Ask the experts: Sharks' aging core a concern?

Ask the experts: Sharks' aging core a concern?

An argument can be made that no NHL team that expects to compete for a Stanley Cup this season will rely more on older, aging players than the San Jose Sharks.

Their MVP from a season ago and number one center, Joe Thornton, is 37. Their leading goal scorer for the past three seasons, Joe Pavelski, is 32. Scoring wingers Patrick Marleau and Joel Ward are 37 and 35, respectively. Top four defenseman Paul Martin, so important to Brent Burns’ breakthrough year last season, is 35.

How much of a fear should that be in a league that seemingly keeps trending younger? There are differing opinions.

“I think that’s a legitimate concern,” said NBC NHL analyst Brian Boucher. “To ask these guys to play at a level that is extremely high is tough to ask. Whether they can stay healthy as you get older … the facts are sometimes you get beat up and you slow down a bit.”

Martin Biron, an NHL analyst for TSN, RDS and the NHL Network, was less concerned.

“The quality of players that the Sharks have, even though they’re older in their thirties or whatnot, doesn’t scare me much,” Biron said. “Now, will there be a time in January or February, especially with the guys that played in the World Cup that may feel that they’ve put a lot of miles on this year? Absolutely. But, I don’t think that these guys are going to fall behind that much. They may have to readjust a little bit, but that happens to almost everyone.”

With an aging team comes the need to infuse younger talent onto the roster, and the Sharks are attempting to do that while remaining competitive. Free agent addition Mikkel Boedker is 26 years old; rookie Timo Meier, 20, might have made the club out of training camp had he not gotten mono and could still join down the line; while 22-year-olds Tomas Hertl and Chris Tierney are improving.

Even Logan Couture, 27, may still be getting better after he was arguably the most consistent player in the Sharks’ two-month playoff run.

“I was really impressed with the growth of a couple of the young players, especially Couture,” said NBC NHL analyst Keith Jones. “I think a lot of it is going to run through him.”

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Hertl’s role has been one of the ongoing storylines for several seasons now. Should he play center, where he began last season and stayed for the first half while Couture was hurt, or should he return to the top line with Thornton and Pavelski on one of the most productive lines in the NHL?

Coach Pete DeBoer will keep him on the top line for now, and our experts agreed that is the right thing to do.

“I would leave him where he is at now, and then when it’s time for Thornton to move on, you’ve got that option to slide him into center ice then as a more mature player,” Jones said. “There’s a lot of upside potential there, but there’s no need to play him at center just yet.”

Tierney’s growth has earned him the opportunity to center the third line, and Boucher was impressed from what he saw from the former second round pick in last year’s postseason.

“Chris Tierney, I feel like this guy could be a key cog,” Boucher said. “I think he’s a good player. If you look at his track record, his last year in junior was very good. I thought he made tremendous strides, and I thought he had a good playoff last year. 

“I think these young guys have to continue to develop and take on bigger roles.”

The bottom line is that the Sharks are still a team that’s built to win now. They will keep an eye on the future, of course, but after making it so far in the playoffs last season, the goal in 2016-17 is to finish the job.

“If I’m San Jose I’m not concerned about what’s happening in three or four years down the road,” Biron said. “I’m thinking that this year and next year is the time to keep pushing for results.”

Sharks need better goaltending with NHL playoffs just around corner


Sharks need better goaltending with NHL playoffs just around corner

SAN JOSE – Goaltending has been a hot topic all season for the Sharks. Even when they’ve been winning games, the performance between the pipes has been under scrutiny.

Now, with the playoffs just a couple weeks away and San Jose tryng to snap a season-long five-game winning streak, the performance of Sharks goaltenders Martin Jones and Aaron Dell is yet again being scrutinized.

There’s no mistaking it – they need to be better.

Even Sharks coach Peter DeBoer, who isn’t one to call out players after a loss, seemed particularly perturbed with the Sharks' play in net. He said just as much after San Jose's fifth straight defeat, a 4-3 loss to the lowly Anaheim Ducks on Friday.

