – Joe Pavelski, Evander Kane, Tomas Hertl, Timo Meier and Logan Couture – with 20 goals or more.

“If you look at the dynamics of this team, their secondary players are, a lot of times, their best players,” former Shark and current NHL on NBC analyst Jeremy Roenick told Pro Hockey Talk. “I say their secondary players being Hertl, Meier, (Melker) Karlsson played well (Monday) night. You have (Marcus) Sorensen who has just been an amazing work horse on that team that brings a lot of energy to that hockey club. (Joonas) Donskoi – these are all of their second-tier guys. A lot of the times, they’re the ones winning hockey games for them.”

That’s not to say the stars haven’t stepped up as well. Evander Kane has been red hot with 15 goals in his last 16 games dating back to Jan. 2, which leads the NHL during that span. He’s on pace for a career-high 37 goals, which is exactly what the Sharks envisioned when they signed Kane to a seven-year, $49 million extension last May.

“I talk to a lot of guys on that team and they say that if (Kane) prepared and got ready to play every single game and was consistent, he would be one of the best players in the National Hockey League,” Roenick said. “That’s saying something when it’s coming from your teammates.”

Next up for San Jose is a three-game homestand against three playoff contenders in the Capitals, Canucks and Bruins, followed by a four-game road trip in Pittsburgh, Columbus, Detroit and Boston. It seems like a two-team race between the Sharks and Flames for the top spot in the Pacific, and a four-team battle for the top spot in the west between San Jose, Calgary, Winnipeg and Nashville.

“There’s some good teams there,” Pavelski told reporters after the Vancouver win. “Being in first would help.”

On paper, Pavelski is right. The top seed in the West this season will have the pleasure of hosting one of the slew of teams gunning for playoff position. Since nine teams are currently within eight points of the final wild card spot, whichever team outlasts the others will have conceivably spent a lot of energy doing so over the stretch run of the regular season. That said, anyone that watches the NHL knows any team can make a run in April. The Sharks understand that all too well. After winning the Presidents’ Trophy in 2008-09 behind a franchise record 117 points, San Jose lost in the first round in six games to the Anaheim Ducks. Pavelski, Joe Thornton and Marc-Edouard Vlasic all played in that series. Given their history, it is unlikely the Sharks would take any opening round opponent for granted.

“I think this is a different team, a different focus of a team,” said Roenick, a member of that 2008-09 Sharks club. “One thing you have to really take into consideration is, is this going to be Joe Thornton’s last year? That’s going to be something that’s going to be talked about quietly around the locker room among the guys and I think the focus is going to be much greater game in and game out…(The Sharks) are the only ones that can beat themselves right now. When they play their style of game, they dominate pretty much every team they play against, road or home.”

As for Thornton, the Sharks legend had one assist on Monday to pass Gordie Howe for ninth on the NHL’s all-time assists list and tie Teemu Selanne for 15th in all-time points. The sure-fire Hall of Famer is in his 21st season, but has only had one crack at a Stanley Cup Final (in 2016). Whispers of Thornton’s potential retirement could be quite the rallying cry for the Sharks in the playoffs.

“I played for 20 years and maybe with the exception of Chris Chelios, I have never seen a player be loved or be so respected in a locker room than Joe Thornton,” Roenick said. “I can honestly tell you that there is not one person in that organization – player, trainer, upper management, office people – that doesn’t absolutely love Joe Thornton through and through. You can’t say that about a lot of people. That’s an amazing compliment to a guy who has had such a glorious and Hall of Fame career.”

Barring an astounding stretch in the final two months of the season, San Jose’s franchise record of 117 points is safe. But this could very well be the deepest team the Sharks have ever had and one that could do what no other San Jose team has: hoist the Stanley Cup.

WATCH LIVE: Sharks visit on Coyotes on NBCSN

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the San Jose Sharks and Arizona Coyotes. Coverage begins at 10:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Seven games in 2019 have equated to seven straight wins for the San Jose Sharks, who own the longest active winning streak in the NHL.

The Sharks are doing so well that they’ve climbed into second place in the Pacific Divison and can take top spot if the first-place Calgary Flames lose to the Buffalo Sabres.

The Sharks come into the game having played on Tuesday, with Tomas Hertl scoring a hat trick to down the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-2.

