January 29, 2015 By Paul Gackle

Rink Notes: Ducks Still Consider Sharks An ‘Elite Team’

SAN JOSE — Earlier this week, San Jose Sharks head coach Todd McLellan said his squad is currently a “middle of the pack” team.

The Anaheim Ducks, who will meet up with the Sharks at SAP Center on Thursday, see their division rivals in a different light.

“I always have them as an elite team. They’ve never shown me anything different,” Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau said. “They’ve, probably, this year been more inconsistent than they’ve been in other years, but when they put their game together — they’re an elite team.”

The Sharks have put their best games together against the NHL’s top team this season, racking up a 3-0-1 record in four meetings against their interstate rivals, who’ve only lost 10 games in regulation all year.

But the first-place Ducks (32-10-6) lead the second-place Sharks (25-17-6) by 14 points in the Pacific Division standings, giving Teal Team an uphill climb in the last 34 games of the season.

“Points-wise, they might be middle of the pack,” Ducks forward Devante Smith-Pelly said. “But based on talent and based on us playing them, I’d say they’re a top team. We definitely don’t look at them as a middle of the pack team.”

Ducks defenseman Ben Lovejoy said the Sharks will be right there in the mix when the puck drops on the Stanley Cup playoffs in April.

“We have so much respect for that team over there,” Lovejoy said. “I think that a majority of the guys in this room can’t believe that their not up there leading the league right now. We think they’re a very good team, especially against us. We consider them, arguably, our toughest games of the year.”

AHL at the Tank: It’s official: the Sharks will be sharing their digs with their AHL affiliate, which is currently based in Worcester, Mass, beginning next season.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly and AHL president David Andrews announced at SAP Center on Thursday that the AHL will be forming a five-team Pacific Division next season, featuring affiliates of the Sharks, Ducks, Los Angeles Kings, Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers.

While the Sharks top-development squad will share SAP Center with its NHL parent team, the Kings’ affiliate will relocate to Ontario, Calif, the Oilers’ affiliate will move to Bakersfield, the Flames’ affiliate will play its home games in Stockton and the Ducks’ affiliate will soon call San Diego home.

By sharing their home arena and practice facilities at Sharks Ice with their minor-league affiliate, the Sharks’ coaching staff’s familiarity with the players in its farm system will improve.

“When you have your prospects playing in your backyard, you get way more opportunity to see them,” McLellan said. “It’s one thing to watch a game on TV — and you can get a little bit out of it — but you don’t feel the emotion. You don’t see the bench. You don’t see players’ body language outside of the camera. You don’t understand the momentum changes, so when you’re here, you can watch a lot more.”

McLellan said the move will also make the guys in the Sharks system feel closer to the organization.

From a player’s perspective, the biggest advantage will be reduced travel. Last week, Worcester Sharks defenseman Dylan DeMelo traveled all the way across the country just to be a healthy scratch for one game in the NHL. On Dec. 11, Matt Tennyson and Chris Tierney flew into the Bay Area in the middle of the night after experiencing delays on the East Coast, barely beating a torrential rain storm known as “Stormageddon”.

“On your body, it’s a huge difference,” Boudreau said. “It might not make a lot of difference that day, if you’re called up the day of the game. But the next day and the next day when you can’t sleep [you’ll feel the impact] because your adrenaline will take you the first day when you’re called up.”

Boudreau said the move will also benefit California hockey fans.

“It’s great because they’ve had [ECHL] here and West Coast league here, but the American Hockey League is one great league,” he said, adding: “It shows the growth of hockey in California.”

Tarasov Gets Called Up: Speaking of cross-country travel, the Worcester Sharks leading scorer made the trip from Massachusetts to San Jose on Wednesday, earning his first call up to the NHL.

The former-San Francisco Bulls forward is tops on the AHL Sharks with 25 points (10g, 15a) in 41 games this season.

Injuries to Tommy Wingels and Justin Braun on Jan.19 opened the door to Tarasov’s reassignment to the big club this week. But the 23-year-old Russian will be a healthy scratch on Thursday.

“His play has actually been one of the catalysts down there to revive their season,” McLellan said, referring to the Sharks AHL affiliate. “We feel that he can come up and give us some skill. He has to play in the right spot to have success. I don’t view him being a fourth-line player. But if he can fall into that second or third-line role and provide some skill and skate to keep up with the National Hockey League level, he’ll be a good player for us.”

Tyler Kennedy will be scratched from Thursday’s game with a lower-body injury. McLellan considers Kennedy’s injury to be “day-to-day” at this point.