With Pavelski as captain, Sharks can finally move forward


With Pavelski as captain, Sharks can finally move forward

SAN JOSE – In hindsight, the Sharks probably would have been better off naming their captain any day other than the one in which another of their players was issued the second-longest suspension in NHL history.

Still, Monday’s announcement that Joe Pavelski would become the ninth full-time captain in the history of the franchise was met with the same types of feelings that have been palpable since the start of training camp under new coach Pete DeBoer.

Feelings of moving forward. Feelings of forgetting the past 17 messy months. Feelings of focused preparation for the season opener on Wednesday, and the 81 games that will follow.

Pavelski was the obvious choice to carry the torch.

“He’s going to do what he’s done since I’ve been here and probably since he’s been here – go out and lead by example,” said Logan Couture, who will serve as one of Pavelski’s alternates, along with Joe Thornton. “He’s vocal in the room, steps up at big times. Seems like he always scores the big goals for us. He’s going to be the same guy, at least that’s what we expect.”

DeBoer said he made the final decision only recently, after observing the group throughout his first training camp as head coach. He was likely aware that Pavelski was the de facto captain last season, but never hinted which direction he was leaning when pressed on the subject.

[RELATED: Sharks name Pavelski team captain]

Regardless of any possible preconceived notions, though, Pavelski stood out.

“There are a lot of leadership candidates here, but it’s his time,” DeBoer said. “He’s grown into a leader on this team, and a key player. He has the respect of everybody in the room and everybody I’ve talked to, and I’ve witnessed it first hand.”

“It was a tough decision, but at the same time that doesn’t minimize the fact that Joe is the guy.”

Pavelski called the decision a “huge honor,” and he’s “excited to have an opportunity like this.”

But the 31-year-old quickly pivoted from talking about himself to offering to a team-wide perspective on what has to happen next, in terms of leadership and overall objectives for the group.

“You’re not doing this alone. There are a lot of guys with experience that have been in the role before. They know what to expect,” Pavelski said.

“It’s just about raising our expectations again. We want to get back to the playoffs and get ourselves in a position that we can get some work done there. The guys in this room believe it’s close. Even with the year like we had last year, we believe it’s close. The foundation is there and the players are here to do it. It’s about getting the job done now.”

* * *

While Pavelski was the front-runner for the captaincy, it was much less clear whom DeBoer would select as alternates. He experimented with several in the preseason, including Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Patrick Marleau, who no longer have letters after being part of the failed rotating alternates experiment last season. Tommy Wingels, Brent Burns and even Raffi Torres all wore an ‘A’ at one point during the seven-game slate.

He settled on Thornton, who seems to have fully moved on from last season’s uneasiness with coach Todd McLellan and general manager Doug Wilson, and Couture, who will get a letter for the first time.

Thornton was vociferously complimentary of his linemate as the next captain.

“We all think Pav is our leader anyways so really nothing changes, but now it’s official that he’s the captain. It’s great for him and it’s well deserved,” Thornton said.

“I think everything he does, he just does it the right way. He goes out, he plays the right way. He plays hard, puts in the time. I think that’s the main thing. He doesn’t really need to say too much in the locker room. The way he plays just says enough.”

Couture, who was passed over for a letter last season despite being labeled as one of the team’s young leaders, considers serving as an alternate “an honor, especially with the guys we have in this room.”

[RELATED: NHL suspends Torres for 41 games]

He also indicated that last season’s strange structure wasn’t ideal. DeBoer is already on record as calling it a distraction, and Couture agreed.

“It’s a bigger leadership group than just the guys wearing the letter,” Couture said. “There are so many guys on this team that are leaders and step up at different times. It’s nice to have it so it’s not a distraction. … Pav is our captain, and it’s going to be good not to answer that question anymore.”

Now, the talk will turn to hockey. The Sharks won’t be able to put the past behind them until they show some positive results on the ice.

Finally making Pavelski the captain is merely setting the table for what they hope is a successful year to come.

“This is done. Last year is in the rear view mirror,” DeBoer said. “This is our group and this is who our leaders are, and we’re moving forward.”

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.

Time is now for Sharks to experiment with new lines


Time is now for Sharks to experiment with new lines

The San Jose Sharks were shut out for the first time this season on Thursday night, but it sure didn't feel like it.

You’d be forgiven, albeit mistaken, if you didn't think the loss was their first goose egg of the season. San Jose’s been one of the lowest-scoring teams in the league this year, and has scored two or fewer goals in all but two of their six games in November.

The Sharks controlled play, but their raw possession numbers were misleading: Through the first two periods, San Jose was outshot 23-18, and poured it on in the third looking for the game-tying goal.

In order to break out of his team’s extended slump, head coach Peter DeBoer appeared to throw his lines in the proverbial blender. The changes weren't very significant, though, as DeBoer worked mostly around the edges.

Joe Thornton remained with Joe Pavelski, while Melker Karlsson and Timo Meier rotated in on their wing. Joonas Donskoi swapped in with Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl, and on and on.

The core pair of each line remained intact, while DeBoer swapped complimentary wingers. Subtle changes, unsurprisingly, didn't lead to drastically different results.

He’s been amenable to bigger changes at times, briefly breaking up longtime linemates Thornton and Pavelski last Sunday against Los Angeles. The bottom six, especially the fourth line, has mostly been a revolving door.

That's a start, but far from enough. 

As long as the Sharks struggle to score, similarly significant changes are in order.

DeBoer shouldn't want to sacrifice the team’s defensive dominance, or its strong possession game. But, the Sharks haven't scored enough through 17 games to justify using the same forward combinations. 

In Thornton and Pavelski’s case, those struggles date back to last season. For just about everyone else, the sample size is getting increasingly more significant as the season approaches the quarter pole.

The Sharks bench boss expressed a willingness to mix up his power play units earlier this week, and needs to do the same at even strength. It's time to try Pavelski on Couture's wing, Meier on Thornton's, or any number of permutations.

Tweaking around the edges hasn't made much of a difference, so far more comprehensive adjustments are not only welcome, but necessary. Of course, DeBoer may not find the perfect lineup solutions.

At this point, though, it's worth a shot. It's hard to imagine the Sharks scoring any less than they have so far this season, and the Sharks need to explore if any line changes can provide a remedy.