Sharks

Schlemko error costs Sharks in Game 3, but no offense the real issue

Schlemko error costs Sharks in Game 3, but no offense the real issue

SAN JOSE – The raucous home crowd and the return of their emotional leader helped to give the Sharks the start they were looking in their attempt to regain the lead in their first round series with the Edmonton Oilers.

In the first playoff game at SAP Center since last June’s Stanley Cup Final, and with Joe Thornton back on the ice, San Jose was skating, hitting and making plays as they hemmed the Oilers into their defensive end for most of the opening frame. 

What they needed, though, was a goal. That never came, and the Oilers steadily improved after the intermission. Unlike the Sharks they scored on one of their chances, when Zack Kassian intercepted a careless David Schlemko pass midway through the third period and slipped it through Martin Jones to give the Oilers a 1-0 win in Game 3.

Had the Sharks beaten Cam Talbot in those first 20 minutes, the game against the inexperienced Oilers might have taken on a completely different trajectory. They didn’t, though, and they now find themselves trailing for the first time.

An early goal “definitely would have given us another extra jolt,” said Chris Tierney, who shot the puck high on a partial breakaway in the first on one of several chances that were squandered. “I think Jumbo playing gave us a good jolt right off the bat, and I thought our legs were good. We had chances, we just couldn’t find the goal.”

After getting outshot 13-6 in the first period, the Oilers flipped the tables with a 12-4 advantage in the second period. Still, it remained scoreless.

In the third, though, Schlemko tried getting the puck ahead to Tomas Hertl in the defensive zone only to have Kassian knock it down in the circle. He was free to glide towards the crease and push a backhand through Jones’ five-hole at 10:45 of the third, before a diving Schlemko could recover.

What happened?

"Just going back to get the puck and tried to bypass a couple of guys,” Schlemko said. “I don't know if it hit his skate or leg. It's a tough bounce. It's a game of mistakes, and that one ends up in the net.”

While Schlemko’s blunder was the biggest moment of the night, the Sharks failure to score for a second straight game is the larger issue. It’s just the second time in franchise history the Sharks have been blanked in consecutive playoff games (Games 1 and 2, second round at Dallas, 2000).

Talbot has now stopped 77 of 80 shots he’s seen (.963 save percentage). In Game 3, the team in front of him blocked just as many shots (22) as it allowed on its goalie. 

”It doesn’t matter how well a goalie is playing, you have to find a way to get to him,” Joe Pavelski said. “We need a little bit more there. We’ve got better, flat out. We do.”

Logan Couture said: “I don’t think we generated enough Grade A chances. … I thought we had the puck in their zone, we just got stuck in corners. They block shots. Got to find a way to create some more offense.”

The power play also had another miserable night, going 0-for-2 and failing to record a shot on goal. The Oilers had just one advantage, though, so special teams didn’t play much of a role.

Still, the biggest difference between this year’s Sharks team and the one that made its way to the Stanley Cup Final last season is its inability to score with a man advantage. Somehow, the Sharks look worse on the power play in this series than they did in the regular season, and that was even with Thornton back out there.

“You’ve got to shoot the puck. You’ve got to score some goals. We know that,” Couture said. “Obviously that’s been a concern for us all season, our power play hasn’t been where we need it to be. We need to be better. It’s simple to say, it’s easy to say, but we’ve got to be better.”

Their backs will be against the wall in Game 4 on Tuesday. Lose that one, and the series and season may be all but over going back to Rogers Place.

“These are momentum battles,” DeBoer said. “Last year on our run we found a way to be on the right side of those games and get that goal, and we didn't tonight. So we've got to get that the next time.”

There's one key difference between struggling Sharks, Canadiens

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AP

There's one key difference between struggling Sharks, Canadiens

The San Jose Sharks and Montreal Canadiens could not be more different in terms of tradition. But, on the ice this season, they couldn’t be more similar.

