Three takeaways: Sharks' Jones getting fatigued?

Three takeaways: Sharks' Jones getting fatigued?

BOSTON – Nothing good came from the Sharks’ only visit of the season to Boston, as the Bruins outworked and outplayed San Jose on Thursday night in a 6-3 final. Here’s what we’re taking away from the defeat, the Sharks’ third in a row.

1 – Work ethic lacking

Sometimes, hockey is a simple game. Work hard and smart, and more nights than not you’re going to be successful, especially when you’re a team as talented as the Sharks are.

San Jose did neither on Thursday. 

After taking a somewhat casual tone following that third period disaster in Buffalo – both after the game, and on Thursday morning in Boston – the Sharks were much more critical of themselves after getting spanked. Coach Pete DeBoer wasn’t making any Super Bowl jokes after this one, and was as aggravated after a game as he’s been in awhile.

When it was suggested that the Sharks weren’t strong in front of their own net, he said: “I wish it was that simple. We weren't strong anywhere. Special teams, in front our own net, in front of their net. That's what you get when you play like that."

As for the penalty kill, just 5-for-10 over the last three games, the coach said: "The PK mimicked our whole game. It was not good."

2 – Jones gets the hook

It took his 47th start for Martin Jones to be pulled for just the second time this season, and first time in more than three months. He probably could have stopped the first two Boston goals, but it’s not like they were routine saves, either. He wasn’t getting much help.

Speaking about the team in front of him, Jones said, “We just weren’t really sharp today.” 

He also included himself, though. “I wasn’t overly sharp to start the game, and when you go down 3-1 in the first period, it’s tough.”

Anytime he hits a rough stretch now, the question of fatigue will arise. Jones is second in the NHL in minutes with 2744, and has allowed a whopping seven goals on his last 23 shots faced.

Originally, I figured that it would be Aaron Dell in net against the Flyers on Saturday afternoon, since Dell recorded his first NHL shutout on Dec. 30 against them. Perhaps DeBoer wants to ice his best lineup, though, to try to put an end to this winless skid. I could see him going back to Jones now for Philly, and leaving Dell for New Jersey on Sunday afternoon in the second of a back-to-back. That would give Jones three days off before the schedule resumes at home on Wednesday.

3 – Ability to respond

Championship-caliber teams don’t let losing streaks stretch very long, and that’s been the case with the Sharks this season, as they haven’t gone more than three games without a win. 

Saturday’s game is quite winnable, too. The Flyers are just 6-11-3 in their last 20 games, and have lost three in a row themselves, scoring just one goal over that span.

The Sharks will get a chance to repair their defensive game against the NHL’s coldest offense.

“We’ve got a veteran group. Those guys have seen and done it all. We’ll really around them and come out and shake these two games off and get going forward,” Justin Braun said.

DeBoer said: “We've had some games like this before, we've always bounced back. We've lost coming into tonight, one of our last 10 in regulation. It's not a panic time and I don't want to paint it like that, because it's not."

The Sharks have lost games by three goals or more seven times now this season. They are 6-0 in the following game so far.

How the Sharks can catch the Golden Knights and win the Pacific


How the Sharks can catch the Golden Knights and win the Pacific

About a month ago, the Sharks appeared locked into the Pacific Division's second, third, fourth, or fifth spot. At the end of trade deadline day, they were 12 points back of the division-leading Vegas Golden Knights, and only two points up on the fifth place Calgary Flames.

24 days later, thanks to an 8-2-0 record over the last 10 games (second-best in the NHL), San Jose's still in second place. Now though, those margins are eight points and 11 points, respectively. 

The latter's pretty much locked the Sharks into a playoff spot, while the former's created a path for a late run at the Pacific Division crown. Beginning Thursday night, they will play the Golden Knights twice over both team's final nine games. 

What does the path look like to the Sharks' first division title since 2011? To start, they'll have to beat the Golden Knights twice in regulation to even have a shot. 

That is the foundation of any run at the Pacific's top spot. If the Sharks win both remaining games in regulation, they'll trail the Golden Knights by four points, leaving aside results against other teams for now.

They have to win in regulation, however. A win in overtime or the shootout on Thursday would only cut the gap to seven, and a subsequent win in regulation would leave it at five. Two losses, in any situation, would create a gap of 10-12 points, which would be nearly impossible to overcome this late in the season. 

One point doesn't seem like a lot, but this late in the season, it makes a world of difference. A five-point gap means they'll need to earn six more than the Golden Knights in those other seven games, while a four-point gap means they'll need to earn five in order to pass them. 

The simplest way to five extra points, is for the Sharks to have a record that's two wins and an overtime loss better (2-0-1) than the Golden Knights in the seven games where they don't play each other. That's impossible if Vegas earns at least 10 points in those seven games, so a 5-2-0 or 4-1-2 record would ensure a division banner raising in Sin City.

Taken all together, then, the Golden Knights' 'magic number' is 10 points. Even if the Sharks win on Thursday, their path to a Pacific title remains difficult, if not improbable. 

If a season with an expansion team leading their division has taught us anything, though -- it's that improbable is not impossible.  

The anatomy of Jannik Hansen's recently-broken scoring drought after nearly one year


The anatomy of Jannik Hansen's recently-broken scoring drought after nearly one year

Jannik Hansen's game-winning goal against the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday marked the first time he scored in 355 days. 

Hansen last scored on Mar. 30, 2017 against the Edmonton Oilers, his second goal with the Sharks following an in-season trade. His scoring drought, in all, lasted 44 regular season games, 50 if you include the postseason. 

How exactly does a goal-scoring drought last nearly a year? The right (wrong?) circumstances all need to come together, and that was certainly the case for Hansen for much of the last year.

For one, the Danish forward was in and out of the lineup. San Jose played 83 regular season and postseason games between Hansen's second and third goals, and he did not play in 33 of those games. Plenty of players have had rough 50-game stretches, and that's often without not playing for weeks at a time, as Hansen has done a couple of times this season. 

When Hansen did draw into the lineup this year, however, he wasn't generating offense at the same rate he had in the past. This season, Hansen's five-on-five shot rate (6.19 shots per 60 minutes), shot attempt rate (10.53 individual corsi per 60), and unblocked shot attempt rate (8.95 individual fenwick per 60) were all down from his career averages, according to Corsica Hockey. 

That decline is natural, considering Hansen turned 32 just six days ago. Those rates were not down enough, however, to expect him to fail to score in his first 39 appearances this season. Naturally, a long run of bad luck played a big role in Hansen's dry spell.

Hansen went 0-for-66 in shots over the 50 consecutive regular season and playoff games in which he did not score. He's a career 11-percent shooter, and had he shot at his career average, he would have scored seven goals during that time. That feels about right for a bottom-six forward. 

In many ways, all of these factors fed into one another. Hansen wasn't generating shots or scoring, then was scratched, then couldn't find the back of the net when he returned and was scratched again. All the while, fellow fourth-liners Marcus Sorensen (26.7 percent shooting percentage this season), Joel Ward (14.3 percent) and Barclay Goodrow (13.2 percent) were converting on their chances, forcing Peter DeBoer's hand. 

His possession play has been solid all season (50.74 percent corsi-for, per Natural Stat Trick), but the offense hasn't followed. When it does, as was the case Tuesday night, he can be an effective fourth-line forward, and the goal on Tuesday bought him more time to prove it.