Kings surging while Sharks continue slide


Kings surging while Sharks continue slide

LOS ANGELES It wasnt very difficult to see on Tuesday night which team is making a strong playoff push and which is staring down an early summer.

The Los Angeles Kings have won five straight games, and are playing their best hockey of the season. Their offense, which had been a huge problem, is clicking - and then some.

Since acquiring Jeff Carter from the Columbus Blue Jackets a dozen games ago, Los Angeles has poured in 43 goals, including five last night against the fading Sharks in a 5-2 win. That averages to 3.58 a game, or a goal and a half better than their 2.11 goals-per-game rate before the trade.

Theyve done a really good job. Darryl Sutter has come in and put his mark on the team, Todd McLellan said. Jeff Carter is a 40-goal scorer. They dont grow on trees, and when you get them and put them in the right spots, they can be very dangerous.

They skate very well and theyre deep up front with Carter being here now, Joe Thornton said. They have a bunch of good forwards.

Add that to a strong defense corps and one of the best goalies in the game in Jonathan Quick, and the Sharks will have their hands full in the final two games of the regular season, which ends with a home-and-home against the Kings. That is, if the Sharks are even still in playoff contention by then.

Theyre playing very well defensively, said Marty Havlat, who had a goal and an assist on Tuesday. I dont think they give up any odd-man rushes and thats the most important thing right now. They always have three guys back. Its very tough to beat their defense and their goalies been great.
More from Boyle: Dan Boyle was brutally honest after last nights loss to the Kings, which we got into in the game recap. After Boyle said that the Kings were probably trying harder, he was asked how the Sharks could fix that this late in the season.

You work as hard as you can. You need everybody. I think we weve got guys going and others arent, thats not going to work at this time of year. We need everybody, Boyle said.

Watching the scoreboard: Did you keep an eye on the Calgary-Colorado, Phoenix-Dallas games last night? All five teams the Sharks are competing with for a playoff spot including Los Angeles were in action on Tuesday night, head-to-head.

Youre probably well aware by now that the Sharks are the only team that didnt get at least one point, as the other two games ended in a shootout (Dallas beat Phoenix, 4-3) and overtime (Colorado defeated Calgary, 2-1).

Mathematically, the Sharks have just a 37.6 percent chance of making the postseason, according to

Thats the name of the game these days. A lot of them are three point games. The last thing we need to do is scoreboard watch, Boyle said.

We cant control what happened in Dallas or Denver tonight, McLellan said after the game. Theres no sense worrying about it. Weve got to worry about our own group and what we can do. Weve got to get home, get some rest and play against the Stanley Cup Champions on Thursday, which will be a great challenge for us.

The Sharks, who have a day off on Wednesday, host Boston on Thursday.

From the Kings room: Heres what former Sharks coach and current Kings bench boss Sutter had to say about his teams 5-2 win:

I think tonight, because we had four lines and they San Jose played last night, they could push it a little bit; catch guys at the end of shifts, catch guys that played a lot, catch them a little bit tired and we looked fresher. That was the difference in the killer part of it. I think we took advantage of that.

Anze Kopitar, who has a goal in each of his last four games after scoring and adding two assists on Tuesday, said, Theres obviously always room for improvement, but tonight was a huge game. We knew what was at stake and I think we came up big. It was a full team effort and thats what weve got to do down the road.

Don't blame Joakim Ryan for Brent Burns' struggles


Don't blame Joakim Ryan for Brent Burns' struggles

Over the last three years, Brent Burns played with only one defensive partner more in a single season than he has with Joakim Ryan in 2017-18.

That partner, of course, is Paul Martin, who’s missed all but two games this season due to complications from offseason ankle surgery. Martin is set to miss yet more time after experiencing a setback in his recovery, although the injury is not related to his ailing ankle, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

Martin’s absence, combined with the fact that Burns has gone 20 games without a goal this season, has naturally led to questions about whether their separation is causing Burns to struggle.

That’s not the case.

