Analysis: Sharks need to find an answer to Oilers' physicality

Analysis: Sharks need to find an answer to Oilers' physicality

EDMONTON – When Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli took over the flailing organization on April 24, 2015, he decided it would have to get bigger and tougher to compete in the Pacific Division.

Since then, Chiarelli added players like Zack Kassian via a trade with Montreal, Patrick Maroon in a deal with Anaheim, Milan Lucic this past offseason via free agency, and Adam Larsson in a trade with the Devils.

Presumably, the aim was to add some protection around superstar Connor McDavid, but also become a more physical team that can withstand the rigors of a division that features some heavy teams.

Through the first two games of their series with the Sharks they’re doing just fine in that regard. Actually, they’re doing more than that – they are pushing the Sharks around, and doing it much too easily.

Kassian in particular was a force in Game 2, as the Oilers outhit the Sharks 41-21. He was credited with six hits, including what some might describe as borderline checks on Brenden Dillon and Logan Couture.

The Sharks had no answer for him, and he’ll surely continue to be a pest throughout the series if he’s permitted to.

(For those wondering, Kassian won’t be receiving any supplemental discipline from the league for the hits on Dillon or Couture, a source has confirmed to NBC Sports California. And on another note, if you’re someone who gets turned off by aggressive players walking the line in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, I’m pretty sure Disney on Ice returns next winter).

From the Sharks’ perspective, none of the players that spoke after Game 2 seemed overly concerned with the Oilers’ physical play, including Brent Burns, who simply referred to it as “big boy hockey.” After all, Maroon has taken several foolish penalties, and the Sharks have already had 12 power plays in the series. Had they put in one or two more with a man advantage, other than just Joel Ward’s score in Game 1, they might be leaving Edmonton with a 2-0 series lead.

Instead, the power play has been atrocious in a continuation from most of the regular season.

“We have to make them pay for taking liberties, and we didn’t tonight,” said Pete DeBoer, who indicated he had no problems with the officiating in Game 2. “That’s got to get fixed going forward.”

Joe Pavelski said: “I don’t think anyone has changed their game from [the Oilers’ physicality]. … I think you weather the storms, especially with teams like them – a lot of [them playing for the] first time in the playoffs. If it’s your first time or you’ve been here before, you come out with some energy, especially at home. 

“Guys have done a good job. They’ve hung in there, made plays, took some hits. Besides our execution on the power play, we’ve done a lot of good things to draw some penalties.”

The Sharks, of course, are the more veteran team in the series. They’re not likely to get rattled or thrown off of their game just because of a few extra hits, and that was the overall theme they expressed after the 2-0 loss on Friday. The Oilers can keep running around as much as they want if they’re going to end up in the penalty box.

But those hits add up in a seven-game series, and the Sharks likely can’t keep taking the kind of punishment being dished out by the Oilers. They can’t count on getting half a dozen power plays a game, either.

The Sharks are built a little bit differently, too, than last season when they pounded their way through series wins against the heavy Kings and Blues. Gone are big hitters Roman Polak and Tommy Wingels, both of whom had no problems getting chippy when it was necessary. Timo Meier has brought an added physical element to his game, but he’s still just a rookie, and nearly broke his back in Game 2 when he completely missed on one attempted check in front of the Sharks’ bench.

Micheal Haley, meanwhile, hasn’t played yet in the series and you have to think DeBoer is considering him for Game 3. Haley already dropped the gloves with Kassian once in a Sharks-Oilers matchup on Dec. 23, so making an early statement in San Jose’s first home game might help settle things down a bit.

Regardless, the Sharks are going to have to play a harder, meaner game against a hungry team that seems determined to prove they are more than just McDavid and are just as big and bad as anyone else in the NHL. That's what Chiarelli wanted when he was building his roster, and so far, that's what he's getting.

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.