Last six games a missed opportunity for Sharks


Last six games a missed opportunity for Sharks

Just over two weeks ago, the Sharks began a stint of six divisional games in third place in the Pacific.

After a shootout win over the Calgary Flames on Thursday, San Jose ended those six games in third place in the Pacific.

A lot changed above them. The Vegas Golden Knights (yes, those Golden Knights) and Los Angeles Kings (yes, those Kings) swapped spots atop the division.

The teams below them, meanwhile, are in the same order they were on December 14.

Even though their standings position did not change following a 4-1-1 run, the Sharks created some separation with the five teams chasing them for the Pacific’s final playoff spot. Before this stretch, the Sharks were tied with the Flames on points and had two games in hand.

They still have games in hand, but are now four points clear of Calgary. Ditto the Ducks, who were two points back of the Sharks a fortnight ago.

San Jose also made progress towards a move up the standings. They are five points back of the second divisional spot, but now have three games in hand as opposed to one.

But the stretch was still something of a missed opportunity. The Sharks dropped points by beating Vancouver in overtime and Calgary in the shootout, and the former ensured one less regulation/overtime win (ROW), the league’s primary playoff tiebreaker.

That could come back to haunt them, particularly as they stare down an incredibly difficult portion of the schedule. They’ll play 14 of their next 18 games away from SAP Center, including two five-game trips.

San Jose has won just nine of its 17 games on the road this season.

If labeling a stretch of four wins in six games against the division a missed opportunity sounds harsh, that’s because it is. The division is, too.

It takes a run like Vegas had over the last two weeks, where the Golden Knights won all six of their games, to make a tangible move up the standings. The Sharks weren’t quite perfect, and the benefits of their last six games are far more subtle.

After all, history tells us the playoff teams are mostly set. 79 percent of the teams in playoff position on Thanksgiving have made the postseason since 2000, and we’re now two days away from the New Year.

Now, the focus shifts to teams jockeying for home ice. San Jose tightened their hold on the division’s final spot, but failed to move up any further.

A 6-0-0 run wouldn’t have done that on its own, but the Sharks would have been a point back of second (with three games in hand) and four back of first in the Pacific. Instead, they’re five and eight points back, respectively.

A not-quite-perfect six-game stint in the division was good enough for San Jose to cushion their lead over the teams chasing them. Not-quite-perfect now, though, just means they’ll have to be near-perfect later in order to improve their position in the standings.

Labanc, Sharks overcoming even strength scoring woes


Labanc, Sharks overcoming even strength scoring woes

Kevin Labanc’s first period goal in the Sharks’ Sunday win over the Ducks certainly didn’t look like it was just his fifth of the season, or only his third since opening night.

The 22-year-old, sprung in alone on a breakaway, sold Anaheim goaltender John Gibson on a fake shot with a leg kick, and snapped the puck past him into the top corner. You know a ‘goal-scorers goal’ when you see it, and you saw it 3:38 into the second period.

Labanc not only broke a 12-game, month-long goalless drought, but picked up his third point in as many games after scoring zero in his previous six. Despite his emergence as a force on the power play, all three points came during five-on-five play.

He’s generated six scoring chances in five-on-five situations in his last three games, according to Natural Stat Trick. That’s as many as Labanc accounted for in the six games preceding this run.

The same can be said about his five-on-five shot attempts (seven) and high-danger chances (two). His six shots on goal in his last three games are just one shy of also matching his five-on-five output over his six games prior.

In those categories, Labanc ranks third, third, and tied for second among Sharks forwards, as well as third in five-on-five scoring chances. He’s also tied with Mikkel Boedker for the forward-lead in five-on-five points over the last three games, despite playing only the eighth-most five-on-five minutes.

As Labanc’s broken out of an extended slump, so have the Sharks. Since returning from the bye week on Jan. 13, San Jose is fifth in five-on-five scoring rate (3.1 goals for/60 minutes), compared to 28th before their bye (1.91).

They’re also 5-1-0 during that time.

The Sharks, much like Labanc, were too reliant upon power play production prior to the NHL-mandated week off. Over half of Labanc’s points came with (at least) a man advantage, and 32 of San Jose’s 108 were scored on the power play.

Since, the second-year forward has only scored five-on-five points, while only five of the Sharks’ 23 goals were power play tallies. The power play’s still converting, but it’s not been the sole driver of San Jose’s offense.

It’s only a six-game sample, but the early five-on-five, post-bye week returns are promising for Labanc and the Sharks. The next step for both is to maintain that pace.

If Labanc and San Jose can, the Sharks may not need to shop for a top-six winger at the trade deadline after all.

Sharks dominate Ducks for two wins in two nights

Sharks dominate Ducks for two wins in two nights


ANAHEIM -- Mikkel Boedker had two goals and an assist, Joe Thornton had a goal and an assist, and the San Jose Sharks beat the Anaheim Ducks 6-2 on Sunday night.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Kevin Labanc and Melker Karlsson also scored for the Sharks, who have won five of six. Aaron Dell stopped 33 shots.

Rickard Rakell and Ryan Getzlaf scored for Anaheim. John Gibson stopped only 17 of 22 shots and was replaced after giving up his fifth goal. Anaheim had a four-game home winning streak snapped.

Four goals came in the third period. First, Anaheim pulled within one when Ondrej Kase stole the puck from behind the net and quickly fed Getzlaf, who fired it past Dell.

One minute later, the Sharks answered when Thornton's slap shot went in.

Boedker's second goal gave San Joe a 5-2 lead, and Karlsson's goal on goalie Ryan Miller made it a runaway.

The Ducks first found the net in the final minute of the second period, but that took a two-man advantage and a bit of luck.

Rakell was camped a few feet below the crease when he snapped a shot. San Jose's Justin Braun stuck out a stick, but it deflected the puck off the back of Dell's arm and into the net.

It was Rakell's team-high 17th goal this season.

San Jose appeared to take a commanding 3-0 lead on a power play in the second period. Boedker fired a shot from the top of the right circle that whistled past Gibson.

The Sharks took a 2-0 lead early in the second period when Anaheim's No.1 line turned the puck over. Thornton snapped it out to Labanc, who popped free for a breakaway. He beat Gibson on his short side for his fifth goal.

The Sharks took a 1-0 lead late in the first period on a nifty give-and-go when Tomas Hertl skated down the far side and sent a pass through the legs of Anaheim's Brandon Montour and right to Vlasic in front of the net.

Vlasic snapped it past Gibson for his seventh goal of the season.


Sharks: Return to San Jose on Tuesday night to play the Jets.

Ducks: Remain at home to play the Rangers on Tuesday night.