Sharks continue to take mental breaks


Sharks continue to take mental breaks

SAN JOSE There are fewer than 20 games remaining in the NHLs regular season, and the Sharks are far from a sure thing to make the playoffs. San Jose (33-23-7, 73 points) is in seventh place in the Western Conference, with the surging Dallas Stars (71 points) and improving Los Angeles Kings (70 points) nipping at their heels.

Its not a position the four-time defending Pacific Division champions are used to.

Yet, for whatever reason, the Sharks seem to take mental breaks for long portions of games. Its been exactly one month, in fact, since the team put together back-to-back wins on Jan. 31 and Feb. 2. San Jose is 4-9-1 in its past 14 games since then, and if the playoffs started today, a first round flame out would be all but a certainty.

Against Buffalo on Thursday, it was the entire first half of the game. In the loss to Minnesota last Sunday, the team fell asleep late in the third period in surrendering a lead and a win. The night before against Nashville, the Sharks gave up a pair of odd-man rushes and were down 2-0 on the Predators first two shots of the game.

And thats just in the past week.

I think every year is different, and this year its definitely been a struggle, Joe Thornton said.

The brutal road trip in which the Sharks went 2-6-1 was obviously one the team would like to forget. There have been signs they are coming out of their funk at home, with a 1-0 win against the Flyers on Tuesday and a strong third period against the Sabres on Thursday in a 1-0 loss. Defensively, with one goal against in two games, its an improvement.

At the same time, one has to wonder why the urgency wasnt there at the start of the Buffalo game. The Sharks are in desperate need of a winning streak of some sort, and were trying to build off of a victory over a very good team on Tuesday. On Thursday, they were up against a club that, despite recent improved play, is likely to the miss the playoffs and was coming off of a hard-fought win in Anaheim the night before.

The Sharks had the day off on Wednesday, but 30 minutes into the game, they were the ones who looked gassed and lacked energy rather than the other way around.

Id like us to take control of games right away, but the truth is were playing an opponent. Theyre usually doing the same thing, Dan Boyle said.

So what can you do?

The one thing you can control is work. Thats the one thing weve got to elevate. Weve got to work hard. We cant cheat. Weve got to work, and then the talent takes over after that.

You look around this locker room, we have as much talent, if not more, than most teams in this league, but weve got to work. When we do that, were okay.

Boyle later clarified that he wasnt questioning the teams work ethic, despite insinuating that the Sharks do, in fact, need to work harder.

Sometimes its just a stride, man. Guys want to win. I dont see anybody in here that doesnt give a bleep. Sometimes its a stride. Its small. But, weve got to work.

Ryane Clowe thinks the team may have gotten a little bit comfortable earlier in the year, and thats why bad habits crept into their game during that February road trip.

Its not hard to see why. When the trip began on Feb. 12 in St. Louis, the Sharks had a three-point lead on the Kings and four-point advantage over Phoenix. They also had four games in hand on both clubs. It looked like a fifth consecutive division title was going to be a breeze.

Maybe we got a little comfortable there, Clowe said. Phoenix went on a hot streak and we found ourselves behind the eight ball, and then kind of decided to pick it up. Its tough to say.

But, the urgency now feels like its there. You dont want to wait until you get to 10 games left, or seven games, and feel like youre in the same position. You want to make a move now.

Clowe was adamant when asked point blank if the Sharks are too relaxed at a time of year they should be anything but.

No, not at all. Were ready, were focused. You dont want to go walking around on eggshells or anything, youve still got to be loose and play loose.

I think we realize weve got to get on a streak here, because were in no position to let anything slide.

Sharks should be thankful for these two players on Thanksgiving


Sharks should be thankful for these two players on Thanksgiving

The San Jose Sharks woke up this Thanksgiving and found themselves in a playoff spot, albeit barely. 

They hold the second and final wild card spot by the thinnest of margins, edging out the Colorado Avalanche not on points, games played, regulation and overtime wins, but a single goal in the goal differential column. 

As early as it is, it’s a critical time to be in playoff position. Since the NHL expanded to 30 teams in 2000, 79 percent of teams holding playoff spots on Thanksgiving made the postseason. 

If the Sharks avoid becoming a member of the dreaded 21 percent, they’ll have two players to thank, more than anyone else, for their good fortune: Logan Couture and Martin Jones. 

Couture, along with Joonas Donskoi, seems to be the only Shark unaffected by a team-wide scoring bug. Even as he’s cooled off slightly, his 11 goals are still tied for 10th-most in the league. 

