Sharks

Sharks closely following Kings blueprint early in the season

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USATSI

Sharks closely following Kings blueprint early in the season

The Sharks' 2-1 win over the Kings on Sunday night was, well, very Kings-like.

At even strength, San Jose largely controlled play, limiting Los Angeles and peppering pucks at Jonathan Quick. Much like those Cup-winning Kings teams, the Sharks only had two goals to show for their efforts. 

In fact, they’ve been pretty Kings-like all season. 

Plenty of digital ink has been spilled here and elsewhere about San Jose’s inability to score. They had scored the fifth-fewest goals in the league (43) entering Monday, and the second-fewest during five-on-five play (24). 

The Stanley Cup champion Kings teams weren’t offensive world-beaters either, ranking 29th and 25th, respectively, in 2011-12 and 2013-14. Those squads controlled play, killed penalties, and boasted strong defensive depth, led by a goaltender capable of catching fire and carrying his team in the postseason. 

Sound familiar? 

It should, because San Jose is in the top six in both major measures of puck possession early in the season, according to Puck on Net. The penalty kill has killed off 88.5% of its opportunities, the second-best mark in the league. 

Brent Burns is off to a slow start, but the emergence of  Tim Heed and Joakim Ryan has solidified what was already one of the league’s best bluelines. Martin Jones’ even strength save percentage remains in the middle of the pack, but that may not matter much if the Sharks continue to limit chances. 

Of course, similar strengths mean there are similar concerns, too. So far, the Sharks have scored on just 8.2 percent of their shots, the 23rd-worst mark in the league. 

The Kings were 30th and 29th in shooting percentage in the regular season of their Cup campaigns, and although there’s hope San Jose will convert more, Los Angeles shows it’s far from a guarantee. 

If that continues, the margin for error becomes razor thin, just as it was for the Kings. Despite winning two Stanley Cups, Los Angeles did not win the Pacific Division during that stretch. They finished 16 points out in 2014, and needed a late-season swing (as well as a new head coach) just to make the postseason in 2012. 

As long as the Sharks struggle to score, even a slight defensive downturn would provide a hurdle on their path to the postseason. The season’s first two games, in which San Jose allowed nine goals and scored only three, are proof of that. 

It's still very early in the season, and San Jose has a long way to go until they're mentioned in the same breath as Los Angeles' title-winning teams. They still trail the Southern California rivals by four points in the division, let alone in Stanley Cup count. 

So far, though, the they're closely following the Kings’ blueprint. It’s led to success through 16 games, but the true test is if it leads to 16 wins in April, May, and June.

Sharks' penalty kill, power play come up short in loss vs. Devils

Sharks' penalty kill, power play come up short in loss vs. Devils

In the final two games of their five-game road trip, the Sharks were dominant through two periods of play before losing the lead and losing by one goal. While Thursday's loss to the New York Rangers came in overtime and Sunday's 3-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils in regulation, Joe Pavelski said those two games had a lot in common.

In fact, all of their losses thus far have had similarities.

“This game felt exactly like a couple other ones we’ve lost so far,” the Sharks’ captain told the media on Sunday. “They’re right there for us. A few chances, power play opportunities, all those certain situations.”

It’s not like those chances aren’t coming in bulk for San Jose. The Sharks created plenty scoring chances over the course of their five-game roadie, notching 40-plus shots in back-to-back tilts on Tuesday and Thursday, and getting their chances on special teams.

But through six games so far this season, San Jose isn't cashing in on those opportunities enough.

“We expect to win these,” Pavelski said of the road trip. “That’s why they’re frustrating.”

Special teams have been the topic du jour since the very start of the season. While the lack of production on the power play continues to grab headlines, the Sharks’ penalty kill got more attention after the team racked up eight penalties on Sunday. They were rung up twice on delay-of-game calls, and three times for high-sticking – including a double-minor on Erik Karlsson late in the third period.

While New Jersey only scored one goal on the man advantage, spending so much time on the kill clearly took some of the wind out of San Jose’s sails. 

“You’re not going to win on the road, or at home, taking eight minutes in high-sticking and four for shooting pucks over the glass,” coach Peter DeBoer commented after the game. “That’s twelve minutes in penalties that we’re playing short, at the end of a road trip, taxing our guys.

“We beat ourselves with the penalties. Just can’t do that.”

When the Sharks aren’t skating in and out of the penalty box, they still aren’t finding the back of the net on the man advantage either.

“We’re not scoring enough, that’s the bottom line,” DeBoer continued. “And we’re not getting enough saves too. It’s a bad combination.”

San Jose has a couple of days to turn that combination around before they face their next opponent. With the early road trip in the rearview mirror, the Sharks return home to work out the kinks and remedy their early season woes before they host the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday evening.

“Thankfully it’s only six games [into the season] where this is happening,” Logan Couture said. “We have a couple days here to regroup and get ready for Thursday.”

Sharks takeways: What we learned in 3-2 loss to Devils to end road trip

Sharks takeways: What we learned in 3-2 loss to Devils to end road trip

BOX SCORE

For the second game in a row, the Sharks entered the third period on Sunday with a 2-1 lead, and the opportunity to put another notch in the win column. It was also the second game in a row they gave up a late lead.

San Jose closed out a five-game road trip with a super speedy tilt against the Devils on Sunday. But after exchanging chances with the New Jersey Devils for two periods, New Jersey emerged victorious with the 3-2 win.

Here are three takeaways from the Sharks' final game of the five-game road trip.

The penalty kill got a lot of work in on Sunday

The Sharks likely occupied the sin bin a little more than they would’ve liked on Sunday. After drawing the first penalty of the game, the Sharks went on the kill seven consecutive times, including a dicey double-minor called on Erik Karlsson in the final minutes of the third period. The penalty kill also contributed to the Devils' win, surrendering New Jersey's first goal of the afternoon while playing on the short end of a five-on-three.

While the kill looked good outside of giving up that goal, spending so much time playing down a skater can wear a team out. Being on the penalty kill four times before the start of the third period likely contributed to San Jose having difficulty sustaining pressure in the final 20 minutes of the game.

Martin Jones was in midseason form through 40 minutes

The Sharks starter was a brick wall through the first two periods of Sunday’s game. He was particularly impressive as he robbed Devils’ forward Nico Hischier on two grade-A chances. When Kyle Palmieri punched the tying goal in past Jones’ skate in the start of the third period, it looked like the netminder was going to be able to keep it out.

But, New Jersey snagged the lead late in the game. Jones was caught out of position when Jean-Sebastian Dea deposited the game-winner.

San Jose continues creating chances, but still need more goals

Team Teal didn’t put 40-plus shots on goal like they did in their previous two games. But, like with their game against the Rangers on Thursday, they only found the back of the net a couple of times.

Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer said after the Sharks loss in New York on Thursday that the dam will eventually burst and the goals would start coming more readily. It didn't happen before San Jose headed home.