Injuries showing limits of Sharks' organizational depth


Injuries showing limits of Sharks' organizational depth

Four of the five Sharks on the ice for the team’s first goal on Saturday night finished last year with the AHL’s San Jose Barracuda.

Barclay Goodrow, the goal-scorer, Danny O’Regan, Ryan Carpenter, and Joakim Ryan all played big roles for San Jose’s minor league affiliate. As did Kevin Labanc, Timo Meier, and recently recalled Marcus Sorensen, with the latter two rejoining the team in last spring’s Calder Cup playoffs.

Nearly a third of the Barracuda’s playoff roster is getting a look with the big club, and that doesn’t even include Tim Heed, the Barracuda’s second-leading point producer last year. The Swedish defenseman was placed on Injured Reserve (IR) ahead of Saturday’s game.

Other injuries have pressed San Jose’s youth movement into action. Joonas Donskoi and Paul Martin are also on IR, while Mikkel Boedker and Melker Karlsson missed Saturday’s loss in Tampa Bay.

Donskoi (seven), Boedker, and Karlsson (three each) have scored just over a fifth of San Jose’s 64 goals through 25 games this season. That’s a lot of production, and their absence demonstrates the limits of San Jose's organizational depth.

As The Athletic’s Zachary DeVine noted in late November, there’s really nobody left with the Barracuda for the Sharks to call up. Six of the Barracuda’s eight leading scorers from a season ago are up with the Sharks or on IR, in the case of Heed.

Meier and Labanc aren’t even among that group, but throw them in and that’s essentially the entirety of the Sharks’ NHL-ready youth movement. They may even be the only ones who qualify, as the only players on the roster younger than 23 years old.

As much as the Sharks have touted their youth movement, and as much as the Sharks need them right now, they aren’t yet a transformational group. Nor have they pushed all of the veterans ahead of them out of the lineup.

Saturday night was as difficult of an assignment as they’ll face all season, playing the league’s best team on the second half of a back-to-back. The Sharks played like a team relying on not-ready-for-primetime players to fill in offense.

They were outshot 43-27 in all situations, including 39-26 during five-on-five play. O’Regan, Goodrow, and Carpenter acquitted themselves nicely, holding a slight puck possession edge in a little over 11 minutes together.

Of course, they also finished 18th, 17th, and 16th, respectively, on the team in five-on-five ice time.

The season is only 25 games old, and there’s time yet for the Sharks’ youth movement to fully establish themselves. Heed, when healthy, and Ryan arguably have, while Meier’s spent time on the top line.

The youth movement will remain on full display while the Sharks deal with injuries. Staying there when the team is fully healthy, however, may prove too difficult.


Martin Jones has not made up for Sharks' recent defensive struggles


Martin Jones has not made up for Sharks' recent defensive struggles

For just the third time this season, the Sharks scored three goals for the third consecutive game in Sunday night’s loss to the Wild. San Jose’s scored 13 goals in the last three games, which is a dramatic improvement for one of the league’s lowest-scoring offenses.

Sunday also marked the fourth time in the last five games the Sharks, one of the NHL’s best defensive teams, allowed four goals. All four have come in starts by Martin Jones since he returned to the crease on Dec. 2.

San Jose’s looked poor defensively in front of Jones following his return, and it’s been difficult to fault him on many of the goals. The Sharks’ defensive numbers over his last four starts match the eye test.

Normally, 21.66 percent of the shots Jones faces in five-on-five situations and 26.9 percent of the shots he faces in all situation are of the ‘high-danger’ variety, according to Corsica Hockey. Over his last four starts, those numbers are 29.90 percent and 32.23 percent, respectively.

But Jones also has not been up to his usual standards. At even strength this season, his high-danger save percentage is .798, and .821 in all situations.

Over the last four games, those numbers have fallen significantly. His high-danger save percentage at even strength is over seven points lower (.724), and nearly 13 points lower in all situations (.692).

So the Sharks, essentially, have allowed a higher share of high-danger shots in Jones’ first four starts after coming back from injury. Jones, meanwhile, hasn’t been able to offset that increase.

It’s unclear whether that increase, or Jones’ own performance, deserves a larger share of the blame. It’s clear, however, that the Sharks can’t expect to win if either trend continues.

San Jose’s remained in playoff contention this season because of their defense. As they’ve struggled to score, they’ve prevented their opponents from scoring, and won games on the backs of stingy defensive efforts.

The assumption with the Sharks was that, so long as their defensive effort remained level, an offense rounding into form would allow them to climb up the standings. The former’s gotten worse, and the Sharks are struggling more than their record would indicate.

Since Jones returned, San Jose is 2-2-1, and 1-2-1 in his starts. That mark could very easily be 0-2-2 or 0-3-1, if not for a three-goal comeback against the Hurricanes.

That’s worrisome ahead of one of the most vital stretches of the season. San Jose’s next six games are against divisional opponents, and they have an opportunity to gain significant ground in the division.

That opportunity will be wasted if the Sharks defense, and Jones, aren’t able to tighten up.


Sharks comeback falls short in wild loss to Minnesota


Sharks comeback falls short in wild loss to Minnesota


SAN JOSE -- Nino Niederreiter scored 3:26 into overtime and the Minnesota Wild beat the San Jose Sharks 4-3 on Sunday night after squandering a three-goal lead.

Eric Staal scored twice and Ryan Murphy added a goal as the Wild extended their winning streak over the Sharks to four games.

Tomas Hertl tapped in a loose puck for San Jose with five minutes left in regulation to tie it at 3.

Hertl's goal followed a furious Sharks attack that Wild goalie Alex Stalock was able to fend off until a shot from Dylan DeMelo bounced off his shoulder pads and into no man's land just above the crease.

Brent Burns scored twice for the Sharks, who had won five of seven.

Stalock made 31 saves in his first appearance against his former team. Martin Jones stopped 20 shots for the Sharks.

The Wild, winners in four of their last five games, scored twice in the first 10 minutes. A series of sharp passes set up Murphy for a power-play goal just more than four minutes in. Staal sent a pass to Jason Zucker behind the net and he found Murphy for a 1-on-1 score.

Staal's first goal came after Ryan Suter recognized an advantage when Burns ran into Jones, knocking him off his feet. Suter delivered a pass to Staal, who easily fired it over Jones.

Early in the second period, Staal was able to push the puck through Jones' skates for a 3-0 Wild lead.

Burns got the Sharks on the scoreboard with a power-play goal during a two-man advantage late in the second period. Burns scored again on a power play with a slap shot from just inside the blue line midway through the third, his 12th multi-goal game.

NOTES: Sharks forward Jannik Hansen appeared in his 600th NHL game. ... Burns has six points in his last three games, including three goals. ... Murphy scored his first goal in 69 games. ... Staal had his second multi-goal effort in five games. ... Wild forward Jason Zucker has points in eight of his last nine games.


Wild: Open a three-game homestand against the Calgary Flames on Tuesday.

Sharks: Begin a three-game road trip in Calgary on Thursday.