Sharks' defense at forefront of lopsided loss to dominant Capitals


Sharks' defense at forefront of lopsided loss to dominant Capitals

SAN JOSE -- The Washington Capitals (20-4-5) are good. Like, really, ridiculously good, as evidenced by their 5-2 win over the Sharks (15-13-1) on Tuesday at SAP Center.

But to the Sharks' credit, they started out well against the Caps. When Washington scored two goals within 53 seconds in the first period to take a 2-1 lead, there was still a chance San Jose could rally and make a comeback. Heck, the Sharks did just a couple of days ago in their win over the Arizona Coyotes, right?

A repeat wasn't in the cards Tuesday. The Sharks' defense took its foot off of the gas after the early deficit and gave the Capitals plenty of room to overwhelm them. 

"I thought our commitment to defend in our own zone was poor tonight," coach Peter DeBoer said after the loss. "The other night in Phoenix, we were turning the pucks over and giving them breakaways. I don't think it was that type of game [tonight]. I think we were just soft in our coverage."

"We didn't defend hard enough," Sharks captain Logan Couture said, agreeing with DeBoer's assessment. "They're too good of a team. In that Arizona game, we gave up a lot of chances to start the game, but luckily they missed or [Martin] Jones made the saves. [The Capitals] are too good to miss on those chances, and they wound up in the back of our net."

It didn't help matters that the Sharks' overall game came unraveled in the second stanza. San Jose lost its jump shown at the start of the first period, and that wasn't a good sign for a team already in a 3-1 hole.

The Caps had no problem taking advantage of the Sharks' defense after that, hemming them in their own zone.

"We kind of got what we deserved," defenseman Brenden Dillon said. "We weren't executing in the d-zone and weren't picking up guys, and up against the best team in the league ... they're going to make you pay like that."

"They're such a good team that when you don't play well they're going to make you pay," Couture added. "And they certainly did. They scored five there, but they could've easily had six or seven."

The player who paid the biggest price for those mistakes was goaltender Martin Jones, who got the hook after surrendering five goals through two periods. It was a disappointing outing, given he had just been named one of the NHL's three Stars of the Week.

But as Couture pointed out, the players in front of Jones needed to be better.

"We left him hanging out to dry like we did multiple times at the start of the year," the captain admitted. "We have to get back to defending a little bit harder."

[RELATED: Sharks GM defends signing Karlsson to huge contract]

Even though the Sharks will be able to put this loss to the Capitals in the rear-view mirror, the need for better defense only becomes greater with a four-game road trip coming up against the Carolina Hurricanes, Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers, and Nashville Predators. All four teams are in the top 15 in goals scored this season.

If there's one overall moral to Tuesday's story, is that the Sharks defense can't backpedal as it did against the Caps.

"We'll go through the video tomorrow and just get ready for the next one," Martin Jones said. "You go through this all the time during the season. It's just about getting ready for the next game here."

Sharks Mailbag: Is GM Doug Wilson's job in jeopardy due to poor play?

Sharks Mailbag: Is GM Doug Wilson's job in jeopardy due to poor play?

The Sharks are in a precarious position.

San Jose has played 50 games and needs about 50 points in their final 32 tilts to have any chance at the playoffs. It’s becoming a difficult scenario to envision.

You gave me some pointed questions via Twitter & Instagram, and here are the best responses:

Instagram @hockeysteez: Is Doug Wilson’s job in jeopardy?

I guess we’re jumping right into the deep end of the pool? I don’t think many feel terrific right now as it relates to job security. Wilson included. At the same time, I’m a huge proponent of giving him the absolute opportunity to re-orchestrate the franchise.

From about 2015 to 2019, he was on a roll of surprise acquisitions and team-friendly extensions. He wheeled some big pieces into place, and if there is more heavy lifting required during the next 6-8 months before next season begins: I’d like to see Wilson’s experience at the helm to make it happen. I have zero reservations about that as a first option.

Twitter @tk408: Who are they considering for permanent coach?

Placing the interim tag on Bob Boughner was certainly strategic, but I also believe he’ll definitely be at least considered for a long-term solution after this season concludes. The cards were stacked against anyone taking over under the circumstances Boughner did on Dec. 11. At the same time, no “honeymoon period” occurred, and the team has just six wins in five weeks since the coaching change.

The next three months are a showcase for Boughner, just as it is for so many players. Some big name bench-bosses will likely be available this summer, including Mike Babcock and Peter Laviolette. They would come with a stiff price, and likely a significantly different edge than Boughner, Pete DeBoer, or even Todd McLellan did.

Instagram @ace_portraits: Would trying to find a new goalie or starting Aaron dell at the beginning of the year have made a difference in our season?

