Sharks

Analysis: Sharks still need more from depth forwards

Analysis: Sharks still need more from depth forwards

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.

Sharks rival Drew Doughty doesn't think Brent Burns deserves Norris Trophy

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APUSATSI

Sharks rival Drew Doughty doesn't think Brent Burns deserves Norris Trophy

We're down to two weeks remaining in the NHL season, and there's still plenty left to be determined.

Only five of what will be a grand total of 16 playoff spots have been clinched, and the races for many of the other 11 are likely to come down to the final days of the season. The same can be said for certain individual award races.

The former of those types of races doesn't really apply to the Sharks. They've already clinched a playoff spot and barring something crazy, they likely will face the Vegas Golden Knights in the first round.

As for the award races, there's still plenty at stake and how certain players finish their respective individual seasons could prove to be the deciding factor in who goes home with the hardware and who will have to wait at least another year.

Both San Jose's Brent Burns and Calgary's Mark Giordano have been jostling back and forth for pole position in the race for the Norris Trophy -- given to the league's top defenseman -- practically all year long. And it appears they'll finish it that way, as well.

One former Norris Trophy winner -- Los Angeles' Drew Doughty -- was asked his thoughts on the current race ahead of the Kings' game in Calgary on Monday, and let's just say he didn't mince words when it came to evaluating Burns' candidacy.

Burns currently leads the Sharks and all NHL defensemen with 77 points -- one more than he had in 2016-17 when he won his first Norris. Giordano, meanwhile, ranks second among all NHL defensemen with 72 points. Burns has played in two more games than Giordano so far this season, but his 1.03 points per game still rank slightly ahead of Giordano's 0.99.

Giordano's Flames are the odds-on favorite to finish with the most points of any Western Conference team, though, and that could certainly work in his favor in such a close race.

[RELATED: Sharks need better goaltending with playoffs around corner]

Meanwhile, Doughty's Kings are currently dead last in the Western Conference, 10 points behind the next-closest team. Any realistic shot at the playoffs went out the window a long time ago, and Doughty himself is on pace for his fewest points in a season in which he played more than 48 games.

Doughty has a Norris and a couple of Stanley Cups to his resume, so his comments can't be completely disregarded. But that sure sounds like sour grapes from a frustrated veteran towards a longtime division rival, which -- given the history between the Sharks and Kings -- shouldn't really come as a surprise.

Sharks vs. Red Wings watch guide: Projected lines and defensive pairs

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AP

Sharks vs. Red Wings watch guide: Projected lines and defensive pairs

SAN JOSE -- The San Jose Sharks are looking to snap their longest losing streak this season. They’ll have the opportunity to get back in the win column on Monday evening when they host Gustav Nyquist’s former team, the Detroit Red Wings.

Team Teal returns home after tallying just one point on their two-game trip down in Southern California with a 4-3 overtime loss to the Anaheim Ducks. San Jose currently sits with 95 points in the standings -- five points ahead of the Vegas Golden Knights and six points behind the Calgary Flames.

The Red Wings are the second-worst ranked team in the Eastern Conference, but visit San Jose coming off a 3-2 come-from-behind overtime victory over the Golden Knights. “They always give us a hard time,” Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said of the Detroit squad. “Their speed. They’re young, they’re enthusiastic. They’re playing, really, with no pressure on them. Those are dangerous teams.”

The Sharks will continue to play with captain Joe Pavelski, who is continuing to recover from a lower-body injury. DeBoer told the media Pavelski was “heading in the right direction,” though. “If it was playoffs, he’d probably be able to play. But there’s no sense rushing that right now.”

Detroit will play without Thomas Vanek, who has been sidelined with a mid-body injury, per Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press. The Red Wings will roll out 11 forwards and seven defensemen against the Sharks.

This is the second and final time the Sharks and Red Wings will play each other this season. Through 93 total games played between the franchises, San Jose holds a 34-49-4-6 record.

Sharks projected lines and pairs:

Timo Meier – Logan Couture – Gustav Nyquist
Evander Kane – Tomas Hertl – Joonas Donskoi
Marcus Sorensen – Joe Thornton – Kevin Labanc
Lukas Radil – Barclay Goodrow – Melker Karlsson

Marc-Edouard Vlasic – Tim Heed
Joakim Ryan – Brent Burns
Brenden Dillon – Justin Braun

Martin Jones – projected starter
Aaron Dell

[RELATED: Sharks need better goaltending with playoffs around corner]

Red Wings projected lines and pairs:

Tyler Bertuzzi – Dylan Larkin – Anthony Mantha
Luke Glendening – Andreas Athanasiou – Taro Hirose
Frans Nielsen – Darren Helm
Ryan Kuffner – Christoffer Ehn – Matt Puempel

Dan DeKeyser – Filip Hronek
Niklas Kronwall – Madison Bowey
Brian Lashoff – Luke Witkowski
Dylan McIlrath

Jonathan Bernier – projected starter
Jimmy Howard