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Sharks teammates seek to give Martin Jones more protection in goal

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Sharks teammates seek to give Martin Jones more protection in goal

If there’s one area of the ice where the Sharks have fielded the most criticism so far this season, it has been between the pipes. 

Truthfully, Martin Jones’ critics have been scrutinizing him since before the regular season even started. After a 4-3 loss to the Dallas Stars on Tuesday, they were taking to social media yet again to voice their opinions on a performance that earned him a collective 2.84 goals-against average and a .893 save percentage on the season.

Jones’ teammates, however, maintain their unwavering confidence in him. In fact, they’re insisting they need to do more in front of the goal to help him out.

“Jones gave us a good chance to stay in it,” Joe Thornton said after the loss in Dallas. “There were a couple breakaways, a couple two-on-ones that we would like to clean up.”

Jones did in fact stymie a couple late-game attempts that could’ve given the Stars a much bigger lead. With the contest knotted up 3-3, Jones stopped breakaway opportunities by Dallas stars Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin to preserve the tie. Those stops were all but forgotten halfway through the final frame, though, when the puck bounced to Devin Shore’s stick and he was able to roof it past Jones’ stick-side block to give the Stars the 4-3 lead.

“You can always do more,” Joe Pavelski told the media when asked about giving the goalie more help. “One thing we’ve looked at is our shot-blocking. We can be a little more desperate, I think, in our d-zone.”

The captain’s right. Blocking more shots would certainly behoove the Sharks, who regularly don’t block as many shots as their opponents. In the loss against Dallas, San Jose had 11 blocked shots at even strength compared to the opposition’s 18 blocked shots.

In their game a week ago against the Philadelphia Flyers – which the Sharks narrowly won in overtime – San Jose registered six blocked shots at even strength to Philly’s 16. In the 4-1 loss against the Blue Jackets on November 1, Columbus posted 30 blocked shots on the evening while San Jose only posted four blocked shots.

Upping the level of desperation – a word we’ve heard quite a bit so far this season—in San Jose’s d-zone would help as well. Being more physical in knocking opposing offenses off the puck can help break up the grade-A chances San Jose’s opponents are taking advantage of. The Sharks are, after all, only averaging 16.4 hits a game, ranking them 27th overall in the league.

This isn’t to say Martin Jones is completely without fault. There have been a handful of goals this season the netminder probably, for lack of a less overused term, would like to have back. Nevertheless, his teammates are identifying ways they need to help him out as well. 

“We don’t have any questions in our goaltending,” Pavelski said. “Tonight, (Jones) was great for us, and we came up short.”

Sharks' Radim Simek improving, but not expected to play on road trip

Sharks' Radim Simek improving, but not expected to play on road trip

The Sharks made good use of their three-game homestand, earning four of six possible points against high-quality competition to get back on track after a miserable start to the season. San Jose's improved play has coincided with Patrick Marleau's arrival and Evander Kane's return to the lineup, and the Sharks will attempt to build off their recent momentum as they head off on a five-game road trip.

Unfortunately for San Jose, it doesn't sound as if the team will get back further reinforcements for the games in Buffalo, Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa and Boston. The Athletic's Kevin Kurz reported that defenseman Radim Simek participated in some practice drills Wednesday, but is unlikely to play on the upcoming road trip, according to head coach Peter DeBoer.

Simek underwent knee surgery in March and has been rehabbing ever since. He's been somewhat of a secret weapon for San Jose, as the Sharks went 29-9-3 with him in the lineup last season, and allowed lower rates of shot attempts, shots and chances with him on the ice in 5-on-5 situations than when he wasn't. San Jose has proceeded cautiously with Simek and won't rush him back, but the fact that he was participating in more physical drills Wednesday bodes well for a return in the relatively near future.

Speaking of physicality, that's an area DeBoer believes the Sharks have been lacking in recently, and one that both Simek and another on-the-mend defenseman can help out in. Dalton Prout has been out of the lineup since the first game of the season, but that's bound to change soon, according to the Mercury News' Curtis Pashelka.

With both Prout and Simek expected to rejoin the team soon, it begs the question as to who they'll replace. Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Brenden Dillon aren't going anywhere, and rookie Mario Ferraro has played well beyond his years. Tim Heed has been in and out of the dog house, and the most likely scenario is that Prout and/or Simek takes his spot on the third pair.

[RELATED: Exclusive: Marleau reflects on Sharks return in ride to SAP]

The Sharks have done a good job to get their feet back under them. They won't be at full strength for the upcoming road trip, but clearly, they're getting closer.

What Sharks like about way they are playing despite loss to Sabres

What Sharks like about way they are playing despite loss to Sabres

SAN JOSE - Saturday night's Sharks-Sabres matchup ended up being an entertaining one for sure, with a lot of the action taking place in the final 20 minutes of the game.

And even though San Jose lost 4-3 and had their three-game winning-streak snapped, they still believe that their overall game is headed in the right direction. 

"When I look at seven or eight games that we've played, that's probably one of the better 60-minute efforts we've got," Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer said afterward. "I think we're getting better. I can tell you, I like where our game's at now a lot better than I did two weeks ago."

Captain Logan Couture agreed, although he wanted to see a different result in Saturday's contest.

"I thought we played well, we could've done some things better," Couture said, giving the opposition the credit they deserve. "They're a very good team. It's no fluke over there that they have their record. They're playing very good hockey. We had an opportunity to beat them, just one more mistake on our end tonight."

One of the biggest problems San Jose ran into was penalty trouble in the second period. Sure, the penalty kill remains dominant and was able to keep Buffalo's potent power play from finding the back of the net. In fact, San Jose's special teams overall played a huge factor in them keeping the game close. But as Couture explained, being down a skater for too long can have a negative effect on a team's even-strength game -- even one with as good of a PK as San Jose has right now.

"It's tough to get in a rhythm," Couture explained. "There were so many penalties. For our line, especially, I think we only had two even-strength shifts in the second."

But the Sharks are happy with how they pushed back late in the game to keep things close. After the Sabres jumped out to a 2-1 lead at the end of the second period, the Sharks began creating more chances in their own end to keep the visitors from running away with the game. They traded tallies with Buffalo thanks to two big goals from Tomas Hertl and Marcus Sorensen. Even after Zemgus Girgensons buried the Sabres' fourth goal on the evening, San Jose continued to press and get looks in front of the net as the final few minutes of play expired.

"I liked our resiliency," DeBoer said. "I thought we battled all night."

[RELATED: Marleau reflects on Sharks return]

The Sharks will get another crack at the Sabres this upcoming Tuesday as they kick off an East Coast swing in Buffalo. San Jose might not be very happy with the mistakes they made on Saturday night, but they can at least see that their overall game his trending in the right direction.

"We still had a couple of bad mistakes, but we have to learn from it and be better," Hertl said. "It's kind of a tough loss but we have to bounce back. We (play) against them in the next game so we have to be ready for them."