Sharks

With Sharks' roster growing older, Barracuda's success that much sweeter

With Sharks' roster growing older, Barracuda's success that much sweeter

SAN JOSE – The Sharks’ top minor league affiliate, the San Jose Barracuda, has advanced to the American Hockey League’s conference final round. The best-of-seven series against the Grand Rapids Griffins begins on Saturday at SAP Center for Game 1 and continues on Sunday for Game 2.

Their performance so far, both in the regular season and the playoffs, is encouraging for an organization that fielded an NHL roster in 2016-17 that was among the oldest in the league. The Barracuda is just the opposite. While every AHL roster features young players and prospects, the Barracuda were younger than most.

Essentially, AHL teams are permitted to field no more than six veteran skaters on a nightly basis, or players that have skated in 260 or fewer professional games at the start of the season. Only John McCarthy, who had played in 457 professional games, qualifies as a veteran for San Jose.

“It’s really rare. Most of the year we’ve been the youngest team in the league,” said Sharks assistant general manager Joe Will, who oversees the Barracuda. “If you average it out over the year we’ve been the youngest team in the league while doing this. It’s just a good sign.”

Many of the players on the Barracuda roster were either drafted by the Sharks or unearthed and signed as free agents. Some were high round picks, like Timo Meier (first round, 2015) and Mirco Mueller (first round, 2013), while others like Danny O’Regan (fifth round, 2012), Kevin Labanc (sixth round, 2014) and Joakim Ryan (seventh round, 2012) have been late bloomers. Tim Heed, their top offensive defenseman, and Marcus Sorensen, who cracked the Sharks’ playoff roster, were both signed out of the Swedish League last May. All are under the Sharks’ control past this season (Heed, Ryan, Sorensen and Mueller are restricted free agents).

The added emphasis on accumulating players for the future began in 2013, according to Will. The Sharks selected a total of 24 players in three drafts from 2013-15, utilizing some of their own picks and others acquired through various trades, with 10 of those drafted players appearing in games for the Barracuda throughout the course of this season.

“There’s just a lag time, you don’t see it right away,” Will said. “Sometimes it’s three or four [years]. That’s kind of what it is now, and we just happen to have a very good freshman class, a bunch of young guys coming in at once.”

Considering the uncertainty of the Sharks’ roster next season, with players like Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau pending unrestricted free agents and others like Joe Pavelski, Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Paul Martin all on the other side of 30, the Barracuda’s rise would seem to be coming at a good time.

Will isn’t afraid to look ahead to training camp already.

“The ultimate motivator is just to have this competition come through,” he said. “I think the players with the Sharks know that the players with the Barracuda are playing really hard, and are going to come into camp and compete for jobs.”

“All these guys going through [the Calder Cup playoffs] right now, it’s just valuable experience. It’s almost like a new season for them. So many of them played [for the Sharks] this year and are candidates to come up for jobs in the near future. It’s really a good thing.”

Barracuda vs. Grand Rapids third round schedule

Game 1 – Saturday, May 20, Grand Rapids @ Barracuda (6 p.m.)
Game 2 – Sunday, May 21, Grand Rapids @ Barracuda (5 p.m.)
Game 3 – Wednesday, May 24, Barracuda @ Grand Rapids (4 p.m.)
Game 4 – Friday, May 26, Barracuda @ Grand Rapids (4 p.m.)
*Game 5 – Saturday, May 27, Barracuda @ Grand Rapids (4 p.m.)
*Game 6 – Tuesday, May 30, Grand Rapids @ Barracuda (7 p.m.)
*Game 7 – Wednesday, May 31, Grand Rapids @ Barracuda (7 p.m.)

* – if necessary

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

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USATSI

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.