Sharks

DeMelo, Hansen scratches should spook Sharks

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USATSI

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.

Speedy Sharks and Golden Knights ready to fly on the ice in second round

Speedy Sharks and Golden Knights ready to fly on the ice in second round

Speed kills, and it claimed another two victims in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs: The Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings. The "heavy" playing style that powered three combined championships in Southern California since 2007 was left in the dust by a pair of speedier division rivals, the Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights, en route to the only sweeps so far this postseason. 

San Jose learned this lesson firsthand. In a six-game series loss during the 2016 Stanley Cup Final, the Sharks could not keep up with the Pittsburgh Penguins' team speed.

Pittsburgh deployed three, mobile defensive pairings and sprinkled speed on all four forward lines. San Jose, meanwhile, had a few fast forwards in the lineup and strong skaters among its top-four defensemen, but its speed was only a relative strength against teams in the Western Conference.

Following the loss in the Final, the Sharks have infused their lineup with speed and skating ability. Mikkel Boedker was signed the following summer, and Evander Kane was acquired at this year's trade deadline. Kevin Labanc, Timo Meier, and Marcus Sorensen debuted last season. Dylan DeMelo, Tim Heed, and Joakim Ryan played extended NHL minutes this season, and there's nary a Roman Polak in sight. 

Take it all together, and San Jose played at a high pace this season. Using team-level shot-attempt rates as a proxy for pace of play, as Sean Tierney of HockeyGraphs and The Athletic did with the graph shown below, the Sharks played at the league's third-highest pace this season. 

The Ducks were pretty far behind the Sharks on the season, at a rate of about five fewer shot attempts per hour. Keep in mind that data includes 67 games of Cam Fowler, one of Anaheim's best skaters on the blueline who missed the entirety of the first round with a shoulder injury. The Golden Knights don't rank as highly as one might expect, but still played at a faster pace than the Kings.

Vegas didn't have the same inciting incident as San Jose to fill its roster with strong skaters, considering the expansion team didn't play its first game until October. Instead, the Golden Knights saw the writing on the wall, and placed a premium on skating ability in the expansion draft, and in adding to their team afterward. 

"That was our basis for who we chose," Vegas pro scout Kelly Kisio told NBC Sports California in a February interview. "Guys that had hockey sense, and guys that could skate. If you have those guys, they will somehow make it happen."

43-goal scorer William Karlsson is a burner, and they acquired another one, Tomas Tatar, at the trade deadline. Blue-chip blueliners Nate Schmidt and Shea Theodore were prized for their mobility well before landing in Sin City. Even bottom-six forwards like Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and depth defensemen like Jon Merrill are good skaters. 

The disparity was clear in Vegas' first-round series with Los Angeles. Five-on-five, only three teams in the first round have accounted for a higher percentage of expected goals entering Friday (Winnipeg Jets, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Washington Capitals) than the Golden Knights, according to Corsica Hockey. 

Neither Vegas nor San jose will enjoy gap in skating ability against one another, however, setting up a what should be a standout second-round matchup. The games will be fast, but the length of the first-ever playoff series between the two should be anything but. 

DeBoer: Now healthy, series-clincher Hertl can reach 'another level' in playoffs

DeBoer: Now healthy, series-clincher Hertl can reach 'another level' in playoffs

SAN JOSE -- Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer thought Tomas Hertl’s series-clinching goal on Wednesday, in the midst of the best season of his five-year NHL career, was a long time coming.

“He would’ve gotten to this level earlier than this year if he had been healthy,” DeBoer said after San Jose swept the Anaheim Ducks out of the first round with a 2-1 win in Game 4. “He’s had some really bad luck with some really bad injuries. He’s healthy and he’s playing at another level, and I still think he’s got another level he can get to, too.”

Hertl deflected Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s point shot through Ducks goaltender John Gibson’s legs for the game-winner with 10:51 remaining in regulation, and just over a minute after Anaheim tied the game. As NBC Sports California statistician Darin Stephens noted, it was the Czech forward’s second career game-winning goal in the postseason.

Since entering the league in 2013-14, Hertl’s tied for 37th with 22 game-winning goals in the regular season and playoffs, according to STATS. Only Joe Pavelski (32) and Logan Couture (23) have more during that time, and Hertl’s played 85 fewer games than Pavelski, and 26 than Couture.

Were it not for recurring right knee issues that caused him to miss 45 games his rookie season, cut short his Stanley Cup Final in 2016, and forced him to miss another 33 last year, he’d almost certainly be higher on the list.

Five-on-five, only 11 players that played a minimum of 500 minutes have generated expected goals (xG), or shot attempts that account for quality, at a higher rate than Hertl (0.95 xG/60, according to Corsica Hockey) since he entered the league. If you include the postseason, he jumps into the top 10.

DeBoer’s right to think Hertl can reach another level, too. The 25-year-old’s 21 non-empty-net goals matched a career-high, no player underperformed their expected goals total across all situations more than Hertl, as Sean Tierney of HockeyGraphs and The Athletic pointed out.

With health back on Hertl’s side, DeBoer doesn’t see this as the young forward finally maximizing his potential. Instead, the head coach thinks Hertl is just beginning to reach it.

“This wasn’t about anyone pushing him…[He’s] been healthy and he’s starting to find the level that he’s capable of being at, I think, for a long career.”