Sharks

Sharks' defense-first mentality has been key to San Jose's resurgence

sharkssidebarap.jpg
AP

Sharks' defense-first mentality has been key to San Jose's resurgence

SAN JOSE -- It took a while. The whole first month of the season and then some, to be exact. But now, as the Sharks approach the end of November, they're finally looking like the defensive-minded team they want to be.

San Jose won its second straight overtime game on Saturday night. Even with power forward Tomas Hertl out of the lineup once again, the Sharks imposed a heavy game on the red-hot Islanders and, despite racking up a whopping seven penalties, were able to hold the high-scoring opponent to a single goal. 

The Sharks won in overtime, 2-1, for the second straight night and moved above .500 for the first time this season. After sitting at 4-10-1 earlier this month, San Jose finally has begun to play like Peter DeBoer-coached teams of old.

"If you defend well in this league, you're going to have a chance to win every night, I think that's the moral of that story," DeBoer told reporters after the win. "It's great reinforcement for our group that, if you defend well and our goalies play well, we have a chance to win every night."

Perhaps the biggest key to the Sharks' win over the Islanders on Saturday -- and in their last couple of wins, honestly -- is that they didn't blow it late in the third period. San Jose could have gotten itself into trouble with all the penalties, but with a solid defensive effort and a perfect penalty kill, the Sharks were able to get the job done.

"We have to bear down late in games and I think lately we've done a good job of that," Mario Ferraro summarized. "Tonight was another example. It's really important -- the third period is the most important period of the hockey game. It's about finishing strong and we did that tonight."

It didn't hurt that goaltender Martin Jones was stellar between the pipes, both on the penalty kill and at even strength.

"Goaltending is huge," Ferraro said. "Jones, he played outstanding tonight. We don't win that game without him. Goaltending wins you big games."

Although a penalty-heavy game isn't a trend the Sharks want to fall into every night, their ability to overcome such an imperfect game says a lot about how far they've come since the rough start to their season. They've won eight of their last nine games, but not necessarily in the same ways.

"We found a way, and that's kind of been the story lately," DeBoer said. "We've been dealing with some injuries and some depth issues and we didn't help ourselves tonight be getting into the box. But we still found a way and I thought it was a pretty gutsy effort."

[RELATED: Why DeBoer, Sharks are open to using just 11 forwards]

The word "gutsy" has been used a couple of times now to describe how the Sharks are winning games. Even with injured players and trouble with penalties, San Jose has been doing a better job of buckling down defensively and preventing other teams from capitalizing on their mistakes.

That's a big change from the start of the season.

"We have a veteran team, and we have a veteran coaching staff. We just needed to be better individually and, usually, that leads to a better performance collectively. I think that's what has transpired."

Sharks continue to suffer from lack of scoring, abundance of penalties

sharkssidebarusatsi.jpg
USATSI

Sharks continue to suffer from lack of scoring, abundance of penalties

Evander Kane called it "interesting." Head coach Peter DeBoer called it "messy." No matter what word you choose, everyone can agree that the Sharks' 3-1 loss to the Predators on Tuesday got downright ugly.

San Jose had what was probably its best defensive game of the month in Nashville, being stingy and not giving the opposing Preds a lot of room to work. But with a scoreless tie after two periods, tempers began to fly, and what followed was a tsunami of penalties that ultimately determined the Sharks' fate.

The Sharks felt like they were in this one. But a plethora of penalties late in the second period and early in the third changed that. A whopping 39 penalty minutes later, San Jose had dropped the fourth and final game of its road trip. 

"We're still taking too many penalties," DeBoer told reporters after the loss. "I thought we pressed really hard in the second, didn't give them anything. I thought we deserved to be up going into the third and we didn't get rewarded for the work in the second. And they're at home, I thought they pushed hard. Pushed us back early in the third, got us on our heels a little bit. Really, when you get into a game like that, whoever scores first is probably going to win."

