Sharks

Power play at the center of Sharks' downfall in 2016-17

Power play at the center of Sharks' downfall in 2016-17

SAN JOSE – There was an NHL coaching casualty on Monday on a team that flamed out in the first round.

No, it wasn’t in San Jose. It was in Chicago, as the Blackhawks fired assistant coach Mike Kitchen, who was in charge of their penalty kill. Chicago, swept by Nashville despite finishing atop the Western Conference, finished 24th on the PK in the regular season.

When it comes to the Sharks’ coaching staff, there’s no doubt that head coach Pete DeBoer will return, but it’s fair to wonder if assistant coach Steve Spott is feeling a little heat right now. The Sharks’ power play, a primary focus of Spott’s, finished just 25th in the NHL this season (16.7 percent) after it was third in the league in 2015-16 (22.5 percent).

When asked if the full Sharks’ coaching staff would return next season, general manager Doug Wilson didn’t offer anything definitive.

“I haven’t sat down with them yet. I think they did an outstanding job,” Wilson said. “You go through the last 12 months with a compressed schedule, very few practices, integrating players. I’m very pleased with their performance.

“I think there are things that they want to do better. We all have to take a look back and be honest, and say since we’re not playing right now, what can we do better? I think that transparency and honesty is a really good part of this group. We’ll do that in the next week.”

And what was Wilson’s perspective of the power play?

“It’s got to be better. [The coaches] will tell you. …  It’s not [always] the percentage or the number, it’s when you score goals. We certainly have the talent, and historically we’ve done very well,” Wilson said.

There was no part of the Sharks’ game during the regular season and in the playoffs that was more baffling and frustrating than its performance with a man advantage. Last season’s success seemed to bleed into October as the Sharks were running at a 24.1 percent rate through the first month of the 2016-17 season, but after November 1 and through the end of the season, the power play was a miserable 15.7 percent (34-for-217).

In the playoffs the Sharks were a more respectable 5-for-28, but even DeBoer called that misleading as four of those came in the 7-0 blowout in Game 4. They were 1-for-18 the rest of the series.

DeBoer, as the head coach, took responsibility for that part of the Sharks’ game when asked how much the miserable power play grinded on Spott.

“It grinds on all of us,” he said. “This isn’t about Steve. The power play is not about Steve. The power play is about our whole staff. We sit on all those situations as a group, and I’m the ultimate guy responsible for all those things. 

“I think it ground on all of us. It didn’t give us momentum, it didn’t create momentum even when it wasn’t scoring. That’s what you want your power play to do, is at least give you some momentum that you’re feeling good coming out of it. We didn’t get that, so that’s something that’s right at the top of our list.”

One baffling aspect of the power play is that the coaching staff hardly ever tried anything different with its units unless it was forced into it due to injury. Patrick Marleau was bumped from the top unit for a brief stretch in the middle of the season, but it didn’t last very long.

The second unit generated just seven goals in the 82-game season, and none after Feb. 2 other than rookie Danny O’Regan’s score in the final game when several Sharks regulars were resting.

One argument regarding the top unit is that it simply became too predictable. Joe Thornton could be counted on to pass, Brent Burns was going to shoot any chance he got, and Joe Pavelski would be hovering somewhere around the slot looking for a deflection.

Pavelski said: “There were times where maybe we rushed it, forced a few things. Definitely all year it could have been a little better, a little more of our identity and what it has been in the past. So, that’s on us as players.”

DeBoer said: “I think we got a little stagnant. I don’t think we had as much motion as we usually have and as much movement, and that comes with some confidence. You lose confidence, you tend to stand still. That’s something that we’ve got to get back.”

Sharks exorcise MSG demons, take down Rangers

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Sharks exorcise MSG demons, take down Rangers

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK — Logan Couture had a goal and an assist, Martin Jones stopped xx shots and the San Jose Sharks beat the struggling New York Rangers 4-1 on Monday night.

Tim Heed, Joonas Donskoi and Melker Karlsson also scored to help the Sharks win for the third time in four games. Jones got his fourth straight win after losing his first two starts.

Mika Zibanejad scored and Henrik Lundqvist finished with 20 saves for the Rangers, who fell to 2-6-2 on the season. New York finished 0 for 6 on the power play and is 3 for 25 over the last six games.

