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Sharks seek to reverse late-season slide before playoffs

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SAN JOSE, Calif. — The San Jose Sharks were sailing along just two weeks ago, making a strong push for the top spot in the Western Conference to begin what they hoped would be a long playoff run.

Now with just more than a week left in the regular season, they’re struggling just to find a win and to hold on to home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

The Sharks head into a showdown weekend against the other top two teams in the Pacific Division having lost seven games in a row for the first time in more than six years and running out of time to fix their problems.

”I feel like we’re concerned,” forward Logan Couture said. ”We realize where we’re at this year, and how important this push is going to be coming up. How important it should have been the last seven games. You can’t go backward. You can’t change what’s already happened.”

The Sharks were in prime position after beating Minnesota and Winnipeg on back-to-back nights on the road March 11-12, taking over the top spot in the West following a six-game winning streak.

But they haven’t won since and haven’t even held a lead in the last three losses. They allowed three goals in the opening 11 minutes of a 5-4 loss to Chicago on Thursday night.

”Every game recently we’re just losing and hunting down,” forward Tomas Hertl said. ”We have to figure out a way to start early and start with the lead because it’s better to play with the lead than hunting it down every game.”

The skid has coincided with some key injuries to major players. Star defenseman Erik Karlsson went down with a groin injury on Feb. 26 in Boston and hasn’t played since. The Sharks did just fine without him, winning the next six games.

But then defenseman Radim Simek went down with a torn ACL in the win at Winnipeg and captain Joe Pavelski has missed five straight games with a lower-body injury.

Pavelski is expected back this weekend and the Sharks are hopeful that Karlsson will be able to return before the end of the regular season.

”I think we have time,” coach Peter DeBoer said. ”We have two pretty good players sitting in the stands. Those guys will help. You can’t play behind in this game every night. I think that’s the one thing. If we can get that fixed I think the rest of the stuff will kind of roll into place.”

The major problem for the Sharks has been on the defensive end, where too many turnovers and breakdowns are leading to odd-man rushes and goalies Martin Jones and Aaron Dell have been unable to come up with key saves at big moments.

San Jose has allowed 31 goals during the skid, including at least four in six of the seven games. That was the problem against the Blackhawks, when two early penalties led to a 5-on-3 goal that started the three-goal barrage early. A fluky deflection proved to be the game-winner after the Sharks climbed back to tie the game at 4 in the second period.

”Scoring goals really hasn’t been an issue with our team this year,” Couture said. ”We’ve scored I think the top three or top five most goals in the league. It’s giving up goals, giving up easy goals, goals at the wrong times. Taking away our momentum. We score, we tie it up at 4, and then give one up a couple shifts later. It’s goals like that that we want to avoid.”

The skid has left the Sharks six points behind first-place Calgary with five games to go heading into Friday night. While catching the Flames will be a long shot, San Jose also must worry about holding off Vegas, which is only five points behind in the race for home-ice advantage in the first round.

Things could get more precarious if the Sharks don’t fix their problems this weekend when they host the Golden Knights and Calgary in back-to-back games.

”We worked awful hard for six, seven months to put ourselves in a spot where we have a chance over the next week to have home ice in the first round,” DeBoer said. ”We’ve got to work to get that done.”

Sharks defenseman Radim Simek needs knee ligament surgery

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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — San Jose Sharks defenseman Radim Simek needs surgery for torn ligaments in his right knee.

General manager Doug Wilson said Thursday that Simek tore his ACL and MCL after a hit in Tuesday night’s win against Winnipeg.

Simek has one goal and eight assists in 41 games this season. He has mostly been paired with Brent Burns.

The first-place Sharks have depth at defense and will move Joakim Ryan into the lineup. Erik Karlsson remains sidelined by a groin injury but is expected to be healthy for the playoffs.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Flames, Sharks meet as battle for Pacific heats up

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Thursday night’s game between the Calgary Flames and San Jose Sharks offers plenty of intrigue. They are the top two teams in the Pacific Division, and they are also the two highest scoring teams in the Western Conference. And after their most recent meeting on December 31 – an 8-5 Flames win – the scoreboard might not be the only place we see fireworks this evening.

In the final 41 seconds of that game, the two teams combined for 66 penalty minutes, including a match penalty for Sam Bennett after he concussed Sharks defenseman Radim Simek with a questionable hit. There was no supplemental discipline for the play, which the Sharks called “gutless” and “predatory” afterwards, so one wonders whether there will be any retribution sought by the Sharks on Bennett.

