Analysis: Sharks reestablishing their foundation on road trip

Analysis: Sharks reestablishing their foundation on road trip

When the goals aren’t flowing, playing a more buttoned-up defensive game becomes that much more vital.

The Sharks are 3-0 on their ongoing six-game road trip primarily because they’ve kept some high-powered offenses at bay. They’ve stayed out of the penalty box, are working hard all over the ice, aren't giving up many dangerous scoring chances, and are getting steady goaltending from Martin Jones.

The result has been wins over the Capitals, Panthers and Lightning, the most recent of which – a 3-1 triumph over Tampa Bay on Saturday – may have been their most impressive of the season.

“We’re rising to the occasion at the right time, and finding another level,” coach Pete DeBoer told reporters after the game.

The benefit of having a veteran team – and the Sharks are certainly that, with the oldest team in the league according to – is that they won’t panic when they hit a rough patch. They were scuffling before the trip with three straight regulation losses, including a 5-0 shellacking at the hands of the Penguins on Nov. 5 at SAP Center.

But despite that decisive shutout defeat, the Sharks didn’t turn their attention to their lack of goal scoring. They had to get back to playing more responsible defensively after some blatant, head-shaking breakdowns in those losses to the Coyotes, Flames and Penguins.

“As a team, we talked about the most important thing is playing a good defensive game,” Tommy Wingels said after the 4-2 win over the Panthers on Thursday.

The penalty kill plays a huge part in that, of course, and that’s been the most consistent part of the Sharks’ game since opening night. They’ve remarkably killed off 24 straight opponent power plays, not surrendering a single power play goal since that third period collapse in Pittsburgh way back on Oct. 20.

One huge key to that PK success is they haven’t been overly taxed. The Sharks have been shorthanded just 37 times, the fewest in the league, and are six-for-six on the road trip so far.

Faceoffs have improved, too, as San Jose has won more than 50 percent of its draws in six of its last seven games. They were last in the league in faceoffs prior to that run, but are now up to a respectable 48.9 percent.

The Sharks still have yet to score more than three goals in a win this season, not including empty netters (they scored four against the Rangers on Oct. 17, but lost 7-4). They’re still 21st in the NHL at 2.47 per game.

But with their lineup mostly unchanged from last season when they finished fourth in the league at 2.89 goals per game, the expectation is that part of their game will come around. At some point, it will have to.

In the meantime, the Sharks are reestablishing that defensive foundation that made them so successful last season. That bodes well for future.

Kane leads Sharks to critical win on four-goal night

Kane leads Sharks to critical win on four-goal night


CALGARY, Alberta -- Evander Kane scored four goals to lead the San Jose Sharks past the Calgary Flames 7-4 on Friday night.

Tomas Hertl had a goal and an assist for the Sharks, who have won three straight and four of five. Kevin Lebanc and Eric Fehr also scored, and Martin Jones made 30 saves.

It was the first NHL hat trick for Kane, acquired from Buffalo just before the Feb. 26 trade deadline.

Micheal Ferland had a goal and an assist for the Flames, who are four points out of a playoff spot. Troy BrouwerMark Jankowski and Johnny Gaudreau also scored for Calgary.

Three nights after stopping all 28 shots he faced against the Oilers, Calgary goalie Mike Smith had a rough outing as he made just 14 saves before being replaced by David Rittich early in the third period. Rittich went on to stop all seven shots he faced in a relief appearance.

The Sharks opened the scoring six minutes into the first period when Kane's wrist shot beat Smith to the glove side.

The Flames pulled even at 16:42 when Brouwer chipped a pass from Curtis Lazar into the top corner behind Jones. Matt Stajan stole the puck from Sharks defenseman Brenden Dillon behind the San Jose net to get the play started.

Jankowski took a pass from linemate Garnet Hathaway and wired a shot to the top corner, glove side behind Jones to put Calgary up 2-1 at 2:10 of the second period.

Kane then redirected Dillon's point shot past Smith at 6:29 before Gaudreau cut into the slot and snapped a shot past Jones at 10:16 to put Calgary back up by a goal.

That lead lasted just 1:26 as Lebanc fired a shot from a sharp angle into the top corner past Smith to pull the Sharks into a 3-all tie.

Kane completed his hat trick at 16:32 when he swatted in his own rebound before Hertl poked the puck through Smith's legs with 1:58 remaining before the second intermission.

The Sharks added an insurance goal 62 seconds into the third when Kane redirected a pass from Joe Pavelski past Smith.

Ferland backhanded a shot past Jones to pull Calgary within two goals with 5:35 left in regulation and Rittich on the bench for an extra attacker. Fehr rounded out the scoring with an empty-net goal 1:37 later.

NOTES: Jankowski suited up for the Flames after sitting out Tuesday's 1-0 win over Edmonton. Fellow forward Kris Versteeg returned to Calgary's lineup after missing the past 49 games with a hip injury. ... Gaudreau extended his point streak to six games (three goals, five assists).


Sharks: At the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday night.

Flames: At the Vegas Golden Knights on Sunday.

Jones set for big workload down the stretch


Jones set for big workload down the stretch

Sharks goaltender Martin Jones is on pace for the lightest overall workload of his career as a starter. After starting 65 games in his first two seasons in San Jose, Jones can only play a maximum of 62 if he appears in each of the team's 12 remaining games. 

Yet simultaneously, he is also on pace for the largest stretch-run workload of his career. Jones will make his 10th straight start, and 51st overall, Friday night in Calgary. 

Friday will also mark his eighth consecutive start since the trade deadline. Over the last two seasons, Jones made 13 and 14 starts, respectively, from the deadline onwards. 

It's easy to envision Jones far surpassing that workload. Entering Mar. 16 each of the last two years, the Sharks held, respectively, 10-point and 18-point leads over the West's ninth-place team, the closest among the squads on the outside looking in at the postseason. As a result, James Reimer and Aaron Dell spelled Jones for eight and seven starts, respectively, to keep him rested ahead of the postseason. 

This year, San Jose's only three points clear of the ninth-place Anaheim Ducks. There's also only one back-to-back remaining on the post-deadline schedule, compared to five in 2016-17 and two in 2015-16, and 10 of the next 12 games are against teams within four points of a playoff spot. 

Taking all of that into consideration, Jones should pretty easily exceed the mark of 14 post-trade deadline starts he set last season and ultimately start more than 60 games for the third consecutive season, barring injury. 

Should the Sharks clinch a playoff spot, it will be fair to wonder what kind of effect Jones' stretch-run starts will have on his postseason performance. Jones posted a .923 save percentage in San Jose's run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2016, and a .935 save percentage in the first round last year after receiving a good amount of time off. 

But the Sharks have to get there first, and it's understandable they will rely on Jones in order to do so. The recently-extended Aaron Dell remains one of the league's better backups, but has come a bit back down to earth this season (.914 save percentage) after earning the role last year (.931). 

Jones, for his part, has handled the increased workload well so far, winning five of nine games and posting a .922 save percentage. How well handles his 10th consecutive start, and any that follow, will have a profound impact on the Sharks' hopes of making the playoffs.