Rewind: Sharks pull off 'good, sloppy road win' in Columbus

Rewind: Sharks pull off 'good, sloppy road win' in Columbus

COLUMBUS – The Sharks had numerous chances to build upon an early lead and break their game with the Blue Jackets wide open on Saturday night.

Leading 2-0 after the first period, San Jose maintained pressure in the middle frame and totaled 18 shots on goal. But Sergei Bobrovsky denied Tomas Hertl in the first minute, on an open look for the young winger. Brenden Dillon was stopped on the doorstep on an odd-man rush. Patrick Marleau couldn’t convert a breakaway after a nifty lead pass feathered ahead by Chris Tierney. 

Worst of all, the Sharks were 0-for-4 on the power play, with the top unit struggling at times to just get the puck out of its own end.

The 2-0 lead remained after 40 minutes, but coach Pete DeBoer had an uneasy feeling in the dressing room.

“When we didn’t cash in on those, I didn’t feel good going into the third, no,” said the coach.

Trying to avoid their second home loss in as many games to start the season, the Blue Jackets pushed in the third, as DeBoer sensed they would. Zach Werenski’s power play goal cut the lead in half and Columbus managed as many shots in the final frame (14) as it had through the first two.

Still, the Sharks hung on. An empty net, power play goal by Marleau increased the advantage to 3-1 with 33 seconds to go, and the Jackets’ Josh Anderson scored with 22 seconds left to generate the 3-2 final.

“They hung in there,” said Mikkel Boedker, who opened the scoring with his first goal. “They are starting out, too, so they want to get their first win. We were just out of the gates a little better than they were and we were able to hang on here in the end.”

San Jose has won its first two games of the season, as well as its first road game, where it was an NHL-best 28-10-3 in 2015-16.

The strong first period ended up being the difference. Boedker’s shot from the circle opened the scoring at 9:22, and about five minutes later Joel Ward redirected in a hard tape-to-tape pass from the corner by Brent Burns.

“I was trying to sneak my way back door and luckily it was an unbelievable pass,” Ward said.

But just as he mentioned after the first game, DeBoer would have liked to see his team capitalize on its numerous chances after that, calling it a “good, sloppy road win.” 

“We had some real quality opportunities to extend the lead and didn’t,” he said. “When that happens and you let a team hang around, you’re fighting for your life down the stretch. Hopefully lesson learned, and move on with two points.”

DeBoer’s gripes are indicative of how high a bar he has set for the Sharks this season, coming off of their appearance in the Stanley Cup Final. The Blue Jackets are a young team, and probably are not going anywhere. The Sharks’ remaining four opponents on this five-game trip – the Rangers, Islanders, Penguins and Red Wings – will likely provide much tougher competition.

Still, there’s something to be said for winning the first two games by close scores, according to goalie Martin Jones. The Sharks beat the Kings on Wednesday in their season opener, 2-1.

“It was a good, gutsy win,” Jones said. “To have 2-1 and 3-2 wins the first two games of the season is a good sign.”

Ward said: “We’ve played two good games so far. We’ve got some stuff to work on, of course. Just good to come out of here with a win.”

How the Sharks can catch the Golden Knights and win the Pacific


How the Sharks can catch the Golden Knights and win the Pacific

About a month ago, the Sharks appeared locked into the Pacific Division's second, third, fourth, or fifth spot. At the end of trade deadline day, they were 12 points back of the division-leading Vegas Golden Knights, and only two points up on the fifth place Calgary Flames.

24 days later, thanks to an 8-2-0 record over the last 10 games (second-best in the NHL), San Jose's still in second place. Now though, those margins are eight points and 11 points, respectively. 

The latter's pretty much locked the Sharks into a playoff spot, while the former's created a path for a late run at the Pacific Division crown. Beginning Thursday night, they will play the Golden Knights twice over both team's final nine games. 

What does the path look like to the Sharks' first division title since 2011? To start, they'll have to beat the Golden Knights twice in regulation to even have a shot. 

That is the foundation of any run at the Pacific's top spot. If the Sharks win both remaining games in regulation, they'll trail the Golden Knights by four points, leaving aside results against other teams for now.

They have to win in regulation, however. A win in overtime or the shootout on Thursday would only cut the gap to seven, and a subsequent win in regulation would leave it at five. Two losses, in any situation, would create a gap of 10-12 points, which would be nearly impossible to overcome this late in the season. 

One point doesn't seem like a lot, but this late in the season, it makes a world of difference. A five-point gap means they'll need to earn six more than the Golden Knights in those other seven games, while a four-point gap means they'll need to earn five in order to pass them. 

The simplest way to five extra points, is for the Sharks to have a record that's two wins and an overtime loss better (2-0-1) than the Golden Knights in the seven games where they don't play each other. That's impossible if Vegas earns at least 10 points in those seven games, so a 5-2-0 or 4-1-2 record would ensure a division banner raising in Sin City.

Taken all together, then, the Golden Knights' 'magic number' is 10 points. Even if the Sharks win on Thursday, their path to a Pacific title remains difficult, if not improbable. 

If a season with an expansion team leading their division has taught us anything, though -- it's that improbable is not impossible.  

The anatomy of Jannik Hansen's recently-broken scoring drought after nearly one year


The anatomy of Jannik Hansen's recently-broken scoring drought after nearly one year

Jannik Hansen's game-winning goal against the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday marked the first time he scored in 355 days. 

Hansen last scored on Mar. 30, 2017 against the Edmonton Oilers, his second goal with the Sharks following an in-season trade. His scoring drought, in all, lasted 44 regular season games, 50 if you include the postseason. 

How exactly does a goal-scoring drought last nearly a year? The right (wrong?) circumstances all need to come together, and that was certainly the case for Hansen for much of the last year.

For one, the Danish forward was in and out of the lineup. San Jose played 83 regular season and postseason games between Hansen's second and third goals, and he did not play in 33 of those games. Plenty of players have had rough 50-game stretches, and that's often without not playing for weeks at a time, as Hansen has done a couple of times this season. 

When Hansen did draw into the lineup this year, however, he wasn't generating offense at the same rate he had in the past. This season, Hansen's five-on-five shot rate (6.19 shots per 60 minutes), shot attempt rate (10.53 individual corsi per 60), and unblocked shot attempt rate (8.95 individual fenwick per 60) were all down from his career averages, according to Corsica Hockey. 

That decline is natural, considering Hansen turned 32 just six days ago. Those rates were not down enough, however, to expect him to fail to score in his first 39 appearances this season. Naturally, a long run of bad luck played a big role in Hansen's dry spell.

Hansen went 0-for-66 in shots over the 50 consecutive regular season and playoff games in which he did not score. He's a career 11-percent shooter, and had he shot at his career average, he would have scored seven goals during that time. That feels about right for a bottom-six forward. 

In many ways, all of these factors fed into one another. Hansen wasn't generating shots or scoring, then was scratched, then couldn't find the back of the net when he returned and was scratched again. All the while, fellow fourth-liners Marcus Sorensen (26.7 percent shooting percentage this season), Joel Ward (14.3 percent) and Barclay Goodrow (13.2 percent) were converting on their chances, forcing Peter DeBoer's hand. 

His possession play has been solid all season (50.74 percent corsi-for, per Natural Stat Trick), but the offense hasn't followed. When it does, as was the case Tuesday night, he can be an effective fourth-line forward, and the goal on Tuesday bought him more time to prove it.