Sharks

Sharks-Colorado: What to watch for

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Sharks-Colorado: What to watch for

DENVER Everyone needs a day off sometimes, and the Sharks are no different. After arriving in Denver late Sunday night following the 3-2 overtime loss to Chicago, the Sharks regulars had a complete day off on Monday to regroup, refocus and re-energize before tonights game against Colorado.

Everyone who was asked about the down time on Tuesday morning after the teams skate agreed it was much needed.

It was nice to just stay in the hotel and walk around the mall, and just get away from the rink and the grind. Hopefully, it will do us some good tonight, said Joe Thornton.

We had three games in four nights, and its tough on your body, especially back-to-backs against teams like St. Louis and Chicago, both hard forechecking teams, said Logan Couture. It was a tough way to end in Chicago, but I thought we played well for two periods. We have to rebound tonight. We need two points.

Coach Todd McLellan pointed out that it had been weeks since the Sharks had a complete day off from anything having to do with hockey. The team was supposed to be off last Sunday, but a bad 5-3 loss to Florida the night before resulted in an intense 50-minute skate instead.

In hindsight, McLellan seemed to second-guess that decision.

Sometimes, you lose sight of where your team might be. When youre not winning you want to bring them to the rink and work them more, and practice more, he said. Sometimes youre grumpy and you skate them maybe a little extra, and dont realize where they are physically.

I ran into a couple of them walking around in the street yesterday, and it was about 11:00 or 11:30 in the morning and a lot of them were just crawling out of bed. Maybe that day will be good for us, both mentally and physically.

Jamie McGinn, who has four goals in the last six games, said: Guys got a lot of rest, and were ready to go today.

Sticking with Niemi: McLellan wouldnt have shocked anyone if he decided to start Thomas Greiss tonight rather than Antti Niemi. After all, Greiss hasnt played since last Saturdays 5-3 loss to Florida, and won here at the Pepsi Center on Nov. 20 with 37 saves.

That wont be the case, though, as Niemi (11-6-2, 2.30 GAA, .920 SP) will make his fifth start in eight days.

Nemo had a good day of rest yesterday. We expect him to play, and play well, said McLellan.

The Sharks also expect the same lineup forward and defense-wise as played in Chicago, meaning Matt Irwin will have to wait at least one more game to make his NHL debut. Douglas Murray (right hand) and Jim Vandermeer (upper body) remain out, as well.

Semyon Varlamov (9-12-1, 3.07 GAA, .898 SP) will start for Colorado.

More O, same D: Its the ultimate challenge in the NHL how do you generate offense while maintaining responsibility in the defensive zone?

The Sharks have been outstanding in their own zone since that loss against Florida, in which some brutal turnovers led to Panthers goals. Taking a look at the stretch since then, San Jose gave up just 21 shots to Minnesota, 20 to Dallas and 19 to St. Louis.

Before the late charge by the Blackhawks resulted in 34 shots against on Saturday, aided by some exhausted Sharks players, San Jose held a loaded Chicago offense to just 13 shots through two periods.

How do you keep that defensive play strong, while trying to get more goals?

Its a fine line, said Thornton. We feel comfortable in the one-goal games, but wed like to try to get a little bit more offense without giving too much on the back side. Its a fine line, but hopefully we can start scoring some more goals here.

Thats just it, you have to play well in your own end to create offense in this league, said Couture. If you break out clean and you dont spend any time in your own end, youre going to get chances in the other end.

Of course, it doesnt help that some of the Sharks' big offensive weapons have collectively gone cold. Over the last nine games, Joe Pavelski has just two points (1g, 1a); Marty Havlat just three assists; Partick Marleau one goal; and Thornton three assists.

You always have players that struggle, but to have a number of them all at the same time, its not a healthy thing for our team, said McLellan.

Still, he doesnt want it to come at the expense of solid team defense.

You need those top guys to score, but you dont want them to do it at the risk of cheating or anything defensively, said the coach. Our defensive game hasnt been bad. We want to keep that and find a way to get some offensive rewards, eventually.

Power play improvement: The Sharks had just two power plays against Chicago, and although they didnt score on either one, looked better and more organized.

The reason?

Our intent up top was to shoot first and dish later, which was a huge difference, said McLellan. We got into the zone a lot easier and we got pucks back. We looked dangerous, and we reviewed it this morning in our power play meeting, we looked how were supposed to look.

Still, the Sharks are just 1-for-25 in their past eight games. Colorado isnt much better, bringing a 1-for-23 cold streak in their last seven games into tonight.

Both clubs are also near the bottom of the penalty killing rankings. Colorado is 25th in the NHL (79.3 percent) while the Sharks are 28th (75.3 percent).
Odds and ends: The Sharks won 4-1 at the Pepsi Center on Nov. 20, behind a Patrick Marleau hat trick. Tonights game is on Versus at 6 p.m. PST.

