New year's resolution: Improved special teams


New year's resolution: Improved special teams

SAN JOSE Its been a long four days since the Sharks last played a game, but its time that could benefit the team down the road.

After a day off immediately following Wednesdays 3-2 overtime home loss to the Canucks, San Jose held three extended yet spirited practices at Sharks Ice as they prepare for a stretch of 13 games in 22 days leading up to the NHL All-Star break. It begins on Monday against Vancouver (5:00 p.m., NBC Sports Network).

The break gave the Sharks a chance to work on their struggling special teams game, which simply put is going to have to improve if the club is going to make a legitimate run at the Stanley Cup in 2012. The Sharks are 28th in the league in penalty killing (75.2 percent), including the worst in the NHL at home (72.3 percent), and 15th in power play percentage (18.2 percent).

San Joses power play is just 5-for-49 in its last 15 games (10.2 percent).

Its not where we want it to be, said Michal Handzus, who sees time on both units. I think its lost us more than a couple games, for sure.

How do you remedy that?

Just constant work. I think were getting better at it and just working at it with the four days off, he said.

The penalty killing has been a constant Achilles heel for the club since it allowed three goals to Phoenix on opening night. After finishing 24th in the NHL last year, its led to speculation that the Sharks just dont have the personnel on the ice to get the job done.

Thats not something coach Todd McLellan can worry about, though. His challenge is to find a way to make improvements with the players he has, and its something he tried to do for at least a portion of each of the three days this weekend at the teams practice facility.

He was asked if there were any visual improvements from Friday to Sunday.

Small things that we tried to adjust or change a little bit evolve with each of the units. You can see them working on it and you can see them trying things, McLellan said. What you dont want them to do is get into a game like tomorrow and be thinking it all the time. You want them to play it naturally.

Its going to be fresh in everybodys mind, Patrick Marleau said. It should be a lot easier to go out there and execute it.

Thats the biggest challenge of all. Teams can only do so much in practice, and coaches can only ratchet the intensity level up so high, before the fear of hurting a teammate or your own self keeps each player from going full speed.

Every drill you do in practice you try to create game intensity. You do the best you can but you always get to about that 85 percent level, and its hard to push it past there, McLellan said.

Its not because dont want to do it, but you want to avoid injury. When you get on the power play drill youre not always shooting the puck like you would in a game, because of shot blocks and guys getting in the way. That affects things.

The red-hot Canucks are on the other end of the special teams spectrum. Vancouver continues to lead the NHL in power play at 24.2 percent and is seventh in penalty killing at 85.7 percent. The Sharks and Canucks were each 1-for-4 on the power play on Wednesday night.

That will be the big test. Vancouvers got very good special teams, so we know that we play against them that could very well be the difference, said McLellan.

Play of Jones, Khudobin this season proof of how fickle goaltending can be


Play of Jones, Khudobin this season proof of how fickle goaltending can be

Martin Jones was a Boston Bruin for less than a week.

The “Original Six” franchise acquired Jones from the Los Angeles Kings on June 26, 2015. Four days later, Jones was traded back into the Pacific Division, this time to Northern California.

The Sharks gave up a first round pick and prospect Sean Kuraly for Jones. It seemed like a fairly high price at the time, but it’s one San Jose was happy to pay: No goalie started more games than Jones over the last two seasons, and the team signed him to a five-year extension this summer.

The first Jones trade in 2015 set off a flood of goalie transactions, as five netminders were traded during Jones’ extremely brief Boston tenure. One of those was Anton Khudobin, who will start for the Bruins as Jones backs up Aaron Dell against  his “former team” on Saturday night.

Khudobin was traded from Carolina to Anaheim, where he started seven games before getting sent down to the AHL. He then signed with Boston in 2016, returning to his former club as the Bruins tried to fill the hole that trading Jones left behind entrenched starter Tuukka Rask.

Jones and Khudobin will have taken vastly different paths to their respective creases on Saturday night. The former enters the game as his club’s undisputed franchise goalie, and the latter the unheralded backup.

Naturally then, Khudobin’s been the better goaltender this season.

Among the 46 goalies that have played 200 five-on-five minutes this season, Khudobin’s .962 five-on-five save percentage was the best entering Saturday, according to Corsica.  So, too, is his .954 save percentage off of high-danger shots.

Jones, meanwhile, ranks 27th (.920) and 14th (.833) in those respective categories.

What does it all mean? For one, it’s early in the season, and the fact that Khudobin’s made seven fewer starts undoubtedly plays a role in his superior performance to Jones.

Mainly, it speaks to just how fickle goaltending can be.

The Bruins backup is arguably getting the nod Saturday night because of how bad the man ahead of him has been. Rask, once one of the league’s best goaltenders, has steadily declined over the last three years and reached a new low this season: This year, he’s 40th out of 46 qualifying goalies in five-on-five save percentage.

Jones has demonstrated this, too. He’s stopped a lower percentage of low-and-medium danger shots at even strength than the last two seasons, but has stopped a higher percentage of high-danger shots.

Plus, he’s played behind one of the league’s best penalty-killing teams after playing behind one of its worst last season, and has benefitted from a corresponding bump in his shorthanded save percentage.

So much of what a goalie does is out of their control. Yet who’s playing in front of them, what kind of shots they see, and how often they see those shots all can affect their performance.

Khudobin and Jones are living proof of that this season.

Sharks fall to Bruins for second straight loss


Sharks fall to Bruins for second straight loss


SAN JOSE -- Anton Khudobin stopped 36 shots to lead the Boston Bruins to a 3-1 victory over the San Jose Sharks on Saturday night.

Peter CehlarikJake DeBrusk and Danton Heinen scored to help the Bruins get their second straight win after a four-game skid (0-3-1). Boston had totaled nine goals in its previous five games, scoring more than two for just the second time in nine November games.

Khudobin remained unbeaten in regulation (5-0-2) and improved to 4-1 with a 0.99 goals-against average in five games against the Sharks.

Timo Meier scored and Aaron Dell finished with 18 saves for the Sharks, one of the lowest scoring teams in the league. San Jose has been held to two of fewer goals in five of their seven games this month.

Meier gave the Sharks, losers of two straight following wins in six of seven, a short-lived 1-0 lead after tapping in a rebound 4:50 into the game. Daniel O'Regan, making his season debut, won the puck behind the net and skated around to take the shot that bounced to Meier. It was O'Regan's first career assist and second career point.

Cehlarik, in his 14th game, scored his first career goal about 1 1/2 minutes later to tie it for the Bruins.

Boston took the lead on DeBrusk's goal with 9:14 left in the first. Charlie McAvoy cleared a puck in his zone that DeBrusk chased down and easily beat Dell 1-on-1.

Heinen made it 3-1 with 5:51 left in the third. Kevan Miller skated down the ice, drawing all the attention on the right side. He passed across the crease, from where Heinen tapped it in.

The Sharks had a goal negated for the second straight game, this one two minutes in.

NOTES: Sharks F Danny O'Regan was recalled before the game. He's the leading scorer for the Barracuda of the AHL. ... The Sharks have had three consecutive goals reversed after challenges dating to Thursday's game against the Florida Panthers. ... Sharks F Joel Ward has recorded points in six of his last eight games. ... DeBrusk, who assisted on Cehlarik's goal, recorded his first multi-point game since Oct. 14, a span of 14 games.


Bruins: At the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday night.

Sharks: Host the Anaheim Ducks on Monday night.