It wasn’t supposed to be an issue this season. In fact, it was supposed to be a strength.
But the Sharks’ depth scoring beyond their main core is their biggest concern headed into the final two-and-a-half weeks of the regular season.
Entering Tuesday night’s game with the Wild, the Sharks feature just four players that have reached double digits in goals – Joe Pavelski (28), Brent Burns (27), Logan Couture (25) and Patrick Marleau (23). That’s a league low. Even two of the worst teams in the league, Colorado and New Jersey, have five players that have scored at least 10 goals.
Among teams that are thought to be contenders, though, the Sharks’ number looks even sadder. Washington can boast of 11 players in double-digit goals, as can the Wild and Blue Jackets. Pittsburgh and the Rangers have 10 apiece, while the Ducks (9) and Blackhawks (7) have also shown to have better scoring depth than San Jose. Calgary, while probably not a true contender just yet, leads the league with 12.
Lately, of course, no one is scoring goals for San Jose, which has just two in its last three games – one of which came on a two-man advantage.
But instead of some role players picking up the slack for guys like Burns (no points in his last six games and no goals in his last 13), and Marleau (one goal in his last 11 games), the support just hasn’t been there. And it hasn't been for most of the season.
Prior to Jannik Hansen’s injury, Tomas Hertl was centering Joonas Donskoi and Mikkel Boedker, which, before the season started, would have seemed like a great combination on paper for a third line.
Hertl, though, has no points in his last nine games, and just four goals and five assists for nine points in 23 games since returning from his latest right knee surgery. Four years into his NHL career, the Sharks could be faced with the possibility that the 23-year-old has hit his ceiling, and it’s lower than originally expected after his burst onto the scene in his rookie year.
Donskoi hasn’t been very effective since returning from what looked like a shoulder injury on March 6, not yet finding the scoresheet in the eight games since. Boedker shows flashes of effectiveness, but he, too, is scoreless in his last seven games and has had an underwhelming first season in teal.
Fourth line center Chris Tierney, meanwhile, has just three points in his last 19 games, which is two fewer than frequent linemate Micheal Haley (2g, 3a).
Conversely, the Sharks’ top scorers are among the best players in the league, and they are one of just seven teams with four 20-goal scorers. They’re also gotten a more effective Joe Thornton lately, who has eight points (1g, 7a) in his last eight games aided in part by Hansen’s arrival.
The playoffs, though, are all about depth. In fact, the Sharks’ run last season was the perfect example of that – in the first three rounds, they did a wondrous job shutting down the top scorers on the Kings, Predators and Blues, while getting contributions from guys like Donskoi, Tierney and Joel Ward. Eventually they ran into a Pittsburgh club that was noticeably faster, but also deeper. Pete DeBoer has mentioned countless times that the Penguins having Phil Kessel on the third line was something that the Sharks just couldn’t contend with.
That’s one reason Boedker was brought in, and it’s also why DeBoer recently agreed with a suggestion that he’s “wedded” to Hertl playing in the third line center role.
“Yeah, I’m wedded to that. I think we have to be deep up the middle. The good teams all are,” DeBoer said on March 15.
The good teams also get more scoring from their depth. Many of those guys on the Sharks have to step up and do more, and soon.