Sharks' young depth shines, old depth haunts them in loss to Avalanche

Sharks' young depth shines, old depth haunts them in loss to Avalanche

Joonas Donskoi had scored eight game-winning goals at SAP Center before Sunday, including the overtime winner in the Sharks' first-ever Stanley Cup Final victory in 2016. 

He scored his ninth wearing a color other than teal Sunday, clinching the Colorado Avalanche's 4-3 win over the Sharks in his first visit to San Jose since signing a four-year contract with the Avs on the first day of free agency. Donskoi also received a video tribute and an ovation during the first period. 

"It was weird," Donskoi told reporters in the visiting locker room after the game. "First time in my career playing against an old team. I never had that experience before, so [there] was for sure some extra nervousness, I'd say. A lot of familiar faces against us on the ice tonight, so it was a new experience for me."

Donskoi's goal was his 16th of the season, adding to his career-high. It was his 33rd point of the campaign, leaving him five points away from his personal best.

Though Sunday's goal ended a two-month drought -- the kind that frustrated former Sharks coach Peter DeBoer during Donskoi's four seasons in San Jose -- the Sharks have missed the Finnish forward this season. They've lacked scoring depth after the departures of Donskoi, Joe Pavelski and Gustav Nyquist last summer. The Associated Press' Josh Dubow noted just how stark the depth drop-off has been.

Add a host of injuries upfront into the mix, and the Sharks have tried rotating young players in and out of the lineup to find the right mix. That rotation continued Sunday, as interim coach Bob Boughner dressed rookies Noah Gregor and Lean Bergmann. Gregor didn't play in Saturday's loss to the Ottawa Senators, and Bergmann hadn't dressed since San Jose's win over the Pittsburgh Penguins eight days ago. Bergmann impressed Boughner with his physicality, and Gregor scored his first career power-play goal to cut the Avalanche lead to one with 44 seconds remaining.

The Sharks struggled to create much offense on the second night of a back-to-back, but San Jose's rookies accounted for a good chunk of its chances. Gregor and fellow rookie Joel Kellman each were on the ice for more 5-on-5 high-danger chances (three) than all but two other Sharks, according to Natural Stat Trick, while Gregor was third on the team with three scoring chances in all situations despite playing just under 15 minutes. 

"For four games in six nights, I thought we played hard," Boughner told reporters at SAP Center. "We had guys playing out of spots (after captain Logan Couture entered the concussion protocol), up higher in the lineup, more minutes than they're used to, young guys in situations that we had no choice (but) to play them in. I thought that the guys competed really hard. I thought we were physical. ... I think we produced enough, but they're an opportunistic team, and I think that they've got some world-class players and [that] was the difference tonight."

[RELATED: Sharks' Couture doesn't return vs. Avs after puck hits face]

Players like Gregor, who now has four points in his last five games, must continue to develop offensively if the Sharks are going to return to the playoffs next season. San Jose entered the season hoping its prospects could fill the void left by Donskoi and others this offseason, and that need is no less pressing heading into a long summer. 

Donskoi's Avalanche, meanwhile, are just two points back of the defending champion Stanley Cup St. Louis Blues for the top seed in the Western Conference. There will be plenty of fans pulling for him in San Jose, too, as seen by his reception Sunday. 

"It was fun to see there was still a lot of my signs from the fans," Donskoi said. " ... It was a special night."

Sharks GM Doug Wilson discusses odd end of season, coaching search

Sharks GM Doug Wilson discusses odd end of season, coaching search

On Tuesday afternoon, the NHL announced its “return to play” format, which effectively ends the season for seven clubs, including the Sharks.

San Jose now faces an offseason of unprecedented length. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman hopes the Stanley Cup can be awarded by the fall months, with the next season beginning in December or January, 2021 at the latest.

That gives Sharks general manager Doug Wilson some interesting scenarios trying to turn a team around during very abnormal times.

Wilson spoke with NBC Sports California in an exclusive interview on Tuesday. Here are some highlights from the Q&A:

NBC Sports California: On closure to this regular season, and replicating the last time the Sharks didn’t make the playoffs:
Wilson: “That’s what we’re looking to do again. You learn from experience like this. We didn’t get off to a great start this year, and that’s on us. That’s on all of us. But from this, you can grab some more knowledge and wisdom moving forward.”

On the Sharks not participating in the experimental “return to play” 24-team format that the NHL is hoping to execute:
“Make no mistake, we wish we were playing. Missing the playoffs is unacceptable for this franchise. I think we’ve only done it once since 2003. But we’re trying to make the best of it, which is the point that you’re making. To get Erik Karlsson, and Tomas Hertl, and Logan Couture and Radim Simek all back 100-percent healthy with the extra time.

"If we use this time wisely, we can come out of it better on the other side. We like our team. We have the bones of a good team. We just have to play the right way and get off to better starts to a season than we did this year.”

