Sharks

Pavelski keys power play surge

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Pavelski keys power play surge

SAN JOSE From late-November until just recently, it was the biggest question surrounding the Sharks that no one could seem to answer.

Whats wrong with the power play?

If there was one facet to the Sharks game in the three seasons before this one that was never in doubt, it was the teams ability to score on a man advantage. San Jose finished in the top four in power play percentage in each of the last three seasons, including 2010-11, when it was second in the NHL with a 23.5 percent success rate.

After a decent start to the season, though, the power play numbers tumbled. From November 26 until January 19, the Sharks scored just 10 power play goals in 82 opportunities (12.2 percent). Something needed to change.

Forward Joe Pavelski has been the key to making the power play dangerous again. San Jose is 5-for-13 in its last five games, sparked in part to Pavelski playing the point on a loaded top unit that also features Dan Boyle, Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Logan Couture.

In fact, it may not be a change as much as it is a return to normalcy, since thats where Pavelski played last year.

Were moving the puck around well. There were times we were trying to get too fancy, but were getting pucks to the top, and with Pavs back there, hes getting them through, Couture said on Friday. Usually were outnumbering teams at the net, and the last couple games, Pavs shot has deflected and gone in. I think were just getting pucks through, and were shooting off of passes, which is tough to defend.

Pavelski, who leads the team with six power play goals, said: The biggest thing is the movement is out there. Its creating a little more, a few more holes opened up and a few more shooting opportunities for us. And, were doing a little better job getting to the net.

San Jose scored multiple goals on the power play in Thursdays 5-2 win over Dallas for just the second time in the last 32 games. They are back in the NHLs Top 10 with an 18.6 percent success rate.

Of course, with Pavelski going back to the point, that means defenseman Brent Burns is seeing less time on the power play. A quick glance at the scoresheet from Thursday night shows that Burns played just 1:36 on the Sharks five power plays against the Stars, down from his season average of more than three minutes.

To give that a little perspective, the last time the Sharks had five power plays in a game before Thursday night was on Jan. 14 against Columbus, when Burns saw almost five minutes of power play time (although, to be fair, the Sharks did have two more minutes of overall power play time in that game against the Blue Jackets).

It hasnt hurt Burns game at all, though, and the defensemans presence on the second power play unit can still pay dividends on the scoreboard. In fact, Burns is playing perhaps his best hockey of the year, and his removal from the point on the top power play unit is based more on Pavelskis effectiveness in that spot.

We went back to familiarity with Pavs being back there. It gives us a Burnsie-Braun, or Vlasic, or Demers pair on that second unit which also helps, McLellan said. That unit in itself is a little simpler of a unit, and more a shooting unit, so that fits Bursies tool set well.

Burnsie was doing a good job back there and he still does, but Pavs is familiar with that point spot, playing there last year, Couture said.

So has the team turned a corner, coach?

Turned a corner, but maintenance is tough. Its hard to maintain that level, McLellan said.

With the skill in this room you want to succeed every time on the power play, Couture said. Obviously, looking around the league, one goal in every four chances is good. The last couple of games were doing that. Were picking it up.

Jones strong in goal, contains Coyotes to snap Sharks' three-game skid

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USATSI

Jones strong in goal, contains Coyotes to snap Sharks' three-game skid

BOX SCORE

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Logan Couture scored another goal for San Jose but was happier to see the Sharks' top line get untracked.

"We've got to get those guys going to help us offensively," Couture said of teammates Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Timo Meier after the Sharks' 3-1 win over the Arizona Coyotes on Wednesday night. "We need them to produce."

Thornton opened the scoring for the Sharks, with Pavelski adding an assist, the pair's first points since November 8, a span of five games.

"I think with Timo with us last game it brought us a lot of energy and a lot of chances," said Thornton, who scored his first goal since October 26. "Me and Pavs really like playing with him."

Joel Ward added an empty-net goal with 47.8 to play for the Sharks, who snapped a three-game losing streak.

"We got enough offense to win," said Sharks coach Peter DeBoer. "That's all that matters. I thought we played a good road game. I don't care how it looks."

Brendan Perlini scored with 7:37 to go, ruining Sharks goalie Martin Jones' bid for his second shutout of the season. The Coyotes saw their season-high three-game winning streak snapped and lost for the eighth time in nine home games (1-7-1).