“I don’t want to sugarcoat it, but I think we had them for six chances, and they scored four goals,” he said at the time. “You can’t lay it at one guy's feet, but you can’t win in this league with [an.800 to .900] save percentage. We’ve got to find a way to get an extra save, and on (the other) end we’ve got to find a way to get another goal.”

DeBoer isn’t wrong. Jones might be tied for third place among all NHL goalies with 34 wins under his belt, but his .898 save percentage is 58th out of 69 goalies who have played at least 10 games. Dell's .887 save percentage is 67th. Combined, the Sharks' .891 save percentage is last in the league.

In March, a month in which the Sharks have gone 6-4-1, San Jose has scored 37 goals and allowed 36. Those aren’t stats you want to see heading into the postseason.

To be fair, all the blame can’t be laid at the feet of the netminders, much like DeBoer said. Defensive breakdowns in front of the net don’t do Jones and Dell any favors – and with a banged-up blue line that’s missing Erik Karlsson and Radim Simek, those mistakes become more apparent.

It also doesn’t help the Sharks' offense has dried up, scoring no more than three goals in each of the last five losses. Leading goal-scorer Joe Pavelski has missed the last three, making matters worse.

But San Jose still, as DeBoer mentioned, needs to get more key saves from its goaltenders. 

[RELATED: Why Sharks believe five-game skid will strengthen them]

Now, with the Sharks having secured a playoff spot over the past week, the last few games of the season are going to be focused on being ready for the first round. In addition to getting the lineup healthier, the Sharks also have to focus on allowing fewer goals. A better defensive effort will go a long way, but Jones and Dell also have to buckle down and stop the puck more if San Jose is to hang on to home-ice advantage in the first round.

Don’t expect the goaltending conversation to cool off during these last weeks of the regular season. Goaltending is going to be a major focus as the playoffs get closer. If the Sharks want to still be playing hockey in May and June, it simply has to be better than it is right now.

Sharks not satisfied with single point, believe skid will strengthen them

Sharks not satisfied with single point, believe skid will strengthen them

Well, the Sharks certainly made it interesting. Every time the Ducks scored a goal on Friday evening, the Sharks came back and were able to tie things up. They even got the game-tying goal late in the third period that took their contest into overtime – at least, before they lost 4-3.

Perhaps at a different time of year, getting their first point in five games would feel better. Not on this night. 

The focus remains on the work to be done with just seven games left in the regular season. For Team Teal, they need to clean their game up and get back into the win column.

“It’s better than nothing, but overall, we’re just not finding ways to win games now,” Timo Meier told the media in Anaheim regarding the single point. “We’ve got to find a way to win games. It’s an important time of the year. Playoffs are really close.”

San Jose put a better effort on the ice on Friday than they did the previous evening in LA against the Kings, but the opportunistic Ducks were able to bury more of their chances,

"I don’t think we gave them very much," Peter DeBoer said. "Every chance they got, they stuck in the net, though."

DeBoer was more critical of the team a second night in a row, and rightfully so. Despite outshooting the opposition, the Sharks weren’t able to find the back of the net enough times. They allowed two goals while playing on the penalty kill and tallied 14 giveaways. Plus, outside of Meier’s power-play marker, San Jose still went one-for-five on the man advantage. Despite tying the score up three times, the Sharks couldn’t keep the Ducks from responding.

Clearly, all areas of the game need to be tweaked.

“We’ve got to find a way to get an extra save, and on (the other) end we’ve got to find a way to get another goal,” DeBoer said. “We could’ve used a power-play goal tonight -- another one.”

Perhaps the only silver lining, as Meier put it, is that the Sharks are going through this stretch now instead of once they get into the playoffs. San Jose is still trying to get some of its key players healthy and into the lineup so they can make a deep playoff run with the lines and pairs they want. The goal, at least at the moment, is to make sure this five-game skid is a lesson to learn from and not a prelude to the future.

"Get stronger as a team, get tighter as a group, and learn," Meier said. "It’s going to make us stronger going into the playoffs because there are going to be lots of ups and downs coming up. It’s going to make us stronger and we’ve got to react the right way.”