Sharks

Sharks must fill Marleau void to make another run: 'Guys have got to step up'

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USATSI

Sharks must fill Marleau void to make another run: 'Guys have got to step up'

SAN JOSE -- It's been more than eight years since the San Jose Sharks last played a single game without Patrick Marleau on the ice, much less an entire season.

Marleau's departure from the Sharks to Toronto this offseason is the end of a two-decade era in San Jose. But with most of the same players back that helped San Jose make it to the Stanley Cup Final two seasons ago, the Sharks believe they still have the pieces in place to make another run at a title.

"Guys have got to step up," forward Logan Couture said. "Whether it's someone who had a down year last year who's a veteran or someone that has come up (from the minors) that's going to step into the NHL lineup and produce. We need someone to do that. We have to do it from within. Hopefully, guys will step up."

The Sharks took a step back last season after making it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final the previous year before losing to Pittsburgh in six games. A late-season slump followed by key injuries to Couture and Joe Thornton helped lead to a six-game loss in the first round to Edmonton.

Marleau, the team's all-time leading scorer, then took his 27 goals to sign with the Maple Leafs. Instead of looking outside for a replacement, the Sharks are counting on filling that role with a mix of young players from the AHL and veterans who had down years last season.

"Our foundation is being able and being very comfortable in 2-1, 1-0 games. But you have to score in this league," coach Peter DeBoer said. "I don't think we're trying to get blood from a stone. I think we have scoring in here. We got to get it out."

Here are some things to watch this season:

JUMBO'S HEALTH: While Marleau left, Thornton returned at age 38 after signing an $8 million deal. Thornton had seven goals and 43 assists last season for his fewest points in an 82-game season since 1998-99. Thornton missed the final week of the regular season and the first two playoff games with a left knee injury before returning for the final four games of a first-round loss to Edmonton. He then underwent surgery to repair his MCL and ACL after the season but believes he is even stronger this season.

POWERLESS PLAY: For years, San Jose's success depended heavily on a potent power play. With the play-making of Thornton and finishing skills of players like Joe Pavelski and Marleau, opposing teams often feared taking penalties. That changed last year when San Jose ranked 25th in the league at 16.7 percent, too often relying on Norris Trophy winner Brent Burns' big shot from the blue line. The Sharks will need to make some changes with Marleau gone and there could be some other tinkering as well.

"That's a big part of our offense," DeBoer said. "It's always been a weapon here. Two years ago it was a weapon. It was top in the league. We didn't do a lot differently last year from the year before. It didn't work."

BOUNCE BACK SEASONS: The Sharks are counting on rebound years from several players who struggled last season. Tomas Hertl, Joonas Donskoi and Chris Tierney all played major roles in the 2016 Stanley Cup run but didn't back that up last year. Mikkel Boedker was supposed to add speed and another scoring threat to San Jose's attack but was limited to 10 goals and often had his ice time limited because of ineffectiveness.

TIMO TIME: San Jose is also counting on big contributions from several unproven young players, most notably forward Timo Meier, who had three goals in 34 games as a rookie. Kevin Labanc and Danny O'Regan also could provide the kind of offense from young players that helped carry Pittsburgh to the past two championships.

"It's up to them to really push through and break through," Pavelski said. "It's not one night or two nights here or there, it's a consistency thing. When that starts happening then you'll see guys take over on our team."

DOMINANT D: While the Sharks made no major additions this offseason, they did lock up two key pieces by signing goalie Martin Jones to a six-year, $34.5 million extension and shut-down defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic to an eight-year, $56 million deal. Burns is also under contract through 2024-25, meaning the Sharks are in good shape on the back end for years. The one hole is on the third pair where David Schlemko left in the expansion draft. Dylan DeMelo will likely fill that role although Joakim Ryan and Tim Heed also could push for time.

Something smells fishy about Sharks' early success on power play

Something smells fishy about Sharks' early success on power play

By many traditional measures, the Sharks’ power play is off to a strong start.

They’ve scored seven times on 30 opportunities, including once in Saturday’s 5-3 loss to the New York Islanders. That mark, 23.3%, would have been good enough for third in the league last season, and is nearly seven percent better than the Sharks were in 2016-17.

