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Pacific Division notebook

Sharks relishing rest; Johnny Gaudreau of Flames hopes to avoid slashes

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

The San Jose Sharks have done plenty more than survive, and are looking like Western Conference contenders again.

They advanced to the Stanley Cup Final last season, returned after a short summer to face a 2016-17 schedule compressed by the World Cup of Hockey 2016, and lead the Pacific Division with 66 points.

"And throw into the mix that a couple of our key guys [Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau] are 37 years old," Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said.

The Sharks roster has an average age of 28.4, tied with the Pittsburgh Penguins for the fifth-oldest in the League, behind the Los Angeles Kings (28.9), Detroit Red Wings (28.7), Chicago Blackhawks (28.7) and Ottawa Senators (28.6).

"We've spent a lot of time planning out the schedule," DeBoer said. "We practice very rarely. We give them a lot of time off. But it's been about our depth."

Video: CHI@SJS: Marleau finishes rebound for power-play goal

Another key factor has been managing the minutes of San Jose's key players.

"We haven't overplayed guys," DeBoer said. "Joe Pavelski doesn't kill penalties. He would be our best penalty-killer, but he doesn't kill penalties. We've tried to manage minutes with our depth and use guys at other positions.

"You see Brent Burns' minutes are up there (24:54 per game), but he's not close to leading the League in minutes. He plays a couple of minutes less that some of the League leaders. It's small things, but we're just trying to manage it the best we can."

Most, if not all, coaches say managing their players' ice time is at the front of their mind, but the temptations are great to play, and sometimes overplay, elite players.

"It's hard not to," DeBoer said. "My penalty-killing coach looks at me every time we get a penalty and his look [says], '[Pavelski] is our best guy. Why don't we put him out there?' It's hard to do. But it's a reality. I know every time we stick him out there we're burning gas that we're going to need later."

Video: CHI@SJS: Hertl buries rebound for late go-ahead goal

Of course, DeBoer said things could change in a time of need.

"I'm going to try not to change," he said. "I think once we get to [Stanley Cup] Playoffs, all bets are off. If we can keep this formula and get into a good spot, then we're not going to change that unless we have to."

That the Sharks, like many Western Conference teams, don't practice very much is not an issue for the players.

"We love it," Pavelski said. "We absolutely love playing games. It's fun to get out there, shoot some pucks, work on some skills for a while and figure some stuff out. But you do all the systems and you know them so it's about your commitment to doing it right.

"I don't think one practice or running through a few things is really going to make or break your game, especially at this point. Doing it right or cutting corners, that's usually the difference on a night."

DeBoer said until the end of the regular season, the Sharks priority is to finish on top of the division.

"We got in [last season] as a sixth seed and [the Los Angeles Kings] won [the Stanley Cup] as an eighth seed [in 2012] so the priority is get in," DeBoer said. "Obviously you want the easiest path you can get, but we just want to get in."

Video: CHI@SJS: Jones shuts down Hartman's breakaway bid

 

Slashes frustrate Gaudreau

Calgary Flames forward Johnny Gaudreau said he has put a most painful episode behind him.

The 23-year-old missed 10 games because of a broken finger after being slashed in a game at the Minnesota Wild on Nov. 15.

"It's part of hockey," Gaudreau said. "At times it's frustrating when you get slashed, but it's part of hockey. You just stick with it and go from there."

Gaudreau returned Dec. 4 and began a seven-game point streak (two goals, nine assists). He said he hasn't been timid in offering a few reminders to officials since his return.

"I try to keep my mouth shut as much as you can, but sometimes you have to say something there," he said. "I just talk to them a little bit. Not scream at them, but have a little conversation. Hopefully that helps.

"I think all guys get slashed. It's part of the game. Obviously if you have the puck on your stick you're going to get slashed and get hit and people are going to go after you. I try to have the puck on my stick as much as possible, so I'm obviously going to get that."

Video: ANA@CGY: Gaudreau nets wrister in return from injury

 

Stat pack

The Calgary Flames lost their 36th straight wheelchair hockey game against the Townsend Tigers at Gordon Townsend School in Alberta Children's Hospital on Tuesday. The 36th annual wheelchair game was won 15-0 by the Tigers despite the presence of Flames regulars Gaudreau, Matt Stajan and Mark Giordano. … Through games Wednesday, the Sharks are the only team not to have allowed a goal in the shootout this season. In two shootouts, goaltender Martin Jones has stopped all seven attempts he has faced. …The top 58 players in average time on ice per game this season are defensemen. Anaheim Ducks center Ryan Kesler is the No. 2 forward at 21:45 per game, just behind Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks (21:46).

Video: ANA@COL: Kesler takes advantage of Varlamov's error

 

Games to watch

Chicago Blackhawks at Arizona Coyotes (Feb. 2, 9 p.m. ET; FS-A, CSN-CH, NHL.TV) -- The Blackhawks always are a draw in the desert. Scott Darling had a shutout for Chicago in a 4-0 win against Arizona in the first game between the Blackhawks and Coyotes on Dec. 6.

San Jose Sharks at Vancouver Canucks (Feb. 2, 10 p.m. ET; SNP, CSN-CA, NHL.TV) -- The Canucks, 3-2-0 in their five games before the All-Star break, resume their schedule within striking distance of a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in Western Conference. They will face a big test against the Pacific Division-leading Sharks.

Calgary Flames at Pittsburgh Penguins (Feb. 7, 7 p.m. ET; TVA Sports, SNW, ROOT, NHL.TV) -- The Flames, hovering near the final wild card in the Western Conference, finish a three-game Eastern Conference road trip at the Penguins, then begin their five-day schedule break.

Los Angeles Kings at Florida Panthers (Feb. 9, 7:30 p.m. ET; FS-F, FS-W, NHL.TV) -- The Kings end a stretch of nine of 10 on the road with a game at Florida, then begin a six-day break in the schedule. This is the final regular-season game for the Kings in the Eastern Time Zone this season.

Chicago Blackhawks at Edmonton Oilers (Feb. 11, 10 p.m. ET; CBC, SN, WGN, NHL.TV) -- Rogers Place will host a "Hockey Night in Canada" game between the Blackhawks and Oilers, each trying to keep pace with division leaders in the Western Conference.

Anaheim Ducks at Minnesota Wild, (Feb. 14, 8 p.m. ET; FS-WI, FS-N+, PRIME, NHL.TV) -- Wild coach Bruce Boudreau goes against the Ducks, the team that fired him at the end of last season, for the third time this season. The Wild won the first two games, 2-1 at Anaheim on Jan. 8, and 5-3 at Minnesota on Jan. 21.

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