Burns is actually playing a bit better alongside Ryan than he was with Martin. In just over 257 minutes together at even strength, the Sharks have controlled 55.74 percent of the shot attempts with Burns and Ryan on the ice, according to Corsica Hockey, up from Burns and Martin’s 52.13 percent mark together.

The Sharks are attempting more shots than their opponents when Burns and Ryan play, they’re doing so at a higher rate. With Burns and Ryan on the ice, the Sharks are attempting nearly nine more shots per 60 minutes than when Burns and Martin together, and just over two more shots per 60 minutes are hitting the net.

As we’ve written about previously, Burns’ scoring struggles date back to the stretch run last season, when he was playing alongside Martin. It wasn’t Martin’s fault then, just as it’s not Ryan’s fault now.

The puck simply isn’t going in. Through 20 games this season, Burns has 82 shots on goal and zero goals. Through 20 games in his Norris Trophy-winning campaign, Burns had 83 shots on goal and seven goals.

It’s not like Burns was super lucky then, either, as his 8.3 percent shooting percentage through 20 games last season was only one percent higher than his career average. Shooting at a zero percent clip after 20 games is, clearly, the outlier.

Together, Burns and Ryan have been more unlucky than anything else. When the two skate during five-on-five play, the Sharks are scoring on only 3.45 percent of their shots, much lower than the 8.26 percent San Jose scored on when Martin and Burns played together.

At 32 years old, it would be a stretch to expect Burns to match or exceed his heights from a season ago, but it would be an even bigger one to expect him to struggle much longer alongside Ryan. 

They've done everything right, they just haven't scored.

Sharks winger Joonas Donskoi has officially arrived


Sharks winger Joonas Donskoi has officially arrived

It turns out the top-six winger the Sharks needed to replace Patrick Marleau was on the roster all along.

Joonas Donskoi skated on Logan Couture’s line in Monday night’s shootout loss to the Ducks, and was San Jose’s best player. He scored the Sharks’ only two goals, and tied for the team-lead among forwards with four shots on net.

Donskoi added another goal in the ninth-round shootout, but his two goals in regulation were his sixth and seventh on the season. With those goals, he surpassed his total from an injury-riddled campaign a year ago, and stands three tallies clear as San Jose’s second-leading goal-scorer this season.

Due to Melker Karlsson’s injury, Donskoi skated with the Sharks’ leading goal-scorer, Logan Couture, and rekindled the strong chemistry the pair has shown since the Finnish winger arrived in San Jose in 2015.

Of the nine lines Couture has skated on for at least 50 minutes dating back to the beginning of the 2015-16 season, the three best in terms of puck possession have had Donskoi on his wing. Those three combinations have controlled at least 54 percent of the five-on-five shot attempts, according to Corsica Hockey.

Adding Tomas Hertl, who’s already a strong possession player, to that line bodes well for an even stronger second line moving forward. With Karlsson on the wing, the line controlled only 47.7 percent of the shot attempts, per Corsica, meaning the Sharks have been routinely out-possessed with them on the ice.

That was not the case with Donskoi in Karlsson’s place, as Donskoi posted positive possession numbers alongside Couture and Hertl on Monday, according to Natural Stat Trick. The results were there, as evidenced by the game’s opening goal, but it’s a good sign that the process was, too.

The same, frankly, can be said of Donskoi’s entire season up to this point. He likely won’t convert on over 18 percent of his shots all season, of course, but the Sharks have the puck more often than their opponents when he’s on the ice, and should continue to generate pressure, chances, and ultimately goals, even if Donskoi’s personal scoring comes down.

When Karlsson comes back, Donskoi should remain on Couture and Hertl’s line. That would allow the former to slide into a role better-suited to his game, and the latter to bolster San Jose’s top-six forward group.

Donskoi’s earned an extended look in that spot thanks to his resurgence, and subsequent emergence, this season. Thanks to him, replacing Marleau’s production suddenly seems much less daunting.