Analysis: Sharks rely on experience to turn up heat on Oilers

Analysis: Sharks rely on experience to turn up heat on Oilers

SAN JOSE – There are varying opinions as to whether momentum in a playoff series carries over from game to game. Usully, it’s not worth diving too deeply into the subject.

But after a 7-0 Sharks win in Game 4 over an Edmonton team that lacks playoff experience, it’s fair to contemplate whether the lopsided nature of the victory on Tuesday resonates in a bad way in the Oilers’ dressing room headed into Thursday’s pivotal Game 5 at Rogers Place.

The longer a series goes, the more a team's experience should be able to temper the momentum, both good and bad. The Sharks weren’t gripping their sticks too tightly ahead of Game 4, despite going exactly 120 minutes without a goal, and it showed, especially after captain Joe Pavelski – who missed a wide open net in Game 3 that could have changed the course of the game – got the Sharks the first goal with one of his patented tips just 15 seconds after the opening faceoff.

The Sharks also know that just because they won so easily on Tuesday, Game 5 could quickly get away from them if they’re not ready to compete at the same level.

“It’s one win, that’s it,” Logan Couture said. “It’s 2-2, best-of-three left. We’re going to go try and win a game in Edmonton.”

Game 4, though, was the kind of response that tends to come from a veteran team that has seen and been through it all. The situation was strikingly similar to last season’s second round when the Predators outplayed the Sharks pretty thoroughly in Game 6 before San Jose went home and dominated Game 7, 5-0, to advance to the Western Conference Final.

Although coach Pete DeBoer has downplayed the importance of the experience factor since before the series began, that could be similar to last season when he did the same in the Sharks-Kings series, rejecting the notion of how much it meant for the Sharks to exorcise those playoff demons from the past – only admitting to it after the Sharks had knocked off their biggest rival.

That's not to say the young Oilers can't rise to the challenge and quickly put their awful performance in Game 4 behind them, of course. If Connor McDavid finally breaks through and puts the team on his back, it wouldn’t be overly surprising. This is still just a hockey game, after all.

There’s a chance, though, that McDavid - who looks to be getting frustrated - and his teammates will still be thinking about everything that went wrong in Game 4. And it was, in fact, everything.

Coach Todd McLellan said after the game that he actually wanted his players to ponder it for a little while.

“I don’t want our players to necessarily forget about it tonight,” McLellan said. “I’d like them to think about it, and think about some of the things that they need to do better. But, we will park the game.”

Somewhere in their minds, though, the Oilers will be aware that if they drop Game 5 at home, their season will be on the brink in Game 6 back in San Jose. After the bloodbath on Tuesday, the last thing they want is to have to go back to the Shark Tank in an elimination game.

Is the pressure back on the Oilers now?

“Maybe. I think we’re used to it over here,” Thornton said. “I’d like to think we can go into there and be confident.” 

Joel Ward said: “Hopefully [we can] just carry that momentum for our side. For us, it’s just worry about us. Keep putting on that pressure.”

The pressure was applied by the battle-tested Sharks in Game 4, big time. How the Oilers respond to it for Game 5 could determine the series.


Something smells fishy about Sharks' early success on power play

Something smells fishy about Sharks' early success on power play

By many traditional measures, the Sharks’ power play is off to a strong start.

They’ve scored seven times on 30 opportunities, including once in Saturday’s 5-3 loss to the New York Islanders. That mark, 23.3%, would have been good enough for third in the league last season, and is nearly seven percent better than the Sharks were in 2016-17.

San Jose’s made some changes on the man advantage, and are getting a different look on their top power play unit with Tim Heed there instead of another forward. Second-year forward Kevin Labanc is playing a significant role on the second unit, operating as something of a focal point.

The puck’s found the net a lot for the Sharks on the power play, but a deeper look at the numbers reveals that success may be a house of cards.

According to Natural Stat Trick, San Jose ranks in the bottom third of the league in shots, shot attempts, and unblocked shot attempts per 60 minutes. Using those rates allow us to compare teams empirically, equalizing for the amount of time each team has spent on the power play. Those rates, by the way, are not very good.

And each of those are lower than last season, when the Sharks finished 25th in power play percentage. This season, the Sharks are converting more shots, despite attempting less.

It would be tempting to think San Jose can hang their helmets on higher shot quality, but they’ve struggled in that area, too. The Sharks finished just shy of the top ten in high danger chances per 60 minutes last season, but are in the bottom third of the league this season, according to Natural Stat Trick.

So the Sharks are shooting at a lower rate and generating chances at a lower rate than last season, when they had one of the league’s worst power plays, but are scoring at a much higher clip. They’ve converted on about 19% of their shots on the power play, almost doubling their conversion rate (10.5%) from a season ago.

If this doesn’t seem like a sustainable mix, that’s because it’s not. In a small sample size of seven games, the power play’s been good enough, but the Sharks can’t count on converting nearly a fifth of their power play opportunities if they continue to struggle generating shots and chances.

Of course, stranger things have happened in a hockey season, so it’s possible the Sharks can ride a sky-high shooting percentage all season long. Banking on that, however, would be foolhardy.

Sharks come up short in New York despite Couture's hat trick

Sharks come up short in New York despite Couture's hat trick


NEW YORK — Anders Lee had two goals and an assist to lead the New York Islanders to a 5-3 victory over the San Jose Sharks on Saturday night.

John Tavares had a goal and two assists, Josh Bailey added a goal and an assist, and Andrew Ladd also scored to help the Islanders win for the third time in four games. Thomas Greiss stopped 28 shots.

Logan Couture scored all three goals for the Sharks, completing the hat trick with 1:52 remaining to pull them within one. Aaron Dell finished with 18 saves.

Ladd's goal at 3:12 of the third period broke a 2-2 tie. Rookie Mathew Barzal created the scoring chance by taking the puck around the net and then setting up Ladd in the high slot for his second of the season.

Lee's second of the game and fifth of the season gave the Islanders a two-goal cushion with 8:13 remaining as he converted an odd-man rush.

Tavares sealed the win with an empty-netter with 55.4 seconds remaining and helped improve to 22-4-4 in their two-plus seasons at Barclays Center. Tavares points were his first since he had two goals and an assist Oct. 7 against Buffalo, ending a five-game drought.

The Sharks scored the game's opening goal at 6:26 of the second period on the power play. San Jose came away with the offensive draw and Couture scored from the slot, redirected Brent Burns' point shot past Greiss.

The lead lasted just over a minute as Nick Leddy worked his way to the back of the net and then quickly fed Lee for the tying goal.

The Islanders went ahead 58 seconds later after Joe Thornton made a costly turnover in his own end to give Bailey a point-blank chance. Bailey was able to sneak the puck with a backhander between his skates and past Dell to put New York ahead 2-1.

However, an impressive effort by Jannik Hansen to spin past Brock Nelson in the neutral zone led to a quick feed to Couture, who took a few strides and then fired a shot past Greiss to even the score once again.

NOTES: The Islanders held a special pregame ceremony to honor alumni of the organization who were in town for an Islanders Alumni Weekend. Among the players on the ice were Bobby Nystrom, Clark Gillies, Bryan Trottier and Ed Westfall. ... The Islanders scratched D Scott Mayfield, F Josh Ho-Sang and F Nikulay Kulemin. ... San Jose scratched F Joel Ward, F Barclay Goodrow and D Dylan Demelo. ... The Islanders honored Tragically Hip front man Gord Downie by playing music from the band during warmups. Downie passed away on Oct. 17 after succumbing to brain cancer.


Sharks: At the New York Rangers on Monday night.

Islanders: Host Arizona on Tuesday night.