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New goalie, motivated veterans give Sharks optimism

by Eric Gilmore

SAN JOSE -- The San Jose Sharks' streak of making the Stanley Cup Playoffs ended at 10 seasons in 2014-15, but they expect to be back in the postseason under new coach Peter DeBoer.

The Sharks have been in transition the past two seasons, adding young talent to an established core of veterans.

Here are four reasons for the Sharks to be optimistic:

New coach in town: Changing coaches doesn't guarantee success, but DeBoer will bring a new message and different approach to San Jose after seven seasons under Todd McLellan. It became clear last season that McLellan's message no longer resonated with his players the way it once did. Sometimes players need to hear a different voice, especially after what the Sharks have been through the past two seasons.

DeBoer said every Sharks player will have a clean slate. That should be a relief for some players after last season, but it also puts them on notice that they have to prove themselves from Day One of training camp.

DeBoer is known as a defensive-minded coach, and he should help tighten up a Sharks defense that gave up 226 goals last season, 33 more than in 2013-14. He should also help fix a penalty kill that ranked 25th in the NHL last season.

Martin Jones: Jones has played 34 NHL games, but that small sample size showed he has more upside than former Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi. Niemi was a Vezina Trophy finalist three seasons ago, but he regressed each of the past two seasons. Last season, Niemi went 31-23-7 with a 2.59 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage.

Jones won his first eight NHL starts for the Los Angeles Kings two seasons ago; he had three shutouts and a 0.98 GAA during that stretch. He has a 1.99 GAA and .923 save percentage for his NHL career. It's not known how Jones will hold up as a No. 1 goaltender, but the Sharks were willing to take a chance on him.

Historical home-ice advantage: The Sharks, who typically have enjoyed one of the NHL's most decided home-ice advantages, went 19-17-5 at SAP Center last season, a worse home record than all but six teams in the League. The previous season, San Jose went 29-7-5 at home. If the Sharks can re-establish their dominance at home, they'll be well on their way to returning to the playoffs.

The Sharks were in decent shape to make the playoffs entering February last season, but after losing eight straight home games that month, they were unable to dig out of the hole.

Motivational fuel: The Sharks were embarrassed and angry after missing the playoffs. There should be no shortage of motivation on a team that's filled with pround veterans who are used to making the playoffs.

DeBoer said the Sharks remind him of the New Jersey Devils team he led to the Stanley Cup Final in 2012 in his first season with them.

"I'm excited," DeBoer said. "I look at that roster and it reminds me a lot of the first year I went into New Jersey," DeBoer said. "It was a group of character guys that had been used to winning that had fallen on some tough times. ... I think their true character is going to be tested. I see enough character in that room that I see a big bounce-back year."

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