Close watch should also be kept on Evander Kane and Matthew Tkachuk, who each picked up 10-minute misconducts in a brawl just prior to the Bennett hit. There are fewer Kanes and Tkachuks in today’s NHL – both in terms of their style on the ice and their unfiltered remarks off the ice – which makes the build up to this game even more interesting. However, neither would fully take the bait when asked about things carrying over from December:

“I know what you’re asking, I know what you’re trying to get me to say. We’ll see,” Kane said via The Mercury News. “It’s something that, hopefully, everybody in this room remembers because it doesn’t matter who you are, whether you’re a skill guy, a big guy, a tough guy or a small guy, it’s on each and every person in this room to stick up for one another. We’ll see.”

Said Tkachuk: “I’m don’t think I’m going to be the guy who’s going to give you what you want on that quote. Those games are fun to play in. I love those games. Our whole team’s thriving in those games this year. We have guys that can play that style, too. (Kane) is a good player. They’re a really good team. It’s going to be a great game.”

Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer was much more definitive in downplaying the revenge factor, telling reporters yesterday, “We know where everybody is in the standings, so that’s first and foremost. This isn’t about settling scores. This is about trying to close the gap on these guys in the division. There’s going to be a lot of emotion. It’s going to be physical. That stuff takes care of itself.”

He is right about the importance of this game in the standings. Since that New Year’s Eve meeting, the Flames have not lost to a Western Conference opponent, and they now have an opportunity to create a six-point cushion over the Sharks. Considering these teams play only once more during the regular season – and not until March 31 – this may be San Jose’s best opportunity to chip away at that deficit.

It would be an even bigger boost for the Sharks considering they will be without Erik Karlsson (lower body) for a sixth straight game, however he could return on the team’s current road trip. It should be noted that in the middle of this absence, Karlsson did participate in the NHL All-Star Game.

Regardless of the outcome tonight though, it is safe to say these are two of the most complete teams in the conference. Bill Peters is a Jack Adams candidate in his first year behind the bench for the Flames, and fellow former Hurricane Elias Lindholm has joined with Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau to form one of the most potent lines in hockey. The Sharks are dangerous up and down their lineup, with a pair of Norris Trophy caliber defensemen, as well as five different forwards with 19+ goals – the most such players in the league.

San Jose and Calgary have not faced each other in the playoffs since 2008, but if they keep up their play from the first four months of the season, this could wind up being a high-scoring, hard-hitting, and headline-grabbing second round Stanley Cup playoff matchup.

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.

WATCH LIVE: Sharks host Kings on NBCSN

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Saturday afternoon’s matchup between the Los Angeles Kings and the San Jose Sharks with coverage beginning at 4 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

This is the second of four meetings between the two clubs this season, with San Hose edging out the Kings 3-2 in overtime on Oct. 5 with Kevin Labanc‘s winner.

The visiting Kings are coming off a convincing 4-1 win against the Western Conference-leading Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday, and will look to build off their solid effort in that game. The Kings rank last in goals per game at 2.23, 28th on the power play at 13.9% and 29th on the penalty kill at 74.8%.

Interestingly enough, the Sharks lost 5-3 to the Jets their last time out on Thursday, ending a five-game winning streak. The Sharks have still enjoyed a solid December month, going 7-3-0 so far.

The Sharks sit second in the Pacific, four points behind the Calgary Flames. Joe Pavelski leads the Sharks with 22 goals this season, matching his total through 81 games last year. He’s on pace for 50 and is tied for the seventh most goals (306) since the start of the 2008-09 season.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 4 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Los Angeles Kings at San Jose Sharks
Where: SAP Center
When: Saturday, Dec. 22, 4 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

Alex IafalloAnze KopitarDustin Brown
Adrian KempeJeff CarterTyler Toffoli
Brendan LeipsicNate ThompsonIlya Kovalchuk
Austin WagnerMichael AmadioMatt Luff

Derek ForbortDrew Doughty
Jake MuzzinSean Walker
Daniel BrickleyOscar Fantenberg

Starting goalie: Jonathan Quick

SHARKS

Evander Kane – Joe Pavelski – Joonas Donskoi
Tomas HertlLogan CoutureTimo Meier
Marcus SorensenJoe Thornton – Kevin Labanc
Lukas RadilBarclay GoodrowMelker Karlsson

Radim SimekBrent Burns
Brenden DillonErik Karlsson
Marc-Edouard VlasicJustin Braun

Starting goalie: Martin Jones

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule


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