San Jose actually went on the penalty kill just 47 seconds into the game when Barclay Goodrow went to the box for slashing. But the real wave of penalties came late in the second period after Goodrow and Calle Jarnkrok received matching minors. Tempers were unhinged from that point on -- heck even the officials were fired up, as the microphone caught one using explicit language while reprimanding Nashville's Roman Josi. 

[RELATED: Sharks' Simek to miss two weeks for minor knee procedure]

The biggest tussle, however, took place in the final seconds of the second period when Dan Hamhuis cross-checked Kane and then Auston Watson jumped in as the third man in. Though Kane was defending himself, the officials tagged him with 19 penalty minutes, essentially taking him out of the remainder of the contest. 

"I don't understand the 19 minutes and how that was made up," Kane remarked when asked about the scuffle. "There was a lot of that all night going back and forth."

"Tough for him to sit for that long," DeBoer said in Kane's defense. "Hamhuis started the whole thing and then Watson comes in and grabs him and we end up with the short end of it. But it's a messy situation, I'm not going to second guess the call."

Regardless of how many penalties the Sharks racked up, they still needed to find a way to score more goals. They only found the back of the net once Tuesday, and only scored once in each of their previous two games. Despite doing some good work in the offensive zone, San Jose isn't going to reap the rewards without scoring goals to make up for its mistakes.

"You've got to find a way to win and we've got to find a way to score," DeBoer summarized. "I think that's the story of the trip."

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in contentious 3-1 loss to Predators

sharkstakeawaysusatsi.jpg
USATSI

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in contentious 3-1 loss to Predators

BOX SCORE

It wasn't full of offensive firepower, but what Tuesday's game between the Sharks and Predators lacked in goals, it made up for with flying fists.

Unfortunately, despite the fiery matchup and an entertaining “hot mic” moment, San Jose still couldn’t find a way to turn its fortunes around. The Sharks concluded their battle at Bridgestone Arena with a 3-1 loss, ending their road trip without a single win.

Here are three takeaways from Tuesday's game:

A plethora of penalties

With the game scoreless through the first two periods, the two sides became visibly agitated with one another. But rather than take out their frustrations out on the scoreboard, they took it out on each other. By the end of second stanza, the Sharks led the charge with 31 penalty minutes to Nashville’s 29.

While the Preds were the ones with multiple players simultaneously in the sin bin, it was Sharks winger Evander Kane who racked up a staggering 19 penalty minutes resulting from a tussle with Nashville's Auston Watson. Being without the power forward for almost the entire third period visibly took its toll on San Jose, which continued its dance in and out of the box into the third frame.

The PK was overworked 

San Jose's league-leading penalty kill wasn't its normal self last weekend, but it looked strong and sturdy Tuesday night in Nashville. It was a good thing, too, considering how many times the Sharks found themselves shorthanded, particularly early on.

Unfortunately, the abundance of penalties eventually wore San Jose’s PK down and Nashville was able to find the back of the net on a power play with less than 10 minutes left to play. It's been said before, but clearly it needs to be said again: The Sharks need to clean their game up and give the penalty kill a break so they don’t burn out.

[RELATED: Sharks' Simek to miss two weeks for minor knee procedure]

A better goalie matchup 

One of San Jose's biggest problems over the course of the road trip was that Martin Jones was outplayed by the netminder on the other end of the ice. That was not the case Tuesday night in Nashville, as Jones and Juuse Saros traded off making big saves up until Nick Bonino put the Predators up 1-0 in the third frame.

Jones had a particularly nice sprawling save on a four-minute penalty kill in the first period, which could have put the Sharks in a 1-0 hole pretty quickly. Perhaps the standard is too low for a team of San Jose's talent level, but after the rough weekend the Sharks had, they deserve credit for getting out of the first period with a scoreless tie. Avoiding an early deficit clearly gave San Jose a boost of energy, which persisted throughout the game. Well, at least until all of the fights started.