Sharks

Recovered from injuries, Joonas Donskoi returning to form just in time for Sharks

Recovered from injuries, Joonas Donskoi returning to form just in time for Sharks

Joonas Donskoi’s first goal of the season all but sealed the Sharks’ 3-0 win over the New Jersey Devils on Friday night.

It was also a long time coming, too. The Finnish forward finished a chance for the first time in 28 regular season games, 33 if you include his goal-less postseason. He last scored on January 7, when Patrick Marleau was a Shark and San Jose still held a share of the Pacific Division lead.

He struggled mightily after that, largely due to injury. Donskoi separated his shoulder not once, but twice last season, and revealed to The Athletic this week that he also dealt with “foot issues.” He spent over a month on injured reserve and managed just three assists in his final 22 games as a result.

With health on his side, Donskoi’s returned to his rookie year form. Through six games, he's registered three points, all at even strength. That’s tied with Joe Pavelski for the team lead, despite the fact he’s played nearly four minutes less per game at even strength than the captain.

He’s done a lot in less ice time, scoring five-on-five points at a higher rate per 60 minutes than any player on the team, according to Natural Stat Trick. He’s done a lot against lesser competition, too, taking advantage of his assignments in Peter DeBoer’s bottom six forward group.

That’s an important development, given the disappearance of San Jose’s depth scoring last season. Only four Sharks forwards cracked 40 points last season, and one of them is in Toronto. Most damning, though, is that the same number managed to score 30 or more points last year. The Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins, by contrast, had eight forwards score 30 points in the regular season.

It’s still early in the season, but Donskoi’s underlying numbers indicate this level of play is built to last. His personal shooting percentage is below his career-high, and the Sharks are scoring on a reasonable 6.52% of their shots with Donskoi on the ice in five-on-five situations. That’s only half-a-percentage point higher than San Jose’s rate during Donskoi’s injury-riddled 2016-17.

Donskoi will undoubtedly hit some bumps in the road, but after struggling so much last season, it appears the 25-year-old is back on track. If the Sharks are to improve on last season, they desperately need depth scorers.

Thanks to Donskoi’s resurgence, they just might have found one.

Time is now for Sharks to experiment with new lines

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USATSI

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.

Luongo picks up a career first in Panthers win over Sharks

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AP

Luongo picks up a career first in Panthers win over Sharks

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE — Roberto Luongo made 35 saves for his 74th career shutout and the Florida Panthers blanked the San Jose Sharks 2-0 Thursday night on goals by Colton Sceviour and Nick Bjugstad.

Florida coach Bob Boughner won in his return to San Jose. He served as an assistant coach for the Sharks the last two years.

Luongo earned his first shutout of the season and first in 32 games against San Jose.

Martin Jones was nearly as good for the Sharks. He stopped 26 shots, but that wasn't enough to keep the Panthers from winning for the seventh time in their last eight trips to San Jose.

Sharks defenseman Tim Heed had a goal disallowed on a coach's challenge a little less than five minutes into the second period. Replays showed he came into contact with the puck just behind the blue line, making the play offside.

San Jose had another goal overturned after a replay review. Brent Burns took a hard shot that Luongo nearly caught but couldn't handle and it bounced along his pads. Marc-Edouard Vlasic was one of three Sharks trying to poke at the puck and he used his stick to push both the puck and Luongo's pad into the net.

Sceviour scored a minute into the second after digging out the puck along the boards behind the net. He skated around the cage and poked a shot that hit Jones' pads. He took a second shot that got over the goalie's pads and went in.

Sceviour has four points in six games since returning from injury. He had two points in his first six games this season.

The Panthers, who have won three of four, added an insurance goal with less than eight minutes remaining. Radim Vrbata intercepted a pass in the Sharks zone and played it to Jamie McGinn, who got Jones to commit before dishing to Bjugstad for the score.

NOTES: Panthers C Michael Haley received a warm ovation from Sharks fans. He played in San Jose the last couple of years. ... Sharks D Paul Martin missed his 15th game with a lower-body injury, though he has been skating pain-free for the past two weeks. ... Florida center Vincent Trocheck has 12 points in his last 10 games. ... The Sharks have not scored on their past 15 power plays.

UP NEXT

Panthers: At the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday.

Sharks: Host the Boston Bruins on Saturday.