Three signs Sharks might be turning around disappointing 2019-20 season


Three signs Sharks might be turning around disappointing 2019-20 season

Of the Sharks' 35 remaining games this season, 22 are against teams in playoff position. Presently, they sit seven points back of the West’s second wild-card spot, although five other teams also are in the mix for that final berth.

Stating the extremely obvious: The Sharks still face a difficult yet imperative climb, following the ruts of October (four wins) and December (two wins). They're also minus the contributions of captain Logan Couture, likely until March. And in all estimations, approximately just 10 more regulation losses would mark the end of any chance of a San Jose playoff berth.

However, if you’ve watched this team since Christmas, there are some encouraging trends.

They’ve won five of eight, and beaten some hot teams

On Saturday night, the Sharks beat Joe Pavelski’s Dallas Stars, ending their six-game winning streak. In the game before that, they beat Columbus for the second time in a week, and remain the only club to defeat the Blue Jackets in regulation since Dec. 7.

Without rhyme or reason, we know this edition of the Sharks wins and loses games in bunches. It also wouldn’t make sense that their return to success comes in this road-heavy, break-laden month of January. But really, what has been predictable this season?

What especially stings are recent blunders against the Los Angeles Kings (late 2-0 lead turned into a 3-2 OT loss), the Detroit Red Wings (shutout 2-0 by the NHL’s worst team), and the Washington Capitals (two-goal lead with a minute left, turned into an OT loss). Give the Sharks even two hypothetically different results, and they’d be a team winning seven of nine since the Christmas break. They’d also be right on the heels of the second wild-card holders.

The power play finally is impactful

On Saturday night, Patrick Marleau scored a “power play-influenced” goal. And as of late, the man advantage has been capitalizing on a regular basis for the first time since around Halloween. They have goals in four of the last six tilts … a far cry from the period between November and December, when the power play went scoreless in 14 of 15 games.

Interim head coach Bob Boughner has created internal competition between the two units, instilled the “shoot-first” mentality and definitely given Joe Thornton noticeably more responsibilities and opportunities in 5-on-4 situations. Those moves have helped equalize the special-teams situation in San Jose. The Sharks still hold the NHL’s top penalty kill (88.2 percent) by a whopping five percentage points, yet are 25 out of 31 clubs with a 16.7 percent conversion rate on the power play.

Getting closer to a very-attainable 20 percent success rate for the final stretch of the regular season would make a world of difference in game results.

Team defense, goaltending are surging

Don’t hold your breath for an “official” announcement from Boughner that Aaron Dell is the Sharks' No. 1 goalie. It’s not happening. Just look at Dell’s assignments and performance as all the declaration you need.

As Couture recently commented: “The more [Dell] plays, the better he gets,” which is unfolding right before our eyes. The confidence is equal to the distance he’s coming out of the crease and challenging shooters. It’s not to say that goaltending has been the Sharks' only defensive issue this season, but Dell appears to be eliminating the accusation of shaky netminding lately.

[RELATED: Pavelski reflects on San Jose return]

The Sharks have looked and performed so much better without the puck in the last two to three weeks. Odd-man rushes and net-front chances still occur for opponents, but with much less regularity. The biggest common thread of recent defensive lapses usually align with allowing “response” goals and late-period goals.

But San Jose still has allowed that famous “Two or Fewer” amount of goals in six of its recent eight games. And you can be guaranteed this team only will go so far as its defense can in the final 35 games.

NHL rumors: Sharks' Brenden Dillon of interest to Bruins, 'half dozen' teams


NHL rumors: Sharks' Brenden Dillon of interest to Bruins, 'half dozen' teams

The market for Brenden Dillon is heating up. It's sounding like more of a "when" rather than an "if" the Sharks' defenseman will be moved.

In a season where very little has gone right for San Jose, Dillon has been one of the few, consistent bright spots. He has appeared in every game while averaging over 19 minutes of ice time, and he leads all Sharks' defensemen in plus-minus. According to TSN Insiders Darren Dreger and Pierre LeBrun, the closer the NHL gets to the trade deadline, the more teams reportedly are inquiring about the blue-liner who is on pace to lead the Sharks in hits for the fourth straight season. 

"Most definitely the Winnipeg Jets are in the market for a specific top-four defenseman," Dreger reported Tuesday. "Now, it could be a rental player, it could be a player with some term. They're not ruling out anything at this point."

