Sharks

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 4-0 loss to Blues to end road trip

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USATSI

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 4-0 loss to Blues to end road trip

BOX SCORE

For the second night in a row, the Sharks found themselves trailing their opponent in the second period. This time around, however, there was no come-from-behind push to tie the game and keep San Jose’s hopes alive.

The Sharks couldn’t find their footing against the St. Louis Blues Friday evening, and dropped the second game of their road back-to-back, 4-0. Aaron Dell put up a fight making some big saves for San Jose right down until the final buzzer, but the defensive effort in-front of him sealed the Sharks’ fate while Blues netminder Chad Johnson pitched the shutout.

Here are three takeaways from Friday’s game:

Communication breakdown on defense

Outside of Tim Heed looking confident in his first NHL game of the season, San Jose’s defense had a very rough outing on Friday evening. It wasn’t just the defensemen themselves – the whole lineup was on their heels and was regularly hemmed in their own zone. The Sharks looked as though they weren’t communicating effectively on the ice, and the puck often ended up in the back of their net, particularly against that red-hot combo of Jaden Schwartz, Ryan O'Reilly, and Vladimir Tarasenko. 

When O’Reilly scored his goal in the second period, the Sharks' dominant Logan Couture-led line looked like it was trying to get organized on one side of San Jose’s net while the Blues’ forward put himself in position to score away from them.

The special teams were lopsided

If there was one thing the Sharks got right, it was their penalty kill, which held the Blues scoreless on the man advantage. Their power play wasn’t on the same level, though, and they were unable to capitalize on the three opportunities they had on the evening, almost giving up a short-handed opportunity to Tyler Bozak halfway through the third period.

We’ve talked before about the Sharks giving up too many big chances. One way to do that is, of course, to capitalize on their own. Even when the Sharks tried to make more of a push in the final stanza, they weren’t able to take advantage.

On that note …

That third-period magic wasn’t there tonight

The Sharks have shown this season they can make a push and get back into a game when they’re trailing on the scoreboard. While they liked that push, a few players mentioned previously they didn’t want to let the other team get into a game or put them in a hole to begin with. 

San Jose went out into the third period Friday night grinding, with a line consisting of Evander Kane, Antti Suomela, and Joonas Donskoi gaining more momentum and challenging Blues netminder Chad Johnson.  But that push wasn’t enough to mount a comeback. It’s clear the Sharks can’t keep waiting for something bad to happen before they make a big push, especially when it comes down to the wire in the third period.

Sharks' Lukas Radil shows he's not typical NHL rookie in win vs. Coyotes

Sharks' Lukas Radil shows he's not typical NHL rookie in win vs. Coyotes

The Sharks' lines changed a lot in the first 30 or so games of the season. The fourth line took plenty of different forms, as various rookies were called up from the AHL's San Jose Barracuda to try out their hand at the top professional level.

Rookie winger Lukas Radil played in a handful of games, and has stood out. 

He made an impression again Saturday night in Arizona, and got to play the hero as he notched his first NHL goal late in the contest to help give the Sharks a much-needed win.

“It’s everybody’s dream to play in the NHL, and for him to get his first goal and the way he got his first goal too,” Sharks winger Evander Kane said of Radil after the game. “Every time he’s in the lineup, he always brings something positive to the group. He’s a big, strong kid. Wins a lot of battles, and has some underrated skill too.”

Indeed, the Czech forward isn’t your run-of-the-mill NHL rookie. For one, he's 28 years old. He also spent the last three seasons with Moscow Spartak in the KHL.

The result is a rookie who brings a different level of physicality to the Sharks' bottom six, as he’s a big skater who knows how to use his size to his advantage.

“He’s not your typical first-year player,” Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said after a practice on Dec. 5. “He’s got the experience of playing in the KHL. He’s a man. Plays a heavy game, he moves around well for a big guy. He’s smart, he’s conscientious. You can put him on the ice and there’s a comfort level, which isn’t common with first-year players.”

That much was clear Saturday. Even before Radil netted a sweet back-handed goal in the third frame, he was working to get on the scoresheet. He did a great job eluding defenders throughout the contest, and getting in front of the net. It added a different look to the line including Barclay Goodrow and Melker Karlsson.

“He’s great to play with,” Goodrow said after Saturday’s win. “He holds onto pucks. He’s really good down low and fending off their guys once he gets the puck.”

All that work paid off late in the third period when Radil wrapped the puck around Arizona’s net, and then back-handed it top shelf. The cameras caught the rookie’s expression of sheer elation as he gave the Sharks a late-game lead.

“[He’s] worked hard to get here to this level,” DeBoer said after the win. “For that to be your first NHL goal, that’s pretty rewarding.”

Of course, even with that first goal under his belt, Radil isn’t just a player who can score goals. He’s also giving the fourth line a new identity.

“Our identity should be: Getting pucks in deep, getting momentum for our team, chipping in offense here and there,” Goodrow summarized.

Clearly, the atypical rookie is able to do all those things.

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in nail-biting 4-3 win over Coyotes

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in nail-biting 4-3 win over Coyotes

BOX SCORE

There was no time to worry about the loss to the Dallas Stars the previous night. Sharks coach Peter DeBoer through the lines in the blender, and sent out his back-up goaltender as Sharks visited Arizona for their first meeting of the season with the Coyotes.

After San Jose jumped out to an early lead, the Desert Dogs came roaring back to tie the game up in the third period and make things interesting. In the end, though, it was Sharks rookie winger Lukas Radil who pulled his team out of danger and scored the game-winning goal in San Jose's 5-3 win. 

Here are three takeaways from the Saturday night contest:

The fourth line is starting to click

Something happened to the fourth line after Kevin Labanc was placed there last week against the Carolina Hurricanes. For the better part of the season, the line couldn’t find good chemistry – perhaps, in part, because the lines have been shuffled so much.

But over the last couple of games, the bottom line really started to come alive, with both Barclay Goodrow and Melker Karlsson creating more offense.

Although setup extraordinaire Labanc was moved up to the third line on Joe Thornton’s wing, the line continued to thrive with Lukas Radil back in the lineup. Even before the big Czech forward  the back of the net until the third period of, he made two quality attempts in the first and second periods. Radil’s level of physicality was a perfect addition to the Sharks’ bottom six, who continued to grind and create chances.

Building on that first goal is key

Getting the first goal in a game should be a good sign a team is on the path to a victory. But as the Sharks demonstrated against the Stars on Friday night, getting that first goal isn’t quite enough. Building on that opening tally is what helps push the team the extra mile.

San Jose did just that on Saturday night against Arizona. After Joe Pavelski’s redirect at 14:36 in the first period, the team continued to push. The reunited line of Logan Couture, Timo Meier, and Tomas Hertl converted on their next shift when Couture found a way around six-foot-six netminder Adin Hill to give the Sharks a 2-0 lead. 

That being said ….

Second-period response is still an issue

As everyone knows at this point, the Sharks have a problem with following up a strong first period with an equally strong second. It looked at first as though San Jose would break that pattern when Evander Kane found the back of the net in the second stanza to give the Sharks a three-goal advantage.

Then, Arizona came roaring back to notch two quick goals to cut the deficit down to one.

San Jose got hyped after that second goal though, fueled by a heated exchange between Joe Pavelski and Coyotes winger Richard Panik. They really began to grind and gain momentum as the frame expired.

Unfortunately, Panik was also the player who notched the tying goal in the third period when the Sharks broke down. But, Radil was there to bail them out with his first NHL goal.