Sharks

Sharks get some down time with a break in schedule

Sharks get some down time with a break in schedule

SAN JOSE – A weekend with no games on the NHL calendar is rare enough. A weekend without any games or practices, though? That’s virtually unheard of in the middle of the season.

But with nothing until Wednesday's home game, and after a stretch of 10 games in 18 days, Sharks coach Pete DeBoer chose to give the players and staff a full Saturday and Sunday off. DeBoer and assistant coach Johan Hedberg were seen quickly scurrying from SAP Center a few short minutes after the game ended, while defenseman Brent Burns had his massive camouflage backpack stuffed to capacity while conducing his postgame media availability.

“It’s packed and ready to go,” Burns said, without going into any detail as to what exactly was in the bag.

DeBoer explained his rationale behind the respite on Friday morning.

“The way [the schedule] laid out after the month we’ve just had – the injuries, the stuff we’ve dealt with – it just made sense. We’ve got another push until the Christmas break after this with a tough schedule. 

“With our travel and the World Cup and everything, it didn’t make sense to come down here and skate when we had a chance to actually recharge mentally and physically.”

Although the team was aware of the break for some time, there’s no question that the Sharks have earned it. As they wake up on Saturday morning (presumably after sleeping in), they find themselves with a three-point cushion in the Pacific Division with a 15-9-1 mark. San Jose has won six of its last seven, including triumphs over perennial contender Chicago, chief rival Los Angeles, and the top team in the Eastern Conference, Montreal.

Their two longest road trips of the season are also already behind them, including a five-game trip in October and a six-gamer in November.

Joe Pavelski is pleased with what he’s seen so far, despite the challenging circumstances.

“Guys have handled it well,” said the captain. “There hasn’t been a whole lot of rest time, and we’ve found a few different ways to win, especially on nights that it hasn’t been easy. The biggest thing is guys have shown up and played hard. We’ve got a pretty good structure in here, guys are responsible, we’ve found a few goals, and [Martin Jones] gives us a chance every night.”

Joe Thornton said: “It’s been a lot of hockey. It will be nice to get a couple days after this to relax and recover a little bit.”

The schedule will ramp up again in short order. After three games in four nights next week, the Sharks will fly to Toronto and open up a four-games-in-six-days road trip with the Maple Leafs on Dec. 13.

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The Sharks reassigned forwards Kevin Labanc and Ryan Carpenter to the AHL Barracuda on Saturday morning. Carpenter was a healthy scratch on Friday as Tommy Wingels got back in the lineup. 

It’s likely that the move was made at least partially because the Sharks are up against the salary cap, and that one or both players could return by the time they host the Senators on Wednesday.

Sharks need better goaltending with NHL playoffs just around corner

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AP

Sharks need better goaltending with NHL playoffs just around corner

SAN JOSE – Goaltending has been a hot topic all season for the Sharks. Even when they’ve been winning games, the performance between the pipes has been under scrutiny.

Now, with the playoffs just a couple weeks away and San Jose tryng to snap a season-long five-game winning streak, the performance of Sharks goaltenders Martin Jones and Aaron Dell is yet again being scrutinized.

There’s no mistaking it – they need to be better.

Even Sharks coach Peter DeBoer, who isn’t one to call out players after a loss, seemed particularly perturbed with the Sharks' play in net. He said just as much after San Jose's fifth straight defeat, a 4-3 loss to the lowly Anaheim Ducks on Friday.

“I don’t want to sugarcoat it, but I think we had them for six chances, and they scored four goals,” he said at the time. “You can’t lay it at one guy's feet, but you can’t win in this league with [an.800 to .900] save percentage. We’ve got to find a way to get an extra save, and on (the other) end we’ve got to find a way to get another goal.”

DeBoer isn’t wrong. Jones might be tied for third place among all NHL goalies with 34 wins under his belt, but his .898 save percentage is 58th out of 69 goalies who have played at least 10 games. Dell's .887 save percentage is 67th. Combined, the Sharks' .891 save percentage is last in the league.

In March, a month in which the Sharks have gone 6-4-1, San Jose has scored 37 goals and allowed 36. Those aren’t stats you want to see heading into the postseason.

To be fair, all the blame can’t be laid at the feet of the netminders, much like DeBoer said. Defensive breakdowns in front of the net don’t do Jones and Dell any favors – and with a banged-up blue line that’s missing Erik Karlsson and Radim Simek, those mistakes become more apparent.

It also doesn’t help the Sharks' offense has dried up, scoring no more than three goals in each of the last five losses. Leading goal-scorer Joe Pavelski has missed the last three, making matters worse.

But San Jose still, as DeBoer mentioned, needs to get more key saves from its goaltenders. 

[RELATED: Why Sharks believe five-game skid will strengthen them]

Now, with the Sharks having secured a playoff spot over the past week, the last few games of the season are going to be focused on being ready for the first round. In addition to getting the lineup healthier, the Sharks also have to focus on allowing fewer goals. A better defensive effort will go a long way, but Jones and Dell also have to buckle down and stop the puck more if San Jose is to hang on to home-ice advantage in the first round.

Don’t expect the goaltending conversation to cool off during these last weeks of the regular season. Goaltending is going to be a major focus as the playoffs get closer. If the Sharks want to still be playing hockey in May and June, it simply has to be better than it is right now.

Sharks not satisfied with single point, believe skid will strengthen them

Sharks not satisfied with single point, believe skid will strengthen them

Well, the Sharks certainly made it interesting. Every time the Ducks scored a goal on Friday evening, the Sharks came back and were able to tie things up. They even got the game-tying goal late in the third period that took their contest into overtime – at least, before they lost 4-3.

Perhaps at a different time of year, getting their first point in five games would feel better. Not on this night. 

The focus remains on the work to be done with just seven games left in the regular season. For Team Teal, they need to clean their game up and get back into the win column.

“It’s better than nothing, but overall, we’re just not finding ways to win games now,” Timo Meier told the media in Anaheim regarding the single point. “We’ve got to find a way to win games. It’s an important time of the year. Playoffs are really close.”

San Jose put a better effort on the ice on Friday than they did the previous evening in LA against the Kings, but the opportunistic Ducks were able to bury more of their chances,

"I don’t think we gave them very much," Peter DeBoer said. "Every chance they got, they stuck in the net, though."

DeBoer was more critical of the team a second night in a row, and rightfully so. Despite outshooting the opposition, the Sharks weren’t able to find the back of the net enough times. They allowed two goals while playing on the penalty kill and tallied 14 giveaways. Plus, outside of Meier’s power-play marker, San Jose still went one-for-five on the man advantage. Despite tying the score up three times, the Sharks couldn’t keep the Ducks from responding.

Clearly, all areas of the game need to be tweaked.

“We’ve got to find a way to get an extra save, and on (the other) end we’ve got to find a way to get another goal,” DeBoer said. “We could’ve used a power-play goal tonight -- another one.”

Perhaps the only silver lining, as Meier put it, is that the Sharks are going through this stretch now instead of once they get into the playoffs. San Jose is still trying to get some of its key players healthy and into the lineup so they can make a deep playoff run with the lines and pairs they want. The goal, at least at the moment, is to make sure this five-game skid is a lesson to learn from and not a prelude to the future.

"Get stronger as a team, get tighter as a group, and learn," Meier said. "It’s going to make us stronger going into the playoffs because there are going to be lots of ups and downs coming up. It’s going to make us stronger and we’ve got to react the right way.”