10 Observations: Third D pair impressive, older Sharks struggling

10 Observations: Third D pair impressive, older Sharks struggling

Cleaning out the notebook as the Sharks close out the month of October…

1 – I know it’s early and things can drastically change between now and the end of the year, but I wonder if David Schlemko will end up being the third defenseman the Sharks end up protecting for the expansion draft rather than Justin Braun (assuming that Brent Burns gets signed, and the Sharks protect both him and Marc-Edouard Vlasic). 

Schlemko has added some punch to the second power play unit, has 21 shots (second among defensemen and fifth overall), can play either side, and has a much more team-friendly contract than Braun ($2.1 million through 2019-20, while Braun is at $3.8 million, also through 2019-20). Something to keep in mind as the season progresses.

2 – Just how much better is the Sharks’ third defense pair this season? Brenden Dillon and Schlemko are eighth and ninth, respectively, in five-on-five shot attempt differential in the entire NHL. Dillon is a plus-47 while Schlemko is plus-46.

Last season, Dillon was a minus-25 in that department, while partner Roman Polak was a minus-5 in 24 games for San Jose after he was acquired at the trade deadline. In the playoffs, though, Dillon was a minus-85 in shot attempts in 24 playoff games, while Polak was minus-73.

As much as Schlemko has shown to be a mobile guy, Dillon looks faster this season, too. That could partially be a function of not skating with Polak, but I think he’s simply added a bit more speed to his game.

3 – A bit surprising that Matt Nieto didn’t dress against the Predators. I know the Sharks had won two straight with Micheal Haley in the lineup going into that game, but Nashville is a fast team, and Nieto is still among San Jose’s fastest skaters. Have to wonder what his future is here. I wrote before the season that I think he needs a change of scenery, and nothing has happened yet to make me think otherwise.

If Nieto is not going to play, the Sharks should do him a favor and move the pending restricted free agent to a team that will put him in. There are enough players in the Sharks’ system that could fill the void he would leave.

4 – One of those players, potentially, is Kevin Labanc. The forward was the biggest pleasant surprise in training camp, although perhaps it wasn’t all that surprising since he led the OHL in scoring last season with 127 points in 65 games. Labanc is off to a solid start with the AHL Barracuda; in four games he has three goals and four assists for seven points.

5 – Seems to me like the short summer may be adversely affecting some of the older Sharks. Joe Thornton, 37, has looked a bit off and a half-step behind since the season started, although he’s still managed to contribute one goal and seven assists through nine games. Patrick Marleau, 37, has just two goals and one assist in nine games despite an ample amount scoring chances, while 35-year-olds Paul Martin (two assists) and Joel Ward (one goal, minus-5) have had a rough go of it, too.

Other than Thornton, it’s fair to wonder if any of those aforementioned players will need a night off at some point. Dylan DeMelo is still waiting to make his season debut, and if some of the younger players on the Barracuda like Labanc and Timo Meier progress, it could give coach Pete DeBoer some real roster flexibility.

6 – Here is where the Sharks have finished in overall faceoff percentage in the league from 2008-09 through last season: 2nd, 1st, 2nd, 2nd, 2nd, 2nd, 6th, 7th.

That’s why it’s so surprising that on November 1, the Sharks are dead last in the NHL in faceoff percentage (44.4 percent). No one has struggled more than Logan Couture, who has won 39 faceoffs while losing 74 for just a 34.5 percent success rate. Chris Tierney (26-for-66, 39.4 percent) has also had a tough time in the circle.

7 – The biggest offseason trade involved Nashville sending captain Shea Weber to Montreal for P.K. Subban. Couture offered a pretty blunt assessment of playing against the altered Predators defense.

“You realize they’re missing a big piece, a big guy on their back end, a guy that plays tough,” said Couture, who played with Weber on the Canadian World Cup team. “Subban adds another dimension, a puck movement guy, a guy that likes to handle the puck. It is a little different between those two. You go to the front of the net, you’re going to pay a price with [Weber]. [Subban] likes to carry the puck. I guess [it’s] a little different.”

You can read between the lines on that one.

8 – Speaking of Subban, he is often compared to Burns for his ability to generate offense from the back end. The 27-year-old defenseman said he knows Burns a bit from some various league events, but he doesn’t really consider them all that similar.

“I’ve never really thought about that. I think that we play the game differently,” Subban said. “As defensemen, we probably have similarities, but I wouldn’t say that we’re exactly the same player. He has strengths in his game, and I have strengths in mine, but I’d probably say we’re a little bit different players.”