He’s held a positive share of puck possession on the ice, despite starting the fourth-lowest percentage of his shifts in the offensive zone among Sharks forwards that have played at least 50 minutes this season, according to Corsica Hockey

Couture also leads the team in power play scoring with three goals, and is one of only three San Jose players that’s scored multiple times on the man advantage. It’s hard to imagine the league’s fourth-worst power play (15.1 percent) getting worse, but it undoubtedly would be without the 28-year-old.

While Couture has stood out among a hapless offense, Jones has led one of the league’s best defensive units. The Sharks are among the best teams at limiting shots and scoring chances across all situations, but Jones has not let them down. 

Although his .922 even-strength save percentage is 27th among 51 goalies that have played at least 200 minutes, San Jose’s given him a razor thin margin of error. He had the fifth-lowest goal support of any goalie entering last night, as statistician Darin Stephens noted, and his play has been good enough to keep the Sharks in games in spite of that. 

Jones has also led the way for the league’s best penalty kill, posting a .940 save percentage in shorthanded situations. That’s the best mark among goalies that have faced at least 80 shots on the penalty kill, according to Stephens.

The sustainability of Jones’ penalty kill dominance and Couture’s 20.8 shooting percentage is an open question, but their importance to the team early in the season cannot be overstated. They’ve helped keep the Sharks afloat, and in a playoff spot with history on their side at the critical Thanksgiving mark. 

The Sharks need to not only let them have extra helpings during their holiday feast, but find a way to give them more help on the ice too.


Jones strong in goal, contains Coyotes to snap Sharks' three-game skid


Jones strong in goal, contains Coyotes to snap Sharks' three-game skid


GLENDALE, Ariz. — Logan Couture scored another goal for San Jose but was happier to see the Sharks' top line get untracked.

"We've got to get those guys going to help us offensively," Couture said of teammates Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Timo Meier after the Sharks' 3-1 win over the Arizona Coyotes on Wednesday night. "We need them to produce."

Thornton opened the scoring for the Sharks, with Pavelski adding an assist, the pair's first points since November 8, a span of five games.

"I think with Timo with us last game it brought us a lot of energy and a lot of chances," said Thornton, who scored his first goal since October 26. "Me and Pavs really like playing with him."

Joel Ward added an empty-net goal with 47.8 to play for the Sharks, who snapped a three-game losing streak.

"We got enough offense to win," said Sharks coach Peter DeBoer. "That's all that matters. I thought we played a good road game. I don't care how it looks."

Brendan Perlini scored with 7:37 to go, ruining Sharks goalie Martin Jones' bid for his second shutout of the season. The Coyotes saw their season-high three-game winning streak snapped and lost for the eighth time in nine home games (1-7-1).

Jones finished with 26 saves.

"We defended really well," said Jones, who was tested seriously only twice in the first two periods. "The first 10 minutes they had a lot of jump and were buzzing around our zone, but after that not as much."

Coyotes goalie Antti Raanta left at 14:37 of the first period with an upper-body injury. Couture had collided with Raanta more than four minutes earlier, earning an interference penalty. Raanta skated to the bench during a stoppage in play and retreated to the locker room.

Scott Wedgewood took Raanta's place and was in net for only five seconds before the Sharks broke through. Wedgewood stopped Brent Burns' long shot from the top of the right circle even after it deflected off San Jose right wing Timo Meier. But the rebound kicked to the bottom of the right circle, where Thornton swept in and beat the goalie with a quick wrist shot.

"He (coach Rick Tocchet) looked at me and said go," Wedgewood. "I was like, alright. That's the tough part. Then shot, top, goal. That was tough."

San Jose made it 2-0 at 4:56 of the second, taking advantage of Arizona's inability to clear the zone while the Sharks were on a line change.

Justin Braun fought three Coyotes for the puck along the right boards before Joonas Donskoi swooped in, skated to the goal line then sent a pass across to Couture. Couture deked Wedgewood to the ice with a forehand fake, then scored on the backhand.

Perlini cut the lead to 2-1 when he redirected Derek Stepan's shot from the top of the right circle past Jones.

"We had some costly mistakes," Perlini said. "We got back within a goal but there were too many mistakes."

NOTES: Thornton has 22 goals and 83 points in 82 career games against Arizona. ... The Coyotes, who had played seven of their past eight on the road, opened a three-game homestand. ... Raanta made eight saves before leaving and has stopped 98 of the past 105 shots he's faced. ... Couture's goal was his first in five games.


Sharks: visit Las Vegas on Friday

Coyotes: host Los Angeles on Friday.