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Sharks relying on veterans, improved health for bounce back

Hope return to form for Thornton, Couture, infusion of youth lead to deep playoff run

by Eric Gilmore / NHL.com Correspondent

The San Jose Sharks are counting on bounce-back seasons from veteran players, an infusion of youth and improved health to make a deeper run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. 

After the Sharks reached the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in their history in 2015-16, they had an early exit from the playoffs, losing to the Edmonton Oilers in six games in the Western Conference First Round.

San Jose will try to get back to the postseason for the third straight season and 13th time in the past 14 seasons despite losing longtime forward Patrick Marleau to the Toronto Maple Leafs in free agency. The Sharks didn't make any significant transactions during the offseason but hope key players will be fresh entering the season.

Their top two centers, Joe Thornton and Logan Couture, were hampered by injuries during the playoffs, and San Jose was clearly running out of gas after its deep run in 2016. Thornton had offseason surgery to repair a torn ACL but is expected to be ready for the opener against the Philadelphia Flyers at SAP Center on Oct. 4.

After a longer-than-expected offseason, the Sharks reported to training camp motivated and re-energized.

"A couple of years ago we made it to the Finals," captain Joe Pavelski said. "Last year we expected to get farther than what we did. I think a lot of us didn't have the years we wanted. There's a little chip on the shoulder for a lot of guys. I think we had a good summer, had a chance to commit to training coming back. You can feel that guys put the work in and we are excited to have another opportunity to get going and try to redeem ourselves."

Here is a look at the five keys for the Sharks, the inside scoop on their roster questions and projected lines for the 2017-18 season:

 

5 KEYS

1. Recharging power play

The Sharks have typically had one of the League's top power plays, but ranked 25th (16.7 percent) last season after finishing third (22.5 percent) in 2015-16.

"That's a big part of our offense," coach Pete DeBoer said. "It's always been a weapon here. Two years ago it was a weapon. We didn't do a lot differently last year from the year before. It didn't work and we didn't have that confidence when we jumped over the boards. We're not making wholesale changes, but we're definitely tweaking some things."

Video: Joe Pavelski comes in at No. 26 on the list

2. Replacing Marleau's production

Marleau, the Sharks' all-time leader in goals (508) and games (1,493), scored 27 goals last season, third on San Jose. The Sharks will need a collective effort to replace Marleau. A healthy Tomas Hertl could be the answer. His knee, which required surgery last Nov. 22, is a concern, but he had an NHL career-high 46 points (21 goals, 25 assists) in 81 games in 2015-16. Forward Timo Meier, the No. 9 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, could have an expanded role. He had six points (three goals, three assists) in 34 games as a rookie, but has the speed, strength and skill to have a breakout season.

3. Ramp up offense

Under DeBoer, the Sharks have become one of the stingiest defensive teams in the NHL. They allowed 2.44 goals per game, fifth in the League, and scored 2.67 per game, which ranked 19th. Only one playoff team (Ottawa Senators; 2.51) averaged fewer goals per game.

"I think our foundation is being very comfortable in 2-1, 1-0 games, but you have to score in this league," DeBoer said. "I don't think we're trying to get blood from a stone. I think we have scoring in here. We [have] to get it out."

Video: Joe Pavelski on the Sharks, Thornton re-signing

4. Become less reliant on Burns 

Defenseman Brent Burns became the focal point in San Jose's 5-on-5 offense and its power play. He led the NHL with 320 shots on goal. Three other Sharks, including Marleau, ranked among the League's top 150 in shots: Pavelski was 29th (233), Marleau ranked 74th (190) and Couture was 116th (174). Toward the end of the regular season and into the playoffs, it appeared that opposing teams had found a way to clamp down on Burns. In his first 59 games, he had 63 points (27 goals, 36 assists). In his final 23, he had 13 (two goals, 11 assists) and was held to three assists in the playoffs.

5. Better regular-season results from Jones

You can't question goalie Martin Jones' performance in the playoffs the past two seasons, but the Sharks might need him to raise the level of his play in the regular season. He had a 2.40 goals-against average and .912 save percentage in 65 games, and a 1.75 GAA and .935 save percentage in the first round against the Oilers.

Video: Martin Jones lands the 9 spot

 

ROSTER RUNDOWN

Biggest lock

Burns won the Norris Trophy for the first time last season after leading NHL defensemen in goals (29) and points (76). He became the first San Jose player to win the award, which goes to the League's top defenseman.

Video: EDM@SJS: Burns buries long-range shot through traffic

Biggest battle

The Sharks have a long list of young forwards trying to earn spots on the roster. Meier, 20, and Marcus Sorensen, 25, who was in the lineup for all six playoff games last season, appear to have the best shot, but Kevin Labanc, 21, Barclay Goodrow, 24, Daniel O'Regan, 23, and Filip Sandberg, 23, could push for jobs likely throughout the season.

Most intriguing addition 

The Sharks have made a habit of signing quality players as free agents from Europe, including forwards Melker Karlsson, Joonas Donskoi and Sorensen. This year, San Jose signed Sandberg, who had 25 points (eight goals, 17 assists) in 52 games for HV71 in the Swedish Hockey League last season.

Video: SJS@EDM, Gm1: Karlsson snaps home OT winner

Biggest potential surprise

Defenseman Tim Heed had 56 points (14 goals, 42 assists) in 55 games for the San Jose Barracuda in the American Hockey League last season. Dylan DeMelo will likely fill the spot on the third defense pair that opened when San Jose lost David Schlemko to the Vegas Golden Knights in the NHL Expansion Draft. But Heed, who signed as an undrafted free agent on May 20, 2016, after three full seasons in Sweden has opened some eyes with his powerful shot.

 

PROJECTED LINEUP

Jannik Hansen -- Joe Thornton -- Joe Pavelski

Joonas Donskoi -- Logan Couture -- Mikkel Boedker

Timo Meier -- Tomas Hertl -- Melker Karlsson

Marcus Sorensen -- Chris Tierney -- Joel Ward

Paul Martin -- Brent Burns

Marc-Edouard Vlasic -- Justin Braun

Brenden Dillon -- Dylan DeMelo

Martin Jones

Aaron Dell

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