9 – One of the early league-wide storylines is the number of goalies that have been hurt already. Among those that have missed time or are still out are Jonathan Bernier (Ducks), Jonathan Quick (Kings), Jeff Zatkoff (Kings), Mike Smith (Coyotes), Anton Khudobin (Bruins), Tuukka Rask (Bruins) and Andrew Hammond (Senators).

“It’s strange. I haven’t seen that, even going back to [Carey] Price last year, the high profile guys missing extended periods of time,” DeBoer said. “That’s rare. I don’t know the answer. The injuries don’t seem to be contact related. I think they’ve taken away the goalie contact stuff with some of the rules, it’s more overextending. They are so athletic now, the play moves so quickly. I don’t know the answer, whether it’s early in the season and you’re just not where you need to be flexibility-wise – I don’t know. I’m just thankful that our guy is healthy.”

10 – Sharks play-by-play man/local legend Randy Hahn pointed out the other day that the Sharks have seven undrafted players on their roster, more than any other NHL team. They include: Schlemko, Dillon, Haley, Ward, Melker Karlsson, Martin Jones and Aaron Dell.

“I think that’s part of the fabric and identity of this team,” DeBoer said. “We’re a hard-working, honest group that loves to play. When you talk about guys who have persevered who haven’t been drafted, who have been told they’re not good enough at different points, you have to love the game in order to continue on and fight through that stuff. That’s what makes our team, our team. 

“We’re also fortunate to have some great [first round picks] that also love the game and bring that energy to the rink. It’s a nice combination. I think it definitely is part of the character of our team.”

After a perfect week, Sharks have playoff breathing room with three weeks to go


After a perfect week, Sharks have playoff breathing room with three weeks to go

The Sharks’ playoff outlook is a lot rosier after winning all four of their games last week. They are now four points clear of the Los Angeles Kings in the second Wild Card spot, and three points up the Anaheim Ducks, who are third place in the Pacific Division.

Those are four-point and three-point improvements, respectively, over those same spots last week. The Sharks even picked up ground on the first-place Vegas Golden Knights, and are eight points back of the Pacific’s leaders, with two head-to-head matchups remaining.

That’s not quite close enough to warrant inclusion in a look at the playoff picture headed into the week, but could be next week if San Jose continues to make up ground. Otherwise, it’s still worth examining where the Sharks stand in regards to the Pacific and the Wild Card.

San Jose Sharks (Second in the Pacific, 89 points)

Games Remaining: 10

On the Docket:  3/20 vs New Jersey, 3/22 vs Vegas, 3/24 vs Calgary

Outlook: Over the next two weeks, the schedule really starts to become difficult. San Jose has only two games remaining against teams on the outside looking in, and is just 2-6-2 in its last 10 against teams currently in a playoff spot. If that trend continues, the newfound breathing room could start to disappear rather quickly.

Anaheim Ducks (Third in the Pacific, 86 points)

Games Remaining: Nine

On the Docket: 3/21 at Calgary, 3/23 at Winnipeg, 3/25 at Edmonton

Outlook: The Ducks have now won three in a row, including next Sunday against the red-hot New Jersey Devils. They’ll play four of their final five road games in the next nine days, and all but one of their opponents is not in playoff position. Anaheim’s just 15-14-7 away from the Honda Center, though. With the fewest games remaining of any playoff team, the Ducks will help to move up any further.

Colorado Avalanche (First Wild Card, 86 points)

Games Remaining: 10

On the Docket: 3/20 at Chicago, 3/22 vs Los Angeles, 3/24 vs Vegas

Outlook: Give it up for surefire Hart Trophy finalist Nathan MacKinnon and the Avalanche, winners of three of four last week. Other than a slip-up on the second night of a back-to-back in Nashville, Colorado was outright dominant, outscoring opponents 16-7. A midweek matchup against Los Angeles could create some Wild Card separation.

Los Angeles Kings (Second Wild Card, 84 points)

Games Remaining: 10

On the Docket: 3/19 at Minnesota, 3/20 at Winnipeg, 3/22 at Colorado, 3/24 at Edmonton

Outlook: The Kings picked up points in three of four, including on both nights of a back-to-back. Their schedule really picks up this week, as they’ll face three playoff-bound teams from the Central on the road. The struggling Stars remain on their heels, although the Kings have a game in hand.

Dallas Stars (Ninth in the West, 84 points)

Games Remaining: Nine

On the Docket: 3/20 at Washington, 3/23 vs Boston. 3/25 vs Vancouver

Outlook: Is Dallas in the middle of a Lone Star letdown? We wrote last week that a difficult schedule could create openings for the teams chasing them and boy, did it ever. The Stars went 0-2-2 on the week, and picked up just one point against the lottery-bound Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators. They’ll surely relish a matchup against the Canucks in six days, as it’s their only remaining game against a non-playoff team.

St. Louis Blues (10th in the West, 83 points)

Games Remaining: 10

On the Docket: 3/21 vs Boston, 3/23 vs Vancouver, 3/24 at Columbus

Outlook: For the second straight season, it’s not quite time to stick a fork in the St. Louis Blues. Yes, they are once again in the playoff hunt after trading one of their best players at the trade deadline, and won three out of four to move with in a point of the final Wild Card spot. The Blues have now won four of five, and still have an uphill climb ahead. After last season, is it ever safe to rule them out?

The Departed: Calgary Flames (11th in the West, 80 points)

This section is reserved for teams that have fallen out of the playoff picture since our last look at the playoff picture, and the Calgary Flames have earned(?) the inaugural (dis)honor. The Flames failed to keep the door to the playoffs ajar thanks to a 7-4 loss to the Sharks on Friday, and it slammed shut after a 4-0 loss in Sin City on Sunday. They have to jump three teams and cover four points of ground to earn a Wild Card spot. The latest stretch stings, but the Flames will likely look on a four-game, post-trade deadline losing streak as when their playoff hopes burned out.

Sharks overcome early deficit, injuries to finish road trip with third straight win


Sharks overcome early deficit, injuries to finish road trip with third straight win

VANCOUVER --Timo Meier's second goal of the game snapped a third-period tie and the San Jose Sharks beat the Vancouver Canucks 5-3 on Saturday night for their fourth consecutive victory.

Logan Couture and Kevin Labanc each had a goal and an assist, and Tomas Hertl scored into an empty net with 25 seconds remaining for the Sharks, who are 7-2-0 in their last nine games.

Nikolay Goldobin, Alex Edler and Bo Horvat scored power-play goals and Sam Gagner had two assists for the Canucks, who lost their sixth consecutive game - their longest losing streak of the season.

Goldobin's goal at 10:48 of the first period snapped a scoreless streak of 222 minutes, 57 minutes for the Canucks, who had been shut out in three consecutive losses.

The Sharks had allowed just two power-play goals in their previous 17 games, but gave up three against Vancouver. The only other time San Jose allowed three power-play goals in a game was in an opening-night loss to Philadelphia.

Aaron Dell, making his first start since Feb. 22, made 28 saves for the Sharks. Vancouver's Jacob Markstrom stopped 25 shots.

Meier put the Sharks ahead at 6:07 of the third with a shot from the faceoff circle that went under Markstrom's blocker. The Canucks came close with just over six minutes left, but Hertl scooped a loose puck off the goal line.

Vancouver scored twice with the man-advantage in the second period to tie the game at 3.

The Sharks took a 3-1 lead just 1:47 into the period when Meier tipped in Brenden Dillion's shot from the point.

Horvat started Vancouver's comeback, scoring just 6 seconds into a power play. Dell stopped Gagner's slap shot but Horvat jammed home the rebound. Edler tied it with a blast from the point at 11:48. It was his first power-play goal in 88 games dating to Feb. 17, 2017.

The Sharks scored 1:10 apart in the first period to erase a 1-0 deficit.

Goldobin opened the scoring when he took a pass from defenseman Derrick Pouilot and snapped a shot from the face-off circle that sailed over Dell's shoulder. The San Jose goalie was screened by Jake Virtanen.

Labanc tied it on a power play at 14:48. Joe Pavelski's shot was stopped by Markstrom, but he managed to get his own rebound and passed it to Labanc at the side of the net.

The Sharks went ahead on Couture's 29th of the season at 16:08. He took a feed from Hertl, fought off a check by Virtanen and chipped the puck past Markstrom.

NOTES: Defenseman Chris Tanev returned to Vancouver lineup for his first game since breaking his leg Feb. 8 against Tampa Bay ... San Jose center Melker Karlsson went to the dressing favoring his right leg early in the first period after blocking a shot. ... San Jose's Marc-Edouard Vlasic left in the second period after being hit in the chest by a puck. ... The Canucks' franchise record for a scoring drought is 234 minutes, 52 seconds, set March 16-24, 2016. ... The longest goal drought by a team in the expansion era is 262 minutes, 3 seconds, set by the Minnesota North Stars from Jan. 28-Feb. 6, 1988.


Sharks: vs. New Jersey on Tuesday night.

Canucks: at Vegas on Tuesday night.