Sharks

Power play at the center of Sharks' downfall in 2016-17

Power play at the center of Sharks' downfall in 2016-17

SAN JOSE – There was an NHL coaching casualty on Monday on a team that flamed out in the first round.

No, it wasn’t in San Jose. It was in Chicago, as the Blackhawks fired assistant coach Mike Kitchen, who was in charge of their penalty kill. Chicago, swept by Nashville despite finishing atop the Western Conference, finished 24th on the PK in the regular season.

When it comes to the Sharks’ coaching staff, there’s no doubt that head coach Pete DeBoer will return, but it’s fair to wonder if assistant coach Steve Spott is feeling a little heat right now. The Sharks’ power play, a primary focus of Spott’s, finished just 25th in the NHL this season (16.7 percent) after it was third in the league in 2015-16 (22.5 percent).

When asked if the full Sharks’ coaching staff would return next season, general manager Doug Wilson didn’t offer anything definitive.

“I haven’t sat down with them yet. I think they did an outstanding job,” Wilson said. “You go through the last 12 months with a compressed schedule, very few practices, integrating players. I’m very pleased with their performance.

“I think there are things that they want to do better. We all have to take a look back and be honest, and say since we’re not playing right now, what can we do better? I think that transparency and honesty is a really good part of this group. We’ll do that in the next week.”

And what was Wilson’s perspective of the power play?

“It’s got to be better. [The coaches] will tell you. …  It’s not [always] the percentage or the number, it’s when you score goals. We certainly have the talent, and historically we’ve done very well,” Wilson said.

There was no part of the Sharks’ game during the regular season and in the playoffs that was more baffling and frustrating than its performance with a man advantage. Last season’s success seemed to bleed into October as the Sharks were running at a 24.1 percent rate through the first month of the 2016-17 season, but after November 1 and through the end of the season, the power play was a miserable 15.7 percent (34-for-217).

In the playoffs the Sharks were a more respectable 5-for-28, but even DeBoer called that misleading as four of those came in the 7-0 blowout in Game 4. They were 1-for-18 the rest of the series.

DeBoer, as the head coach, took responsibility for that part of the Sharks’ game when asked how much the miserable power play grinded on Spott.

“It grinds on all of us,” he said. “This isn’t about Steve. The power play is not about Steve. The power play is about our whole staff. We sit on all those situations as a group, and I’m the ultimate guy responsible for all those things. 

“I think it ground on all of us. It didn’t give us momentum, it didn’t create momentum even when it wasn’t scoring. That’s what you want your power play to do, is at least give you some momentum that you’re feeling good coming out of it. We didn’t get that, so that’s something that’s right at the top of our list.”

One baffling aspect of the power play is that the coaching staff hardly ever tried anything different with its units unless it was forced into it due to injury. Patrick Marleau was bumped from the top unit for a brief stretch in the middle of the season, but it didn’t last very long.

The second unit generated just seven goals in the 82-game season, and none after Feb. 2 other than rookie Danny O’Regan’s score in the final game when several Sharks regulars were resting.

One argument regarding the top unit is that it simply became too predictable. Joe Thornton could be counted on to pass, Brent Burns was going to shoot any chance he got, and Joe Pavelski would be hovering somewhere around the slot looking for a deflection.

Pavelski said: “There were times where maybe we rushed it, forced a few things. Definitely all year it could have been a little better, a little more of our identity and what it has been in the past. So, that’s on us as players.”

DeBoer said: “I think we got a little stagnant. I don’t think we had as much motion as we usually have and as much movement, and that comes with some confidence. You lose confidence, you tend to stand still. That’s something that we’ve got to get back.”

Erik Karlsson relieved to score but focused on winning with Sharks

Erik Karlsson relieved to score but focused on winning with Sharks

SAN JOSE — Scoring your first goal of the season certainly is cause for celebration. Maybe even some extra-exuberant cheering and shouting. 

After defenseman Erik Karlsson scored his first goal as a Shark in their 4-0 win over the St. Louis Blues on Saturday night, there were rumors he’d let some choice language fly.

