Sharks

The path to 34-25-10, and eighth place in the West

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The path to 34-25-10, and eighth place in the West

It is the question of questions amongst Sharks faithful: "How exactly did we get here?"

The Tipping Point: San Jose was relatively comfortable, both in their play and their standing through the month of January, which saw them sport a 9-3-2 record. It was a Feb. 4 game in Phoenix where the troubles began appearing in the results.

Coincidentally, this one-game roadie was also the Sharks' annual fathers trip, where players bring their dads on the team plane and to the games. Since then, the team has spiraled to a 5-12-3 record. You might recall last year's fathers trip was also a turning point in San Jose's season...only in the opposite direction. They went 25-6-4 to finish off their regular season campaign after getting some inspiration from the dads.

"Chasing their game": That's how head coach Todd McLellan put it after returning from the season-long nine-game road trip in February. He described trying to fix one part of their game, only to find another began showing troubles. For example, after addressing and correcting defensive miscues, the team would have issues scoring goals. Or after getting the power play back on track, the penalty kill would fail the team. It's like the old cartoon reference: you plug one leak just to find another spring up before your eyes.

On a basic level, San Jose has continued to "chase their game" during this rut. In the beginning of February, the Sharks had no problem scoring the puck, but could not hold enough teams below that all-important reference point of three markers. Then, the challenge became goaltending, where starter Antti Niemi was uncharacteristically pulled in two of three starts. Then Niemi found his groove again...only to face his own team in a scoring slump. The Sharks have just 12 tallies in the last eight games. Simply put, San Jose has endured a multitude of challenges with their game, not just a singular one.

Lack of traction: The best metaphor I can make of the Sharks is this: A tire stuck in the mud. The wheels are spinning awfully hard at times, but the car is not going anywhere. In fact, sometimes it's making the hole deeper. There is a lack of traction right now for San Jose to get themselves out of the dirty stuff and moving forward with their season. As is the case with any streak, the Sharks have trouble getting consistent positive results. It's been win one, lose one. Win one, lose four. Win one, lose two. Win one, lose five. And so on.

Here are some facts that are difficult to swallow:

- The Sharks have not won back to back games in six weeks (Jan. 31, Feb. 2)
- The Sharks have not won back to back games on the road in more than two months (Jan 12, 14)
- The Sharks have not won by a multiple goal margin in more than four weeks (Feb. 13, 5-3 vs. WAS)
Follow Brodie in real-time on Twitter: @BrodieBrazilCSN

Young Sharks fitting in, not neccessarily standing out

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USATSI

Young Sharks fitting in, not neccessarily standing out

 

The message for the San Jose Sharks’ prospects was quite clear this offseason.

After general manager opted not to re-sign Patrick Marleau, or sign any free agents of consequence, it was readily apparent the Sharks would need to rely on their young players to fill any holes.

Before the quarter mark of the season, that youth movement is underway. Five first or second-year players will suit up at SAP Center Monday night against Anaheim. 

Partially, the infusion is due to injury, as Barclay Goodrow, Melker Karlsson, and Paul Martin are all on the mend. But as the season wears on, the young players’ presence is becoming a necessity. 

Joakim Ryan looks like a natural fit alongside Brent Burns, and the Sharks are a decidedly better puck possession team with him on the ice than when he’s not. Tim Heed leads Sharks defensemen in scoring, and Danny O’Regan assisted San Jose’s lone goal in his season debut on Saturday. 

That assist set up the goal that ended Timo Meier’s drought, and he looks primed to break out: he’s third on the team in five-on-five shots despite playing the ninth-fewest five-on-five minutes this season, according to Corsica Hockey.  Kevin Labanc’s cooled off since his scorching start, but is still tied for sixth on the team in scoring and skated on the top line at Monday’s morning skate, according to the Bay Area News Group’s Curtis Pashelka.

There’s still room for improvement, of course. Labanc and Meier could stand to score more, but the same can be said about most everyone else. Ryan’s made his fair share of mistakes, but Burns has struggled plenty of times alongside him, too. 

So the young players are fitting in, even if all of them aren’t necessarily standing out. That shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. 

Meier’s the only first-round pick of the lot, but he’s also only been able to legally buy a beer for a month. Ryan and Heed have made the best adjustment, in no small part because they’re the oldest (24 and 26, respectively) of the Barracuda call-ups, and thus have the most professional experience. 

Of course, fitting in isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It is, however, far from ideal, when that’s what many other players on the roster are doing. 

Having all of their young players stand out is what will ultimately make the Sharks stand out from the rest of the pack. It hasn’t quite happened yet, and San Jose’s one of 22 teams separated by six points or fewer. 

And if it doesn’t, the middle of the pack is where the Sharks will remain.

 

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.