Sharks

Evaluating the Sharks one-third into the season

Evaluating the Sharks one-third into the season

TORONTO – The Sharks have played 28 games – 14 at home, and 14 on the road – as they get set for the final stretch before Christmas break. There is reason to believe the team is again set up well to compete for another Western Conference championship, but there are also a few concerns.

Let’s take a closer look, with one-third of the regular season in the books.

Defense first

The Sharks sit 11th overall in the NHL in points percentage (.589) primarily due to their defensive play. They are tied for third in the NHL allowing just 2.18 goals per game, and are giving up the second-fewest shots per game (26.3). 

For the most part they’ve been able to dress the same six defensemen on a nightly basis, led by Norris Trophy candidate Brent Burns, who leads the team with 12 goals and is tied for the scoring lead with Joe Pavelski with 25 points. Marc-Edouard Vlasic remains one of the better defensive defensemen in the game (although he’s taking more penalties than usual), while replacing Roman Polak with David Schlemko has given San Jose a more mobile blue line that’s proficient at quickly getting the puck out of its own zone.

Any NHL coach will tell you they’d rather have a defensive foundation in place while struggling to score goals, rather than the other way around (we’ll get to that in a bit). The Sharks seem to have that identity in place, and it should bode well for the remaining months.

Goalies thriving

Martin Jones is proving that last year was no fluke, with a 13-10-1 mark, 2.08 goals-against average and .920 save percentage. The 26-year-old is looking more and more like he’s the next franchise goaltender, and there’s no reason to believe he will suddenly drop off. Aaron Dell hasn’t seen much action, getting just four starts so far, but he’s done a more-than-admirable job as the backup with a 3-1-0 mark, 2.16 GAA and .926 SP. 

Whether the Sharks stick with Dell or seek out a more experienced backup remains to be seen, since it’s unlikely they want Jones to keep playing so many games. It’s too early to say that Dell has proven himself as a full time NHL goalie, but he’s at least on the right track.

Scoring woes

This is the Sharks’ most perplexing problem, as scoring goals wasn’t supposed to be an issue after they had the NHL’s fourth-best offense last season (2.89 goals-per game), and only got better in the playoffs (3.13 goals-per game). This season's Sharks sit at 20th in the league at 2.43 goals-per game, and are the only NHL team that hasn’t scored more than four in a single game yet.

Nearly all of the forwards are underperforming. Pavelski is on pace for 24 goals, after 38 last season. Joe Thornton is on pace for 53 points, after 82 last season. Logan Couture is on pace for 56 points, after his dominant playoff run of 30 points in 24 games.

And then there are the depth guys. Joel Ward, Joonas Donskoi, Melker Karlsson, Chris Tierney and Mikkel Boedker are all sitting on just two goals. That’s not good enough.

Coach Pete DeBoer has been changing his lines nearly all season to no avail, and at some point it may be time for personnel changes. Kevin Labanc has already taken one roster spot, it would seem, and there could be more replacements on the way if some guys don’t get going offensively.

Prospects pushing

Fortunately for the Sharks, they may have some options in the system to help with their scoring woes. Timo Meier will undoubtedly play some NHL games shortly, as he continues to score and create offense for the Barracuda. Ryan Carpenter did some good things when he was called up recently to center the fourth line, while Danny O’Regan, the Barracuda’s leading scorer with 21 points in 19 games, could be an option at some point, too.

On the other end of the spectrum is Nikolay Goldobin, who may not be panning out. The 21-year-old former first round pick got off to a hot start with the Barracuda with 10 points in six games, but has just four points in his last 13 since losing Labanc as a linemate. He’s stuck on two goals through 19 AHL games.

Outlook

Considering the Sharks had a short summer, many of them took part in the World Cup, and that they are one of the NHL’s older teams, sitting at 16-11-1 after 28 games is commendable. 

They still have to get going offensively, and the veteran forwards deserve a little more time to work their way out of their season-long slumps. If they don’t, some changes will have to be made between now and the trade deadline on Feb. 28.

