Sharks

NHL owners, players set to meet without leaders

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NHL owners, players set to meet without leaders

NEW YORK (AP) Traditional labor talks have made little progress in the ongoing NHL lockout, so the league and the players' association are going to try something different in an attempt to save the season that is slipping away.A crew of six owners will meet with a handful of players on Tuesday in New York - one day before the league's board of governors meeting - without Commissioner Gary Bettman and union executive director Donald Fehr. Bettman proposed the unique meeting on Wednesday when talks broke off following two days of negotiations with federal mediators, and it wasn't agreed to until Sunday.Originally the thought was no one other than owners and players would be in attendance, but each side will have staff and counsel there. Deputy commissioner Bill Daly will likely participate for the NHL, along with union special counsel Steve Fehr.Ron Burkle (Pittsburgh Penguins), Mark Chipman (Winnipeg Jets), Murray Edwards (Calgary Flames), Jeremy Jacobs (Boston Bruins), Larry Tanenbaum (Toronto Maple Leafs) and Jeff Vinik (Tampa Bay Lightning) will take part in the talks for the league, Daly said."No further details have been confirmed at this point," Daly said in a statement announcing the meeting. "We will provide further details when available and as appropriate."Six players will be picked for the meeting, but that list wasn't expected to be announced on Sunday, a union spokesman said. Neither the NHL nor the players' association had input on who would attend on the opposite side, Daly said in an email to The Associated Press.All games through Dec. 14 have already been wiped off the schedule, along with the outdoor Winter Classic on New Year's Day and All-Star Weekend that was slated for January in Columbus, Ohio.The lockout reached its 78th day on Sunday, and at best, there will only be a shortened season if there is any hockey at all.Many conditions needed to be worked out before this meeting could be scheduled. The sides were in contact over the weekend and finally saw eye to eye on Sunday night. Now they need to figure out how to break through on the financial issues and player contracting disputes that are keeping them apart and putting the entire season at risk.The union has allowed any players who wanted to attend previous bargaining sessions to come, but the NHL has limited which owners could take part."The NHLPA has agreed to a meeting on Tuesday in New York that should facilitate dialogue between players and owners," Donald Fehr said in a statement. "There will be owners attending this meeting who have not previously done so, which is encouraging and which we welcome. We hope that this meeting will be constructive and lead to a dialogue that will help us find a way to reach an agreement."Jacobs, considered one of the hard-line owners, and Edwards are the only members of the group of six to have taken part in previous negotiations.The New York Post reported Sunday that Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan wanted to be included in the talks, as he was last year during the NBA lockout, but he wasn't picked. The Post said that Dolan, who was part of the NBA owners' negotiating committee, hasn't had a personal relationship with Bettman since at least 2007.Dolan's New York Rangers were listed as the NHL's second-most valuable franchise this week, according to Forbes magazine, at 750 million - 250 million behind the Toronto Maple Leafs, the first hockey team to be valued at 1 billion. Forbes said that the Rangers were the second-most profitable franchise, behind Toronto, generating 74 million of the league's 3.4 billion income.

Bad offense, not bad officiating, is main culprit for Sharks' skid

Bad offense, not bad officiating, is main culprit for Sharks' skid

For just the second time this season, the San Jose Sharks have lost consecutive games.

It’s the first time since the club opened the season 0-2, and were outscored 9-4. San Jose played much better in Thursday’s loss to Florida and Saturday’s defeat at the hands of Boston than they did to start the campaign, but have now been on the wrong side of four goal reviews.

The Sharks have lost each of the last two games by two goals, so there’s an understandable temptation to chalk these losses up to questionable officiating. Yet even if you disregard the notion that the officials got each call right (which they did), it’s one that must be resisted.

Their actual lack of offense, not a perceived lack of good officiating, is the main culprit behind the losing streak.

Timo Meier’s goal on Saturday stands as San Jose’s lone tally on this three-game homestand. It’s not for a lack of trying: The Sharks pumped 72 shots on net in the last two games, but could not solve Roberto Luongo or Anton Khudobin.

You can blame the officiating in San Jose’s last two losses all you want, but a good offensive team would have converted subsequent chances to make up for the goals taken off the board. The Sharks have not been a good offensive team this season, and could not make up for it.

San Jose’s inability to finish chances has been their main weakness all season, but they were still able to win games thanks to their defense and goaltending. The latter’s lapsed at times over the last two games, and the former let them down on Saturday when Aaron Dell allowed three goals on only 20 shots.

But that, as well as the discussion around the recent officiating, only serves to mask the Sharks’ real issue. San Jose just simply cannot score.

They’ve only scored on 7.41 percent of their shots this season, according to Natural Stat Trick, which is the third-worst rate in the league. There’s too much talent on the roster to expect that to continue all season, but the Sharks faltered offensively down the stretch last season, too.

Plus, they’re relying significantly on players on the wrong side of 30. Brent Burns, 32, hasn’t scored a goal, and Joe Pavelski, 33, is on pace to score fewer than 20 goals.

He hasn’t failed to reach that mark in a decade. At some point, it must be asked: are the Sharks just unlucky, or is age catching up to their star players?

The answer is probably a bit of both. How much of a role either factor has played is up for debate, but that either has led to San Jose’s failure to score goals is not.

Poor officiating is easier to diagnose than a poor offense, but it’s the latter, not the former, that’s responsible for the Sharks’ most recent skid.

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

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USATSI

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.