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.

What Sharks like about way they are playing despite loss to Sabres

What Sharks like about way they are playing despite loss to Sabres

SAN JOSE - Saturday night's Sharks-Sabres matchup ended up being an entertaining one for sure, with a lot of the action taking place in the final 20 minutes of the game.

And even though San Jose lost 4-3 and had their three-game winning-streak snapped, they still believe that their overall game is headed in the right direction. 

"When I look at seven or eight games that we've played, that's probably one of the better 60-minute efforts we've got," Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer said afterward. "I think we're getting better. I can tell you, I like where our game's at now a lot better than I did two weeks ago."

Captain Logan Couture agreed, although he wanted to see a different result in Saturday's contest.

"I thought we played well, we could've done some things better," Couture said, giving the opposition the credit they deserve. "They're a very good team. It's no fluke over there that they have their record. They're playing very good hockey. We had an opportunity to beat them, just one more mistake on our end tonight."

One of the biggest problems San Jose ran into was penalty trouble in the second period. Sure, the penalty kill remains dominant and was able to keep Buffalo's potent power play from finding the back of the net. In fact, San Jose's special teams overall played a huge factor in them keeping the game close. But as Couture explained, being down a skater for too long can have a negative effect on a team's even-strength game -- even one with as good of a PK as San Jose has right now.

"It's tough to get in a rhythm," Couture explained. "There were so many penalties. For our line, especially, I think we only had two even-strength shifts in the second."

But the Sharks are happy with how they pushed back late in the game to keep things close. After the Sabres jumped out to a 2-1 lead at the end of the second period, the Sharks began creating more chances in their own end to keep the visitors from running away with the game. They traded tallies with Buffalo thanks to two big goals from Tomas Hertl and Marcus Sorensen. Even after Zemgus Girgensons buried the Sabres' fourth goal on the evening, San Jose continued to press and get looks in front of the net as the final few minutes of play expired.

"I liked our resiliency," DeBoer said. "I thought we battled all night."

[RELATED: Marleau reflects on Sharks return]

The Sharks will get another crack at the Sabres this upcoming Tuesday as they kick off an East Coast swing in Buffalo. San Jose might not be very happy with the mistakes they made on Saturday night, but they can at least see that their overall game his trending in the right direction.

"We still had a couple of bad mistakes, but we have to learn from it and be better," Hertl said. "It's kind of a tough loss but we have to bounce back. We (play) against them in the next game so we have to be ready for them."

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in streak-snapping 4-3 loss to Sabres

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in streak-snapping 4-3 loss to Sabres

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE - The Sharks' first standoff of the season against the Sabres was a fast-paced and tight-checking fete that saved most of its drama for the last 20 minutes of play.

But even with a couple of third-period goals to keep things interesting, Team Teal couldn't quite pull this one off against the visiting Buffalo squad and dropped the final game of their homestand 4-3.

Here are three takeaways from Saturday's game:

Going to the net

The Sharks might have been better on the defensive side of their game, particularly in their own end. But they struggled throughout Saturday's contest with getting in front of Buffalo's net and generating good shots. In fact, San Jose only tallied one shot on goal through nearly 13 minutes in the second period.

You do have to give San Jose's offense credit for turning it up in the latter part of the game, though. After Casey Mittelstadt's bizarre goal gave the Sabres a 2-1 lead, the Sharks turned things up and notch. They not only got more o-zone time but had a much better net-front presence. It's no wonder they were able to knot the score back up twice in the third period -- even if they weren't able to score the tie-breaking goal and get the win.

Going in for the kill

One of the biggest tests for the Sharks in Saturday's game was to stay out of the penalty box, given they were going up against one of the best power plays in the league. So, naturally, it was a bit of a nail-biter when San Jose got into a little penalty trouble in the second period.

San Jose did succeed in silencing Buffalo's power play, even if it wasn't very pretty. While Martin Jones wasn't quite as sharp on Saturday as he has been as of late, the team in front of him did a good job of halting the Sabres on the man advantage.

[RELATED: Marleau reflects on Sharks return]

The kid was all right

Noah Gregor didn't score a goal on Saturday night -- even though his new teammates tried to set him up for one. The 21-year-old forward did, however, have a good showing in his NHL debut, displaying a ton of speed as if he was already completely accustomed to the pace of a big-league game.

Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer said on Saturday morning that he would prefer it if one of San Jose's young players would seize the opportunity to be a regular on the team's fourth line with Dylan Gambrell and Melker Karlsson. Gregor only has one game under his belt, but he is already making a good case to stick around for a while.