Martin Jones not sole cause of Sharks' defensive woes early in season

Martin Jones not sole cause of Sharks' defensive woes early in season

SAN JOSE – If you’ve seen the Sharks in the first 20 games this season, you’re well aware they aren't playing the way they want to on many nights. At least, not for the majority of a game.

San Jose usually starts strong, but tends to move away from the all-around defensive makeup that has been its foundation for the last few seasons. The result are breakaways and odd-man rushes that, all too often, end up in the back of the net.

“The frustrating part is just that we haven’t played to our identity,” Joe Pavelski summarized Thursday after the Sharks' 5-3 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs. “We do it for a few minutes … and then all of a sudden there’s a breakaway, and another breakaway. [Goaltender Martin Jones], we’re just hanging him out to dry at times with these odd-man rushes and chances.”

[RELATED: Why Sharks' tension with Nazem Kadri boiled over in loss to Maple Leafs]

There’s a lot of finger-pointing that occurs during times like this when a team is struggling, and right now, fans are criticizing Jones. When the Sharks start giving up those second-period goals, there’s no shortage of shade thrown in his direction.

Since this continues to be a talking point, here’s something to consider: This isn’t a black-and-white situation. There’s no one single player, or one single aspect of the game for that matter, that can take full blame. This is a collective effort that needs to be addressed by all members of the team.

Both the goaltending and the defense in front of the net have to be better if the Sharks are going to get back to the identity Pavelski mentioned.

Putting all the blame squarely on Jones’ shoulders doesn’t solve anything. When his teammates come out and say they need to play better in front of him, that’s the truth.

Besides, a team that lives and dies solely on how their goaltender performs isn’t going to have long-term success.

Look at what happened to the 2015-2016 Montreal Canadiens, who notched a nine-game winning streak to start the season and then spiraled into the abyss when netminder Carey Price was injured. Or look at this current season where the struggling Anaheim Ducks got a few wins early in the season after relying heavily on John Gibson’s performance between the pipes, only to come back to reality as Gibson's workload began to wear on him.

As far as the home team is concerned, the Sharks do need to play better in front of Jones – for a full 60 minutes, anyways. 

One of San Jose’s problems is, as coach Peter DeBoer classified after Thursday's loss, a lack of consistency. A strong start to a game followed by bouts of loose play that lead to San Jose turning over the puck. Entering Thursday, the Sharks out-scored their opponents 24-12 in first periods, but were bested 16-25 in second periods.

“When we’re playing at our best, we see how successful it makes us,” defenseman Brenden Dillon said of the inconsistent play. “We’re really not doing that for a full 60 minutes right now, we’re doing it in spurts.”

Those spurts are letting opponents find room to score.

Now, this isn’t a clean-cut problem that rests solely on the defense either. Jones has a .894 save percentage through 15 starts and has allowed 44 goals during that span. While he’s made some crucial late-game saves to keep the Sharks chances of winning alive, he’s also let some of those game-changing chances get by him. There’s no question these are areas that need improvement. 

But again, Jones isn’t the only one to blame. Keep in mind, the Sharks' toughest defensive outing was their 4-0 loss to the St. Louis Blues, and Jones wasn’t even in goal for that loss.

Speaking of St. Louis, the Blues visit the Sharks on Saturday for the first meeting since that 4-0 beatdown. Will the Sharks get revenge? Will they bounce back from their outing against the Leafs? Will they play that full 60 that puts their identity as a defensive force on display? 

They’ll need a complete defensive push from everyone, not just their goaltender, if that’s going to be possible.

2020 NHL All-Star Game live stream: How to watch tournament online

NBC Sports

2020 NHL All-Star Game live stream: How to watch tournament online

The players put on a show at the NHL All-Star Skills Competition in St. Louis on Friday night. On Saturday, they'll go head-to-head in the 2020 NHL All-Star Game at Enterprise Center.

Sharks forward Tomas Hertl didn't win any events on Friday, but he'll be one of the talks of the town heading into Saturday's exhibition due to the stunt he pulled against Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington in the Bud Light NHL Save Streak competition. It's unlikely he'll have a Justin Bieber mask stowed away under his jersey during Saturday's All-Star Game, but based on his personality, it wouldn't come as a shock if he had any other surprises in store.

[RELATED: Sharks' Hertl brings fun to NHL skills event with Bieber mask]

As San Jose's lone All-Star representative, Hertl will team up with the other members of the Pacific Division squad in an attempt to claim divisional supremacy over the rest of the league. The 2020 NHL All-Star Game will feature a two-round, three-game tournament in which the league's four divisions will square off. Each 20-minute game will be played 3-on-3, with teams changing sides at the 10-minute mark. Any game tied after 20 minutes of play will be decided by shootout.

In Round One, the two Eastern Conference divisions (Atlantic and Metropolitan) will face off, while the two Western Conference divisions (Central and Pacific) will battle in Round Two. The two winners then advance to Round Three where they'll face each other to determine the overall champion.

Here's how to watch the 2020 NHL All-Star Game online:

When: Saturday, Jan. 25, at 5 p.m. PT
Live Stream:

Sharks' Tomas Hertl brings the fun to NHL All-Star Skills Competition


Sharks' Tomas Hertl brings the fun to NHL All-Star Skills Competition

Leave it to Tomas Hertl to put a smile on everyone's face.

The self-described "smiley guy" is the Sharks' lone representative at NHL All-Star Weekend in St. Louis, and he didn't take long to show the Enterprise Center crowd why he fills that role so well during the All-Star Skills Competition on Friday night.

Hertl participated in two events on the evening, and got the crowd on its feet both times. But it was his first event -- the Bud Light NHL Save Streak -- during which he created one of the highlights of the entire night.

The Save Streak competition pits goalies against one another to see how many consecutive breakaway saves they can make. Tampa Bay's Andrei Vasilevskiy held the lead with nine consecutive stops with only the hometown Jordan Binnington left to go. The Blues goaltender recently challenged musician Justin Bieber to a breakaway competition on Twitter, in which he said he would die his hair platinum blonde if Bieber scored at least once on 10 breakaway attempts.

Clearly, Hertl was paying attention, because he had a surprise for Binnington on his own breakaway attempt.

See for yourself:

Hertl didn't score on his hilarious attempt, but it's tough to blame him for two reasons. For one -- and perhaps most importantly -- he had a gigantic Justin Bieber mask over his entire face. Secondly, Binnington would go on to stop six more shots in a row after Hertl to win the event with a streak of 10.

[RELATED: Sharks' Karlsson named to NHL's All-Decade Second Team]

The 26-year-old forward wasn't done for the night, though. He participated in the next event -- the Honda NHL Accuracy Shooting -- as well.

The Accuracy Shooting competition involves a series of shooters attempting to hit five targets on a digital board. Hertl might have the best mits on the Sharks, and he wasted no time showing them off in St. Louis, knocking down four targets on his first four shot attempts. The crowd got louder and louder as it appeared Hertl might complete a perfect round in very short order, but unfortunately, the crescendo had to wait. Hertl struggled to hit the final target, requiring nine more attempts to close it out. Carolina's Jacob Slavvin ultimately won the event, hitting all five targets in only 9.505 seconds, considerably faster than Hertl's time of 17.161.

So, Hertl wasn't victorious in any one event at the Skills Competition, but he undoubtedly will be remembered as one of the big winners of the night. After all, as he likes to say, "Fun must be always."