In short: no. Team defense has been an Achilles heel to a varying degree in San Jose all season. Complicating the matter: Martin Jones and Aaron Dell did not have great starts to the campaign, either. We’ve clearly seen Dell emerge to prominence and Jones decline in the last six weeks, but to say either one (or neither) could have drastically impacted the journey is a stretch.  

Twitter @apadilla24: Even though there’s been rumors saying that “core” players will not be traded do you see a big shake up like trade happening?

Only because the Sharks face tight spots in their struggles, and the salary cap, logistics alone would suggest there has to be at least one “wow-factor” maneuver to create more personnel options. “Shake-ups” can occur at different magnitudes, and while it’s probably accurate that small-level changes probably won’t manifest the desired effect, wholesale changes probably aren’t the wisest right now either.

Twitter @talking7: Does there seem to be a lack of team chemistry with the Sharks?

The inconsistency of results this season probably confirms that. It’s an interesting dynamic where, on paper the roster is littered with proven talent, and experience, and productivity. Nobody expected this kind of storyline back in September, and rightfully so. I’m not suggesting there are personal issues here, only the ability to thrive together on the ice. San Jose appears to have all the ingredients to cook, but sometimes the main courses just haven’t come out right.

Twitter @srosenthal13: Is it time to start cycling up the guys from the Barracuda to see who looks good?

Unfortunately the Barracuda are uncharacteristically struggling this season too. And one the worst things that can happen for an emerging hockey player is premature exposure to the NHL. So long as San Jose doesn’t face too many injuries, the only “right time” to bring up AHL players is when they are truly ready … not just for experimentation or evaluation purposes.

[RELATED: How faceoffs plagued Sharks on road trip]

Twitter @WaffleHater22: Do we trade Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton so they can have a chance to hold the Cup?

This is a doozy. We were enthralled by the storybook return of Patrick Marleau. And inspired by the resilience of Joe Thornton, after overcoming two knee injuries that easily could have ended his career. Saying goodbye under present terms would be difficult, but maybe keeping them would be selfish. If Marleau or Thornton were desired by a Stanley Cup contender and were agreeable to the transaction … then I’d only see it as a proper professional courtesy by San Jose. snubs Sharks-Golden Knights Game 7 as best game of 2010s

USATSI snubs Sharks-Golden Knights Game 7 as best game of 2010s named a Game 7 ending 5-4 and involving a three-goal comeback, two division rivals and an overtime winner as the best game of the 2010s.

It just wasn't the one with the Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights. and International staff members chose the Boston Bruins' Game 7 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Eastern Conference first-round series during the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs as the game of the decade. In a 9:18 span, the Bruins erased a 4-1 deficit to force overtime and Patrice Bergeron scored the winner 6:05 into the extra frame. 

An epic comeback in a game between two "Original Six" rivals is, on paper, worthy of the crown. But Sharks-Golden Knights is more deserving. 

For one, San Jose and Vegas were much closer in terms of quality than Boston and Toronto. Yes, the Golden Knights jumped out to a 3-1 lead in the 2019 Western Conference first-round series and fewer standings points separated the Bruins and Maple Leafs (five) than the Sharks and Knights (eight). However, the 2013 Maple Leafs greatly benefited from the lockout-shortened 48 game schedule, making the playoffs despite being the NHL's worst puck-possession team.

The Sharks and Golden Knights, on the other hand, were both legitimate Stanley Cup contenders. Both finished the regular season in the NHL's top three in terms of shot share and shot quality. Had Vegas beaten San Jose, it's likely the expansion franchise would have played in a second Western Conference final in as many years. 

What unfolded on the ice in the third period in Boston doesn't hold a candle to the third period in San Jose last April. Then-captain Joe Pavelski's head bled as the result of a fluky collision with Golden Knights forwards Paul Stastny and Cody Eakin, leading to a highly disputed five-minute major penalty. The Sharks then matched an NHL record with four power-play goals on the non-releasable penalty, nearly blowing the roof off SAP Center. 

A 3-0 deficit turned into a 4-3 lead, but the Sharks couldn't escape regulation with a win. Then-Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant pulled goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and iced six forwards when Jonathan Marchessault scored the game-tying goal with 47 seconds remaining in the third period. That set up an overtime that lasted nearly 20 minutes before Barclay Goodrow sent San Jose to the second round, and the Sharks' win left the Golden Knights with a summer of animosity that made Vegas' decision to replace Gallant with fired San Jose coach Peter DeBoer so much more shocking. 

[RELATED: How struggles in faceoff circle plagued Sharks on disastrous road trip]

To recap: Game 7 of Sharks-Golden Knights included one of the most controversial (or worst, if you ask Golden Knights fans) calls in NHL history, a historic power play that sent the SAP Center crowd into delirium, a game-tying goal that silenced the same crowd not even six minutes later and nearly a full period of extra hockey. 

By comparison, the twists and turns of Bruins-Maple Leafs seem rather straightforward.