Sharks-Canucks: What to watch for


Sharks-Canucks: What to watch for

VANCOUVER Its time to start playing some hockey games.

After another odd break in the Sharks schedule that has seen them dormant in the last four days, a quick glance at the standings shows that San Jose has played the fewest games in the NHL with 34. A handful of teams have already played 40.

The Sharks will begin 2012 in Vancouver against the rival Canucks, and over the next three weeks, will play 13 games in 22 days leading up to the NHL All Star break. And thats just fine with Todd McLellan.

Its time to catch up with the rest of the league and play every second night, and get a grind going. Just be part of whats going on everywhere else, said the coach. We need to do that on a consistent basis, establish our game, and carry it through for the next couple of months.

The Sharks are a combined 0-4-1 against the two teams they face on this short trip to Vancouver and Anaheim. Theyve dropped two games to Vancouver, including Wednesday nights 3-2 overtime loss, and all three in regulation to the last place Ducks. San Jose visits Anaheim on Wednesday.

Harness the stored energy: The Sharks should have an advantage in that they havent played since last Wednesday at home against Vancouver, while the Canucks won in Anaheim and lost in Los Angeles in two subsequent games last week.

San Jose held three practices in the meantime.

Well take any advantage we can, Patrick Marleau said. We should have fresh legs going into tonights game. We expect their best, so well have to be ready.

Michael Handzus isnt convinced the time off is helpful, though.

I dont think its any advantage. Sometimes its better to play more games, sometimes its better to have a break, he said.

What could help is that the Sharks know they wont have any time to feel their way into the game against the Canucks. Even though they lost to the Kings, 4-1 on Saturday, Vancouver is still 15-4-1 in its last 20 games and just two points out of the Western Conference lead.

If the Sharks dont play with the kind of early energy they showed in last Wednesdays wildly entertaining affair, this one could be over early.

Its nice to face a top team. I think it will make us rise to the challenge, Ryane Clowe said. We know weve got to be prepared. Theyre hot, and probably the hottest team in the league.

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Its going to be a lot of emotions and its going to be fun, Handzus said. Sometimes after four days you feel sloppy, but you want that crowd in Vancouver and the emotion is going to be good for us. Its a good way to start the new year.

Special usual: Its starting to get repetitive, but the Sharks need to start playing better in both aspects of special teams.

The Sharks are 15th and 28th in power play and penalty kill, respectively, while Vancouver has the top power play in the league and seventh best PK.

Each team was 1-for-4 on the power play on Wednesday, which was a minor victory in itself for the Sharks. What irked them, though, were two late man advantages in which they had a chance to get the go-ahead goal that went by the wayside.

Between the pipes: Roberto Luongo will start again for the Canucks, and its all but certain hell oppose Antti Niemi for San Jose. The Sharks did not have a morning skate in Vancouver with the early start time.

Luongo has put a poor start to the season behind him, and is 9-3-1 since reclaiming the starting job from Cory Schneider in early December.

The Canucks have given Niemi fits in his career, as hes just 2-5-2 with a 3.19 goals-against average against Vancouver.

Odds and ends: Logan Couture, the Sharks leading goal scorer with 16, has seven points in the last seven games (4g, 3a). Defenseman Jim Vandermeer remains on injured reserve, and Colin White is out with a lower body injury. The Sharks are 7-4-2 on the road, and winless in their last four (0-2-2). They havent won away from HP Pavilion since Nov. 20 in Colorado. Tonights game at 5:00 p.m. PST is the inaugural hockey broadcast on the new NBC Sports Network (formerly Versus).

Bad offense, not bad officiating, is main culprit for Sharks' skid

Bad offense, not bad officiating, is main culprit for Sharks' skid

For just the second time this season, the San Jose Sharks have lost consecutive games.

It’s the first time since the club opened the season 0-2, and were outscored 9-4. San Jose played much better in Thursday’s loss to Florida and Saturday’s defeat at the hands of Boston than they did to start the campaign, but have now been on the wrong side of four goal reviews.

The Sharks have lost each of the last two games by two goals, so there’s an understandable temptation to chalk these losses up to questionable officiating. Yet even if you disregard the notion that the officials got each call right (which they did), it’s one that must be resisted.

Their actual lack of offense, not a perceived lack of good officiating, is the main culprit behind the losing streak.

