February 17, 2017 By Paul Gackle

Bye Week ‘Coming at the Right Time’ for Sharks: ‘We Need It’

SAN JOSE — The NHL’s first-ever midseason bye week is drawing mixed reviews from coaches and players across the league, but you won’t hear too many complaints coming out of the Sharks locker room.

After the Sharks (34-18-6) complete a back-to-back against the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday (road) and the Boston Bruins on Sunday (home), they’ll receive a five-day break from game action before returning to the ice in Vancouver on Feb. 25.

The bye week is part of deal reached between the league and the player’s association last season to change the NHL’s All-Star game format to a three-on-three tournament.

After playing deep into the spring last season, and then having several key players’ summers cut even shorter by the 2016 World Cup of Hockey in the fall, the Sharks are welcoming the opportunity to catch their breaths before the stretch run.

“I’ve read all the buzz about the teams coming out of the bye week and being off, but for me, we need it,” head coach Peter DeBoer said. “I can tell our group is looking forward to it. It’s coming at the right time, and we’ll deal with coming out of it and getting our game back in the right place when we need to.”

The bye week is stirring frustration around the NHL because teams are playing a more arduous, condensed schedule this season to accommodate the break and the World Cup. Moreover, when teams return to action after five days away from the rink, they’re finding it challenging to catch up to speed against squads that are grooving along in a midseason rhythm.

The Sharks aren’t airing those grievances, however, because they’re a veteran group playing with a lot of extra miles on the odometer this season because of the World Cup their run to the Stanley Cup Final last Junes.

In recent weeks, the Sharks game has slipped a bit, too, suggesting that the additional grind might finally be catching up with the team. In addition to having lost five of their last six games, the Sharks have surrendered an uncharacteristic 22 goals over their last five outings.

“For us, it’s perfect,” captain Joe Pavelski said. “You get your Christmas break in December, your All-Star break in January and now (the bye week). The timing has been really good. It breaks up the schedule a bit.”

But with five days off, the Sharks know that it’s imperative to pick up points in their two games this weekend. The Sharks currently sit atop the Pacific Division standings, holding a four-point lead over the second place Anaheim Ducks and the third place Edmonton Oilers.

The Ducks will play two games while the Sharks are on recess and the Oilers will lace up the skates for three contests.

“We’ve worked really hard to build a little bit of a lead here in the division, but it’s small,” DeBoer said. “We talked today, at the end of the weekend, we could be up six or eight or we could be even with somebody going into the break, so it’s that tight.”

On the flip side, though, whatever ground the Sharks lose to the Ducks could be made up when their Southern California rivals go on break from Feb. 26 through March 2 next week. But the same isn’t true for their race with the Oilers, who received their rest from Feb. 6 to Feb. 10.

Ultimately, only time will tell whether receiving a recharge right before the stretch run is worth the trade off of playing a condensed schedule.

“The idea of it, and everyone’s heart was in the right place when they put it in,” DeBoer said. “That’s something at the end of the season, I’m sure the league and everyone will take a look at it and see whether it makes sense or not.”

News & Notes: Timo Meier, who was reassigned to the AHL Barracuda on Thursday, will suit up for the Baby Sharks as they attempt to win their 10th-consecutive game against the Stockton Heat on Friday.

DeBoer indicated that the Sharks will likely recall a forward and a defenseman from the Barracuda for their game in Arizona on Saturday, but he said 2014 first-round draft pick Nikolay Goldobin will “probably” make his NHL season debut against the Coyotes.

Aaron Dell will get the start in goal for the Sharks on Saturday.