Sharks

Setoguchi, Heatley return to San Jose

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Setoguchi, Heatley return to San Jose

SAN JOSE Former Sharks forwards Devin Setoguchi and Dany Heatley were saying all of the right things after practicing in their former city on Wednesday as members of the Minnesota Wild.

Yes, they are happy to be back to see some familiar faces, but they have since moved on from getting traded and want to help their new team win on Thursday night.

No one ever wants to leave the team they start with. Thats just how it is, said Setoguchi. I was drafted in the organization in 05 and I was there close to six years.

But, its going to happen. Youre not going to play with one team, and Im not upset. I obviously was a little bit ago, but now its good. Youve got to make the best of it, and Im having fun with it.

Heatley admitted he was a little shocked at first when he was shipped up North for Marty Havlat, but his play suggests that it is already in his distant past. Heatley is tight-checking, defensive-minded Minnesotas leading scorer with 10 points (5g, 5a).

When you like a city and you like your teammates, its always tough to leave, he said. I think thats anybody. It was the same for me. Thats the nature of the business, but when you come to Minnesota, its a group of great guys in the room. I really like the organization, city and fans, and Im enjoying myself so far.

Reaction from the fans could be mixed when it comes to the pair of ex-Sharks. Setoguchi came up through the organization and his affable personality endeared him to many. Heatley, on the other hand, had his worst full season as a pro in 2010-11 with 64 points in 80 games.

Hopefully, theyre not booing me, said Setoguchi. I had a good time here, and it was obviously sad to leave my friends and teammates, but you make new ones.

Good memories here, said Heatley. Ive seen some people already, some trainers and staff. It will be fun to play tomorrow.

The game will be more than just former teammates facing off, of course. The Wild are the hottest team in hockey with five straight wins, and sit in fourth place in the Western Conference. Thats two points higher than the fifth place Sharks, who have played one fewer game.

We know were playing one of the best teams in the league tomorrow and well have to play well to win that game, said Heatley.

Setoguchi said: You obviously want to beat your old teammates and win the game. Thats our goal. We know were not going to come in here and get an easy game in the Tank. If theres anyone that knows that, its me.

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

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USATI

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.

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.