Does winning a Stanley Cup mean anything different in 2020?
“I don’t think it’s appropriate to put an asterisk besides it or discount the season. We’ve had other seasons without the full complement of games. The playoff format will be arduous, and whoever wins will deserve to win.”

Will announcing the next permanent head coach come soon?
“Now, we have time to build the staff that’s best going forward for this team. Bob (Boughner) has certainly got the inside track. I thought he did a good job with our team, we were playing some really good hockey, the right way, defending better, our PK (penalty kill) was good.

"And then when you lose Erik (Karlsson), Logan (Couture), and Tomas (Hertl), that makes it pretty difficult. We’re still in the middle of that process. We’ll be very thorough.”

On the Sharks' issues with goaltending and team defense:
“Goaltending gets blamed, it’s the easy target to go to. Here we had the best penalty killing in the league — same goaltending, same defensemen, same forwards, yet we struggled five on five. Whether that’s preparation, attitude, commitment, whatever it is.

"Collectively you have to look at it: how can we play better in the defensive zone? That’s all five people, to give the goaltender a chance.”

[RELATED: Where Sharks go from here now that their season is over]

What is the most uncertain aspect for the Sharks right now?
“It’s really the timeline, you want to work backwards. Players are creatures of habit. The cycles of training and preparing of training and getting ready. This will be the longest time off our team and players have ever had.

"And you’ve got to use that time very well. You don’t want players under-training, or over-training. We’ve talked with our strength and medical people, trying to figure out the best way to get the programs in place so when they come into camp, they’re ready to go.”

On the balance of sports returning soon but not too early:
“I’m proud of our ownership, our players, and our league. Health is the most important thing. This supersedes sports. This is about what’s best for our fans, the safety and good health of everybody.

"It’s going to take everybody to get through this. I’m not sure we’re completely out of the woods yet.”

NHL draft lottery: How Sharks will be impacted by league's new setup

NHL draft lottery: How Sharks will be impacted by league's new setup

Twenty-four NHL teams can now turn their full attention to the restarting of the currently-paused season. The Sharks are not one of them.

Having slipped into last place in the Western Conference just prior to the indefinite pause due to the coronavirus pandemic, San Jose did not qualify for the expanded postseason structure NHL commissioner Gary Bettman described Tuesday. The Sharks' season, as well as those of the Detroit Red Wings, Ottawa Senators, Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks, New Jersey Devils and Buffalo Sabres, are now over.

Which means, it's time to turn their attention to the offseason.

San Jose general manager Doug Wilson has his work cut out for him. The Sharks finished the abbreviated 2019-20 campaign with their worst points percentage in his 16-year tenure at the helm. There are some obvious needs that must be addressed. Of course, they won't be able to utilize their own first-round draft pick -- which they gave up in the trade to acquire Erik Karlsson -- in order to do so.

Bettman announced that the first phase of the 2020 NHL Draft lottery will be held on Friday, June 26, and really, there is no change as far as San Jose is concerned. As the team with the third-worst points percentage, the Sharks' first-round pick (owned by Ottawa) will have the same odds of landing first overall -- 11.5 percent -- as it would have anyway. Obviously, though, no matter where it ends up, the selection will belong to the Senators.

15 teams in total will be included in the lottery, which is the same as prior years. The seven teams that didn't qualify for the expanded playoffs will be joined by the eight teams that lose in the qualifying round. It's fairly complex, but as it relates to the Sharks, their first-round pick automatically will fall within the top six overall selections. Ottawa's own first-round pick is guaranteed to fall within the top five, and combined with San Jose's first-rounder, there is a great chance the Senators will have two picks in the top five, if not the top three.

That's tremendous for Ottawa, and might make things look even bleaker for the Sharks. But, the fact of the matter is, we've known San Jose wouldn't have its own first-rounder for quite some time now, and more importantly, it was the right decision to make. Hindsight is 20/20 and it's easy to question it now, but players like Karlsson are not a dime a dozen. He is on the shortlist of the best defensemen in the NHL, and the package San Jose gave up for him -- even including the 2020 first-rounder -- absolutely was worth it. You make that trade 100 times out of 100, and the same goes for the extension, too.

So, yes, the Sharks likely will miss out on a chance to acquire one of the top overall talents in the upcoming draft, but that can't be viewed in a vacuum. Not to mention, San Jose actually does own a first-round pick in the draft, which they acquired from the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for Barclay Goodrow at the trade deadline. 

[RELATED: What you need to know as Sharks' long offseason begins]

The Lightning had the second-best points percentage in the Eastern Conference when the season was paused, so it is impossible that their first-round selection will fall within the first 15 overall picks, as they're not subject to the qualifying round. The earlier Tampa Bay gets eliminated, however, the earlier their first-rounder -- owned by the Sharks -- will fall in the first round.

So, Sharks fans, rather than waste energy lamenting the first-rounder San Jose doesn't have, google Karlsson highlights and root against the Lightning. That ought to make you feel a little better.