Sharks

How struggles in faceoff circle plagued Sharks on disastrous road trip

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How struggles in faceoff circle plagued Sharks on disastrous road trip

That is not how the Sharks wanted to enter the All-Star break.

Coming off consecutive wins over the Columbus Blue Jackets and Dallas Stars, San Jose had a chance to reach the unofficial midway point of the regular season riding a massive wave of momentum, perhaps large enough to carry the team back to the postseason. All that sat between the Sharks and that development was a crucial three-game road trip against Western Conference foes.

At the very least, San Jose needed to keep its head above water. Instead, the Sharks drowned in disaster.

Facing the Arizona Coyotes, Colorado Avalanche and Vancouver Canucks -- all teams San Jose potentially would have to leapfrog to make the playoffs -- the Sharks reverted back to kind of performances that put them in such a deep hole in the first place.

San Jose was outscored 14-4 and outshot 117-73 over the course of the three games. Those two stats obviously are interconnected, but Sharks interim head coach Bob Boughner pointed to another area of failure as a big reason for his team's struggles.

"The big difference this road trip is we've been horrible in the faceoff circle," Boughner said following the 4-1 loss in Vancouver on Saturday night. "You're never starting with the puck. Even in the offensive zone, you're chasing, and you can't chase pucks all night. That limits your possessions and tires you out."

Boughner's correct. The Sharks were thoroughly dominated in the faceoff circle over the course of the road trip, which might have had something to do with them scoring only one goal over its final six periods of play. San Jose won only 45.1 percent of the draws against the Coyotes, 45.6 percent against the Avalanche and only 38.0 percent against the Canucks.

It's only the third time this season the Sharks have won fewer than 49.0 percent of the draws in three straight games, and the most recent instance also coincided with a three-game losing streak. Whether it's shooting, scoring or simply gaining possession of the puck, Boughner is hoping the All-Star break will provide the Sharks with the needed respite to address their shortcomings.

"This is probably a great break for everybody, mentally," Boughner said. "Recharge the batteries and come back and try to forget about this week of hockey and put a good week in as soon as we get back."

[RELATED: Report: Wilson won't disrupt Sharks' core at trade deadline]

The Sharks' final week heading into the All-Star break was an unmitigated disaster. If they're still planning on qualifying for the postseason, they can't have any more like it.

Doug Wilson admits Bob Boughner has 'upper hand' to stay Sharks' coach

Doug Wilson admits Bob Boughner has 'upper hand' to stay Sharks' coach

Throughout his lengthy tenure as Sharks general manager, Doug Wilson had never made a mid-season coaching change prior to firing Peter DeBoer on Dec. 11 and promoting Bob Boughner to interim head coach. While no decision has been made on whether or not Boughner will be retained moving forward, it sure sounds like Wilson is heavily leaning in that direction.

Wilson provided an update Thursday in a conference call with reporters on how the Sharks currently area proceeding given the indefinite pause of the NHL season due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, and spoke very highly of the job Boughner did in an interim capacity.

"We know we've got some work to be ready for next season, whenever that may be," Wilson said, "but while our results for the year aren't where we needed them to be or want them to be, I was pleased to see some of the overall play improved over the last half of the year. I thought more often than not we were playing the game the right way ... I thought we played as a team with identity and structure more so in the second part of the year."

The coaching change didn't produce immediate improvement, but San Jose eventually found a more consistent game with Boughner at the helm. The Sharks went 14-20-3 after the coaching switch, and they likely would have been even more competitive if not for severe injuries to several key players.

"I think Bougie and his staff did a lot of good things," Wilson continued. "They were certainly hamstrung with many of our top players out at times, it was almost like a patchwork lineup. But the things we were looking for, I thought were addressed. Bougie and I have talked a lot about just clarifying how we want to play, and ultimately, getting your team to commit to playing the right way for longer periods of time, regardless of your talent level. 

"So, he and I will go through this process. We'll keep those discussions in private, but I think there's no doubt the things that I talked about that improved as the year went on ... Bougie and his staff deserve a lot of credit."

That would seem to be an odd amount of praise for someone Wilson doesn't plan to bring back -- if that indeed is that case. Wilson went as far as to admit Boughner has a significant advantage over other potential candidates.

"Does Bob know our group and have the upper hand in this process? Absolutely," he said. "But I think you have to be thorough in this process."

Indeed, it sounds like Boughner already has a leg up on the potential competition. Still, Wilson knows he wouldn't be doing his job if he was limiting the scope in any way.

"You're always looking for ways to improve your hockey team," Wilson explained. "Whether it be player-wise, staff-wise ... our list of things that we need to address is pretty extensive. You use this time wisely, and you have to explore those things.