“I don’t know if I said it in Swedish or English,” he jokingly told the media after the game at SAP Center. “If I said it in English, unfortunately it might be out there. If not, then you’re going to have to play the guessing game.”

Not that anyone could blame him for using some colorful verbiage. The pressure on the Swedish defenseman has been incredibly high since he arrived in San Jose at the start of training camp in September.

While he’s been contributing to the team on the back end during the Sharks' six-game homestand, Karlsson’s continued lack of goal production had his critics whipped into a frenzy. 

Finally notching that elusive goal helped put his entire body of work thus far into perspective.

“He’s been playing some really good hockey, and he’s been really solid for us lately,” Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said. 

“It’s nice to see one go in here for him tonight,” forward Joe Pavelski complimented. “He wants to contribute. He has, in a lot of ways, just maybe not in the goal department.”

Karlsson has been pitching in as a helper on San Jose’s goals over the homestand, including in the second period of Saturday’s game when he set up Evander Kane’s tally to give the Sharks a 3-0 lead. He’s now riding a three-game assist streak with five points (one goal, four assists) in his last three games.

“I’ve been feeling good all year. It just hasn’t worked out on the score sheet,” Karlsson said. “But sometimes, that’s the way it is.”

The defenseman admitted he felt a sense of relief after he notched that first goal on the season, but he also emphasized he’s more concerned with how it helped the Sharks get a bounce-back victory over the Blues. 

“I think the win was extra good after the game against (the Toronto Maple Leafs),” Karlsson said. “I don’t think we played well there. To have this game tonight was important for us, and it shows character in the room.”

Now with that first goal out of the way, Karlsson’s critics perhaps can leave him to focus on helping his team win more games.

“I’m not here to play an individual game,” he summarized. “It’s nice to finally get one in the back of the net. But at the end of the day, this is a great win.”

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 4-0 shutout win over Blues

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 4-0 shutout win over Blues

SAN JOSE -– After being shut out 4-0 by Chad Johnson and the St. Louis Blues just eight days ago, the Sharks were looking for payback.

Boy, did they get it Saturday night. 

Fueled by Erik Karlsson’s first goal as a member of the Sharks, San Jose got back to its roots and put up an all-around defensive effort to pummel the Blues by a score of -– drumroll, please -– 4-0. 

Here are three takeaways from the game at SAP Center:

Karlsson’s big night

It took 21 games — and, as one fan on Twitter pointed out, exactly 65 days since he was acquired from Ottawa — but the two-time Norris Trophy winner finally found the back of the net.

Of course he also did it in epic fashion, banging home a one-timer that Johnson didn’t even see coming. You could see the relief on Karlsson’s face as the cameras zoomed in on him after the goal.

With that elusive first marker out of the way, it doesn’t hurt to wonder if that goal will open the floodgates. Karlsson’s individual game has visibly improved over the Sharks’ current six-game homestand, Saturday was his second consecutive game with two points, and his third n a row with at least one. 

Dell was a brick wall

Aaron Dell wasn’t tested as much this time around as he was against the Blues eight days ago. Nevertheless, the Sharks’ backup goalie made the big saves when he needed to on his way to registering his first career win against St. Louis.

Dell was particularly impressive in the third period. He stood tall to stop Vladimir Tarasenko from putting the Blues on the board just 10 seconds into the frame, and continued to stand his ground as St. Louis built momentum and tried to pin San Jose in its own end.

Identity found?

Following the Sharks’ 5-3 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday, captain Joe Pavelski told the media the team wasn’t playing up to its identity as a defensively sound unit. Against the Blues, the Sharks’ sound defensive game was on full display.

It also didn’t hurt that multiple players had multi-point games in addition to Karlsson. Pavelski himself scored two goals, giving him 13 in 21 games, good for fourth in the NHL. New linemate Logan Couture assisted on three of San Jose’s four goals, including both of Pavelski’s. Timo Meier also pitched in as a helper on both of Pavelski’s goals.