Both teams have placed their faith in a goalie that wears #31. The top defensemen on each team, Brent Burns and Shea Weber, are 32 and signed until 2025 and 2026, respectively. Tomas Hertl and Alex Galchenyuk are 2012 first round picks playing on the wing after being drafted as centers. Tomas Plekanec and Joe Thornton are favorites on the wrong side of 30, who may head elsewhere next summer.  Heck, both teams miss defenseman David Schlemko, who San Jose lost in the expansion draft and was eventually traded to Montreal, where he hasn’t yet played due to injury.

And both have struggled mightily so far. San Jose and Montreal have combined to win just two games, and sit 29th and 30th, respectively, in goals scored this season. It’s hard to imagine the Sharks and Canadiens scoring so little with all of that talent, but they can’t bank on good fortune, either.

Something’s got to give when the two face off at SAP Center tonight. After tonight, one team will feel much better about themselves, and the other team will be much closer to hitting the panic button.

That’s where the critical difference lies: Montreal’s already hit it, and San Jose probably won’t.

Last season, Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin fired Michel Therrien and replaced him with Claude Julien in February. Seven months after essentially siding with Therrien and trading star defenseman P.K. Subban, Bergevin ended Therrien’s time in Montreal, too. He surely can’t fire another coach, but a Galchenyuk trade is reportedly a possibility, according to TSN.

The Sharks, on the other hand, likely won’t do any of that. Even with the burden of high expectations in his tenure, Sharks general manager Doug Wilson’s never traded away a star player or fired a coach midseason. Even though Vegas pegs Peter DeBoer as the odds-on favorite to lose his job, it’s hard to envision Wilson making a change behind the bench during the year. He didn’t in 2015 when Todd McLellan seemed to lose the room, so why would he now?

Patience is what truly separates the Sharks and Canadiens, and that difference will likely determine how each front office reacts if their teams continue to struggle. Wilson’s shown a willingness to swing for the fences under these circumstances. He acquired Joe Thornton in 2005, after all.

But if you’re waiting on Wilson to take a page out of Bergevin’s book and fire the coach or trade away a key piece approaching their prime? Don’t hold your breath.

Process there even if results aren't for Sharks early in new season

Process there even if results aren't for Sharks early in new season

Saturday’s loss to the New York Islanders is one with which Sharks fans have become all too familiar.

The Sharks held a decided 41-23 edge on the shot count, but trailed 3-1 on the scoreboard. Since 2005, no team in the league has lost more games (59) in which they shot 35 or more times, and held their opponent to 25 or fewer shots.

No, your instincts haven’t deceived you over the Joe Thornton era: San Jose has lost a lot of games where they’ve otherwise outplayed their opponent. Of course, they’ve won plenty of those games too. More often than not, in fact, winning 72 of 131 times under those circumstances.

Frustration under those circumstances became readily apparent in the second period on Saturday, when Joe Pavelski broke his stick over Thomas Greiss’ net. The captain had plenty of reason to be unhappy, as his goalless drought to start the season has mirrored his team’s inability to finish at even strength.

So far this season, only Dallas and Montreal have scored on a lower percentage of their shots at even strength than San Jose, according to Natural Stat Trick. Both the Stars and Canadiens, unsurprisingly, are seventh in their respective divisions. The Sharks are sixth in the Pacific, thanks only to the still-winless Coyotes.

This early in the season, bad results can mask a strong process. They can’t finish, but the Sharks have been, statistically, one of the league’s best puck possession teams at even strength. That can happen over such a short stretch, but that’s easy to lose sight of when the team’s sitting in the division’s basement.

Right now, the Sharks just aren’t scoring enough at even strength, even as they’re playing well elsewhere. The power play’s begun to find an identity, particularly on the Kevin Labanc-led second unit. The penalty kill hasn’t allowed a goal since allowing three in the season opener, and have climbed all the way to 13th in the league.

If the Sharks continue to play this way, the goals, and wins, should come. They may not, of course, especially if Peter DeBoer struggles to find combinations that click for more than a game at a time. But eventually, the results should align with the process.

Saturday night was “one of those games” that have been surprisingly common in recent Sharks history, but it shouldn’t be chalked up as anything more than an amusing anomaly. Sometimes, one team is better, and still finds a way to lose.  

Sometimes, it truly is that simple.