Sharks hit the road


Sharks hit the road

Its too early to call this a make-or-break road trip for the Sharks. Thats not to say it isnt important, though. The 1-3 Sharks will face some tough competition on their 13-day, six-city tour of mostly East Coast cities, so lets take a look at what they can expect to see from their opponents as they try to get their season on track.

FridaySharks at New Jersey Devils
San Jose opens the trip with its only game against the New Jersey Devils this season, and Joe Thornton is scheduled to play in his 1,000th NHL game. Martin Brodeur is battling a shoulder injury and has not been able to practice, so veteran Johan Hedberg will likely get the start. The game also marks the return of Colin White, who spent his first 11 seasons with the Devils, and its expected that Martin Havlat will make his Sharks debut.

SaturdaySharks at Boston Bruins
The defending Stanley Cup champs have struggled out of the gate, going 2-4. In fact, like the Sharks, the Bruins have already started shuffling their top lines to generate some offense -- theyve scored just 11 goals in six games. They could be getting a major piece back by Saturday, though, as playoff hero David Krejci is recovering from a core injury.

TuesdaySharks at Nashville
San Jose will play the first of two games against Western Conference clubs when it visits the Nashville Predators. Nashville is the youngest team in the league, and is once again anchored by a strong defense corps led by Shea Weber and Ryan Suter. The Preds are also struggling to score, and in a recent 3-1 loss to Edmonton, generated just 12 shots in a game which goaltender Pekka Rinne called embarrassing.

Friday, Oct. 28Sharks at Detroit
The Red Wings, as usual, already look like one of the best teams in the Western Conference, winning their first four games. They have surrendered just five goals, and goaltenders Jimmy Howard and Ty Conklin each have a shutout. Along with their big guns of Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen, the Sharks will see another familiar face in Detroits lineup -- defenseman Ian White, who signed with Detroit in the offseason. White as been paired with Nicklas Lidstrom and has a goal and two assists. If theres one area with which the Red Wings have struggled its the power play, where they're just 1-for-19.

Saturday, Oct. 29Sharks at New York Islanders
The Sharks will conclude their road trip with two games in New York. The first, against the Islanders, could be a very compelling one as Evgeni Nabokov may get to start against his old team. Nabokov has played in one game with the Islanders, stopping 18 of 20 shots and beating the Rangers. You would have to think hell be lobbying to play in this one. As for the rest of the team, the Islanders have a good group of young forwards led by former first overall pick John Tavares, whose eight points have helped the team to win three of its first four games.
Monday, Oct. 31Sharks at New York Rangers
A visit to the self-titled Worlds Most Famous Arena pits the Sharks against the Rangers. New York was a big winner in free agency over the summer, convincing former Dallas Stars forward Brad Richards to ink a long-term deal. Richards has a goal and three assists in his first four games with the Broadway Blueshirts, but New York is just 1-1-2. Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist is still one of the best in the game, though, and led the Rangers to a 4-0 shutout of Vancouver on Tuesday night for their first victory.

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.