10 Observations: Sharks-Oilers a budding rivalry

10 Observations: Sharks-Oilers a budding rivalry

The Sharks enjoyed their Christmas break alone in first place in the Pacific Division, with visions of another Western Conference championship dancing in their heads. A quick 10 observations…

1 – One thing I'm looking forward to over the next few months - the Sharks and Oilers meet four more times in the New Year, and indications are this is a rivalry that could become a pretty good one. 

It really started last season, when Darnell Nurse jumped Roman Polak and the Sharks recalled Micheal Haley for the sole purpose of fighting Nurse in the next meeting. It continued on Friday in the first head-to-head matchup. Although the much-improved Oilers weren’t very good through the first two periods, there was an undercurrent of animosity from start to finish and a couple of fights, to boot. 

It’s great watching these things develop over time, and reminds me a bit of the Flyers-Penguins rivalry I got to see grow first hand after Pittsburgh added Sidney Crosby. True rivalries are built in the playoffs, of course, and there’s a very good chance the Sharks and Oilers are headed for a first round or even a second round clash. Sign me up for that one.

2 – Joe Thornton has been difficult to figure out this season. One game he’s great, like a week and a half ago in Montreal, and the next, he’s terribly off, like on Friday against Edmonton.

I know his production has gone up a bit lately, with 10 assists in 10 December games. But your top line center shouldn’t be without a goal in a manned net 34 games into the season. Thornton is still sitting on just two goals, both of which have come into an empty net. Yes, he’s a passer. But he should have five or six goals by accident.

3 – Somewhat related to Thornton, I wonder if it’s time for Pete DeBoer to make a change to the Sharks’ top power play unit. They just haven’t looked right all season long, but especially on the road, where the team’s 10.7 percent success rate is 28th in the NHL. Far too often, there's not enough motion and no one near the net looking for those dirty goals.

4 – The penalty kill also hasn’t been overly impressive, but perhaps it can build off of Friday’s six-for-six performance against Edmonton’s strong unit. They killed off two Oilers advantages in the third period, allowing Kevin Labanc to win it in overtime.

“It was great all night,” Martin Jones said after the game. “We really didn’t give them much time to get set up or make plays or anything. That’s a pretty good power play. It was a great job.”

Prior to Friday, the Sharks’ penalty kill was 36-for-47 in its last 17 games (76.6 percent).

5 – Regarding Labanc, I have to think he’s now here to stay. In training camp, Barracuda coach Roy Sommer compared him to Joe Pavelski for his “knack for the net,” and with four goals in his last eight games, we’re seeing that. The one he got in overtime was a pure goal-scorer's goal.

That said, based on the way DeBoer handles young players, don’t be surprised if Labanc gets moved down in the lineup or even scratched over the next little while if he’s not producing. DeBoer makes these guys really earn it, and that’s why he wasn’t quite ready after Friday’s game to say that Labanc has, in fact, arrived as an NHL player.

We’re allowed to say it here, though.

6 – Timo Meier has done some good things, and already has 15 shots on goal through his first four NHL games. I still think he ends up on the Thornton line, or maybe the Couture line, before the season is over. He’s a top six forward.

I also believe Meier won’t play another game in the AHL. He’s an NHL player, period.

7 – Tomas Hertl is working out as he rehabs from his latest right knee problem, but the Sharks aren’t saying much about his timeframe to return, and a request to speak to Hertl after practice on Friday was denied. As we reported last week, it’s still uncertain when he’ll get back on the ice, but I expect it will be sometime in January if I’m reading the tea leaves correctly. Even after he starts skating, though, he’ll be weeks away from game action.

I saw Hertl after Friday’s game, and he was still wearing a bulky brace on the knee underneath his suit pants. 

8 – When Hertl is ready, the Sharks will have to make a move or two to activate him and his $3 million salary. It’s probably a little too early to worry about who might be gone, since so much can happen over the next few weeks, but if Labanc and Meier aren’t going anywhere, some veterans will be causalities. 

9 – DeBoer was asked the other day if he’s comfortable with Jones’ workload this season. The Sharks starter is second in the NHL with 1758 minutes, behind only Edmonton’s Cam Talbot.

“It doesn’t feel overtaxing to me, right now,” DeBoer said. “That’s just a feel that we’ll keep our monitor on.”

If Jones continues his pace, he’ll start 72 games this season.

“I’m not worried about that end number,” DeBoer said. “He’s not the first or the last goalie that could play 70 or 72 games. There’s a long list of those guys that have gone on and had great playoffs and won [Stanley Cups], too. That’s not an issue.”

10 – I do wonder, though, if DeBoer fully trusts Aaron Dell. He really hasn’t given the backup any overly meaningful starts, with two each against Eastern Conference opponents, the Islanders and Hurricanes, and we’re almost halfway through the season here. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if the Sharks seek out another goalie between now and the trade deadline as insurance for Jones.

