10 Observations: Third D pair impressive, older Sharks struggling

10 Observations: Third D pair impressive, older Sharks struggling

Cleaning out the notebook as the Sharks close out the month of October…

1 – I know it’s early and things can drastically change between now and the end of the year, but I wonder if David Schlemko will end up being the third defenseman the Sharks end up protecting for the expansion draft rather than Justin Braun (assuming that Brent Burns gets signed, and the Sharks protect both him and Marc-Edouard Vlasic). 

Schlemko has added some punch to the second power play unit, has 21 shots (second among defensemen and fifth overall), can play either side, and has a much more team-friendly contract than Braun ($2.1 million through 2019-20, while Braun is at $3.8 million, also through 2019-20). Something to keep in mind as the season progresses.

2 – Just how much better is the Sharks’ third defense pair this season? Brenden Dillon and Schlemko are eighth and ninth, respectively, in five-on-five shot attempt differential in the entire NHL. Dillon is a plus-47 while Schlemko is plus-46.

Last season, Dillon was a minus-25 in that department, while partner Roman Polak was a minus-5 in 24 games for San Jose after he was acquired at the trade deadline. In the playoffs, though, Dillon was a minus-85 in shot attempts in 24 playoff games, while Polak was minus-73.

As much as Schlemko has shown to be a mobile guy, Dillon looks faster this season, too. That could partially be a function of not skating with Polak, but I think he’s simply added a bit more speed to his game.

3 – A bit surprising that Matt Nieto didn’t dress against the Predators. I know the Sharks had won two straight with Micheal Haley in the lineup going into that game, but Nashville is a fast team, and Nieto is still among San Jose’s fastest skaters. Have to wonder what his future is here. I wrote before the season that I think he needs a change of scenery, and nothing has happened yet to make me think otherwise.

If Nieto is not going to play, the Sharks should do him a favor and move the pending restricted free agent to a team that will put him in. There are enough players in the Sharks’ system that could fill the void he would leave.

4 – One of those players, potentially, is Kevin Labanc. The forward was the biggest pleasant surprise in training camp, although perhaps it wasn’t all that surprising since he led the OHL in scoring last season with 127 points in 65 games. Labanc is off to a solid start with the AHL Barracuda; in four games he has three goals and four assists for seven points.

5 – Seems to me like the short summer may be adversely affecting some of the older Sharks. Joe Thornton, 37, has looked a bit off and a half-step behind since the season started, although he’s still managed to contribute one goal and seven assists through nine games. Patrick Marleau, 37, has just two goals and one assist in nine games despite an ample amount scoring chances, while 35-year-olds Paul Martin (two assists) and Joel Ward (one goal, minus-5) have had a rough go of it, too.

Other than Thornton, it’s fair to wonder if any of those aforementioned players will need a night off at some point. Dylan DeMelo is still waiting to make his season debut, and if some of the younger players on the Barracuda like Labanc and Timo Meier progress, it could give coach Pete DeBoer some real roster flexibility.

6 – Here is where the Sharks have finished in overall faceoff percentage in the league from 2008-09 through last season: 2nd, 1st, 2nd, 2nd, 2nd, 2nd, 6th, 7th.

That’s why it’s so surprising that on November 1, the Sharks are dead last in the NHL in faceoff percentage (44.4 percent). No one has struggled more than Logan Couture, who has won 39 faceoffs while losing 74 for just a 34.5 percent success rate. Chris Tierney (26-for-66, 39.4 percent) has also had a tough time in the circle.

7 – The biggest offseason trade involved Nashville sending captain Shea Weber to Montreal for P.K. Subban. Couture offered a pretty blunt assessment of playing against the altered Predators defense.

“You realize they’re missing a big piece, a big guy on their back end, a guy that plays tough,” said Couture, who played with Weber on the Canadian World Cup team. “Subban adds another dimension, a puck movement guy, a guy that likes to handle the puck. It is a little different between those two. You go to the front of the net, you’re going to pay a price with [Weber]. [Subban] likes to carry the puck. I guess [it’s] a little different.”