Timo Meier’s goal on Saturday stands as San Jose’s lone tally on this three-game homestand. It’s not for a lack of trying: The Sharks pumped 72 shots on net in the last two games, but could not solve Roberto Luongo or Anton Khudobin.

You can blame the officiating in San Jose’s last two losses all you want, but a good offensive team would have converted subsequent chances to make up for the goals taken off the board. The Sharks have not been a good offensive team this season, and could not make up for it.

San Jose’s inability to finish chances has been their main weakness all season, but they were still able to win games thanks to their defense and goaltending. The latter’s lapsed at times over the last two games, and the former let them down on Saturday when Aaron Dell allowed three goals on only 20 shots.

But that, as well as the discussion around the recent officiating, only serves to mask the Sharks’ real issue. San Jose just simply cannot score.

They’ve only scored on 7.41 percent of their shots this season, according to Natural Stat Trick, which is the third-worst rate in the league. There’s too much talent on the roster to expect that to continue all season, but the Sharks faltered offensively down the stretch last season, too.

Plus, they’re relying significantly on players on the wrong side of 30. Brent Burns, 32, hasn’t scored a goal, and Joe Pavelski, 33, is on pace to score fewer than 20 goals.

He hasn’t failed to reach that mark in a decade. At some point, it must be asked: are the Sharks just unlucky, or is age catching up to their star players?

The answer is probably a bit of both. How much of a role either factor has played is up for debate, but that either has led to San Jose’s failure to score goals is not.

Poor officiating is easier to diagnose than a poor offense, but it’s the latter, not the former, that’s responsible for the Sharks’ most recent skid.

Play of Jones, Khudobin this season proof of how fickle goaltending can be


Play of Jones, Khudobin this season proof of how fickle goaltending can be

Martin Jones was a Boston Bruin for less than a week.

The “Original Six” franchise acquired Jones from the Los Angeles Kings on June 26, 2015. Four days later, Jones was traded back into the Pacific Division, this time to Northern California.

The Sharks gave up a first round pick and prospect Sean Kuraly for Jones. It seemed like a fairly high price at the time, but it’s one San Jose was happy to pay: No goalie started more games than Jones over the last two seasons, and the team signed him to a five-year extension this summer.

The first Jones trade in 2015 set off a flood of goalie transactions, as five netminders were traded during Jones’ extremely brief Boston tenure. One of those was Anton Khudobin, who will start for the Bruins as Jones backs up Aaron Dell against  his “former team” on Saturday night.

Khudobin was traded from Carolina to Anaheim, where he started seven games before getting sent down to the AHL. He then signed with Boston in 2016, returning to his former club as the Bruins tried to fill the hole that trading Jones left behind entrenched starter Tuukka Rask.

Jones and Khudobin will have taken vastly different paths to their respective creases on Saturday night. The former enters the game as his club’s undisputed franchise goalie, and the latter the unheralded backup.

Naturally then, Khudobin’s been the better goaltender this season.

Among the 46 goalies that have played 200 five-on-five minutes this season, Khudobin’s .962 five-on-five save percentage was the best entering Saturday, according to Corsica.  So, too, is his .954 save percentage off of high-danger shots.

Jones, meanwhile, ranks 27th (.920) and 14th (.833) in those respective categories.

What does it all mean? For one, it’s early in the season, and the fact that Khudobin’s made seven fewer starts undoubtedly plays a role in his superior performance to Jones.

Mainly, it speaks to just how fickle goaltending can be.

The Bruins backup is arguably getting the nod Saturday night because of how bad the man ahead of him has been. Rask, once one of the league’s best goaltenders, has steadily declined over the last three years and reached a new low this season: This year, he’s 40th out of 46 qualifying goalies in five-on-five save percentage.

Jones has demonstrated this, too. He’s stopped a lower percentage of low-and-medium danger shots at even strength than the last two seasons, but has stopped a higher percentage of high-danger shots.

Plus, he’s played behind one of the league’s best penalty-killing teams after playing behind one of its worst last season, and has benefitted from a corresponding bump in his shorthanded save percentage.

So much of what a goalie does is out of their control. Yet who’s playing in front of them, what kind of shots they see, and how often they see those shots all can affect their performance.

Khudobin and Jones are living proof of that this season.