Don't blame Joakim Ryan for Brent Burns' struggles

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AP

Don't blame Joakim Ryan for Brent Burns' struggles

Over the last three years, Brent Burns played with only one defensive partner more in a single season than he has with Joakim Ryan in 2017-18.

That partner, of course, is Paul Martin, who’s missed all but two games this season due to complications from offseason ankle surgery. Martin is set to miss yet more time after experiencing a setback in his recovery, although the injury is not related to his ailing ankle, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

Martin’s absence, combined with the fact that Burns has gone 20 games without a goal this season, has naturally led to questions about whether their separation is causing Burns to struggle.

That’s not the case.

Burns is actually playing a bit better alongside Ryan than he was with Martin. In just over 257 minutes together at even strength, the Sharks have controlled 55.74 percent of the shot attempts with Burns and Ryan on the ice, according to Corsica Hockey, up from Burns and Martin’s 52.13 percent mark together.

The Sharks are attempting more shots than their opponents when Burns and Ryan play, they’re doing so at a higher rate. With Burns and Ryan on the ice, the Sharks are attempting nearly nine more shots per 60 minutes than when Burns and Martin together, and just over two more shots per 60 minutes are hitting the net.

As we’ve written about previously, Burns’ scoring struggles date back to the stretch run last season, when he was playing alongside Martin. It wasn’t Martin’s fault then, just as it’s not Ryan’s fault now.

The puck simply isn’t going in. Through 20 games this season, Burns has 82 shots on goal and zero goals. Through 20 games in his Norris Trophy-winning campaign, Burns had 83 shots on goal and seven goals.

It’s not like Burns was super lucky then, either, as his 8.3 percent shooting percentage through 20 games last season was only one percent higher than his career average. Shooting at a zero percent clip after 20 games is, clearly, the outlier.

Together, Burns and Ryan have been more unlucky than anything else. When the two skate during five-on-five play, the Sharks are scoring on only 3.45 percent of their shots, much lower than the 8.26 percent San Jose scored on when Martin and Burns played together.

At 32 years old, it would be a stretch to expect Burns to match or exceed his heights from a season ago, but it would be an even bigger one to expect him to struggle much longer alongside Ryan. 

They've done everything right, they just haven't scored.

Sharks winger Joonas Donskoi has officially arrived

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AP

Sharks winger Joonas Donskoi has officially arrived

It turns out the top-six winger the Sharks needed to replace Patrick Marleau was on the roster all along.

Joonas Donskoi skated on Logan Couture’s line in Monday night’s shootout loss to the Ducks, and was San Jose’s best player. He scored the Sharks’ only two goals, and tied for the team-lead among forwards with four shots on net.

Donskoi added another goal in the ninth-round shootout, but his two goals in regulation were his sixth and seventh on the season. With those goals, he surpassed his total from an injury-riddled campaign a year ago, and stands three tallies clear as San Jose’s second-leading goal-scorer this season.

Due to Melker Karlsson’s injury, Donskoi skated with the Sharks’ leading goal-scorer, Logan Couture, and rekindled the strong chemistry the pair has shown since the Finnish winger arrived in San Jose in 2015.

Of the nine lines Couture has skated on for at least 50 minutes dating back to the beginning of the 2015-16 season, the three best in terms of puck possession have had Donskoi on his wing. Those three combinations have controlled at least 54 percent of the five-on-five shot attempts, according to Corsica Hockey.

Adding Tomas Hertl, who’s already a strong possession player, to that line bodes well for an even stronger second line moving forward. With Karlsson on the wing, the line controlled only 47.7 percent of the shot attempts, per Corsica, meaning the Sharks have been routinely out-possessed with them on the ice.

That was not the case with Donskoi in Karlsson’s place, as Donskoi posted positive possession numbers alongside Couture and Hertl on Monday, according to Natural Stat Trick. The results were there, as evidenced by the game’s opening goal, but it’s a good sign that the process was, too.

The same, frankly, can be said of Donskoi’s entire season up to this point. He likely won’t convert on over 18 percent of his shots all season, of course, but the Sharks have the puck more often than their opponents when he’s on the ice, and should continue to generate pressure, chances, and ultimately goals, even if Donskoi’s personal scoring comes down.

When Karlsson comes back, Donskoi should remain on Couture and Hertl’s line. That would allow the former to slide into a role better-suited to his game, and the latter to bolster San Jose’s top-six forward group.

Donskoi’s earned an extended look in that spot thanks to his resurgence, and subsequent emergence, this season. Thanks to him, replacing Marleau’s production suddenly seems much less daunting.