Sharks

Sharks need Timo Meier, rest of young core to get going offensively

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USATSI

Sharks need Timo Meier, rest of young core to get going offensively

When Timo Meier scored an empty-net goal in the Sharks' 4-2 win over Chicago on Tuesday at SAP Center, you could see the look of relief on his face.

The Swiss forward has not been immune to the scoring woes that plagued the Sharks through the first month of the 2019-20 season. Since Meier signed a four-year, $24 million contract this summer, the pressure on him to produce has been greater than ever. 

Meier isn't alone. The Sharks put a lot of stock into their young talent this season, wanting players like Lean Bergmann, Dylan Gambrell and Noah Gregor to step up and take on larger roles. That transition hasn't been easy and San Jose collectively has struggled, placing more pressure on other young players like Meier, Kevin Labanc, and Tomas Hertl even greater.

But the Sharks are finally getting an idea of what their roster is capable of, following a win Tuesday that was partially fueled by the return of defenseman Radim Simek. San Jose has a chance to right the ship that is, without a doubt, a perfect set-up for Meier, Labanc and Hertl to get going. 

"Timo and Banker and those guys, those are guys who we're expecting a lot out of," Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said last week. "They've got to take a step here this year. Some of those guys played in support roles in the past and benefited from playing behind some key guys. Now they're the key guys and with that comes some pressure to produce. They aren't the only guys, but I think we're expecting a lot from those guys and we're trying to hold them to that."

The results have been mixed through 16 games.

Labanc kept scoring during the Sharks' losing skids, but some of his defensive mishaps have him toward the bottom of the NHL in plus-minus. Dylan Gambrell began to find his footing after a less-than-impressive training camp but is currently sidelined with an upper-body injury.

Even Hertl, who took a huge leap once he started centering San Jose's second line, only has scored five goals this season. And then there's Meier, who has three goals through the first 16 games of the season when he had 12 goals at the same point last season.

Suffice to say, this isn't the start the Sharks hoped for. Fortunately for San Jose, it isn't too late for this contingent to take the next step. 

The Sharks got a visible boost on Tuesday night from Simek's return, and the nudge from the defense resulted in more offensive-zone time for San Jose. If that kind of elevated defensive play continues, it gives the offense an opportunity to create more scoring chances. Plus, DeBoer's newly-configured line combinations appear to have given the team an added jolt, as both Meier and Hertl showed a spark on a line together on Tuesday evening. 

[RELATED: Sharks' Marleau makes history playing in 800 straight games]

If the Sharks' offense uses Tuesday's win as a jumping-off point, San Jose could still turn around the season.

Granted, the Sharks won't play Chicago every night. San Jose has the Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators and Pacific Division-leading Edmonton Oilers coming up on the homestand, and each of those teams can challenge the Sharks in different ways.

If there was ever a time for the Sharks' young core to grow into bigger roles, it would be now. 

Sharks lament 'poor, poor effort' in third period of loss to Lightning

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AP

Sharks lament 'poor, poor effort' in third period of loss to Lightning

For the first 40 minutes of Saturday's game in Tampa Bay, the Sharks had the Lightning within their reach. Sure, San Jose went into an early 1-0 hole, but they kept grinding in an effort to even up the score.

But after finding themselves down 3-0 in the waning minutes of the second stanza, the Sharks' effort took a backseat on their way to losing 7-1. It collectively became a game San Jose wants to put in the rearview mirror as quickly as possible, but also served as an important lesson as the Sharks continue to iron out mistakes.

"It was a strange game," head coach Peter DeBoer told reporters at Amalie Arena after the loss. "At the end of 40, I was pretty happy with how we were playing. I didn't think we deserved to be down 3-0, but that was the reality. The third period was just unacceptable. A poor, poor effort. I think instead of sticking with it we started feeling sorry for ourselves after that fourth goal and maybe started thinking about tomorrow and you can't do that in this league. Throw that one out."

Logan Couture agreed with DeBoer's assessment.

"I thought we played pretty well through two, I thought we had some good five-on-five looks," Couture said. "I didn't like our third period. We gave them some many freebies and let our goalies down. For the first 40 I thought we played hard, it could have been a one or two-goal game."

