Analysis: Sharks' division plainly the NHL's worst

Analysis: Sharks' division plainly the NHL's worst

The Sharks’ 6-6-0 start has been less than encouraging. 

A few of their stars and many of their depth players haven’t played consistent hockey, some of the older players on the team are suddenly looking just that, and an overall lack of urgency paired with blatant mental slip-ups have been themes during their three-game losing streak.

Fortunately for them, there’s plenty of time to get it together, especially while competing in what looks to be the weakest of the four divisions in the NHL – by a wide margin.

The Pacific Division can be summed up quite simply. One team, the Edmonton Oilers, is the biggest pleasant surprise in the league with a 9-3-1 mark. 

The other six? They've got some issues.

The Anaheim Ducks have been inconsistent. They got off to a rough start in losing their first four games, but pushed their record to 6-5-2 after a pair of wins last week over Calgary and Arizona. Still, they suffered decisive losses recently to Pittsburgh on Nov. 2, 5-1, and Columbus on Oct. 28, 4-0.

The Kings are dealing with the loss of goalie Jonathan Quick for three months with a groin injury, and they already looked weaker on paper than at the end of last season. Los Angeles has an identical record to the Sharks at 6-6-0, but four of those wins have come in three-on-three overtime, while a fifth was in a shootout. That’s right – 12 games into the season, the Kings have just one regulation victory. 

Calgary (5-8-1) identified goaltending as an issue after last season, and subsequently added Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson. They’re currently 28th in the NHL in goals-against average (3.57) and team save percentage (.878). Rising star Johnny Gaudreau has two goals in 14 games, and is an NHL-worst minus-11.

Vancouver (4-7-1) and Arizona (4-7-0) could very well be the two worst teams in the NHL. The Coyotes are in a rebuild under a new general manager, some key sophomores like Anthony Duclair and Max Domi are struggling, and starting goalie Mike Smith is hurt (again). 

The Canucks have lost seven straight in regulation and eight overall (0-7-1). They have just 20 goals in 12 games for an NHL-worst 1.58 goals-per-game, nearly half a goal less than 29th-ranked Colorado. They are downright dreadful.

As for the Oilers, you have to tip your cap to them for what they’ve done so far under former Sharks coach Todd McLellan, now in his second season there. Connor McDavid is well on his way to superstardom, while Cam Talbot has provided solid goaltending. Whether they can keep up that pace over an 82-game season remains to be seen as their defense core still looks weak, but they are certainly no longer an afterthought.

* * *

Coach Pete DeBoer gave his take on the division late last week.

“L.A. and Anaheim are going to be there at the end of the day. They’re going to be right there, so we know that. There [were] a lot of similar things happening last year and when the smoke [clears] and the dust [settles], you know those teams are going to be right there.

“Where the improvement has been is in the bottom part, the Edmontons, the Phoenixs, the Calgarys. I think all those teams obviously are either taking a big step or have the potential to take a big step. It’s going to be tight.”

While there’s no panic with DeBoer yet – he also mentioned it’s “a little early to chase anyone” when asked about first place Edmonton – the Sharks have already squandered an opportunity to gain some separation from the rest of the division. 

Should they find their game, it shouldn’t be very long until they’re firmly among the top three. So far, though, they’re just one of several clubs in the Pacific that just can’t get seem to get it going.

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.

With Devils in town, Sharks will get firsthand look at top contender for MVP


With Devils in town, Sharks will get firsthand look at top contender for MVP

As the season winds down, whispers surrounding players’ awards candidacies are turning into full-blown conversations. None are more interesting than those surrounding the Hart Trophy, awarded to “the player judged to be the most valuable to his team,” according to the NHL’s criteria.

The Sharks have already seen their fair share of MVP candidates since the trade deadline, and will encounter yet another one on Tuesday when Taylor Hall and the New Jersey Devils stop by SAP Center. They’ll see a couple more beyond Hall over the next three weeks, too.

Who do we think has the best case? With no disrespect meant to Nikita Kucherov or Anze Kopitar, Hart Trophy candidates that the Sharks won’t play before the playoffs, we’ll look at the ones the Sharks have played since the deadline or will play before the end of the regular season.

The Dark Horses
Alexander Ovechkin, Washington Capitals: The demise of the ‘Great Eight’ was greatly exaggerated. In his 13th NHL season, the 32-year-old is tied for the league lead in goals (43), 11th in points (78), and has led a depleted Capitals roster to the precipice of a third-straight division title. That probably won’t be enough to earn his fourth Hart Trophy, but this is undoubtedly one of Ovi’s best seasons.

Eric Staal, Minnesota Wild: Staal was a pleasant surprise when he scored 65 points last year, but has been even better this season. He’s tied for fourth in the in goals (39), tied for fifth in even strength goals (26), tied for 19th in points (71), and leading his team in each category as a 33-year-old. The Wild are a near-lock for the postseason at this point, and a resurgent Staal deserves much of the credit.

The Frontrunners
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers: McDavid’s candidacy comes down to where you fall on the “non-playoff players winning MVP” debate, but his value to the lottery-bound Oilers cannot be denied. Edmonton is 28-19-3 when he’s scored a point, and 3-17-2 when he hasn’t.

The former is about a 97-point pace in the standings over an 82-game season, while the latter is about a 30-point pace. In other words, the Oilers are basically a playoff team when McDavid scores, and historically bad when he doesn’t.

We’re sympathetic to questions about how valuable a player can be when his team will finish so far out of the postseason. However, imagining how much worse the poorly-constructed Oilers would be without him makes him a worthy candidate alone.

Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche: The Colorado Avalanche were 31 points worse than the league’s second-worst team last season, and finished 46 points out of the postseason. A full offseason with second-year coach Jared Bednar, as well as some under-the-radar acquisitions have helped the Avalanche’s remarkable turnaround into a Wild Card team, but Nathan MacKinnon is undoubtedly the catalyst.

The former No. 1 pick has put it all together this season, and is tied-for-second in points (89) with McDavid, despite playing eight fewer games. His 1.39 points per game are the most in the league, as are his 3.49 points per 60 minutes of five-on-five play, according to Natural Stat Trick (minimum 500 minutes played).

The Avalanche is the league’s fifth-worst five-on-five puck possession team overall (47.42 percent corsi-for), but are right around league-average with MacKinnon on the ice (50.96 percent). He’d be a very worthy Hart Trophy winner, and likely would be the clear-cut frontrunner if not for the man leading the Devils into SAP Center on Tuesday.

The Favorite
Taylor Hall, New Jersey Devils: McDavid is not the only No. 1 pick the Oilers drafted that’s in the MVP conversation, but he’s the only one still on their roster. The other is Taylor Hall, who has the best Hart Trophy case in our eyes.

Hall strikes the sweet spot between McDavid’s case, as a superstar with little support around him, and MacKinnon’s, as an emergent force leading a resurgence, and he has a 26-game point streak to his name. He sits outside the top 10 in points (77), goals (31), and assists (46), but has scored points at a higher rate per game (1.15) than all but six qualifying players.

He also doesn’t have Mikko Rantanen or Leon Draisaitl skating alongside him as MacKinnon and McDavid do, nor does he have a supporting cast like Kucherov and Kopitar. Of all the players the Sharks have and will face down the stretch, Hall’s been the player most valuable to his team this season.