Sharks

In season opener, Labanc embodies promise and growing pains ahead

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AP

In season opener, Labanc embodies promise and growing pains ahead

On the same night former Shark Patrick Marleau scored two goals in his Toronto Maple Leafs debut, the Sharks were reminded of the promise, and growing pains, to come this season. No player encapsulated that in San Jose’s 5-3 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers Wednesday night moreso than winger Kevin Labanc.

On the one hand, the 21-year-old scored two goals in a game for just the second time in his NHL career. He also matched his career-high with 5 shots on goal, tying Brent Burns and Logan Couture for the team lead.  

On the other, he set a more ignominious milestone, and committed a career-high three penalties. The Flyers took advantage, scoring on each of the ensuing power play opportunities.

As the Sharks look to replace Marleau, there will be nights where they frustrate you. As the Sharks look to integrate Labanc, Timo Meier, and other emerging prospects, there will be nights where they dazzle you. And there will be nights like Wednesday where they do both.

That's all to be expected as the Sharks attempt to rebuild their roster on the fly. It's also an expectation the team and fans should not lose sight of.

If Labanc, Meier, and others are to blossom into core pieces, they must be given room to grow, and allowed to make mistakes. Head coach Peter DeBoer did just that on Wednesday, as he played Labanc while the Sharks pressed for the tying goal in the game’s dying moments, despite his penalties.

In previous seasons, those penalties may have been enough to keep Labanc on the bench, or even ensure an assignment to the minor leagues. But if the loss to Philadelphia showed anything, it's that this year will not be much like those that preceded it.

After all, the San Jose lost its opener for the first time since 2009, and began a season without Marleau on the team for the first time since the Clinton administration. The Sharks are swimming in uncharted waters, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Labanc and the rest of the young core won’t be able to develop unless they're allowed to navigate those waters, and given the necessary leeway to do so. That didn't result in a Sharks win on Wednesday, but it did result in a vital learning experience for the second-year forward.

Ultimately, that growth is what’s most important this early in the season.

Something smells fishy about Sharks' early success on power play

Something smells fishy about Sharks' early success on power play

By many traditional measures, the Sharks’ power play is off to a strong start.

They’ve scored seven times on 30 opportunities, including once in Saturday’s 5-3 loss to the New York Islanders. That mark, 23.3%, would have been good enough for third in the league last season, and is nearly seven percent better than the Sharks were in 2016-17.

San Jose’s made some changes on the man advantage, and are getting a different look on their top power play unit with Tim Heed there instead of another forward. Second-year forward Kevin Labanc is playing a significant role on the second unit, operating as something of a focal point.

The puck’s found the net a lot for the Sharks on the power play, but a deeper look at the numbers reveals that success may be a house of cards.

According to Natural Stat Trick, San Jose ranks in the bottom third of the league in shots, shot attempts, and unblocked shot attempts per 60 minutes. Using those rates allow us to compare teams empirically, equalizing for the amount of time each team has spent on the power play. Those rates, by the way, are not very good.

And each of those are lower than last season, when the Sharks finished 25th in power play percentage. This season, the Sharks are converting more shots, despite attempting less.

It would be tempting to think San Jose can hang their helmets on higher shot quality, but they’ve struggled in that area, too. The Sharks finished just shy of the top ten in high danger chances per 60 minutes last season, but are in the bottom third of the league this season, according to Natural Stat Trick.

So the Sharks are shooting at a lower rate and generating chances at a lower rate than last season, when they had one of the league’s worst power plays, but are scoring at a much higher clip. They’ve converted on about 19% of their shots on the power play, almost doubling their conversion rate (10.5%) from a season ago.

If this doesn’t seem like a sustainable mix, that’s because it’s not. In a small sample size of seven games, the power play’s been good enough, but the Sharks can’t count on converting nearly a fifth of their power play opportunities if they continue to struggle generating shots and chances.

Of course, stranger things have happened in a hockey season, so it’s possible the Sharks can ride a sky-high shooting percentage all season long. Banking on that, however, would be foolhardy.

Sharks come up short in New York despite Couture's hat trick

Sharks come up short in New York despite Couture's hat trick

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK — Anders Lee had two goals and an assist to lead the New York Islanders to a 5-3 victory over the San Jose Sharks on Saturday night.

John Tavares had a goal and two assists, Josh Bailey added a goal and an assist, and Andrew Ladd also scored to help the Islanders win for the third time in four games. Thomas Greiss stopped 28 shots.

Logan Couture scored all three goals for the Sharks, completing the hat trick with 1:52 remaining to pull them within one. Aaron Dell finished with 18 saves.

Ladd's goal at 3:12 of the third period broke a 2-2 tie. Rookie Mathew Barzal created the scoring chance by taking the puck around the net and then setting up Ladd in the high slot for his second of the season.

Lee's second of the game and fifth of the season gave the Islanders a two-goal cushion with 8:13 remaining as he converted an odd-man rush.

Tavares sealed the win with an empty-netter with 55.4 seconds remaining and helped improve to 22-4-4 in their two-plus seasons at Barclays Center. Tavares points were his first since he had two goals and an assist Oct. 7 against Buffalo, ending a five-game drought.

The Sharks scored the game's opening goal at 6:26 of the second period on the power play. San Jose came away with the offensive draw and Couture scored from the slot, redirected Brent Burns' point shot past Greiss.

The lead lasted just over a minute as Nick Leddy worked his way to the back of the net and then quickly fed Lee for the tying goal.

The Islanders went ahead 58 seconds later after Joe Thornton made a costly turnover in his own end to give Bailey a point-blank chance. Bailey was able to sneak the puck with a backhander between his skates and past Dell to put New York ahead 2-1.

However, an impressive effort by Jannik Hansen to spin past Brock Nelson in the neutral zone led to a quick feed to Couture, who took a few strides and then fired a shot past Greiss to even the score once again.

NOTES: The Islanders held a special pregame ceremony to honor alumni of the organization who were in town for an Islanders Alumni Weekend. Among the players on the ice were Bobby Nystrom, Clark Gillies, Bryan Trottier and Ed Westfall. ... The Islanders scratched D Scott Mayfield, F Josh Ho-Sang and F Nikulay Kulemin. ... San Jose scratched F Joel Ward, F Barclay Goodrow and D Dylan Demelo. ... The Islanders honored Tragically Hip front man Gord Downie by playing music from the band during warmups. Downie passed away on Oct. 17 after succumbing to brain cancer.

UP NEXT

Sharks: At the New York Rangers on Monday night.

Islanders: Host Arizona on Tuesday night.