Sharks

Potential pitfalls await Sharks on road trip

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USATSI

Potential pitfalls await Sharks on road trip

​Editor's note: This article was originally published before the Oilers-Flames game Tuesday night. It has since been updated to reflect the final score of that game. 

On paper, the Sharks’ upcoming three-game road trip seems like the easiest stretch left this season. Each opponent -- the Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames, and Vancouver Canucks -- is on the outside looking in to the playoff picture, and the Sharks are a combined 7-1-1 against them.

But potential pitfalls await in each stop, and if the Sharks falter, their postseason pursuit will surely be affected. Each opponent has the potential to trip up San Jose, so let’s examine just how they could.

The McDavid Show

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Yes, Edmonton is a mismanaged mess that will only have one trip to the second round to show for Connor McDavid’s entry-level contract. Even with a three-game winning streak that was snapped Tuesday, the Oilers are only 8-11-1 since the All-Star break. 

But as long as McDavid is, well, Connor McDavid, Edmonton can hang with the best. And boy, has he been Connor McDavid lately.

In 20 games since the break, he has scored at nearly a goal-per-game rate (18 goals), and added 12 more assists. McDavid’s been held off the scoresheet in just three games, and all but one was an Edmonton loss.

In all, the Oilers are 27-19-2 when McDavid scores at least a point this year, and 3-16-2 when he doesn’t. The Sharks will likely avoid a letdown in Edmonton if they can keep him off the scoresheet, but that’s easier said than done.

Too Little, Too Late?

Even with a win in Tuesday night’s Battle of Alberta, the Flames are going to be desperate against the Sharks on Friday. They trail the last Wild Card and the last spot in the Pacific Division by two points after Tuesday's win, but the teams Calgary is chasing -- Dallas and Los Angeles -- each have a game in hand. 

The Flames will have to jump Anaheim, which also has a game in hand. So, a loss to San Jose could mean the end of Calgary's postseason hopes.

The Sharks have plenty to play for, too, but their season isn’t quite yet on the line. The power play has also cooled substantially since beating Calgary twice in December, which was the difference in those two wins.

Plus, only two teams have controlled a higher share of five-on-five shot attempts (55.11 percent, per Natural Stat Trick) and unblocked shot attempts (54.24 percent) over its last 25 games than Calgary. Mike Smith, who owns a .940 save percentage against the Sharks, is now healthy. He shut out the Oilers on Tuesday, and the Flames getting goaltending to match their possession prowess is a scary proposition.

The Trap Game

The Sharks’ last matchup against the Not-Yet-Official Seattle Franchise’s soon-to-be biggest rival has major letdown potential. The lottery-bound Canucks have lost four games in a row (and seven of eight) as of Wednesday, Calder Trophy contender Brock Boeser is likely out for the remainder of the season, and it’s the second night of a back-to-back on Saturday.

They’re 3-0-1 against Vancouver this season, but they’ve arguably been outplayed. Adjusting for score and venue effects, the Sharks have controlled just 47.69 percent of the five-on-five shot attempts, 44.73 percent of the unblocked attempts, and 48.08 percent of the scoring chances, according to Natural Stat Trick.

Despite that, they’ve outscored the Canucks 8-5 in five-on-five play. That discrepancy seems like a good reflection of the talent discrepancies between San Jose and Vancouver, which only get larger with Boeser on the shelf.

Still, Monday’s win over Detroit was yet another example of how tenuous those wins can be. If the Sharks’ finishing falters and their possession game doesn’t improve, they’ll be in for a late-season letdown.

Sharks not making excuses after being 'out-competed' by defending champs

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Sharks not making excuses after being 'out-competed' by defending champs

SAN JOSE -- It’s never fun to see a winning streak come to an end. For the Sharks, it was a six-gamer that both started and ended with the Washington Capitals. 

There was no complex reason why San Jose failed to dominate the defending Stanley Cup champions like they had dominated the few teams they had just faced on the road. Nobody on the team was going to point the finger or make excuses. The Sharks said it themselves -- they didn’t have that jump on Thursday night.

