Sharks

Sharks control Pacific Division fate, for now

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Sharks control Pacific Division fate, for now

SAN JOSE The Sharks got some help on Friday night.

Coach Todd McLellan, whose club is battling for a playoff spot, was probably well aware when certain games concluded as Dallas and Calgary both failed to record a point in the standings against Chicago and Edmonton, respectively.

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We watch games every night. Thats what we do. When youre watching them youre checking scores elsewhere, especially this time of year and the position were in, McLellan said.

The Sharks sit in ninth place headed into Saturdays game with the Red Wings, and are just three points behind the Pacific Division-leading Stars, with two games in hand. Win those two games, and the Sharks are right back up in the third position and would get home ice advantage in the first round.
KURZ: Red Wings-Sharks, what to watch for
McLellan doesnt want his team to focus on that just yet, though.

The premium that we put on anything is a win tonight, he said on Saturday morning. Not Pacific titles or even getting into the playoffs. One mile at a time.

If thats truly the case, he may not want to read on. Marc-Edouard Vlasic, for example, thinks its necessary to take a peek at whats goin down elsewhere.

You need to, to know where you are. Were not that far off of third place in our division, so we need to put some wins together here to secure ourselves a playoff spot and gain ground on others, he said.

His defense partner agrees.

You want to get in the playoffs, but youve got to try and get home ice advantage. Its not like its out of reach for us, its right there in front of us. Were going to get to control if we want it or not, Dan Boyle said. We dont have to look around and wait for other teams to do their job, weve just got to do ours.

What may be more important than seeding, though, is playing well when the postseason tournament begins. Thats true of whether the Sharks finish in third, seventh, or eighth, which seem to be the only real possibilities left.

Vlasic hammered that point home with a bad memory for Sharks fans.

Weve lost to a number eight seeds before, so when you get in, it starts over, he said of the Sharks loss to Anaheim in 2009. For us, were trying to go into the playoffs on a winning note and carry momentum going into it.

Step one, of course, is making it in the first place.

Young Sharks fitting in, not neccessarily standing out

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Young Sharks fitting in, not neccessarily standing out

 

The message for the San Jose Sharks’ prospects was quite clear this offseason.

After general manager opted not to re-sign Patrick Marleau, or sign any free agents of consequence, it was readily apparent the Sharks would need to rely on their young players to fill any holes.

Before the quarter mark of the season, that youth movement is underway. Five first or second-year players will suit up at SAP Center Monday night against Anaheim. 

Partially, the infusion is due to injury, as Barclay Goodrow, Melker Karlsson, and Paul Martin are all on the mend. But as the season wears on, the young players’ presence is becoming a necessity. 

Joakim Ryan looks like a natural fit alongside Brent Burns, and the Sharks are a decidedly better puck possession team with him on the ice than when he’s not. Tim Heed leads Sharks defensemen in scoring, and Danny O’Regan assisted San Jose’s lone goal in his season debut on Saturday. 

That assist set up the goal that ended Timo Meier’s drought, and he looks primed to break out: he’s third on the team in five-on-five shots despite playing the ninth-fewest five-on-five minutes this season, according to Corsica Hockey.  Kevin Labanc’s cooled off since his scorching start, but is still tied for sixth on the team in scoring and skated on the top line at Monday’s morning skate, according to the Bay Area News Group’s Curtis Pashelka.

There’s still room for improvement, of course. Labanc and Meier could stand to score more, but the same can be said about most everyone else. Ryan’s made his fair share of mistakes, but Burns has struggled plenty of times alongside him, too. 

So the young players are fitting in, even if all of them aren’t necessarily standing out. That shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. 

Meier’s the only first-round pick of the lot, but he’s also only been able to legally buy a beer for a month. Ryan and Heed have made the best adjustment, in no small part because they’re the oldest (24 and 26, respectively) of the Barracuda call-ups, and thus have the most professional experience. 

Of course, fitting in isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It is, however, far from ideal, when that’s what many other players on the roster are doing. 

Having all of their young players stand out is what will ultimately make the Sharks stand out from the rest of the pack. It hasn’t quite happened yet, and San Jose’s one of 22 teams separated by six points or fewer. 

And if it doesn’t, the middle of the pack is where the Sharks will remain.

 

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.