It might be time, then, for the Coyotes to capitalize.

Arizona has won three of its past four and sends Darcy Kuemper into the crease. Kuemper has won four straight starts

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 10 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: San Jose Sharks at Arizona Coyotes
Where: Gila River Arena
When: Wednesday, Jan. 16, 10 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Sharks-Coyotes stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

SHARKS
Marcus SorensenJoe ThorntonJoe Pavelski
Lukas RadilLogan CoutureTimo Meier
Evander Kane — Tomas Hertl — Joonas Donskoi
Melker KarlssonBarclay GoodrowKevin Labanc

Radim SimekBrent Burns
Brenden DillonErik Karlsson
Tim HeedJustin Braun

Starting goalie: Aaron Dell

COYOTES

Clayton KellerJordan WealChristian Fischer
Richard PanikDerek StepanVinnie Hinostroza
Alex GalchenyukNick CousinsConor Garland
Lawson CrouseMario KempeJosh Archibald

Oliver Ekman-LarssonNiklas Hjalmarsson
Jakob ChychrunIlya Lyubushkin
Jordan OesterleAlex Goligoski

Starting goalie: Darcy Kuemper

Chris Cuthbert (play-by-play) and Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Gila River Arena in Glendale, Ariz.

Karlsson’s three assists help Sharks dethrone Kings

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They might be at nearly opposite ends of the Pacific Division, but in three meetings between the third-place San Jose Sharks and last-place Los Angeles Kings, you’d never know there was an 18-point gap.

Game Three of the season series went much of the way as the other two, minus needing an overtime period to settle things.

The Sharks took a 2-1 lead in the season series with a 3-1 win at SAP Center on Monday, with Tomas Hertl‘s 15th of the season nearing the mid-way point of the second period proving to be the game-winner and Erik Karlsson‘s hat-trick of assists providing the spark.

The Kings were king killers heading into the game, having knocked off Winnipeg, San Jose, Vegas and Colorado as they won six of the past nine games entering Monday.

But San Jose was riding a wave of momentum after dispatching the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-2 on Saturday.

Any thoughts of an emotional dump were put to rest when Joonas Donskoi opened the scoring late in the first period to give the Sharks a 1-0 lead heading into the intermission.

The Kings didn’t need long to respond in the second, and on a pretty goal to boot.

Anze Kopitar entered the Sharks zone, dropped the pass to a streaking Dustin Brown, who returned the favor as Kopitar finished off the play he started with his 11th just 3:42 into the game.

[MORE: Burns, Karlsson lead Sharks’ resurgence]

But it was Karlsson’s night in the end, something not all the surprising given the kind of heater he’s been on.

After a slow start following his move to San Jose, Karlsson grabbed two assists on a Dec. 7 game against the Dallas Stars and hasn’t gone a game without one since.

Karlsson had a hat trick of them in Monday’s win, providing the pass to Hertl for the eventual game-winner, along with his third of the game on Joe Thorton’s empty-netter with 21 seconds left in the game.

“We had a hard game against Tampa, we were all ready to go,” Karlsson said in a post-game interview on NBSCN. “It felt like the intensity was down a little bit today, which can happen, but I think we stuck with it, stayed within the structure that got us two points today.”

Karlsson made some history, too, pushing his consecutive assist streak to 13 games as he joined a who’s who of the best to ever play on the blue line.

The Sharks moved to within a point of the Vegas Golden Knights for second place and three back from the Pacific-leading Calgary Flames.

Los Angeles remains in last place in the Western Conference on 37 points.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

WATCH LIVE: Kings battle Sharks on NBCSN

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Monday night’s matchup between the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks with coverage beginning at 10:30 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Despite still being in the basement of the Pacific Division, there is some room for optimism for the Kings. LA has won six of its last nine games and beaten some good competition along the way, with victories over Winnipeg, San Jose, Vegas and Colorado. Their latest win came on Saturday in a 4-0 drubbing of the Edmonton Oilers.

Anze Kopitar scored his 300th career goal during the Edmonton game and became the fifth player in franchise history to reach that mark, joining Luc Robitaille (557), Marcel Dionne (550), Dave Taylor (431) and Bernie Nicholls (327). Jonathan Quick needed just 16 saves in the shutout, which was also his 300th career win. The Connecticut native is the fifth U.S.-born goalie to reach the 300 wins.