Jones finished with 26 saves.

"We defended really well," said Jones, who was tested seriously only twice in the first two periods. "The first 10 minutes they had a lot of jump and were buzzing around our zone, but after that not as much."

Coyotes goalie Antti Raanta left at 14:37 of the first period with an upper-body injury. Couture had collided with Raanta more than four minutes earlier, earning an interference penalty. Raanta skated to the bench during a stoppage in play and retreated to the locker room.

Scott Wedgewood took Raanta's place and was in net for only five seconds before the Sharks broke through. Wedgewood stopped Brent Burns' long shot from the top of the right circle even after it deflected off San Jose right wing Timo Meier. But the rebound kicked to the bottom of the right circle, where Thornton swept in and beat the goalie with a quick wrist shot.

"He (coach Rick Tocchet) looked at me and said go," Wedgewood. "I was like, alright. That's the tough part. Then shot, top, goal. That was tough."

San Jose made it 2-0 at 4:56 of the second, taking advantage of Arizona's inability to clear the zone while the Sharks were on a line change.

Justin Braun fought three Coyotes for the puck along the right boards before Joonas Donskoi swooped in, skated to the goal line then sent a pass across to Couture. Couture deked Wedgewood to the ice with a forehand fake, then scored on the backhand.

Perlini cut the lead to 2-1 when he redirected Derek Stepan's shot from the top of the right circle past Jones.

"We had some costly mistakes," Perlini said. "We got back within a goal but there were too many mistakes."

NOTES: Thornton has 22 goals and 83 points in 82 career games against Arizona. ... The Coyotes, who had played seven of their past eight on the road, opened a three-game homestand. ... Raanta made eight saves before leaving and has stopped 98 of the past 105 shots he's faced. ... Couture's goal was his first in five games.

UP NEXT:

Sharks: visit Las Vegas on Friday

Coyotes: host Los Angeles on Friday.

Don't blame Joakim Ryan for Brent Burns' struggles

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AP

Don't blame Joakim Ryan for Brent Burns' struggles

Over the last three years, Brent Burns played with only one defensive partner more in a single season than he has with Joakim Ryan in 2017-18.

That partner, of course, is Paul Martin, who’s missed all but two games this season due to complications from offseason ankle surgery. Martin is set to miss yet more time after experiencing a setback in his recovery, although the injury is not related to his ailing ankle, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

Martin’s absence, combined with the fact that Burns has gone 20 games without a goal this season, has naturally led to questions about whether their separation is causing Burns to struggle.

That’s not the case.

Burns is actually playing a bit better alongside Ryan than he was with Martin. In just over 257 minutes together at even strength, the Sharks have controlled 55.74 percent of the shot attempts with Burns and Ryan on the ice, according to Corsica Hockey, up from Burns and Martin’s 52.13 percent mark together.

The Sharks are attempting more shots than their opponents when Burns and Ryan play, they’re doing so at a higher rate. With Burns and Ryan on the ice, the Sharks are attempting nearly nine more shots per 60 minutes than when Burns and Martin together, and just over two more shots per 60 minutes are hitting the net.

As we’ve written about previously, Burns’ scoring struggles date back to the stretch run last season, when he was playing alongside Martin. It wasn’t Martin’s fault then, just as it’s not Ryan’s fault now.

The puck simply isn’t going in. Through 20 games this season, Burns has 82 shots on goal and zero goals. Through 20 games in his Norris Trophy-winning campaign, Burns had 83 shots on goal and seven goals.

It’s not like Burns was super lucky then, either, as his 8.3 percent shooting percentage through 20 games last season was only one percent higher than his career average. Shooting at a zero percent clip after 20 games is, clearly, the outlier.

Together, Burns and Ryan have been more unlucky than anything else. When the two skate during five-on-five play, the Sharks are scoring on only 3.45 percent of their shots, much lower than the 8.26 percent San Jose scored on when Martin and Burns played together.

At 32 years old, it would be a stretch to expect Burns to match or exceed his heights from a season ago, but it would be an even bigger one to expect him to struggle much longer alongside Ryan. 

They've done everything right, they just haven't scored.