DeMelo, Hansen scratches should spook Sharks


DeMelo, Hansen scratches should spook Sharks

Halloween is known for its ghost stories, and the Sharks have two of their own: Dylan DeMelo and Jannik Hansen.The pair isn’t haunting San Jose from beyond the grave, but the press box, where they’ve spent the last nine and four games, respectively.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way for either of them.

DeMelo entered the season as the Sharks’ clear-cut sixth defenseman, set to finally get an extended look after spending more time in the press box than on the ice over the previous two seasons. Hansen wasn’t expected to play alongside Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton as he was in the spring, yet was still pencilled in as a bottom-six lock.

Instead, DeMelo’s found himself back in the press box. Fellow right-handed defenseman Tim Heed, with six points in nine games and a role on the top power play unit, has pushed him out of the lineup. An injury on the left side of the depth chart hasn’t helped DeMelo’s cause, either, as head coach Peter DeBoer prefers to keep defensemen on their strong side.

DeBoer’s also tinkered with his bottom-six forward group in pretty much every game. Of third-and-fourth liners that skated in Monday night’s win over Toronto, only three had played in every game: Mikkel Boedker, Joonas Donskoi, and Chris Tierney.

It’s hard to blame him. The Sharks entered Tuesday tied for 25th in goal-scoring, and tied for 27th in goal-scoring at five-on-five play. Boedker, Donskoi, and Tierney have scored four, six, and four points, respectively. Hansen’s scored one, and hasn’t been able to crack the lineup.

Depth driving difficult decisions isn’t a bad thing, especially when someone like Heed is playing so well. Still, DeMelo and Hansen’s absences are disappointing. In DeMelo’s case, that’s because this was supposed to be the year he finally carved out a regular role. In Hansen’s, it’s because he was acquired with the top six in mind, and is out of the lineup entirely 28 regular season and playoff games after the Sharks gave up a mid-round draft choice and a former first round pick.

Despite not playing much lately, DeMelo and Hansen are not among the players general manager Doug Wilson is reportedly trying to move, That’s surprising.

Not because they’ll fetch a more significant return than Boedker, Tierney, or Paul Martin, but because the two are fairly movable. Neither DeMelo nor Hansen is signed beyond this season, and they’re making $650,000 and $2,000,000, respectively. Hansen’s contract contains a modified no-trade clause, but his cap hit is easy to swallow for a team in need of forward depth.

DeMelo and Hansen may yet still have roles to play this season. Injuries, and ineffectiveness, can change things in a hurry. Until that happens, though, their respective absences are a bit spooky.

Sharks face surprisingly tough test in Avalanche


Sharks face surprisingly tough test in Avalanche

On a night when Eric Lindros is getting his number retired, who would have thought one of the NHL's best games involves a team that was the worst a season ago, and another features a team that didn't even exist last year?

Okay, most of the hockey world's eyes will be glued to tonight's Golden Knights-Lightning tilt in Tampa, which surely felt just as weird to write as it did for you to read. But Sharks-Avalanche could have that game beat, and not just because Long Beach native Matt Nieto will play against his former team.

No, the Sharks and Avalanche just happen to be two of the hottest teams in the league.

San Jose has won three in a row, and along with Nashville, holds the league's third-longest active winning streak. Colorado, meanwhile, has won seven in a row, and along with Calgary, holds the league's longest streak.

The Avalanche have not lost in 2018, and since their streak began on Dec. 29, have scored the third-most goals and allowed the fewest. With starter Semyon Varlamov out with a groin strain, backup netminder Jonathan Bernier has stopped all but seven of the shots he's seen, good for a .962 save percentage.

Nathan Mackinnon has emerged as an under-the-radar Hart Trophy candidate, or at least he would have been under-the-radar if seemingly the entire hockey world hadn't made the same observation. He's no longer a dark horse, though, and may be the frontrunner if Colorado is even sniffing the postseason at the end of the year.

After all, the Avalanche were far closer to the 1992-93 Sharks than Colorado's glory days last season, losing the ninth-most games in a single season in NHL history. Entering Thursday, the Avalanche are just two points out of the final wild card spot.

To further drive home just how remarkable the turnaround's been, the Avalanche already have three more points than last season. In 39 fewer games.

Colorado may not be as good as they've been over the last seven games, when they've also led the league in PDO, the sum of save percentage and shooting percentage often used as a shorthand for luck. But during the stretch, the Avalanche are also a positive puck possession team when adjusting for score and venue, according to Natural Stat Trick, and eighth in adjusted corsi-for percentage during the win streak, per Corsica Hockey.

The Sharks, too, have been playing much better than before the bye. Two of the wins on their three-game streak have come against the cellar-dwelling Coyotes, though, and they needed overtime and a shootout to beat them.

The Avalanche will then represent the toughest test for the Sharks following the week off, and a potentially thorny end to their three-game road trip. Who would have thought? 

Pavelski a shootout hero in midst of a career-worst cold streak


Pavelski a shootout hero in midst of a career-worst cold streak

The shootout has been kind to Joe Pavelski all season.

After scoring the shootout winner in Tuesday night’s win over the Coyotes, Pavelski has now scored the fourth-most shootout goals in a single season of his career, and there’s still 39 games left in the season. Only Artemi Panarin has scored more shootout goals (four) than the Sharks captain (three) on the year.

The Sharks have needed Pavelski more than they have after 65 minutes far more than in recent memory. San Jose’s won three games in the shootout this season, one more than last year and one shy from matching their total from the prior two seasons.

Again, there’s still 39 games to go.

San Jose is on pace to win their most games in the shootout since the Todd McLellan era, when they picked up no fewer than five shootout wins each season. This season, those wins are currently the difference between home ice advantage in the first round, as the Sharks are tied for second in the Pacific with two games in hand, and missing the playoffs.

They’ve needed every one of Pavelski’s shootout goals, too. File this under “statistics that are too good to be true,” but the proven postseason performer has scored each of his three shootout goals in San Jose’s three shootout wins, while failing to score in both of their losses.

Pavelski’s needed to deliver in the shootout at least in part because he often has not delivered when actual hockey’s been played. Injuries, age, and an at-times unfathomable lack of luck have all contributed, but the Wisconsin product is in the midst of one of the longest scoring droughts of his career.

He’s not scored an even strength goal since Dec. 1 against Florida. For those keeping score at home, that’s 19 games, a month, and a calendar change ago.

If Pavelski doesn’t score at even strength on Thursday against Colorado, he’ll have matched the longest even strength goal-scoring drought of his career. In 2010-11 and the lockout-shortened 2013 season, Pavelski went 20 games without an even strength tally.

To further put things into perspective, is tied with Joe Thornton and Melker Karlsson for sixth on the team in even strength goals. Thornton’s enjoyed a nice shooting resurgence, but this is an instance where the setup man scoring as much as the sniper is not a positive development.

You can’t only fault for Pavelski for struggling so much, of course, as his team has scored the second-fewest even strength goals in the league this year. He’s also a victim of his own success, and subject to further outsized expectations because of the letter on his chest.

Tuesday showed Pavelski’s still found ways to contribute, even if he hasn’t found the back of the net at even strength. But if Pavelski’s drought lasts beyond Thursday, he’ll be on an unprecedented schnide as far as his career is concerned.

More performances like the former may ultimately be enough to get the Sharks into the postseason. More like the latter won’t get them much farther than that.