You can read between the lines on that one.

8 – Speaking of Subban, he is often compared to Burns for his ability to generate offense from the back end. The 27-year-old defenseman said he knows Burns a bit from some various league events, but he doesn’t really consider them all that similar.

“I’ve never really thought about that. I think that we play the game differently,” Subban said. “As defensemen, we probably have similarities, but I wouldn’t say that we’re exactly the same player. He has strengths in his game, and I have strengths in mine, but I’d probably say we’re a little bit different players.”

9 – One of the early league-wide storylines is the number of goalies that have been hurt already. Among those that have missed time or are still out are Jonathan Bernier (Ducks), Jonathan Quick (Kings), Jeff Zatkoff (Kings), Mike Smith (Coyotes), Anton Khudobin (Bruins), Tuukka Rask (Bruins) and Andrew Hammond (Senators).

“It’s strange. I haven’t seen that, even going back to [Carey] Price last year, the high profile guys missing extended periods of time,” DeBoer said. “That’s rare. I don’t know the answer. The injuries don’t seem to be contact related. I think they’ve taken away the goalie contact stuff with some of the rules, it’s more overextending. They are so athletic now, the play moves so quickly. I don’t know the answer, whether it’s early in the season and you’re just not where you need to be flexibility-wise – I don’t know. I’m just thankful that our guy is healthy.”

10 – Sharks play-by-play man/local legend Randy Hahn pointed out the other day that the Sharks have seven undrafted players on their roster, more than any other NHL team. They include: Schlemko, Dillon, Haley, Ward, Melker Karlsson, Martin Jones and Aaron Dell.

“I think that’s part of the fabric and identity of this team,” DeBoer said. “We’re a hard-working, honest group that loves to play. When you talk about guys who have persevered who haven’t been drafted, who have been told they’re not good enough at different points, you have to love the game in order to continue on and fight through that stuff. That’s what makes our team, our team. 

“We’re also fortunate to have some great [first round picks] that also love the game and bring that energy to the rink. It’s a nice combination. I think it definitely is part of the character of our team.”

Why Sharks' tension with Nazem Kadri boiled over in loss to Maple Leafs

Why Sharks' tension with Nazem Kadri boiled over in loss to Maple Leafs

SAN JOSE -- Barclay Goodrow was not happy with Nazem Kadri.

The two jawed before the opening face-off Thursday night, and Goodrow grabbed the Toronto Maple Leafs center once the puck was dropped, trying to make him drop the gloves. Kadri would not, and the Sharks forward alone headed to the box for roughing eight seconds in.

It was a chippy start for teams who only play twice a season. So, what set off Goodrow?

“[Kadri] chose to fight Jumbo last year off of the opening face-off,” Goodrow told reporters after the Sharks’ 5-3 loss, “who quite frankly shouldn’t have to do that. So, I thought I would try to return the favor.” 

Let’s rewind to Jan. 4 in Toronto, when the teams last played. 

Kadri and Thornton jockeyed for stick position ahead of the opening face-off. The two traded slashes, then words, and finally punches after they were kicked out of the face-off circle before the puck was dropped. 

Kadri also grabbed a piece of Thornton’s beard in the fight, but said at the time it was unintentional. He told reporters Thursday he figured that fight caused the immediate tension.

“I’m not quite sure why they were still so bitter about it,” Kadri said, “especially when he’s the one [who] initiated it with me, so it’s not like I went out looking for it. … I kind of knew they were pretty agitated from the start, and I figured I’d run with that.” 

The Leafs scored seconds after the ensuing power play expired. 

With the man advantage winding down, Toronto center John Tavares threw the puck in front of the net from behind the goal line. The puck bounced off of San Jose defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s skate, and helplessly through goaltender Martin Jones’ pads.

Up to that point, the Sharks allowed one shot on goal and three attempts on the penalty kill. 

