Five observations with Sharks facing elimination in Game 5 vs. Vegas

Five observations with Sharks facing elimination in Game 5 vs. Vegas

After twelve periods of this first round, the Sharks have experienced some highs, and more lows and now find themselves one bad contest away from elimination.  In order to advance, they’ll have to perform flawlessly three games in a row.  The main frustration after Game 4 comes from “what could have been”… a statement win by San Jose would have been a statement in leveling the series, on the road, despite back-to-back losses, and all without the suspended Joe Thornton.     
1. The results are not getting easier to digest.  Game 2 saw the Sharks post a valiant early comeback, only to fall short late on two shorthanders and a controversial call. Game 3 saw the Sharks give up first-minute goals in every period and never really give themselves a chance.  Game 4 didn’t see the Sharks light the lamp.  What’s amazing is that Game 1’s outcome and elation was only one week ago, but now feels like an eternity.
2. It’s tough to name a best Sharks player from Game 4. Marcus Sorensen hit two posts. Tomas Hertl had five shots, and Logan Couture laid six hits. There was not a standout performance of note.  

There were also not sustained stretches where you could say San Jose was dangerous with the puck. Their best looks came late in the first period while Shea Theodore served a slashing penalty, but it was ultimately Theodore who came out of the box and made it a 2-0 game before the first intermission.
3. Discipline didn’t help. The Sharks were chasing the scoreboard all night long, and despite outshooting Las Vegas 18-7 in the first, San Jose only had two shots on goal in the final period. A majority of that was due to all the Golden Knight Power Play time in the third, as San Jose was in the box six separate times in the last twenty minutes alone.
4. The ailments are obvious and mounting. Erik Karlsson doesn’t look normal and seems to be doing his very best to conceal and perform through the lower-body injury. Timo Meier played only 11:29 which must indicate some effects of that spill he took back in Edmonton are greater than we know.  Logan Couture only skated 14:29, which makes me curious, especially in a game where the Sharks were already down a regular centerman in Thornton.  

Not to mention however Joe Pavelski’s mouth is surviving in trying to eat and sleep regularly, and the absence of Marc-Edouard Vlasic who got hit with a puck.  All teams standing are banged up at this juncture, none of them use it as an excuse, but it should be noted some things we can’t see could be factoring into the results we are witnessing.

[RELATED: Sharks' frustration with Fluery evident after Game 4 loss]
5. Who is the favored goalie to start Game 5?  If you believe in the “parachute” mentality, Pete DeBoer has already pulled the ripcord, and it’s Aaron Dell’s chance to make a stand. It also might make more sense considering Martin Jones has been pulled in each of the last two.  

The bigger factor is that overall play without the puck still continues to put the Sharks in difficult situations. Odd man rushes. Unmarked netfront chances. When you’re allowing too many key opportunities, and not getting nearly enough key saves, the combination doesn’t lead to great places.

Sharks top prospect Ryan Merkley modeling his game after Erik Karlsson

Sharks top prospect Ryan Merkley modeling his game after Erik Karlsson

When it comes to the Sharks' top prospects, 19-year-old defenseman Ryan Merkley is in a tier unto himself.

San Jose selected Merkley with the No. 21 overall pick of the 2018 NHL Draft after he slipped due to character concerns. His talent, however, has never been in question and was too good to pass up.

Merkley impressed during his participation in the Sharks' rookie camp last September, and just completed what is likely to be his final season in junior hockey with the OHL's London Knights. With 15 goals and 76 points, he was the OHL's second-highest scoring defenseman, and his 61 assists ranked fourth-most in the entire league. London's season was brought to a premature conclusion due to the coronavirus pandemic, at which time the Knights sat in first place in their conference with a 45-15-2 record. San Jose's top prospect played a key role in their success.

"Ryan had a very good year," Sharks scouting director Doug Wilson Jr. said last week on a conference call (H/T The Athletic's Kevin Kurz). "In his career, every single season he scored more goals, he had more assists, he had more points and his plus-minus got better all four years in the OHL. I’m very excited about Ryan."

Always an offensive standout, Merkley is a great skater with advanced vision and tremendous passing ability. Though he has added more than 10 pounds in weight since the rookie camp, he's never going to be an imposing physical specimen, and his defense definitely is the area where he'll need to improve most. The Sharks, however, have someone specific in mind for him to learn from and model his game after.

"The biggest thing with [Merkley] was he’s never going to hit guys like Brent Burns or Radim Simek, he’s going to play defense more like Erik Karlsson," Wilson Jr. added. "If we can get him to use his stick to angle guys off in the neutral zone and then get the puck going north faster, that’s how he’s going to play defense. I think that’s what you saw this year with him."

Karlsson has long been regarded as one of the top defensemen in the NHL, and deservedly so. He signed an eight-year contract extension prior to the currently-paused season, so he should be around for quite a while. Merkley has a long way to go to get on Karlsson's level, but he already has been studying the former Norris Trophy winner for some time now.

"Yeah. He’s not the biggest of bodies, but he’s a great skater and closes up the gap well, makes that great first pass," Merkley told Kurz about Karlsson. "I do think there are some similarities and things I can look up to. Obviously, he’s one of the best in the world. So [Wilson Jr.] and [the Sharks staff] were big on me watching him and watching the way he defends. It’s just (about) growing, getting better and getting more reps."

In addition to Karlsson, Merkley has another Sharks' defenseman to learn from in Mario Ferraro. They roomed together during the rookie camp, and Merkley made sure to follow Ferraro's extremely successful rookie season.

"For sure, it was awesome for him. I was excited for Mario," Merkley said. "He got a good chunk of NHL games. He’s a workhorse. I’ve never seen anybody (take care of) the body and (do) what he does off the ice. It’s incredible. He never stops moving out there, his work ethic is incredible. He’ll play a long time in the league because there’s not many that take care of their body like that or work as hard as he does. It’s awesome, something I can look up to and follow."

[RELATED: What NHL's potential 24-team return could mean for Sharks]

Ferraro projects as a future top-pair defenseman and it wouldn't be surprising if he eventually was involved in the captaincy. The Sharks are hoping Merkley turns out just as well.

And, if they end up with another Karlsson ... that's the dream.

NHLPA OKs further talks with NHL on 24-team return; Sharks' season could end


NHLPA OKs further talks with NHL on 24-team return; Sharks' season could end

The NHL and the players' association took a big step toward returning to the ice, but it could mean the Sharks' 2019-20 season is over.

The NHLPA announced Friday night that it has "authorized further negotiations with the NHL" on a 24-team return to play format.

As the players' association noted, the sides still have more details to work out before the league officially can resume the season that was suspended in March because of the coronavirus pandemic.

While no specifics were provided on the teams that would be allowed to resume playing, the Sharks are not one of the 24 best teams in the NHL standings.

The Sharks possessed the worst record in the Western Conference (29-36-5; 63 points) and the third-worst record in the NHL when the season was suspended.

[RELATED: What went wrong for Sharks]

If this is how the Sharks' season concludes, it will put an end to a campaign in which the team entered with high expectations.

Last season, the Sharks made it to the Western Conference finals before losing to the eventual Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues.

The Sharks again were expected to contend for the Stanley Cup this season, but the departure of several veterans, combined with poor play early in the campaign, led to the firing of coach Peter DeBoer after 33 games. Bob Boughner took over as interim coach, but San Jose skated to just a 14-20-3 record under him.