With the Sharks leading 3-0 after two periods, Couture took the puck away from Lundqvist behind the goal and sent it to Karlsson, who put it in for his second of the season at 2:51 of the third. Couture got his 200th career assist on the play.

San Jose turned the puck over in its defensive zone and Zibanejad snapped a shot into the top right corner to spoil Jones' shutout bid at 4:23 of the final period.

Donskoi increased the Sharks' lead to 3-0 with 38 seconds left in the second as he skated into the right circle and beat Lundqvist glove-side inside the right post.

The Rangers controlled the play for most of the first period while outshooting the Sharks 16-8, but trailed 2-0 after 20 minutes.

Couture, who had his second career hat trick in a loss at the New York Islanders on Saturday night, got San Jose on the scoreboard 1:56 into the game. With Jones pulled for an extra skater on a delayed penalty, Brent Burns sent pass from the right circle up top to Couture, who fired a slap shot from straightaway past Lundqvist.

Jones had two nice saves on back-to-back attempts in close by Pavel Buchnevich with a little more than nine minutes left in the first.

Heed doubled the Sharks' lead with 7:15 left as he brought the puck up the right side and sent a bad-angle shot from near the goal line along the boards. The puck trickled through Lundqvist's pads for the 26-year-old's first career goal in his seventh NHL game.

The Rangers had a two-man advantage for 25 seconds late in the opening period, but Jones stoppedZibanejad's shot from top of the left circle, and Rick Nash missed with an attempt in close.

NOTES: Couture has six goals and three assists in his last four games. ... The Sharks are 30 for 31 on the penalty kill in seven games since giving up three power-play goals in the season- opener against Philadelphia. ... The teams conclude the season series Jan. 25 at San Jose. ... Rangers D Kevin Shattenkirk played in his 500th career regular season game. ... New York F Rick Nash played in his 999th game. ... D Marc Staal played in his 699th game — all with the Rangers — and passed Mark Messier and Steve Vickers for sole possession of 12th place on the franchise list. ... New York has given up 15 goals in the first period this season.

UP NEXT

Sharks: At Boston on Thursday night in the fifth of a six-game trip that concludes at Buffalo on Saturday.

Rangers: Host Arizona on Thursday night in the finale of a season-high six-game homestand.

The world’s most famous arena is a house of horrors for Sharks

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The world’s most famous arena is a house of horrors for Sharks

Whenever the NHL's schedule comes out, a trip to Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers is usually a highlight. A matchup against one of the league's biggest teams, in the country's biggest city, in a historic venue? That's a date worth circling.

If the San Jose Sharks circle it, it’s for entirely different reasons.

Throughout the entirety of the franchise’s 26-season existence, the Garden has been anything but welcoming. The Sharks have traveled to the world’s most famous arena 17 times, and have only skated off with a win four times. They didn’t even win a game there until October 19, 1999, in San Jose’s eighth appearance in the building.

Madison Square Garden has been “King” Henrik Lundqvist’s castle against the Sharks. The king in the castle is also the moat surrounding it: In four career appearances against San Jose at home, Lundqvist has only allowed four goals.

The Sharks haven’t been able to solve his squires, either, losing games to two of his most recent back-ups: Martin Biron, now on television, and Antti Raanta, now in Arizona. Lundqvist will likely start on Monday night, but if he doesn’t, this is probably the one instance where San Jose wouldn’t want to face Ondrej Pavelec, even though he’s never managed to eclipse a .920 save percentage in a season.

That’s because the team’s most recent appearances at the Garden have been among their worst. The Sharks have been shut out twice in their last four visits to Manhattan, and have only scored five goals over that span. They did manage to win one game, thanks to a Lundqvist-like shutout from then-goaltender Antti Niemi in 2014.  

Martin Jones, on the other hand, has been decidedly unlike Lundqvist. He’s allowed nine goals on 55 shots in two road starts against the original six franchise, good for an .837 save percentage. The skaters in front of him exactly helped Jones, either. The Sharks have played from behind in their last two trips to Madison Square Garden, failing to score first and trailing after the first two periods both times.

Those recent struggles are especially strange, given Peter DeBoer’s relative success in the building. He won big road games against the Rangers before assuming his role behind the Sharks’ bench, most notably two in the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals, when DeBoer’s Devils upset the top-seeded Rangers. Once you coach this team in that arena, though, all bets are off.

Somehow, in a month known for horror, there may be nothing scarier than the thought of the Sharks playing in Madison Square Garden.