“We’ve had some pretty good nights in the last month, but tonight wasn’t our best,” Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer said after the 5-1 loss. “We couldn’t outscore our problems tonight.”

Evander Kane agreed, telling NBC Sports California there wasn’t too much to dissect when it came to looking at the defeat. “They out-competed us,” he summarized. “We weren’t good with the puck tonight, that’s really all you can dissect from that. If we get back to where our compete level (was) the last little while here and manage the puck better, we’ll give ourselves a better chance to win.”

The Sharks looked more than ready to compete at puck drop, even getting on the scoreboard first thanks to an early goal from Kevin Labanc. But the Capitals quickly took over the pace of the game, hemming the Sharks in their own zone and tangling up the offense every chance they created. The Capitals even outshot the Sharks in the game -- something rarely seen this season from a Sharks squad currently ranked second in the league with an average 34.1 shots per game

San Jose was within reach of tying things up when they were down just 2-1, but Washington didn’t give them much room to create any momentum. After Alex Ovechkin was left open to find the back of the net and extend the Capitals’ lead to 3-1, Washington all but controlled the pace for the rest of the game. 

“We didn’t have much pace and execution as the game went on,” captain Joe Pavelski admitted, adding that, with a couple days of practice and preparation, the team should’ve had more jump. “There’s never an explanation why you do that,” he said, shaking his head. “We were prepared and there’s no excuses.”

[RELATED: Sharks can benefit from topsy-turvy division down stretch]

The only course of action from here on, then, is to be better for the next game -- Saturday, when the Canucks visit. The Sharks have just two more games at home before heading back on the road, and not a lot of room for hiccups with just 24 games left in the regular season.

Sharks takeaways: What we learned from 5-1 loss to Washington Capitals

Sharks takeaways: What we learned from 5-1 loss to Washington Capitals

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE -- If we were to go overboard with Valentine’s Day puns, we might’ve called the Sharks’ game against the Capitals on Thursday night a “heartbreaker” or one that “lost that love and feeling.” 

But at the end of 60 minutes, there were no puns needed. It simply wasn’t the Sharks best game, as they dropped their second and final matchup of the season with the defending Stanley Cup champs, 5-1.

Here are three takeaways from Thursday’s game: 

It’s probably a good thing San Jose doesn’t play Washington more often…

… because the pace of their two games this season has been brutal. Like the matchup back on January 22, Thursday’s game was a fast end-to-end affair. The play was so fast, more than one skater wiped out during the course of the contest.

This was also a heavier game than the 7-6 contest these teams previously played against each other. Washington did a particularly good job tangling San Jose’s offense up, which contributed to the Sharks only scoring one goal on the evening.

On that note …

This wasn’t the same back-and-forth game we saw last month

Unlike the previous game against Washington -- unlike their last several games, really -- the Sharks had trouble getting a lot of quality offensive zone time on Thursday. They spent a good portion of the contest hemmed in their own end, and were uncharacteristically outshot for the entire game. On the couple good chances they generated, they weren’t able to bury them.

After the morning skate on Wednesday, defenseman Brenden Dillon told the media the team couldn’t get comfortable just because they had a nice winning streak going. San Jose didn’t look comfortable by any means, but they also didn’t look as crisp and confident as they did through the four games they just played on the road.

Best to put this one in the rearview mirror

San Jose may not have gotten any more points in the standings, but that didn’t stop the teams around them from continuing to gain ground around them. Although the Flames lost in a shootout earlier in the evening, Calgary gained a point in the standings to tie the Sharks with 75. 

[RELATED: Sharks can benefit from topsy-turvy division down stretch]

With just 24 games left in the season, San Jose needs to pick up the pieces from Thursday evening and move on. The Sharks have the Canucks coming into town on Saturday and a Boston Bruins squad -- who currently has a winning streak going -- visiting on Monday. With as good as San Jose has been on their home ice so far this season, putting this second game against the Caps behind them is best.