"The biggest thing is [Kadri] got us a power play to start the game,” Leafs coach Mike Babcock said. “They're gonna say it's not a power-play goal because I think there was one second or something [on the clock], but that's a power-play goal. It's a great way to start the game.”

Kadri, who is known for getting under his opponents’ skin, was hit a game-high six times. He drew another penalty later in the first period, then drew and received two of his own when he and Sharks winger Melker Karlsson were twice penalized for roughing in the third.

Still, the Sharks out-attempted (18-16), outshot (11-7), and out-chanced (9-5) the Leafs with Kadri on the ice five-on-five, according to Natural Stat Trick. San Jose tied the game 3:18 after Tavares’ tally, and held a lead at the end of the first period. 

[RELATED: DeBoer talks Sharks' defensive woes against Leafs]

Goodrow and Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said they did not think Kadri threw the Sharks off their game. DeBoer thought Kadri “crossed the line” fighting Thornton, but said the pre-puck drop confrontation “was the end of it.”

If there is any remaining tension, we’ll know in fewer than two weeks. The Sharks and Leafs conclude their season series Nov. 28 in Toronto. 

Peter DeBoer talks Sharks' defensive woes against Leafs

Peter DeBoer talks Sharks' defensive woes against Leafs

SAN JOSE – The Sharks knew the test they had ahead of them with the fast, skilled Toronto Maple Leafs coming into town.

“We talked about what their strengths were and what we wanted to do to try and negate them,” coach Peter DeBoer said.

San Jose tried to do just that for the first 20 minutes of Thursday’s game, skating into the dressing room at the first intermission with a 3-2 lead. Then in the second frame, the wheels came off. San Jose allowed Toronto to use their speed to dictate the pace of the game and tilt the ice in their favor.

“It was the one thing we talked about not doing and then we did it,” DeBoer said. “We turned pucks over. Gave them a short-handed goal. Let them in behind us on some breakaways. Allowed them to play to their strengths." 

“I thought we beat ourselves tonight.”

 [RELATED: Sharks fall to Leafs]

 This isn’t the first time the Sharks bench boss has said something of this nature through the 20-game season. San Jose is now 9-3-3 on the season when they score first, meaning they’ve given up the lead six times on the early campaign. That’s not even counting each time the opposition has rallied from a deficit and left the Sharks making a late-game push.

 After Thursday’s 5-3 loss, DeBoer revealed he didn’t think the Sharks should’ve even had the lead against the Leafs. “I thought – yes, we had the lead in that game. But I didn’t feel like either we deserved to have a lead or played well enough at that point to be in that spot. I think when you find yourself in that spot and you haven’t really earned it, you probably end up getting what you deserve.”

 This hasn’t necessarily been the case in every game where the Sharks have given up a lead to a tough team. In their contest earlier in the week with the Nashville Predators, the Sharks’ first period was easily the best period of hockey they’d played all season.

A similar scenario occurred in the second frame of that game as with the second period of the Toronto game. After a period playing up to their strengths, the Sharks start giving up too many odd-man rushes and let the opposing team make a comeback.

 It’s a habit the Sharks don’t identify as being part of their game philosophy. Unfortunately, it’s happening with some regularity.

 “The frustrating part is just that we haven’t played to our identity,” Joe Pavelski said. “We do it for a few minutes ... and then all of a sudden there’s a breakaway, and another breakaway. (Martin Jones), we’re just hanging him out to dry at times with these odd man rushes and chances.”

 Brenden Dillon agreed. “We have the foundation,” he summarized. “When we’re playing at our best, we see how successful it makes us. We’re really not doing that for a full 60 minutes right now, we’re doing it in spurts.”

Both Pavelski and Dillon said the uneven play is likely a mental block the team has, and that it’s something they’re both confident the team can improve upon. As the hockey season rolls on, it’s something they’re going to need to improve quickly.

 “We’re only 20 things in, but we are 20 games in,” Dillon said. “It’s something we just have to continue to emphasize.”