"My responsibility is to put the best group together to help us get to the next level, but there's no doubt that those guys are all valuable people to this organization. But are we excluding adding other people? Absolutely not. ... Missing the playoffs is not something we take lightly, and we will explore every area -- players, coaching staff, additional people -- to make this a better hockey team."

[RELATED: Sharks get great injury news on Couture, Hertl and Karlsson]

It's going to be an extremely important -- albeit unprecedented -- offseason for San Jose.

There is a lot of work to be done to get the Sharks back to a level of contention, and deciding on who will be behind the bench certainly ranks near the top of the list.

Sharks' injured stars expected to make full recovery by training camp

Sharks' injured stars expected to make full recovery by training camp

It has been nearly three full months since the last time Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl and Erik Karlsson all played in the same game for the Sharks.

Couture scored with precisely one minute remaining in regulation on Jan. 5 to give San Jose a commanding two-goal lead on the road against the Washington Capitals. In what would turn out to be arguably the most crushing loss of their season, the Sharks proceeded to give up two goals over the final minute before losing 5-4 in overtime.

That was the insult. Next came the injury.

In the second period of San Jose's next game on Jan. 7 against the St. Louis Blues, Couture took an awkward fall into the end boards and emerged with a fractured ankle. He would miss the next 17 games while recovering. By the time he returned to the lineup on Feb. 25, both Hertl and Karlsson's seasons had already ended.

Hertl tore the ACL and MCL in his left knee in a 5-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Jan. 29. Just over two weeks later, Karlsson was placed on season-ending injured reserve after breaking his left thumb against the Winnipeg Jets on Feb. 14.

While the Sharks certainly experienced their fair share of struggles earlier in the season, the severe injuries endured by arguably their three best players were always going to be too much to overcome. San Jose wasn't anywhere near playoff position when the NHL season was indefinitely paused on March 12 due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Though it remains to be seen if and when it will resume, it's safe to assume the franchise's postseason streak has come to an end.

Yep, the last few months have been pretty dark for the Sharks. Not being able to play games isn't helping, but the clouds might be parting.

In addition to restocking their draft cupboard at the trade deadline, the Sharks had two collegiate standouts -- John Leonard and Brinson Pasichnuk -- officially agree to join the organization Wednesday. On a conference call with reporters on Thursday, San Jose general manager Doug Wilson hinted that some more signings might be coming down the pipe in short order.

The most promising update Wilson provided, however, was how Couture, Hertl and Karlsson are progressing from their respective injuries.

In Couture's seventh game back in the lineup, he took a puck to the face -- the guy has the worst luck -- and was placed in concussion protocol as a precautionary measure on March 8. That was San Jose's penultimate game before the season was indefinitely paused, and he has been symptom-free ever since. The only thing preventing Couture from hopping back out on the ice -- if that were a possibility right now -- likely is his conditioning level, something he recently took steps to address

"Logan is feeling really good," Wilson told reporters. "I've talked to him quite a few times over the last little while. He has used the time really well. Sounds good, he got himself a Peloton, so he's riding every day. He's just about all the way back."

Like Couture, Karlsson's recovery hasn't been set back by the coronavirus pandemic.

"Erik is close to being all the way back," Wilson said, "and will be 100 percent for next season."

Though Hertl's injury was far more serious than the other two, his injury update was the most promising of the three.

"We got great news on Tomas Hertl," Wilson informed. "Talked to him yesterday. He's well ahead of schedule. Everything is going extremely well, and there should be no doubts with him being ready when next season starts, too."

Wilson insisted that all Sharks players and personnel are adhering to government recommendations and social distancing, but Hertl still has access to the team's training facility as he goes about his rehab. Wilson believes that access, combined with Hertl's previous knee injuries, has expedited his recovery this time around.

"He has been able to go to the facility and rehab with [head athletic trainer] Ray Tufts," Wilson explained. "He has got full flexibility and extension of his knee. I think what has happened, too, is he has the benefit -- we say that now; not a benefit at the time but it certainly is now -- he knows the process to go through. This is not an unknown for him.

"And talking to him yesterday, he just sounded outstanding. He's healed up, he's rested, he has got full extension. He has got some strengthening to do, but he said he even feels that he's well ahead of where he thought he would be, and that's been confirmed by our training staff and Ray Tufts, also."

[RELATED: Sharks' restocked draft picks, college signings offer hope]

We don't know when the next NHL season will begin. Heck, we don't even know if the current one will continue.

But whenever the Sharks next take the ice with a legitimate chance to contend for the postseason, it appears they'll have all three of Couture, Hertl and Karlsson in tow, which will be a huge help.

If San Jose is going to emerge from the recent darkness, those three likely will need to lead the way.