Sharks

Sharks dealing with stress of playoff race

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Sharks dealing with stress of playoff race

SAN JOSE The Sharks werent supposed to be in this position in the last week of March.

The fans know it. The players do, too. And so, of course, does head coach Todd McLellan, whose club is still in 10th place in the Western Conference with just eight games left to play.

Following two disappointing losses to Anaheim and Los Angeles to start the week, the coach sensed that the pressure of the playoff race might be weighing the team down. So, he had a clear message before the 2-1 win over the Bruins on Thursday.

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When youre in these situations and there is stress put on you, your body reacts in one of two ways. It shuts itself down and it hinders any type of elite performance, you feel sluggish, tired, your mind doesnt react the way it needs to react. Or, you accept the challenge and realize youre one piece of a big puzzle and you do your thing. Thats basically what I told the players before the game.

Well get it done with you, not because of you. That was it. I think the guys took a deep breath, and then they went and played. Thats all we can do. If we carry around all this baggage, its going to hinder our ability to play free and to perform.

According to Marc-Edouard Vlasic, the Sharks took the message to heart and it showed.

Ive never seen our team skate that much lately. The forwards were coming back, D were skating. Its the same thing, youve just got to play the game, play for fun and play free, he said.

Guys are here because they love to play hockey. Everybody is good at it, and yesterday we played free. We played hockey, we skated, and we did the things we can do. Guys made plays, nobody had tight sticks, nobody made bad plays. Thats what we were talking about. We have to play that way from now on.

The result was one of the more complete games in recent weeks, and the club resembled the version it iced in wins against Nashville and Detroit last week much more than the two ugly losses to the Ducks and Kings on Monday and Tuesday, when the team was seemingly starting to collapse under pressure.

You cant play cautious, especially this time of year, Dominic Moore said. Cautious is a recipe for playing on your heels. We need to just continue to play free, and with energy.

The challenge now is repeating it from here on out, as the games are only going to get more and more important. It begins on Saturday against the Coyotes, a club that is two points ahead of San Jose in seventh place in the West, and Colorado, which is ahead of the Sharks by one point, in eighth place.

Unlike the Sharks, the Coyotes and Avalanche werent among the organizations that many hockey pundits had as a Cup contender in their preseason prognostications. Consequently, the pressure of the playoff race is likely less of a burden on their shoulder pads when compared with the Sharks.

But the Sharks cant look at it that way.

Were looked at as the disappointing team because were in the battle, McLellan said. There are other teams that are very, very excited about being in this battle because of where they maybe should have been. The demeanor around those types of teams is different than the demeanor around ours, and we have to address the mental aspect of it, too.

We have to accept where we are right now. Thats where we are. Would we like to change it? Yes, but this is where we are, so now accept the challenge. We have to be excited about the opportunity to get there, too.

Joe Pavelski, who has a career-high 27 goals, hopes the team has turned a corner with the effort against the defending champs.

I hope so, as long as we keep moving forward with it. Every team is winning right now, Pavelski said. We have some big head-to-head matchups, and its not going to get any easier from here on out.

Moore said: Weve all played the game for a long time, and we just needed to tap into that energy.

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.