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Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 6-3 Game 3 loss to Golden Knights

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 6-3 Game 3 loss to Golden Knights

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This was the San Jose Sharks' opportunity after their frustrating Game 2 loss. But Sunday night's contest in Las Vegas featured more of the same problems for Team Teal.

Despite making a late-game push that made things interesting, the Sharks dropped a 6-3 decision to the Golden Knights in Game 3 and now trail two games to one in their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series.

Here are the three immediate takeaways from the proceedings at T-Mobile Arena.

Vegas' 'second line' proves lethal

During NBC Sports California's Facebook live Q&A on Sunday morning, Sharks radio announcer Dan Rusanowsky pointed to Vegas' de facto second line of Max Pacioretty, Paul Stastny and Mark Stone as the combo that San Jose needed to watch extra closely. While the Sharks have done a good job shutting down the William Karlsson-led top line, the Pacioretty-Stastny-Stone combo -- which, you'll recall, is made up of three players who were on completely different teams at this time last season -- has posed a problem.

That line proved to, in fact, be a huge problem for the Sharks, as all three skaters found ways to score goals, with Stone doing so three times, making hats rain down on the T-Mobile Arena ice. Stastny scored twice, including once on the power play, and Pacioretty added a marker on the man advantage.

The line also got a jump on the Sharks less than a minute in all periods of the game and put San Jose on its heels. The Sharks gave up goals at 16 seconds into the first frame, 21 seconds into the second and 36 seconds into the third.

The Sharks have discussed time and again that they need to not let this opportunistic Vegas team put them on their heels. But the Knights did just that in Game 3, after also doing it in Game 2.

Sharks make too many early mistakes

Unlike in Game 2, when the Knights made copious trips to the penalty box, the Sharks were the ones skating in and out of the sin bin in Game 3. And unlike San Jose, which couldn't convert on the majority of its opportunities in Game 2, Vegas found ways to make the Sharks pay for their mistakes, going 2 for 6 on the power play.

It didn't help that the Sharks weren't able to channel their frustrations into scoring opportunities, and instead took more penalties for their extracurriculars. The constant penalties further hurt the flow of San Jose's game, and by the time it finally scored a power-play goal in the third period, it was in such a deep hole that it didn't make much of a dent.

Some of the Sharks' penalties even could have consequences in future games. Joe Thornton was rung up for an illegal check to the head on Tomas Nosek, and he potentially could receive supplemental discipline for it.

With the Sharks' lineup already depleted because of injuries, losing Thornton would be a huge blow in a big spot.

Time for a turnaround in Game 4

There's no mistaking that this loss puts the Sharks in a difficult spot. They have one more game to play in a very tough Vegas home barn before the series returns to San Jose. Returning home in a three-games-to-one series hole could obviously where the Sharks want to be.

The Sharks can dig deep and pull out a win Tuesday night when these teams reconvene for Game 4. However, with how San Jose has played in its last two contests, it will need a complete turnaround to have any chance of evening the series and making it a best-of-three situation.

Main reasons for Sharks' struggles in atypically disappointing season

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Main reasons for Sharks' struggles in atypically disappointing season

To say the Sharks' season thus far has been a major disappointment would be the understatement of 2020. San Jose is in the midst of its worst season in more than 15 years, and it has been a bumpy ride from the start.

The four consecutive losses to begin the season weren't the final nail in former head coach Peter DeBoer's coffin, but they did set his eventual dismissal in motion. A dismal October was counteracted by an impressive November, but a lengthy losing streak to begin December prompted Sharks general manager Doug Wilson to make a change behind the bench.

San Jose had been performing better under interim head coach Bob Boughner since the switch, but three blowout losses heading into the All-Star break have dried up any momentum the team had generated. The Sharks sit 11 points back of playoff positioning with 32 games left to play and several teams ahead of them to leapfrog. Here are the main three reasons San Jose finds itself in such unusually bad shape:

Goaltending 

The most obvious sign that a team's season has taken a wrong turn is a coaching change. The second-most obvious? A goalie switch.

Martin Jones entered the season as the Sharks' No. 1 goalie by default. His playoff experience, combined with his hefty and immovable contract, gave him the leg up on backup netminder Aaron Dell. But not all of that postseason experience has been impressive, and Jones didn't do anything to answer the question marks he entered the current season with. He lost nine of his first 11 starts, and the Sharks have only won one of his last 10. Over those two separate cold streaks, he failed to post a save percentage of .900 or better in 16 of the 21 games.

Other than stopping pucks, consistency is arguably the most important quality in a goaltender, and Jones simply wasn't providing that, nor has he for quite a while. Dell, on the other hand, has been a breath of fresh air since taking over the No. 1 spot, stealing Jones' job and running with it. While Dell's numbers aren't overly impressive since becoming the starter, they're better than Jones', and it's likely Dell's steady presence in net that has given Boughner the confidence to stick with him.

