Sharks

Main reasons for Sharks' struggles in atypically disappointing season

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Main reasons for Sharks' struggles in atypically disappointing season

To say the Sharks' season thus far has been a major disappointment would be the understatement of 2020. San Jose is in the midst of its worst season in more than 15 years, and it has been a bumpy ride from the start.

The four consecutive losses to begin the season weren't the final nail in former head coach Peter DeBoer's coffin, but they did set his eventual dismissal in motion. A dismal October was counteracted by an impressive November, but a lengthy losing streak to begin December prompted Sharks general manager Doug Wilson to make a change behind the bench.

San Jose had been performing better under interim head coach Bob Boughner since the switch, but three blowout losses heading into the All-Star break have dried up any momentum the team had generated. The Sharks sit 11 points back of playoff positioning with 32 games left to play and several teams ahead of them to leapfrog. Here are the main three reasons San Jose finds itself in such unusually bad shape:

Goaltending 

The most obvious sign that a team's season has taken a wrong turn is a coaching change. The second-most obvious? A goalie switch.

Martin Jones entered the season as the Sharks' No. 1 goalie by default. His playoff experience, combined with his hefty and immovable contract, gave him the leg up on backup netminder Aaron Dell. But not all of that postseason experience has been impressive, and Jones didn't do anything to answer the question marks he entered the current season with. He lost nine of his first 11 starts, and the Sharks have only won one of his last 10. Over those two separate cold streaks, he failed to post a save percentage of .900 or better in 16 of the 21 games.

Other than stopping pucks, consistency is arguably the most important quality in a goaltender, and Jones simply wasn't providing that, nor has he for quite a while. Dell, on the other hand, has been a breath of fresh air since taking over the No. 1 spot, stealing Jones' job and running with it. While Dell's numbers aren't overly impressive since becoming the starter, they're better than Jones', and it's likely Dell's steady presence in net that has given Boughner the confidence to stick with him.

Despite the improved goaltending since the coaching change, the Sharks still rank near the bottom of the league in all of the important metrics. San Jose's cumulative save percentage (.891) ranks third-worst in the NHL, while the team's cumulative goals-against average (3.10) is tied for sixth-worst. And that's not the worst of it. The Sharks' goalies have actually performed substantially better when the team has been shorthanded than they have at even strength.

There are no obvious ways for the Sharks to improve their goaltending situation moving forward, so what you see is likely what you're going to get. If San Jose is going to make a second-half comeback, both Dell and Jones will have to be considerably better than we've seen thus far.

Power play

The Sharks are averaging nearly one fewer goal per game than a season ago, and when you combine that with some substandard goaltending, disaster ensues. Just ask DeBoer.

Some of that offensive drop-off was expected, but San Jose's fall from a power-play juggernaut to its current middling state certainly was not, at least not to this extent. Last season, the Sharks scored at the sixth-highest clip in the league with the man-advantage, scoring on 23.7 percent of their power-play opportunities. This season, that scoring rate has plummeted to 16.7 percent, seventh-worst in the NHL. And that's only half the problem.

Through the first 50 games, San Jose has had only 138 power-play opportunities (2.76 per game), the sixth-fewest in the league. Last season, the Sharks went on the power play 241 times, or 2.94 opportunities per game.

So, not only are the Sharks going on the power play less often, but they're also not being very effective with the opportunities they do get. For a team that has been shorthanded 163 times already (fourth-most in the NHL), that's just asking for trouble.

[RELATED: Sharks mailbag: Is Wilson's job as GM in serious jeopardy?]

Emergence of younger players

When Joe Pavelski, Gustav Nyquist and Joonas Donskoi departed in free agency over the offseason, the Sharks lost 58 goals -- or roughly one-fifth of their 2018-19 season total. It wasn't going to be easy to replace that kind of production, and with little in the way of offseason signings in the forward group, San Jose inevitably was going to be reliant on several of its younger players taking the next step in their development to help fill the void.

Well, that hasn't really happened.

Tomas Hertl, an injury-replacement All-Star, is on pace to score 25 goals after notching 35 a year ago. Timo Meier appeared to make the leap last season when he tallied 30 goals and 66 points, but he has failed to expand upon that promise in the current campaign. Barclay Goodrow might already have set a career-high with eight goals scored and Kevin Labanc is on pace to do the same, but even that improvement hasn't been as considerable as necessary. Furthermore, none of the prospects the team had hoped would explode on the scene actually have, whether it be Antti Suomela, Sasha Chmelevski or Dylan Gambrell. 21-year-old defenseman Mario Ferraro has been the one major bright spot, which should tell you everything you need to know about the current state of the Sharks.

San Jose entered the season as one of the oldest teams in the league and knew it would need some of its younger players to step up. They haven't, and while that already has negatively impacted the franchise's present, it could continue to moving forward if some players don't emerge.

Why Sharks' Logan Couture chose 'Girls Just Want To Have Fun' as goal song

Why Sharks' Logan Couture chose 'Girls Just Want To Have Fun' as goal song

With 4:22 seconds remaining in overtime, Sharks captain Logan Couture hammered in a game-winner to take down the New Jersey Devils, 3-2, at SAP Center on Thursday night. The Tank rose to its feet, cheers grew louder and louder and then, Couture's anthem ringed over the speakers. 

