Alexander True

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 5-3 matinee loss to Panthers

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 5-3 matinee loss to Panthers

The Sharks couldn't bring their winning ways back from the road to San Jose, losing 5-3 to the Florida Panthers in a Presidents' Day matinee. 

Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky was on the case, stopping 29 of 32 Sharks shots. San Jose cut Florida's lead to a goal two different times in the third period, but the Ice Cats pulled away and doubled their lead in both instances. 

Here are three takeaways from the Sharks' loss in their final home game before the trade deadline. 

Too little, too late

The Sharks entered the third period trailing by a goal. They allowed a Panthers goal before getting a single shot on net in the final frame, and Bobrovsky didn't have to make his first save until there was 6:37 remaining in regulation and Florida had a two-goal lead. 

Kevin Labanc -- on the power play -- and Timo Meier -- with goaltender Aaron Dell pulled -- got the Sharks within one, but San Jose never generated much of a third-period push at full strength. Florida ultimately held a 10-5 advantage in 5-on-5 shots and a 6-4 edge in 5-on-5 scoring chances, according to Natural Stat Trick. 

The Sharks applied pressure after Meier's goal, but the push needed to come much sooner. The Panthers instead set the tone from the start of the third period onward, and Florida took two points as a result. 

True chemistry

Dylan Gambrell and Alexander True appear to be developing some solid chemistry. The pair were on the ice for a 5-on-5 Sharks goal for the third straight game, when True's forechecking allowed linemate Antti Suomela to set up Gambrell's second goal in as many games. 

Suomela left in the second period with an injury and didn't return, but Gambrell and True were strong together. The duo posted a 60 percent corsi-for percentage in 5:34 of 5-on-5 time, according to Natural Stat Trick, out-chancing the Panthers 4-2 during that time. 

True has played in just six NHL games, but he and Gambrell have brought the best out of one another in their short time together. It's worth keeping the pair together in the bottom-six once Evander Kane returns from his suspension. 

[RELATED: Sharks' Couture will have test to determine practice return]

End of an era? 

Monday was the Sharks' last home game before the trade deadline, and they could look much different when they next play in San Jose on Feb. 27. Pending free agents Brenden Dillon and Melker Karlsson could get shipped to Stanley Cup contenders in need of depth, but the real question is whether or not the Sharks will trade franchise legends Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. 

Both are 40 and nearing the end of their careers. Could the Sharks give them the Ray Bourque treatment, and trade them to a team with Cup aspirations? The Sharks want to be back in the mix in 2021, but this spring might represent the last real chance for the No. 1 and No. 2 selections in the 1997 NHL Draft to lift the Stanley Cup for the first time in their careers. 

Thornton, for his part, told reporters Sunday that he didn't think Monday would be his last game as a Shark at SAP Center. The call should be Thornton and Marleau's alone, given all they've done for the franchise, and we'll know a week from Monday if they'll finish out the season -- and potentially their careers -- in San Jose. 

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in outstanding 6-3 win over Oilers

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USATSI

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in outstanding 6-3 win over Oilers

BOX SCORE

For the second time in two games, the Sharks failed to score first against a Western Canadian opponent. For the second time in two games, San Jose came from behind to earn an impressive road win.

The Sharks fell behind just over four minutes into their game against the Edmonton Oilers at Rogers Place on Thursday night, and unlike their 3-1 victory over the Calgary Flames on Tuesday, they didn't score the second goal of the contest, either. But just when it looked like the team was headed for a blowout loss, San Jose flipped the script and dominated from that point on, finishing with a 6-3 win.

The Sharks would go on to score five unanswered goals after Edmonton had taken a 2-0 lead, and kept the Oilers off the scoresheet for the vast majority of the contest. San Jose got contributions from all four lines, and goaltender Aaron Dell was very solid in net after some shaky moments early on.

Here are three takeaways as the Sharks completed the Albertan sweep:

One they'll always remember

Maxim Letunov and Alexander True made their NHL debuts in Tuesday's win in Calgary. On Thursday night in Edmonton, both rookies earned their first career NHL points.

Letunov was the first to get off the schneid. He showed great strength and patience in fighting off an Oilers defender in front of the Edmonton net midway through the second period, allowing him to slide the puck in past an out-of-position Mikko Koskinen.

Just over five minutes later, Stefan Noesen gave San Jose a 4-2 lead with his fifth goal of the season, but it was a far more memorable goal for a different member of the fourth line. True got the secondary assist for his first career point.

With Tomas Hertl done for the season and Logan Couture expected to miss several more weeks, the Sharks are making a conscious effort to give opportunities to some of the younger players in their system. Through their first two career NHL games, both Letunov and True have taken advantage.

Welcome to the NHL

Letunov and True had the happy 'welcome to the NHL' moments. Their fellow rookie, defenseman Mario Ferraro, had one on the opposite end of the spectrum.

Early in the first period, Edmonton superstar Connor McDavid received the puck in the neutral zone and immediately kicked it into high gear as he drove towards San Jose's net. Ferraro took one wrong step in trying to obstruct McDavid's path, and in the blink of an eye, McDavid was past him and scoring a highlight-reel goal.

McDavid makes a lot of defenders look silly, so Ferraro shouldn't necessarily be feeling any shame. He has had a tremendous rookie season, and it's totally reasonable that he would experience some growing pains from time to time.