Dillon is in the final year of his contract and is due to hit unrestricted free agency this summer, so he would fall into the rental category. Given the price Dillon is likely to command, that might not be ideal for Winnipeg, but Dreger noted that the Dustin Byfuglien situation -- as well as Bryan Little and Adam Lowry's respective recoveries from injury -- could force the Jets' hand.

LeBrun agreed that Dillon would make plenty of sense for Winnipeg, but didn't stop there.

"I don't think he would be on the top of their list, but certainly on the list of players that the Jets would have compiled already, I think Brenden Dillon would be on there somewhere," LeBrun said. "Pending UFA, he's a defenseman that's going to be dealt by the San Jose Sharks. He's a No. 4 for some teams, a No. 5 for others. I can tell you half-a-dozen teams so far have shown interest, including, I'm told, the Boston Bruins. Obviously a rugged, defensive defenseman in Brenden Dillon would be a nice fit there in Boston. Carolina Hurricanes, who just lost Dougie Hamilton, have also been among the teams that have shown interest." 

"It will not be an issue moving Brenden Dillon," LeBrun summarized. "The question is what can San Jose get out of it? I think it's probably going to be a second-round pick, and maybe a prospect."

[RELATED: If Sharks' Marleau doesn't pick goal song, his wife will]

The Sharks are still holding out hope for a playoff push, but whether or not they are successful in that pursuit, Dillon might be of more value to them elsewhere.

Why Patrick Marleau's goal song didn't play in Sharks' win over Ducks


Why Patrick Marleau's goal song didn't play in Sharks' win over Ducks

SAN JOSE -- The Sharks are ready to spice up their goal celebrations. In a 4-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks on Monday night, San Jose brought the heat, but the SAP Center DJ failed to bring the expected flavor.

It wasn't his or her fault, though. It's sort of hard to play the right song when there is no song to be played.

Before being robbed of a much-deserved All-Star Game MVP award over the weekend in St. Louis, Tomas Hertl broke the news to Sharks fans that he and his fellow teammates would each have their own goal songs when the team returned from the All-Star break. Each player's song was supposed to be kept a surprise until they scored a goal, so when Stefan Noesen lit the lamp less than two minutes into the game Monday night, it came as a surprise to many -- Noesen included -- when the team's default goal song came on over the loudspeakers.

A few minutes later, Patrick Marleau scored to make it 2-0 San Jose. Again, 2 Unlimited's "Get Ready for This" played. In the second period, Marleau scored his second goal of the night. Same thing. So what gave?

It turns out that it was part operator error, part old-fashioned procrastination.

Noesen had actually picked a song out, and lucky for the Sharks, the SAP Center crowd would get to hear it before the night was over. Marleau, on the other hand, is still deliberating.

"Still working it out to see what it is," Marleau said of his yet-to-be-decided goal song after San Jose's win. "Probably leave it up to my family. They'll pick it."

Last week, Marleau's wife took to Twitter to ask Sharks fans for suggestions as to what his goal song should be. Apparently, none were to his liking, but his better half won't allow him to go without one for much longer.

After he scored his first goal of the night, Marleau's wife threatened to choose "Wheels on the Bus" on his behalf if he didn't figure one out soon. The couple has four boys between the ages of 5 and 13 so one would imagine Marleau has heard plenty of that song over the last decade.

Chances are, he has heard plenty of Noesen's song, too.

Early in the third period, Noesen ripped a slapshot from the slot into the back of Anaheim's net after receiving what he called an "all-world" pass from Erik Karlsson. The goal increased San Jose's lead to 4-1, and as fans rose out of their seats to celebrate the goal that put the game out of reach, their ears were greeted by the unmistakable sounds of "Hakuna Matata."

"I had something else picked out and then somebody else was watching 'The Lion King,' and I thought that would be kind of funny to put on and maybe get a little reaction from the crowd, too," Noesen said of his song choice. "And they seemed to enjoy it. It was fun."

[RELATED: Would Sharks really trade Thornton or Marleau this year?]

While Marleau still needs to come to a decision, Noesen plans to stick with his.

"Yeah, unless someone tells me otherwise," he said with a laugh following his first two-goal game with San Jose. "I thought it was good. They messed it up on the first one, and I wasn't sure if I'd ever have another chance to hear it.

"It was a good thing I got that nice pass."