Sharks 'didn't look quick' in Game 2 loss to Penguins


Sharks 'didn't look quick' in Game 2 loss to Penguins

PITTSBURGH – Joe Pavelski didn’t mince words.

Asked about some of the horrific turnovers and weak plays the Sharks made during Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final that resulted in a 2-1 overtime loss to the Penguins, he was blunt.

“We made some soft plays,” Pavelski said. “The plays off the wall, they have done a really good job and we turned some pucks over and that leads to a lot of zone time for them.”

And some tough goals for the Sharks to overcome, as well.

After a scoreless opening stanza, Penguins forward Phil Kessel, who has burned teams throughout the playoffs, had the puck deep in the right slot in the second period. It rolled off his stick to defenseman Roman Polak.

A simple clearing pass solves everything, yet Polak turned the puck over to Carl Hagelin. Nick Bonino, the hero in Game 1, took his pass and put a weak, trickling shot on net just outside of  goalie Martin Jones’ reach.

Kessel merely put his stick over the line to guide the puck in from the right post for a 1-0 lead.

“I mean, everyone is going to make mistakes,” said Sharks coach Peter DeBoer. “They made mistakes on the goal we scored. The problem is, if you're not scoring, every mistake you make potentially costs you the game. You can't put those things under a microscope this time of year. 

“You have two teams that are playing really tight hockey. One mistake changes the game. You're not going to play mistake-free.”

Yeah, Sharks defenseman Brent Burns knows that. He distinguished himself in this one with a couple of unforced turnovers, an icing and bad clears.

“They have good back pressure,” Logan Couture said of the Penguins. “Their forwards are doing a good job. We’ve got to be quicker. From the bench, in my mind, we didn’t look quick.

“We’ve been a little quicker throughout the post-season with puck movement and we haven’t looked like that in these two games. It’s what we’re not doing.”

Offensively, the Sharks were lifeless after two periods being outshot 21-9 at one point.

They had a rare 3-on-2 rush late in the second period dissolve when Bonino dove in front to block Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s shot.

Someone suggested to DeBoer it appears as if the Sharks are waiting until the third period to get their game in gear.

“Nobody's waiting,” DeBoer snarled.  “The other team wants to play, too. They're very good. They're a good team. They're at home. They have their home crowd. We're playing a team that wants to win as badly as we do and is a very good team. 

“There's going to be ebbs and flows. They're going to take it over for some periods. We're going to take it over for some periods. I thought we were better tonight. But we have to find a way to create some more five-on-five offense.

“They're not taking penalties, so we've got to find a way to do this five-on-five or push them into taking some more penalties.”

What the Sharks need is more sustained offensive flow which is what the Penguins have gotten thus far. Pittsburgh is pushing the pace.

“Yeah, I think that's the identity of our team,” offered Conor Sheary, who scored the game-winner in overtime. “Coach [Mike Sullivan] has been trying to implement that all year.  

“I think a lot of guys have bought into that system. It's not always about speed, it's about playing quick, getting pucks up, getting pucks in. I think when we do that, play in people's face, we overwhelm teams. It's been working out well for us.”

Perhaps DeBoer’s team might want to try a little of that, as well during Games 3 and 4 in Northern California.

“I’d like to see a few more of ours go in,” Pavelski said. “We still have another level. They’re playing at a good pace, but we can definitely go better.”

Why Sharks’ goaltending struggles don't bode well for NHL playoffs run


Why Sharks’ goaltending struggles don't bode well for NHL playoffs run

The Sharks have had a hard time keeping the puck out of their own net lately. 

San Jose has lost three straight games, and allowed at least four goals in each of the last four. During that span, starting goaltender Martin Jones and backup Aaron Dell have combined for an .847 save percentage in all situations, and an .865 at full strength (per Natural Stat Trick). 

That represents a continuation of the team's season-long goaltending woes. The Sharks entered Wednesday 31st in save percentage (.891), and dead-last in 5-on-5 save percentage (.900).

As NBC Sports' Adam Gretz observed on Tuesday, that perfomance is not befitting of a Stanley Cup contender. It also puts San Jose in some not-so-elite company historically. 

Gretz found that only 16 teams have made the playoffs with bottom-five goaltending over the last quarter-century. Only two (2008-09 Detroit Red Wings, 2005-06 Edmonton Oilers) made it to the Stanley Cup Final, and every other team failed to advance past the second round. 

This context should concern the Sharks, especially in light of Dell's and Jones' solid play in net prior to the last week.  

From the end of the Sharks' bye week until March 11, Jones (.919 5-on-5 save percentage) and Dell (.929) were far better than before the NHL All-Star break. Jones got the bulk of the work in the crease, and his 5-on-5 save percentage matched that of his first three seasons in teal. 

But since the Sharks' 5-4 road win over the Winnipeg Jets on March 12, Jones (.837) and Dell (.900) have struggled. Neither received much help defensively in San Jose's loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Monday, but the Sharks haven't been that much worse in their own end in front of the two goalies -- at least at full strength.

In the last four games, the Sharks have allowed 5-on-5 scoring chances (22.14 SCA/60) and dangerous chances (7.7 HDCA/60) at lower rates than they have on the season, according to Natural Stat Trick. Per their data, Jones has actually faced 5-on-5 shots at a further distance (42.88 feet) in the last four games than the season as a whole (36.11 feet). 

It's possible that Jones and Dell are just experiencing an ill-timed blip on their season-long radar, which is a definite possibility considering how small of a sample size we're dealing with. That's also why their penalty-kill save percentages over that span, in fewer than 11 minutes of shorthanded action apiece, aren't all that meaningful in terms of predictive power. 

[RELATED: Sharks clinch NHL playoff spot, now chase Pacific title]

You could probably say the same about each goaltender's improvement after the All-Star break, too. The full-season sample is far more meaningful as the postseason nears, and as Gretz noted, it's far from encouraging. 

Jones has turned it on each of the last three postseasons for San Jose. He posted a higher save percentage in the playoffs than the regular season every time, including during the Sharks' run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2016. 

If San Jose is going to get back there this spring, he'll have to heat up in a hurry. 

Sharks clinch spot in NHL playoffs, thanks to Avalanche win over Wild


Sharks clinch spot in NHL playoffs, thanks to Avalanche win over Wild

For the fourth consecutive season, Peter DeBoer has guided the Sharks to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Thanks to the Colorado Avalanche's 3-1 win over the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday night, the Sharks became the second team in the Western Conference to secure a playoff spot. The Calgary Flames (45-21-7), whom the Sharks (43-22-8) trail by three points for first place in the Pacific Division, were the first. 

The Sharks lost to the Vegas Golden Knights in the second round last year. If the playoffs started today, second-seeded San Jose would match up with third-seeded Vegas in the first round.

[RELATED: 'Concerned' Sharks can't look too far in future after loss to Vegas]

DeBoer took over as Sharks coach in 2015 after the franchise ended a 10-year run of making the playoffs. The Sharks made it to the Stanley Cup Final in his first season, but they haven't advanced past the second round since.

The franchise also seeks its first Pacific Division crown since the 2010-11 season. A division banner would be the first of DeBoer's career as an NHL head coach.