But when you look at the way the Sharks have kept opposing offenses at bay and the play of Jones, it’s unlikely that they’ll suffer through any lengthy losing streaks. The division is more competitive, with Edmonton and Calgary in the mix, but the Sharks should be able to finish in the top three again, assuring themselves of a playoff spot. And as Sharks fans have seen over the years, just getting in is all that really matters.

Former Sharks defenseman Paul Martin announces retirement

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USATSI

Former Sharks defenseman Paul Martin announces retirement

After 14 seasons with the Devils, Penguins and Sharks, defenseman Paul Martin has called it a career.

Martin announced his retirement from the NHL in an article published by The Athletic on Wednesday.

The 37-year-old spent the last three seasons in San Jose and was released on June 22.

In three seasons with the Sharks, Martin finished with seven goals and 41 assists.

Martin was defense partners with Brent Burns when the latter won the Norris Trophy during the 2016-17 season.

As you might imagine, Burns had nice things to say about Martin in The Athletic's piece.

“The most special thing about that guy is it didn’t matter how many times you asked him how he was or what was he doing or what was going on, he always just cared about you," Burns told The Athletic's Michael Russo. "We always joked, we know his name, but we know nothing else ’cause he’s always asking if we’re all right, how our kids are doing, how life is. He just cared that much and he really put the ‘Nice’ in the Minnesota Nice. It’s like this guy just exemplifies that. I mean, just look what he’s doing for kids in Minnesota. That says everything you want to know about him. It’s just so genuine of him. I’m not kidding you, he’s the most genuine human being I’ve ever met."

Peter DeBoer talks Erik Karlsson, John Tavares ahead of first showdown

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Peter DeBoer talks Erik Karlsson, John Tavares ahead of first showdown

SAN JOSE -- With the Toronto Maple Leafs in town and the Canadian media on the scene, there were two names that popped up a lot at the Sharks’ Wednesday morning practice: Erik Karlsson and John Tavares.

The two veterans were the biggest names on the market last summer -- both captains on their respective teams who had the opportunity to play for a contender. Fast-forward to November, and the two players are facing off for the first time since sporting new sweaters.

So naturally, Sharks’ bench box Peter DeBoer was peppered with questions about the Leafs’ newest forward and Team Teal’s newest defenseman.

You may recall the Sharks were initially in on the John Tavares sweepstakes before the 28-year-old center chose to take his talents up to Toronto. That didn’t stop DeBoer from praising his success since joining the Leafs.

“John Tavares, for me, is one of the best players in the world,” DeBoer said. “Playing with a lot of confidence.”

It’s easy to see why Tavares is playing so confidently, too. He’s leading the team with 11 goals in 18 games and is ranked second on the squad with 22 points. 

“I just love the honesty to his game,” DeBoer continued. “He plays both ends of the rink. He wins battles. He goes to the dirty areas of the rink. And he makes other people around him better.”

Of course, the conversation turned toward the big acquisition the Sharks did make this off-season: two-time Norris Trophy-winner Karlsson. While much of the outside focus has centered on the defenseman not scoring his first goal of the season yet, DeBoer was frank when he said he likes what he’s seeing from the new addition to the roster. He also noted that the number of goals scored isn’t the only number outsiders should be looking at.

“I think his game is trending in the right direction,” he said of No. 65.  “When you look at the underlying numbers of what he’s doing here, they’re as good or better than they were two years ago in Ottawa.

“All those things are there. It just hasn’t (broken) the right way for him yet.”

As far as finding the back of the net, DeBoer acknowledged the pressure on Karlsson can play a role.

“It’s human nature. You want to come in, you want to make an impact," DeBoer said. "For sure, that can weigh on you. But sometimes you have to take a step back and look at what’s actually going on.”

What’s going on now is the Leafs making their one and only season visit to San Jose after defeating the LA Kings 5-1 on Tuesday. The matchup with Toronto won’t be easy, much like the contest the Sharks just played on Tuesday against the conference-leading Nashville Predators.

“We know, like with Nashville, that we have to be on top of our game,” DeBoer summarized. “If you try and cheat, they can put up some goals really quickly on you.”