Despite the improved goaltending since the coaching change, the Sharks still rank near the bottom of the league in all of the important metrics. San Jose's cumulative save percentage (.891) ranks third-worst in the NHL, while the team's cumulative goals-against average (3.10) is tied for sixth-worst. And that's not the worst of it. The Sharks' goalies have actually performed substantially better when the team has been shorthanded than they have at even strength.

There are no obvious ways for the Sharks to improve their goaltending situation moving forward, so what you see is likely what you're going to get. If San Jose is going to make a second-half comeback, both Dell and Jones will have to be considerably better than we've seen thus far.

Power play

The Sharks are averaging nearly one fewer goal per game than a season ago, and when you combine that with some substandard goaltending, disaster ensues. Just ask DeBoer.

Some of that offensive drop-off was expected, but San Jose's fall from a power-play juggernaut to its current middling state certainly was not, at least not to this extent. Last season, the Sharks scored at the sixth-highest clip in the league with the man-advantage, scoring on 23.7 percent of their power-play opportunities. This season, that scoring rate has plummeted to 16.7 percent, seventh-worst in the NHL. And that's only half the problem.

Through the first 50 games, San Jose has had only 138 power-play opportunities (2.76 per game), the sixth-fewest in the league. Last season, the Sharks went on the power play 241 times, or 2.94 opportunities per game.

So, not only are the Sharks going on the power play less often, but they're also not being very effective with the opportunities they do get. For a team that has been shorthanded 163 times already (fourth-most in the NHL), that's just asking for trouble.

[RELATED: Sharks mailbag: Is Wilson's job as GM in serious jeopardy?]

Emergence of younger players

When Joe Pavelski, Gustav Nyquist and Joonas Donskoi departed in free agency over the offseason, the Sharks lost 58 goals -- or roughly one-fifth of their 2018-19 season total. It wasn't going to be easy to replace that kind of production, and with little in the way of offseason signings in the forward group, San Jose inevitably was going to be reliant on several of its younger players taking the next step in their development to help fill the void.

Well, that hasn't really happened.

Tomas Hertl, an injury-replacement All-Star, is on pace to score 25 goals after notching 35 a year ago. Timo Meier appeared to make the leap last season when he tallied 30 goals and 66 points, but he has failed to expand upon that promise in the current campaign. Barclay Goodrow might already have set a career-high with eight goals scored and Kevin Labanc is on pace to do the same, but even that improvement hasn't been as considerable as necessary. Furthermore, none of the prospects the team had hoped would explode on the scene actually have, whether it be Antti Suomela, Sasha Chmelevski or Dylan Gambrell. 21-year-old defenseman Mario Ferraro has been the one major bright spot, which should tell you everything you need to know about the current state of the Sharks.

San Jose entered the season as one of the oldest teams in the league and knew it would need some of its younger players to step up. They haven't, and while that already has negatively impacted the franchise's present, it could continue to moving forward if some players don't emerge.

Why polled NHL players want to drink beers with Sharks' Joe Thornton

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Why polled NHL players want to drink beers with Sharks' Joe Thornton

If you ever wanted to buy Joe Thornton or Brent Burns a beer, you'd better hope none of their NHL colleagues are around. 

In The Athletic's annual player poll, 12 percent of 392 NHL players who participated said Joe Thornton is the player they'd most want to drink a beer with, just behind Alex Ovechkin (14 percent) and Sidney Crosby (12 percent). Defenseman Brent Burns, with 5 percent of the vote, finished fifth, while fellow Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson also received votes. 

Why Thornton? 

"He's a legend," a Pacific Division player told The Athletic.

Only Sharks teammate Patrick Marleau has played more NHL games (1,703) than Thornton (1,616), and Thornton, Marleau and Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara are the only remaining NHLers who debuted in the 20th century. The Athletic found that the average NHL player entering this season was around 27 years old, meaning the average player was about five years old when Thornton debuted in 1997. 

In this case, a good chunk of the league does want to meet one of their heroes, but Thornton's personality can't hurt, either. After all, he once signed a contract extension on a lawnmower, plays Risk in his downtime and famously posed in the buff alongside Burns for ESPN The Magazine's "Body Issue" in 2017.  

“He’d have good stories and he seems like a fun guy," an Atlantic Division player told The Athletic. 

[RELATED: Is Wilson's GM job in serious jeopardy? Brodie answers in latest Sharks mailbag]

Thornton, 40, has 19 points (two goals, 17 assists) in 60 games during his 22nd NHL season. 

If he returns for a 23rd, it's easy to imagine him and Burns on this list again next year.