San Jose generated a couple of good looks in the first 40 minutes, with a Kevin Labanc chance in the second being the best. But through two periods -- and most of the third period -- San Jose was unable to find the back of the net.

"I don't think we started as bad as maybe the score was telling us," Erik Karlsson said. "That's the way it goes sometimes."

Bolts' netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy stood tall as he came within minutes of handing the Sharks their first shutout loss of the 2019-20 season, but Couture insisted San Jose didn't put enough pressure on him.

"He played well, he made saves, but I think we could have done a better job with traffic," Couture said. "There were second opportunities around him and they did a good job of boxing us out. We've got to be hungrier around their net to score goals."

Even though the Sharks seemed content overall with how they play through the first two periods, there's no denying that the first five minutes set a tone for the rest of the evening. The Sharks were granted six minutes of power-play time thanks to a tripping penalty on Ondrej Palat 15 seconds into the game and then high-sticking double minor on Mathieu Joseph a little over five minutes later. San Jose couldn't convert on any of their chances, stretching their power-play goal drought to a ghastly 0-for-22.

While the power play isn't the only thing the Sharks have to correct after Saturday's loss, it has definitely raised concern.

"I've been trying to be patient through it," DeBoer admitted, "but it hasn't been good and it's getting to the point now where, tonight a big difference in the game was special teams. Especially when we get those early ones, that's a chance to grab some momentum on the road."

[RELATED: Hurricans poke fun at goalie after Thornton punch]

The Sharks are fortunate enough to have a quick turnaround after Saturday's loss, heading to Sunrise to face the Panthers in a Sunday matinee.

"Overall, I think this is a game we're going to have to learn from," Karlsson summarized. "We've got to figure out a way to be successful no matter who we are playing. Today was a tough one on the score sheet, but we have a game again tomorrow. We have to fix the things that make us successful."

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 7-1 blowout loss to Lightning

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USATSI

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 7-1 blowout loss to Lightning

BOX SCORE

The Sharks' Saturday night faceoff against the Lightning wasn't nearly as fast-paced as their previous game against the Hurricanes. And, unfortunately for the Sharks, it wasn't as good of a performance.

While the Tampa Bay squad has struggled this season, they overpowered San Jose thanks to a strong performance from their netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy, handing the Sharks a 7-1 loss.

Here are three takeaways from Saturday's game.

The other guy was better

It wasn't as if Martin Jones didn't make a couple of big saves early in the game. (At least, up until he was pulled from the game.) However, Vasilevskiy was superior on the other end of the ice.

The reigning Vezina Trophy winner was a brick wall against San Jose, coming within minutes of handing the Sharks their first shutout loss of their season.

It wasn't as if the Sharks weren't trying. They got good o-zone time and outshot the Lightning through the first 40 minutes of play. But even with a ton of pressure from San Jose's third line in the second period, Vasilevskiy remained un-phased. By the third period, the wind had been taken out of the sails of the Sharks' offense.

Doomed by special teams

This isn't the first time this season that the power play has come under scrutiny. Far from it, actually -- San Jose entered Saturday's game on a 0-for-19 stretch. But things got worse against the Bolts, as the Sharks got three opportunities in the first frame -- one minor penalty 15 seconds into the game and double minor later in the period -- and couldn't capitalize on any of them. Being on the man advantage almost looked to zap San Jose's energy.

When the Bolts got their own chance on the four-minute power play in the second stanza, they didn't have the same problem that the Sharks did. San Jose's league-leading penalty kill was almost all of the way through a Kevin Labanc high-sticking double minor when Steven Stamkos's shot picked the corner and beat Jones for Tampa's third goal on the evening.

Back on the hunt for a four-line effort

This one might seem obvious since the Sharks almost got shutout, but the effort put out by all lines needs to be noted. For a second straight game, the Joe Thornton-led third line was the strongest in San Jose's forward attack. But unlike in the Sharks' previous game, the other lines didn't generate too many good looks.

Simply put, the Sharks aren't going to win games if the majority of their team is playing a passive game like they did on Saturday. Even against a middle-of-the-pack team like the Bolts, San Jose's collective effort just wasn't good enough.