Sharks

Is Mikkel Boedker about to turn his season around?

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AP

Is Mikkel Boedker about to turn his season around?

Mikkel Boedker’s assist in Tuesday night’s win over the Montreal Canadiens was an example of why the San Jose Sharks signed him last summer.

He used his speed in transition against a reeling Habs defense to create a quality look off of an odd-man rush, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic was able to bury the ensuing rebound. The problem is that those moments are becoming increasingly rare.

Boedker’s only shot on goal and only shot attempt on Tuesday night came in the aforementioned Vlasic goal. That’s become all too common for the Danish forward this season.

He’s attempting shot attempts during five-on-five play at the second-lowest rate of his career, according to Corsica Hockey, and is generating about one-and-a-half fewer shots every 60 minutes at even strength. Combine that with a career-low five-on-five shooting percentage (3.23 percent), and Boedker’s on pace for one of the worst offensive seasons of his career.

As disappointing as Boedker was last season, he only scored two fewer goals at even strength than he did the season before hit free agency, and one fewer point playing five aside. His five-on-five shot attempt rate was the highest of his career, and his shot rate was the second-highest.

Of course, he was also healthy. Boedker played in all but one game last season, but has missed seven already this season with a lower body injury.

It appears that he’s just starting to get over what ailed him. After going shotless, pointless, and playing fewer than nine minutes a night in his first two games back from injury, Boedker generated seven total shots, two assists, and played more than 10 minutes in his last four.  

Only once before this season has Boedker shot at least once in four (or more) consecutive games, and that was about a month before he went on injured reserve. The Sharks are tremendously tight-lipped when it comes to disclosing injuries, so it’s fair to wonder how long he was playing hurt.

So even as Boedker hasn’t bounced back in the way he or San Jose wanted, his recent play is fairly encouraging, as the Sharks desperately need him. He may not be used in a top-nine role, but with Barclay Goodrow injured, Jannik Hansen struggling, and Danny O’Regan not quite ready for a roster spot, the Sharks don’t have any viable alternatives for Boedker’s spot in the lineup.

With two years and a $4 million cap hit remaining on his deal, Boedker won’t net much on the trade market, either. So, the Sharks have little choice but to rely on him to contribute.

If plays like his assist against Montreal become more frequent, San Jose won't mind having to do so.

Sharks take risk as Dell draws Ducks on second night of a back-to-back

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AP

Sharks take risk as Dell draws Ducks on second night of a back-to-back

Aaron Dell last started two games in two days on April 29, 2016. Dell, then the starter with the AHL's San Jose Barracuda, manned the net in Game 4 of the first round of the Calder Cup Playoffs. 

The Barracuda suffered a season-ending loss to the Ontario Reign that day, and Dell gave up three goals on 34 shots. That was the 20th time in three seasons in the AHL and ECHL that Dell started the first and second half of a back-to-back. 

Dell will end up starting both nights of a back-to-back for the 21st time since 2013 on Sunday. A night after stopping 31 of 32 shots against the reigning champion Penguins, Dell is set to start a pivotal Pacific Division matchup against the Ducks, who are only three points behind the Sharks for the second divisional playoff spot. 

His coach with the Sharks, Peter DeBoer, is no stranger to starting the same goalie on consecutive nights. He's done so seven times in his three seasons behind San Jose's bench, starting Martin Jones in all seven of those games.

Part of that is because of the team's confidence in Jones, who they view as a franchise goaltender. But on some level, these decisions have been driven by an initial hesitancy towards Jones' backups. 

Whatever the reason, DeBoer's been rewarded for rolling the dice and relying on Jones. On the second half of a back-to-back after starting the previous night, Jones has gone 5-2-0 with a .919 save percentage. 

With Jones out due to a lower-body injury, the Sharks once again appear hesitant about Dell's current backup, and rightfully so. Troy Grosenick has made two NHL starts and won the Baz Bastien Award as the AHL's best goaltender last season, but only has a .908 save percentage on 4336 shots in his AHL career, which is enough of a sample to say Grosenick's unlikely to establish himself as a regular NHL goaltender. 

DeBoer's decision to start Dell is thus understandable, but not without its downsides. Eric Tulsky, now the manager of analytics for the Carolina Hurricanes, and Broad Street Hockey associate editor Kurt R. found in 2013 that goalies perform worse on the second half of a back-to-back. That hasn't yet happened when DeBoer's rolled the dice, but it has happened to Dell. 

In his 20 previous starts on the second night of a back-to-back after starting the first half, Dell went 8-9-3, with a .915 save percentage, down from his .921 career save percentage in the AHL and ECHL. That may not seem like a lot, but such a drop in San Jose's save percentage this season would translate to about eight more goals against, which would leave the Sharks in the red in terms of goal differential. 

With only one established NHL goalie on his roster, DeBoer is then left with two bad options. Start Dell, knowing the risks of starting a goalie two nights in a row, or start Grosenick, a minor leaguer without a track record that warrants much confidence.

He opted for the former, and has caught lightning in a bottle before doing the same with Jones. That doesn't mean you can expect it again on Sunday against the Ducks.

Sharks have tall task against Penguins, who are in Stanley Cup form

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USATSI

Sharks have tall task against Penguins, who are in Stanley Cup form

The Sharks witnessed firsthand the emergence of Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia native Nathan Mackinnon as a legitimate superstar in a loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday. Naturally, their reward is to face the NHL's first superstar from the area on Saturday. 

And of course, much like Mackinnon, Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby is playing some of the best hockey of his career. 

In 2018, no player has scored more points than the three-time Stanley Cup champion (15). In fact, three of the top five scorers in the new year skate in the Steel City: Evgeni Malkin is tied for third with 13 points, and Phil Kessel is right behind him in a tie for fifth with 12 points. 

The trio has powered the Penguins to a three-point lead on the Eastern Conference's final Wild Card spot. As recently as New Year's Eve, though, the Penguins were seventh place in the loaded Metropolitan Division, and three points back of the postseason. 

It was always a matter of 'when' rather than 'if' Pittsburgh would turn it on. Fatigue was always a possibility, as the back-to-back champions have played at least 13 more postseason games (49) than any other team in the league over the last two seasons, but any concerns seem firmly in the rearview mirror at the moment. 

The same cannot necessarily be said about the Sharks, whom the Penguins dispatched in six games in San Jose's first Stanley Cup Final appearance. Yes, they've won three out of four since the bye week, but haven't played all that well in the process.

Two of those wins came against the lowly Coyotes, and San Jose has barely out-possesed their opponents (50.74 five-on-five corsi-for percentage; 51.22 fenwick-for percentage, according to Corsica Hockey). They're scoring nearly a goal more per 60 minutes of five-on-five play (2.69) than before the bye (1.85), but are allowing nearly one-and-a-quarter more goals (3.58 five-on-five GA/60) than before the bye week (2.24).

The latter is, at least in part, because Martin Jones is not playing well. The Conn Smythe-like form that kept the Sharks in it against the Penguins two Junes ago has largely eluded him this season, and injury may have played a part. 

Jones is day-to-day with a minor injury, according to the Bay Area News Group's Paul Gackle, and the team recalled goaltender Troy Grosenick from the San Jose Barracuda on Friday as a result. That leaves Aaron Dell in net as the last line of defense against the Penguins. 

With Pittsburgh looking a lot like the team that celebrated a Stanley Cup win on San Jose's home ice two postseasons ago, stopping them will be a tall task.