As for Dell’s next start, I would guess it comes this Friday against the Flyers. It would make for a nice story, too, as Dell was coached by Dave Hakstol at North Dakota.

The anatomy of Jannik Hansen's recently-broken scoring drought after nearly one year


The anatomy of Jannik Hansen's recently-broken scoring drought after nearly one year

Jannik Hansen's game-winning goal against the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday marked the first time he scored in 355 days. 

Hansen last scored on Mar. 30, 2017 against the Edmonton Oilers, his second goal with the Sharks following an in-season trade. His scoring drought, in all, lasted 44 regular season games, 50 if you include the postseason. 

How exactly does a goal-scoring drought last nearly a year? The right (wrong?) circumstances all need to come together, and that was certainly the case for Hansen for much of the last year.

For one, the Danish forward was in and out of the lineup. San Jose played 83 regular season and postseason games between Hansen's second and third goals, and he did not play in 33 of those games. Plenty of players have had rough 50-game stretches, and that's often without not playing for weeks at a time, as Hansen has done a couple of times this season. 

When Hansen did draw into the lineup this year, however, he wasn't generating offense at the same rate he had in the past. This season, Hansen's five-on-five shot rate (6.19 shots per 60 minutes), shot attempt rate (10.53 individual corsi per 60), and unblocked shot attempt rate (8.95 individual fenwick per 60) were all down from his career averages, according to Corsica Hockey. 

That decline is natural, considering Hansen turned 32 just six days ago. Those rates were not down enough, however, to expect him to fail to score in his first 39 appearances this season. Naturally, a long run of bad luck played a big role in Hansen's dry spell.

Hansen went 0-for-66 in shots over the 50 consecutive regular season and playoff games in which he did not score. He's a career 11-percent shooter, and had he shot at his career average, he would have scored seven goals during that time. That feels about right for a bottom-six forward. 

In many ways, all of these factors fed into one another. Hansen wasn't generating shots or scoring, then was scratched, then couldn't find the back of the net when he returned and was scratched again. All the while, fellow fourth-liners Marcus Sorensen (26.7 percent shooting percentage this season), Joel Ward (14.3 percent) and Barclay Goodrow (13.2 percent) were converting on their chances, forcing Peter DeBoer's hand. 

His possession play has been solid all season (50.74 percent corsi-for, per Natural Stat Trick), but the offense hasn't followed. When it does, as was the case Tuesday night, he can be an effective fourth-line forward, and the goal on Tuesday bought him more time to prove it. 

Sharks blow out Devils for season-high fifth straight win

Sharks blow out Devils for season-high fifth straight win


SAN JOSE -- Jannik Hansen scored his first goal of the season and fellow fourth-liners Eric Fehr and Barclay Goodrow also scored to help the San Jose Sharks win their season-high fifth straight game, 6-2 over the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday night.

Logan Couture added his 30th goal of the season, and Joe Pavelski and Mikkel Boedker also scored to give the Sharks a four-point lead over third-place Los Angeles in the Pacific Division with one game in hand.

Brent Burns added three assists and Martin Jones made 26 saves.

The scoring barrage by San Jose spoiled Cory Schneider's return to net for the Devils. Schneider allowed four goals on 14 shots before getting pulled midway through the second period of his first start since March 8. Schneider has lost 11 starts in a row since his last win for the Devils on Dec. 27.

Taylor Hall scored his 32nd goal of the season and Blake Coleman also scored for the Devils, who lead Florida by just one point in the race for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. The Panthers have two games in hand.

After Hansen and Fehr scored in the first period, Goodrow chipped one in midway through the second period on a surprising night of scoring from the fourth line when he beat Schneider on a 2-on-1.

Couture then scored 40 seconds later on San Jose's first shot against Keith Kinkaid for his third career 30-goal season. Boedker added San Jose's second power-play goal of the night late in the second and the rout was on.

The Sharks got off to a fast start in their first game back from a 3-0 Canadian road trip, scoring three goals in the first period and killing 1:20 of a two-man advantage for New Jersey.

The teams traded goals to start with Fehr beating Schneider over the shoulder from a bad angle and Hall answering when he stole a bouncing puck from Justin Braunand beat Jones with a quick shot.

San Jose then scored twice in a span of less than three minutes to take the lead. Pavelski tipped in a shot from Kevin Labanc on the power play to give the Sharks the lead.

Then after Jones denied Damon Severson from in close at one end, Dylan DeMelo sent a long pass that Hansen chased down and then beat Schneider on a breakaway for his first goal since March 30, 2017.

NOTES: DeMelo has 10 assists this month. ... San Jose D Brenden Dillon has a five-game point streak. ... Devils F Miles Wood (upper body) was scratched and Jesper Bratt played in his place.


Devils: Visit Pittsburgh on Friday.

Sharks: Host Vegas on Thursday.