Sharks

Three takeaways: Improved Sharks' performance; concern for Hansen

Three takeaways: Improved Sharks' performance; concern for Hansen

SAN JOSE – Some low scoring NHL games can be fairly boring, but that wasn’t the case on Saturday as the Sharks and Ducks staged an entertaining get together at SAP Center in a battle of two surefire playoff teams. Here are our three takeaways from Anaheim’s 2-1 win…

1 – Improved performance from Sharks

Yes, the Sharks lost their second straight game in regulation for the first time in more than two months, but Saturday’s effort against Anaheim was much better than Thursday’s dud against St. Louis. Friday’s day off surely aided the team in finding its legs, but playing against a division rival likely helped get their motors going, too.

The Ducks pushed the pace early, but the Sharks seized the momentum towards the end of the opening frame and were the better team from the second period on, too.

“The other night wasn’t our best game by any means. Tonight was definitely better,” Joe Pavelski said. “I think we got better as the game went on.”

To be fair, Anaheim may have been feeling the effects of its 10-round shootout loss on Friday night by the time that third period rolled around. The Sharks still felt they should have scored more than just one power play goal before the final horn rang.

Logan Couture said: “We were better tonight than we were against St. Louis. With every game you take positives. … They were playing a back-to-back, but in that third period we had a lot of grade-A chances where we should score.”

Pete DeBoer said: “In a typical night we get at least two or three with the looks we had, and we didn’t tonight. Just got to keep at it. Stick with it.”

2 – Hansen’s injury cause for concern

Jannik Hansen wasted to time in getting off of the ice and to the dressing room after taking an apparent stick to the head in the third period. It didn’t look good. Sunday’s recalls of Timo Meier and Danny O’Regan suggest that Hansen might miss some time, and there was no word as of Sunday afternoon whether Hansen was on the flight to Dallas.

Hansen may only have one assist in six games, but his addition has sparked Pavelski and Joe Thornton. They’ll need him back sooner than later, since the primary reason they acquired him was that no one else in the organization looked like a long term fit on the top line. Hansen did.

Tomas Hertl filled in there after Hansen left the game, and he could start in that familiar position on Monday against Dallas. That would move Chris Tierney up to third line center, while O’Regan could potentially center the fourth line. That’s all me speculating, though, so stay tuned.

3 – Don’t panic about losing the division lead…yet

The Sharks may have squandered a chance to really put the Ducks behind them, but there’s no reason to panic about losing the Pacific Division yet. Although the upcoming road trip presents some challenges with a pair of back-to-backs, two of them are against the Stars, who are a complete disaster right now. That should be four points in the bank.

If the Sharks gain just 11 of 22 points available to them from now until the end of the season, Anaheim will have to gain 16 points in their final 10 games to catch them, as San Jose would almost certainly have the tiebreaker of more regulation/overtime wins. Still, burying the Ducks – who are looking for their fifth straight division title – would have been preferable.

“Obviously teams are going to be up and down, you’ve just got to try to hammer your games out as much as you can,” Joel Ward said.

 

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.

Time is now for Sharks to experiment with new lines

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USATSI

Time is now for Sharks to experiment with new lines

The San Jose Sharks were shut out for the first time this season on Thursday night, but it sure didn't feel like it.

You’d be forgiven, albeit mistaken, if you didn't think the loss was their first goose egg of the season. San Jose’s been one of the lowest-scoring teams in the league this year, and has scored two or fewer goals in all but two of their six games in November.

The Sharks controlled play, but their raw possession numbers were misleading: Through the first two periods, San Jose was outshot 23-18, and poured it on in the third looking for the game-tying goal.

In order to break out of his team’s extended slump, head coach Peter DeBoer appeared to throw his lines in the proverbial blender. The changes weren't very significant, though, as DeBoer worked mostly around the edges.

Joe Thornton remained with Joe Pavelski, while Melker Karlsson and Timo Meier rotated in on their wing. Joonas Donskoi swapped in with Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl, and on and on.

The core pair of each line remained intact, while DeBoer swapped complimentary wingers. Subtle changes, unsurprisingly, didn't lead to drastically different results.

He’s been amenable to bigger changes at times, briefly breaking up longtime linemates Thornton and Pavelski last Sunday against Los Angeles. The bottom six, especially the fourth line, has mostly been a revolving door.

That's a start, but far from enough. 

As long as the Sharks struggle to score, similarly significant changes are in order.

DeBoer shouldn't want to sacrifice the team’s defensive dominance, or its strong possession game. But, the Sharks haven't scored enough through 17 games to justify using the same forward combinations. 

In Thornton and Pavelski’s case, those struggles date back to last season. For just about everyone else, the sample size is getting increasingly more significant as the season approaches the quarter pole.

The Sharks bench boss expressed a willingness to mix up his power play units earlier this week, and needs to do the same at even strength. It's time to try Pavelski on Couture's wing, Meier on Thornton's, or any number of permutations.

Tweaking around the edges hasn't made much of a difference, so far more comprehensive adjustments are not only welcome, but necessary. Of course, DeBoer may not find the perfect lineup solutions.

At this point, though, it's worth a shot. It's hard to imagine the Sharks scoring any less than they have so far this season, and the Sharks need to explore if any line changes can provide a remedy.