Right on time

The Sharks desperately need their best players to pick it up offensively, perhaps none more so than forward Timo Meier. The 23-year-old has had a fairly disappointing fourth season in the NHL after notching 30 goals and 66 points last year, entering Thursday's game with 16 and 33, respectively.

Meier might be the most talented forward on San Jose's roster, and all that talent was on display against Edmonton, as he came this close to tallying his second hat trick of the season.

He scored the Sharks' first and fifth goals of the night, and nearly had their final one as well. Meier had a great tip-in of a point shot to get San Jose on the board, and in the third period, he roofed a shot past Koskinen after the puck bounced back to him off the end boards to give his team a 5-2 lead.

[RELATED: Why Sharks might trade Jumbo, Marleau in addition to Dillon]

It looked like he completed his hat trick later in the third, but Kevin Labanc managed to get his stick on Meier's deflection, as the puck trickled into the back of the net for an insurance goal.

The hat trick would have been nice, but if Thursday is a sign that Meier is finding a groove, both he and the Sharks will take the two goals.

Sharks storylines, developments to watch through remainder of season

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AP

Sharks storylines, developments to watch through remainder of season

Heading into the All-Star break last season, the St. Louis Blues were a .500 team (22-22-5). In the 33 regular-season games that followed, they caught fire and carried that momentum to the first Stanley Cup in franchise history.

This season, the Sharks enter the All-Star break four games below .500 with 32 games left to claw their way back into playoff positioning and hopefully do the same. As the Blues proved, it's not out of the realm of possibility, but if we're being realistic, it remains a longshot.

Whether the Sharks qualify for the postseason for the 20th time in the last 22 years or end up in dead last, there are a few potential developments to keep an eye on throughout the remainder of the season that will have an impact on the team both in the present and well into the future.

Even if the playoffs are out of the question, these three storylines will be front and center for San Jose:

Trade candidates

For the Sharks to have any shot of making it back to the postseason, they'll need to emerge from the All-Star break the same way the Blues did: by putting together a lengthy winning streak. St. Louis won 10 in a row coming out of the break last season, and San Jose might require something similar. But if the Sharks don't catch fire coming out of the break, it will be time to face facts before long.

If and when the playoffs become obviously out of reach, it will be time for general manager Doug Wilson to make some magic happen. The season can't be a complete loss, and he'll surely work the phones in an effort to expedite a partial rebuild. Considering the Sharks don't have their first-round draft pick as a result of signing Erik Karlsson to a contract extension, they need to recoup assets wherever they can get them.

Defenseman Brenden Dillon is the obvious name to keep an eye on, and the most likely San Jose player to be traded for two reasons. First, his physical style comes in higher demand the closer you get to the postseason. Second, he actually would bring back a decent-sized haul. Other players like Melker Karlsson certainly could be had, but the question will be if it is worth San Jose's while to do so, since he won't bring back anywhere near as large of a return as Dillon would.

As soon as it becomes obvious the current season is headed nowhere, the Sharks need to shift their focus to the future.

Boughner's audition

It hasn't been the easiest season to be an NHL head coach. Seven bench bosses already have been fired, including former Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer. 

DeBoer, of course, has since been re-hired by the rival Vegas Golden Knights. His former top assistant, Bob Boughner, was promoted to Sharks interim head coach upon DeBoer's dismissal from San Jose. And, frankly, the coaching change appeared to provide the Sharks with the jolt they needed -- initially, at least -- as the team was far more competitive following the switch.

But three blowout losses leading into the All-Star break have sapped all of that momentum out of the Sharks, and Boughner hasn't shied away from calling out his players for unsatisfactory performances in those contests. While he definitely has the respect of the locker room, if San Jose continues its lackluster play coming out of the break, it might lead to questions as to whether or not Boughner is the right fit for the organization moving forward.

The other side of the lots-of-coaches-have-been-fired coin is that many of those established coaches now are unemployed -- but are unlikely to be for long. Most, if not all, will be hired to fill head coaching vacancies in the offseason, and Wilson wouldn't be doing his due diligence if he didn't consider all potential options. A strong finish for the Sharks this season likely would be a boon to Boughner's chances of having the interim tag removed from his title. But if it goes the other way, San Jose might have to make its second coaching change in a span of six months.

[RELATED: What has gone right for Sharks in disappointing season]

Balancing act

At what point does the current season become about the future? That might be the most important question facing the Sharks throughout the remainder of the 2019-20 campaign. They've dug themselves a considerable hole, and while they still can dig themselves out of it, they need to be prudent in how they go about determining which players to give opportunities to.

The Sharks' ideal scenario, obviously, is making it back to the playoffs. But if San Jose encounters any sort of extended losing streak, that should probably signal Boughner and Wilson that it's time to see what the Sharks have in their system. Instead of giving ice time to known quantities, San Jose would be better off finding out which of its prospects are the real deal, and which aren't.

Maxim Letunov, Joachim Blichfeld, Alexander True, Jayden Halbgewachs, Noah Gregor, Sasha Chmelevski, Dylan Gambrell, Lean Bergmann and Danil Yurtaikin are all 23 years old or younger. Some of them already have made their NHL debuts, while others still are awaiting their opportunity. If and when the decision is made to focus on the future, the Sharks should throw as many of their fringe prospects against the wall as they're comfortable with, and see who sticks.

If San Jose does enter a rebuilding phase, chances are you'll be seeing plenty of those guys moving forward.