San Jose’s made some changes on the man advantage, and are getting a different look on their top power play unit with Tim Heed there instead of another forward. Second-year forward Kevin Labanc is playing a significant role on the second unit, operating as something of a focal point.

The puck’s found the net a lot for the Sharks on the power play, but a deeper look at the numbers reveals that success may be a house of cards.

According to Natural Stat Trick, San Jose ranks in the bottom third of the league in shots, shot attempts, and unblocked shot attempts per 60 minutes. Using those rates allow us to compare teams empirically, equalizing for the amount of time each team has spent on the power play. Those rates, by the way, are not very good.

And each of those are lower than last season, when the Sharks finished 25th in power play percentage. This season, the Sharks are converting more shots, despite attempting less.

It would be tempting to think San Jose can hang their helmets on higher shot quality, but they’ve struggled in that area, too. The Sharks finished just shy of the top ten in high danger chances per 60 minutes last season, but are in the bottom third of the league this season, according to Natural Stat Trick.

So the Sharks are shooting at a lower rate and generating chances at a lower rate than last season, when they had one of the league’s worst power plays, but are scoring at a much higher clip. They’ve converted on about 19% of their shots on the power play, almost doubling their conversion rate (10.5%) from a season ago.

If this doesn’t seem like a sustainable mix, that’s because it’s not. In a small sample size of seven games, the power play’s been good enough, but the Sharks can’t count on converting nearly a fifth of their power play opportunities if they continue to struggle generating shots and chances.

Of course, stranger things have happened in a hockey season, so it’s possible the Sharks can ride a sky-high shooting percentage all season long. Banking on that, however, would be foolhardy.

Sharks come up short in New York despite Couture's hat trick

Sharks come up short in New York despite Couture's hat trick

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK — Anders Lee had two goals and an assist to lead the New York Islanders to a 5-3 victory over the San Jose Sharks on Saturday night.

John Tavares had a goal and two assists, Josh Bailey added a goal and an assist, and Andrew Ladd also scored to help the Islanders win for the third time in four games. Thomas Greiss stopped 28 shots.

Logan Couture scored all three goals for the Sharks, completing the hat trick with 1:52 remaining to pull them within one. Aaron Dell finished with 18 saves.

Ladd's goal at 3:12 of the third period broke a 2-2 tie. Rookie Mathew Barzal created the scoring chance by taking the puck around the net and then setting up Ladd in the high slot for his second of the season.

Lee's second of the game and fifth of the season gave the Islanders a two-goal cushion with 8:13 remaining as he converted an odd-man rush.

Tavares sealed the win with an empty-netter with 55.4 seconds remaining and helped improve to 22-4-4 in their two-plus seasons at Barclays Center. Tavares points were his first since he had two goals and an assist Oct. 7 against Buffalo, ending a five-game drought.

The Sharks scored the game's opening goal at 6:26 of the second period on the power play. San Jose came away with the offensive draw and Couture scored from the slot, redirected Brent Burns' point shot past Greiss.

The lead lasted just over a minute as Nick Leddy worked his way to the back of the net and then quickly fed Lee for the tying goal.

The Islanders went ahead 58 seconds later after Joe Thornton made a costly turnover in his own end to give Bailey a point-blank chance. Bailey was able to sneak the puck with a backhander between his skates and past Dell to put New York ahead 2-1.

However, an impressive effort by Jannik Hansen to spin past Brock Nelson in the neutral zone led to a quick feed to Couture, who took a few strides and then fired a shot past Greiss to even the score once again.

NOTES: The Islanders held a special pregame ceremony to honor alumni of the organization who were in town for an Islanders Alumni Weekend. Among the players on the ice were Bobby Nystrom, Clark Gillies, Bryan Trottier and Ed Westfall. ... The Islanders scratched D Scott Mayfield, F Josh Ho-Sang and F Nikulay Kulemin. ... San Jose scratched F Joel Ward, F Barclay Goodrow and D Dylan Demelo. ... The Islanders honored Tragically Hip front man Gord Downie by playing music from the band during warmups. Downie passed away on Oct. 17 after succumbing to brain cancer.

UP NEXT

Sharks: At the New York Rangers on Monday night.

Islanders: Host Arizona on Tuesday night.