Chelena Goldman

Sharks cap off season's first half in 'frustrating' loss to Red Wings

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USATSI

Sharks cap off season's first half in 'frustrating' loss to Red Wings

The Sharks' broadcast team called Tuesday's shutout loss to the Detroit Red Wings "frustrating" -- which is a pretty accurate description of the 2-0 loss from a viewer's perspective.

But it was also a pretty on-point way of summarizing the first half of the 2019-20 season. After 41 games, San Jose is still searching for a sustainable winning identity, and the New Year's Eve loss to league-worst Detroit -- which came on the heels of the Sharks' dominant win over the Philadelphia Flyers -- was further proof of that.

"It wasn't a bad road game by us, by any means, but at this time of year, we have to find ways to win and we couldn't find that way tonight," Sharks' interim coach Bob Boughner emphasized to reporters at Little Caesars Arena after the loss. "You try not to get frustrated, and you say the right things on the bench. Even going into the third period, we felt pretty good with where we were at. We weren't giving up a lot, and we said 'win a period, win a game.'"

When asked what the confidence level of the team is like at the moment, Boughner admitted that it's "not great."

He then pointed to the team's recent trouble scoring -- with the exception of the 6-1 win over Philly -- as a key reason why.

"We've been in a lot of these tight games where we're looking for offense," he explained. "The last five or six games, excluding Philadelphia, we're scoring one or two (goals) a night and our margin for error is so small. We don't give up much, but they get a bounce and a tipped goal and there it is."

Offense is on the rise in the NHL, and the Sharks have to be able to adapt. Through the first half of the season, that hasn't often been the case, with San Jose scoring the fifth-fewest goals per game (2.61) as of this writing.

[RELATED: Sharks captain Couture named NHL All-Star for second time]

It is, no doubt, an extra difficult pill for the Sharks to swallow given the road trip they have embarked on. It resumes Thursday against the Pittsburgh Penguins, who are 8-2-0 in their last 10 games despite being badly bitten by the injury bug this season. Then comes three just-as-difficult games against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Washington Capitals, and defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues.

But while the road isn't getting any easier, the Sharks have to put all of that in the rear-view mirror if they want to kick all of their frustration to the curb and move up the standings in 2020.

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in San Jose's 2-0 loss to Red Wings

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AP

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in San Jose's 2-0 loss to Red Wings

BOX SCORE

There was no explosion like there was in last year's New Year's Eve matchup. But for the second year in a row, the Sharks weren't able to get into the win column before the clock struck midnight.

San Jose (17-21-3) went into Tuesday's game with a bit of an edge over the league-worst Red Wings (10-28-3). But Team Teal just wasn't dominant enough to get a jump on the injury-riddled Detroit squad at Little Saesars Arena as they were shut out 2-0 in the second and final meeting of the season between the two teams.

Here are three takeaways from the Sharks' final game in 2019:

Neutral zone turnovers

San Jose got into bad turnover trouble last Friday against Los Angeles but appeared to have learned from their mistakes the following night against Philadelphia. The difficulty hanging onto the puck struck again in Detroit and a neutral zone turnover by Erik Karlsson resulted in the Red Wings taking a 1-0 lead in the second stanza.

To be fair, these turnovers aren't strictly the fault of the Sharks' defense. How the offense handles the puck and how ready the goaltender is to make a critical save also play a role here. But if San Jose doesn't cut down on the turnovers, they aren't going to be able to climb out of the Western Conference cellar.

The goalie battle

Martin Jones didn't play a bad game on Tuesday night -- his performance was far from some of the rough outings he's had this season. He was especially good on the Sharks' penalty kill, which kept the Red Wings' tepid power play off of the board.

The difference was that Jones let a goal squeak by him and his opponent, Jonathan Bernier, didn't. Bernier had himself a very strong outing on Tuesday, turning away quality chances the Sharks threw at the net. While his late-game stops made a big difference, he had two particularly big saves on Antti Suomela, who penciled back into the lineup with Melker Karlsson sidelined with an injury.

On that note ...

Fourth line

Suomela had a mighty return to the lineup, but his linemates on San Jose's fourth line didn't miss a beat either. Stefan Noesen and Joel Kellman haven't played together for very long, but their chemistry and physical style of play are exactly what the Sharks need.

Now that San Jose is finally getting positive production from its fourth line, the rest of the offense needs to follow suit. The Sharks are still in search of a four-line game -- and they're going to need that as this very tough road trip continues.

Timo Meier answers criticism with hat trick in Sharks' win vs. Flyers

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AP

Timo Meier answers criticism with hat trick in Sharks' win vs. Flyers

SAN JOSE -- Sharks interim head coach Bob Boughner didn't want to name names to the media when he said that he wanted certain players to step their game up after a 3-2 overtime loss to the Kings on Friday. But everyone listening had a hunch one of those players was 23-year-old Timo Meier.

Following a big 2018-19 campaign, the Swiss forward has battled to find that same fire consistently. Through the two games bookending the Christmas break, Boughner even sat Meier for stretches late in both contests.

Then, on the tail end of a back-to-back, Meier responded in a big way with his first career hat trick -- one that led San Jose to a 6-1 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers. It became more clear than ever that the how big of a piece the young winger is to this Sharks team.

When Meier is hitting his mark, San Jose has a much better chance of winning.

"When he works, he's a very good player, and when he doesn't he's going to struggle," veteran and Sharks captain Logan Couture said. "The goal for the San Jose Sharks was for those guys to step into big minutes and fill shoes and contribute and it's been a tough season. The big thing is working hard and I think that Timo got back to that tonight."

To be fair, Meier wasn't the only Sharks player who needed a bounce-back performance after Friday's meltdown against Los Angeles. His absence from the ice in the third period and Boughner's post-game comments, however, put a spotlight on his performance. 

After his big rebound performance on Saturday night, No. 28 took stock in his game.

"I know myself, I've got to be better," Meier said in a candid manner. "I thought tonight was better but I still know I have to do more.

"Obviously, yesterday wasn't a great game, but that's how it is. You've got to bounce back. That's how the business is."

Meier thrived on a de facto second line with Evander Kane and Barclay Goodrow on Saturday, contributing nine of San Jose's 31 hits on the evening in addition to connecting for Meier's second and third goals on the evening. Boughner attributed that success to the meetings the team held on Saturday morning.

"We had a good meeting this morning where we sort of called each other on the carpets about the details and why we're struggling," Boughner explained. "I thought that was our most effective line. They played a lot more straight and north. They were stopping pucks and being physical.

"You could see the message that we sent this morning about identity and being a harder team to play against. I thought we were a heck of a lot more physical."

[RELATED: Watch all three of Meier's goals]

Now, of course, it's a matter of San Jose continuing that physical play and stringing a couple of wins together. Even with the success they had on Saturday against the Flyers, they are still down in the Western Conference basement. The Sharks have to keep playing with desperation if they're going to get a winning streak going.

"After last night's loss, we were obviously pissed off," Meier said. "I thought tonight we played like that -- we were the more desperate team. And we've got to play like that. That's how we're going to have success as a team."