The Sharks had arguably their best win of the season on Saturday in a 5-2 victory over the NHL-leading Tampa Bay Lightning. San Jose’s win snapped Tampa’s winning streak at seven and their point streak at 16. The Sharks became the first team to defeat the Lightning in regulation since Anaheim did so on Nov. 27 (3-1 W). They’ve been red hot since early December, with wins in 11 of their last 16 games (11-3-2).

With two assists on Saturday, Erik Karlsson extended his personal point streak to 12 games (1G, 18A), which is the longest active streak in the NHL. He did miss two games (Dec. 23 and 27) in this stretch due to a suspension from a hit to the head of Kings forward Austin Wagner when these teams last met.

Karlsson is the 21st different defenseman in NHL history to record record at least one point in 12 or more consecutive appearances and just the third to do so in the last 20 years (since 1998-99), joining Mathieu Schneider (Detroit) in 2006 (12 games) and Shayne Gostisbehere (Philadelphia) in 2016 (15 games).

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 10:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Los Angeles Kings at San Jose Sharks
Where: SAP Center
When: Monday, Jan. 7, 10:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Kings-Sharks stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

KINGS
Ilya Kovalchuk – Anze Kopitar – Dustin Brown
Alex IafalloJeff CarterBrendan Leipsic
Carl HagelinAdrian KempeTyler Toffoli
Kyle CliffordNate Thompson – Austin Wagner

Derek ForbortDrew Doughty
Jake MuzzinSean Walker
Dion PhaneufOscar Fantenberg

Starting goalie: Jack Campbell

SHARKS
Marcus SorensenJoe ThorntonJoe Pavelski
Lukas RadilLogan CoutureTimo Meier
Evander KaneTomas HertlJoonas Donskoi
Kevin Labanc – Barclay GoodrowMelker Karlsson

Joakim RyanBrent Burns
Brenden Dillon – Erik Karlsson
Jacob Middleton – Tim Heed

Starting goalie: Martin Jones

Alex Faust (play-by-play) and Jamie Baker (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will call Kings-Sharks from SAP Center at San Jose. Paul Burmeister hosts studio coverage alongside analyst Anson Carter.

MORE: Timo Meier powering Sharks during breakout season

Sharks survive third-period Avalanche, hold on in 5-4 win

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Spotting yourself a 4-1 lead should be easier than that, right?

The San Jose Sharks certainly made things interesting for themselves, and downright hairy nearing the end of their 5-4 win against the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday Night Hockey.

The Sharks were rolling up to the 16:33 mark of the second period. After Avs forward Matt Calvert tied the game 1-1 in the first, the Sharks rattled off three unanswered as Colorado when into full-blown implode mode.

Something like this:

The Sharks were beneficiaries of some suspect goaltending from Philip Grubauer, who gave up four goals on 14 shots and was pulled after Joonas Donskoi‘s goal made it 4-1. That meant rookie Pavel Francouz was sent to the wolves.

Instead, the Czech netminder steadied the ship (after allowing Lukas Radil‘s fifth of the season, of course), making 12 of 13 saves to give the Avalanche a shot at a comeback.

And they tried their darndest to end their five-gaming losing streak, which instead extended to six games in the loss.

Tyson Jost scored his first of two goals in the game while the other Tyson, Tyson Barrie, notched one of his own to put the Avalanche to within one.

The game came down to the last second, literally.

Nathan MacKinnon, announced as an NHL All-Star along with fellow forward Mikko Rantanen earlier on Wednesday, had the tying goal on his stick when Martin Jones, who couldn’t make a save to save his life in the third period, made the only one that mattered in the end, shutting the door from point-blank range to preserve the lead.

Colorado’s near-comeback took a bit of the shine away from both Joe Pavelski‘s and Brent Burns‘ four-point effort. Pavelski’s goal and three assists were paramount for the Sharks, including his third apple on Lukas Radil’s eventual game-winner (which came off a broken play that turned out good in the end).

Burns, meanwhile, had the same stat line, contributing on the first four Sharks goals.

The loss meant a demotion to a wild card spot for the Avalanche, who were overtaken by the victorious Dallas Stars.

San Jose, meanwhile, moved within three points of the Pacific Division summit with the win.

Here’s what Pavelski had to say after this one:


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck