Sharks

After stale start, Sharks have the need for Heed

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USATSI

After stale start, Sharks have the need for Heed

For the second straight day, defenseman Paul Martin missed practice, according to our own Brodie Brazil on Facebook Live.

Absence creates opportunity, and the beneficiary over the last two days was 26-year-old Swedish defenseman Tim Heed. Heed, who led the AHL’s San Jose Barracuda in scoring from the blueline last season, made the team out of camp as the seventh defenseman.

His track record from the AHL and an accomplished career in Sweden are impressive, but what Heed represents is arguably more important: A fresh approach.

Yes, Kevin Labanc is playing in a top-six role and fellow second-year forward Timo Meier made the team out of camp. Patrick Marleau’s gone, too, but for all intents and purposes, the roster that was bounced out in six games in the first round last spring has remained intact.

Through two games this season, things have already started to look stale.

The Sharks have only scored twice at even strength. The power play’s looked listless. The penalty kill’s bled chances. Martin Jones has struggled.

Head coach Peter DeBoer’s juggled the lines in an effort to change things up, but Heed’s potential entry into the lineup on Thursday against Buffalo represents a much realer opportunity for change.

Heed also skated on the first power play unit on Tuesday. His presence there fundamentally changes the approach of that group, which would feature two capable, puck-moving defensemen and three forwards, instead of the usual one and four.

It’s a much more notable difference than plugging Mikkel Boedker in for the departed Marleau. Such a revamp is probably also overdue, given San Jose’s drop from third to 25th in power play percentage last season. The previous approach hasn’t worked lately, and a subtly different one could get the power play going again.

Now, that’s not to overstate Heed’s importance. He skated with Brenden Dillon at practice on Wednesday, meaning he’ll begin the season on the third pairing. His potential may be considerably higher, but he’s currently a bottom pairing defenseman potentially set for some time on the power play. And, in all likelihood, he’ll leave the lineup once Martin’s healthy.

But for the first time this season, it feels like the Sharks are taking a different approach. Playing the youth is one thing, but deploying the roster differently has proven to be another. Heed could start to change that.

Alone, Heed won’t be enough to cure what’s ailed the Sharks so far. What he represents, though, just might be the start of what does.

Martin Jones has not made up for Sharks' recent defensive struggles

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AP

Martin Jones has not made up for Sharks' recent defensive struggles

For just the third time this season, the Sharks scored three goals for the third consecutive game in Sunday night’s loss to the Wild. San Jose’s scored 13 goals in the last three games, which is a dramatic improvement for one of the league’s lowest-scoring offenses.

Sunday also marked the fourth time in the last five games the Sharks, one of the NHL’s best defensive teams, allowed four goals. All four have come in starts by Martin Jones since he returned to the crease on Dec. 2.

San Jose’s looked poor defensively in front of Jones following his return, and it’s been difficult to fault him on many of the goals. The Sharks’ defensive numbers over his last four starts match the eye test.

Normally, 21.66 percent of the shots Jones faces in five-on-five situations and 26.9 percent of the shots he faces in all situation are of the ‘high-danger’ variety, according to Corsica Hockey. Over his last four starts, those numbers are 29.90 percent and 32.23 percent, respectively.

But Jones also has not been up to his usual standards. At even strength this season, his high-danger save percentage is .798, and .821 in all situations.

Over the last four games, those numbers have fallen significantly. His high-danger save percentage at even strength is over seven points lower (.724), and nearly 13 points lower in all situations (.692).

So the Sharks, essentially, have allowed a higher share of high-danger shots in Jones’ first four starts after coming back from injury. Jones, meanwhile, hasn’t been able to offset that increase.

It’s unclear whether that increase, or Jones’ own performance, deserves a larger share of the blame. It’s clear, however, that the Sharks can’t expect to win if either trend continues.

San Jose’s remained in playoff contention this season because of their defense. As they’ve struggled to score, they’ve prevented their opponents from scoring, and won games on the backs of stingy defensive efforts.

The assumption with the Sharks was that, so long as their defensive effort remained level, an offense rounding into form would allow them to climb up the standings. The former’s gotten worse, and the Sharks are struggling more than their record would indicate.

Since Jones returned, San Jose is 2-2-1, and 1-2-1 in his starts. That mark could very easily be 0-2-2 or 0-3-1, if not for a three-goal comeback against the Hurricanes.

That’s worrisome ahead of one of the most vital stretches of the season. San Jose’s next six games are against divisional opponents, and they have an opportunity to gain significant ground in the division.

That opportunity will be wasted if the Sharks defense, and Jones, aren’t able to tighten up.

 

Sharks comeback falls short in wild loss to Minnesota

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USATSI

Sharks comeback falls short in wild loss to Minnesota

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE -- Nino Niederreiter scored 3:26 into overtime and the Minnesota Wild beat the San Jose Sharks 4-3 on Sunday night after squandering a three-goal lead.

Eric Staal scored twice and Ryan Murphy added a goal as the Wild extended their winning streak over the Sharks to four games.

Tomas Hertl tapped in a loose puck for San Jose with five minutes left in regulation to tie it at 3.

Hertl's goal followed a furious Sharks attack that Wild goalie Alex Stalock was able to fend off until a shot from Dylan DeMelo bounced off his shoulder pads and into no man's land just above the crease.

Brent Burns scored twice for the Sharks, who had won five of seven.

Stalock made 31 saves in his first appearance against his former team. Martin Jones stopped 20 shots for the Sharks.

The Wild, winners in four of their last five games, scored twice in the first 10 minutes. A series of sharp passes set up Murphy for a power-play goal just more than four minutes in. Staal sent a pass to Jason Zucker behind the net and he found Murphy for a 1-on-1 score.

Staal's first goal came after Ryan Suter recognized an advantage when Burns ran into Jones, knocking him off his feet. Suter delivered a pass to Staal, who easily fired it over Jones.

Early in the second period, Staal was able to push the puck through Jones' skates for a 3-0 Wild lead.

Burns got the Sharks on the scoreboard with a power-play goal during a two-man advantage late in the second period. Burns scored again on a power play with a slap shot from just inside the blue line midway through the third, his 12th multi-goal game.

NOTES: Sharks forward Jannik Hansen appeared in his 600th NHL game. ... Burns has six points in his last three games, including three goals. ... Murphy scored his first goal in 69 games. ... Staal had his second multi-goal effort in five games. ... Wild forward Jason Zucker has points in eight of his last nine games.

UP NEXT

Wild: Open a three-game homestand against the Calgary Flames on Tuesday.

Sharks: Begin a three-game road trip in Calgary on Thursday.