Sharks players now have "goal songs" that are played in San Jose after finding the back of the net. None are better than Couture's. Cue Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Want Have Fun." 

You truly love to see it. 

Couture gives all the credit to his girlfriend for his song of choice. 

"We were kind of foolin' around and tryin' to figure out a song and that's the first one she said, so I stuck with it," Couture said to reporters after the win. 

[RELATED: Rookie Ferraro on his way to becoming Sharks' cornerstone]

To Couture's girlfriend, we thank you. The goal snapped a five-game losing streak for the Sharks, and brought much needed fun to the home fans. 

Here's to more Cyndi Lauper being blasted across the SAP Center speakers.

Logan Couture opens up about difficult first season as Sharks captain

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Logan Couture opens up about difficult first season as Sharks captain

SAN JOSE – Logan Couture could sense the Sharks needed a boost. Whether he could provide one was another matter. The team’s captain hadn’t played or practiced in seven weeks rehabilitating a fractured ankle that might’ve still been unfit for duty during a dark time.

Couture knew that, even after a fired head coach and several serious injuries to star players, Tuesday was another low. General manager Doug Wilson traded Patrick Marleau, Brenden Dillion and Barclay Goodrow leading up to Monday’s trade deadline. Joe Thornton expressed interest in being moved and initial disappointment staying put.

Oh, and the Sharks had lost four straight on an extended road trip set to end that night in Philadelphia. Couture wasn’t sure if he was ready heading into game day and could’ve been forgiven for extending his absence to increase odds of returning in fine form. After all, the man hadn’t even practiced yet. He suited up and played the Flyers anyway.

Coming back in times of need is nothing new. Let’s not forget Couture’s the guy who played with two facial fractures and wiring to keep his teeth in place. That was the 2016-17 playoffs.

He still came rushing back, even with season already dead and buried.

“It was an emotional 24 hours seeing a lot of friends leave the team,” Couture told NBC Sports Bay Area on Thursday morning. “Honestly, it really was difficult. We understood the circumstances, [that the Sharks would be sellers at the deadline], but we were still a fragile group that day after losing guys. I figured I should go out be with the team. I wish I could’ve been better, but I did the best I could.”

Couture’s form wasn’t great in a loss to the Flyers, but his presence gave the Sharks a lift.

“It was an important time for him to get back into the lineup for a couple reasons,” Sharks interim head coach Bob Boughner said. “First of all, it was good for him to get that first game over with. Also, with the situation that surrounded us on the road trip with the rumors and the trade deadline. After losing some good people it was important to see our leader come back into the lineup.”

[RELATED: Doug Wilson hopes Sharks' youngsters can help team finish on high note]

Couture’s initial return brought positivity to a downtrodden group. His next appearance did even more. His overtime goal beat the New Jersey Devils 3-2 Thursday night and kickstarted a prolonged homestand where the Sharks hope to rebound despite losing so much talent to injury or trades.

“He played a ton of minutes, top-line minutes, on the penalty kill and power play,” Boughner said after a big win. “He did faceoffs when we need him and then hit the game-winner. That’s what those kinds of guys do. Logan leads by example.”

That’s his focus now that the Sharks seem set on playing young, fresh faces now seeing significant ice time as the organization plans for the future.

That doesn’t happen much in these parts. The team’s first-round pick way back in 2007 has missed the playoffs just once in 10 previous seasons. The second time’s coming this spring, in Couture’s first year as captain following an injury-impacted, subpar campaign by his own lofty standards.

Couture has taken that inevitability hard, looking inward first while trying to figure out what went wrong with the team and how to fix it.

“It has been difficult, and I’ve had a lot of learning experiences,” Couture said. “I think I could do several things better. I just don’t think I’ve done enough this year. I look at myself first and wish things were different.”

This major ankle injury and the surgery to repair it was the hardest to handle. It wasn’t rehab or the pain involved that bothered him. Couture hated watching his team struggle without being able to help or lead from the ice as he’s accustomed.

“It has been a tough year from a team standpoint and from a personal standpoint,” Couture said. “It has been difficult with me being injured and not traveling the last couple months until this last road trip. I have been away from these guys and that’s never fun. When you’re away from the team you almost don’t feel like you’re a part of the group. I think a lot of the leaders around here did a great job and carried a message to the young guys to work hard and show they deserve to be here.”

Couture’s primary focus is helping get guys in the locker room ready for the next game. He is, however, keeping an eye on the big picture. That makes sense considering he’s going to be around a while, working under a $64 million deal with a modified no-trade clause that runs through the 2026-27 season.

He’s a respected locker room leader who runs a leadership-by-committee outfit to lean on experience from an established veteran core. Those that remain from that group and are healthy have leaned on each other during a trying period they hope will be remembered as a speed bump on a run of sustained success.

“It has really been tough. There’s no softer way to put it,” Couture said. “This experience has been very, very difficult. Experiencing adversity like this, it’s all about how to react to it.

“…Our goal right now is pretty simple. We want to play as hard as we possibly can during the games we have left. We’re not going to make the playoffs, but we can finish the year strong as a team and as individuals. That’s what you want. That’s what we need. You don’t want to head into the summer regretting how you finished. You want to give everything you can. It will be weird not playing in April, but hopefully we learn and get better after everything we’ve been through.”