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.

Why Sharks think they're turning things around after win over Oilers

Why Sharks think they're turning things around after win over Oilers

SAN JOSE -- Suffice to say, the Sharks don't look like the same team that started a six-game homestand on Nov. 1 with one of the worst records in the NHL.

With a 6-3 win over the Pacific Division-leading Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday night, the Sharks have won four in a row and appear to be climbing out of the hole they dug themselves in the first month of the season.

Not to jump the gun or anything, The Sharks aren't out of the woods yet. But after the past six games, it looks like they're finally turning the corner and playing the way they expect to.

"Every game, I feel like we're more comfortable," said Tomas Hertl, who scored a goal Tuesday. "Everybody plays better. So now we have to just keep going."

The Sharks spent a good chunk of the first month of the season looking out of sync -- offensively, defensively, you name it. The culprit? Focusing too much on individual play and not working together as a unit.

"We weren't playing our system," Marc-Edouard Vlasic summarized Tuesday. "We were freelancing. We were doing our own thing. And it's funny when you stick to it, to what you do best, the results follow."

Erik Karlsson, Vlasic's defensive partner, agreed.

"We lost ourselves a little bit," said Karlsson, who had three assists Tuesday. "But right now we're working hard for each other and getting ourselves in good spots out there."

Sticking to that system yielded positive production on Tuesday against the Oilers. The Sharks scored six goals, and largely contained Oilers superstars Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid. 

"We had a big task in stopping one of the best lines in hockey and I think we did a good job of that," Karlsson said. "I think everyone contributed offensively and defensively. I think we played the right way for 60 minutes even though they scored three goals. But I think we stuck with it."

"They're at the top of the division and I thought we did a good job of defending McDavid and Draisaitl as a group tonight," Sharks coach Peter DeBoer added. "I thought we had some individuals who did a really good job, but I thought everyone on the ice with those guys was aware."

Of course, getting the jump on the Oilers fewer than five minutes into the game didn't hurt, either. 

"We got the first goal, which took a little bit of the pressure off," DeBoer said. "We got to play out in front most of the night. Those kinds of things make a difference."

[RELATED: Sharks' Baker shares mental health journey in HEADSTRONG]

Now, as Hertl mentioned, the Sharks have to keep going. With an 8-10-1 record, San Jose is still under .500.

That's not good enough for a team accustomed to playing in the postseason. 

"If you're under (.500) you're not in the playoffs," Hertl said. "We're trying the best and over the last four games, we actually look like the Sharks."

If they keep looking like the Sharks that Hertl is talking about, the outlook on the season gets a little brighter.

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

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

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE -- If there was a high note for the Sharks to end their six-game homestand on, they hit it against the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday.

The Sharks offensively overpowered the Pacific Division-leading Oilers at SAP Center. Logan Couture and Erik Karlsson had multi-point nights and Barclay Goodrow registered a Gordie Howe hat trick as San Jose skated to a 6-3 victory. 

Here are three takeaways from the Sharks' fourth-straight win.

Coming alive 5-on-5

As fans are probably all too aware, the Sharks had a ton of trouble scoring goals at even strength at the start of the homestand. But as they have improved over this six-game span, their 5-on-5 game has come alive. San Jose scored five even-strength goals in the first 40 minutes Tuesday, the team's most impressive 5-on-5 performance of the season. 

To make things better, the Sharks got scoring from their bottom six in Tuesday's game courtesy of third-liner Patrick Marleau's first-period goal. If San Jose can start getting production from the fourth line as well, the Sharks' offense will be in really good shape going forward.


Playing more than 20 minutes

The Sharks went into the first intermission with a 3-0 lead but had a feisty Oilers' team pushing to get on the board. And as the Sharks learned from their back-and-forth 6-5 win over the Minnesota Wild last week, only playing well for the first 20 minutes isn't a good formula for winning games. 

But the Sharks didn't sit back on their heels, instead scoring another goal 1:26 into the second period and then another before the intermission. Even though the Oilers scored three goals in the last two periods, San Jose had enough of a lead to keep the damage minimal.

Not too shabby for a team with one of the league's worst goal differentials at the start of the homestand.

[RELATED: Sharks' Baker shares mental health journey in HEADSTRONG]

The Sharks' best game to date?

Let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. The Sharks have certainly played much better over the last four games, but there are still a couple of areas they need to tighten up as they try to climb their way to a .500 record.

Although the Sharks built a big enough cushion, they did let up a bit Tuesday and allow two goals in the third period to let the Oilers make things interesting. As we discussed earlier, that's exactly how the Sharks almost gave up last week's game to the Wild.

While San Jose goaltender Martin Jones did a pretty solid job against Edmonton's offense, the defense in front of him needs to stay tight late into games so they don't end up blowing any late leads.