Three takeaways: Sharks thoroughly outplayed by elite Wild

Three takeaways: Sharks thoroughly outplayed by elite Wild

Facing a team above them in the standings for the first time in more than a month, the Sharks were outclassed by the best team in the Western Conference, dropping a 3-1 decision in Minnesota. Here’s what we’re taking away from the game…

1 – Sharks have some work to do

Sure, the Minnesota Wild is a legitimate Stanley Cup contender, with a balanced offensive attack, stingy defense and strong special teams. But in a game that was supposed to be a meeting between two of the top teams in the Western Conference, it was surprisingly one-sided in Minnesota’s favor.

The Sharks were fortunate they weren’t down by multiple scores after 40 minutes, as the Wild generated the better of the scoring chances from the opening drop of the puck. Then in the third, when San Jose should have been pressing for the equalizer, it took until two minutes left in regulation before it had an actual chance to tie it courtesy of Chris Tierney.

That the Sharks were still in the game at that point was a minor miracle.

“We knew it would be a tough game in here,” Pete DeBoer told reporters. “They came as advertised. They were very good. We were not as good as them. It was the proper result.”

In fairness to the Sharks, the Wild was very pleased with its effort as Minnesota coach Bruce Boudreau called it maybe their best defensive game all season, particularly in the third period, according to the Star Tribune’s Michael Russo.

Still, if the Sharks are going to get to where they want to go, they’ll have to figure out a way to be better than they were against a (fellow?) elite team. Fortunately, we’ll get to see another one shortly, when the league-leading Washington Capitals visit SAP Center on Thursday. If the Sharks – who will likely dress a better lineup – drop that one decisively, it might be time to worry. If they respond with a better effort, perhaps Sunday’s loss to the Wild was just a blip on the radar.

2 – Power play changes remain overdue

It’s time to wonder just what has to happen for the Sharks’ coaching staff to make modifications to the power play units, particularly the top unit. The Sharks have just two power play goals over their last eight games (2-for-20), and since Nov. 1, they are 26-for-166 for a miserable 15.6 percent success rate. 

They’re standing still, they’re not getting second chance opportunities, passes are off the mark, and they aren’t winning battles. In a game that was there for the taking on Sunday despite the ice being tilted the wrong way, a power play goal could have helped them to steal at least one point.

“We had our power plays, we didn’t get a lot done on them,” Joe Pavelski told reporters.

DeBoer said: “That’s the kind of night where you’ve got to win the special teams battle, and we didn’t.”

The Sharks will get one of their final two-day breaks between Monday’s game in Winnipeg and Thursday’s at home against Washington. If the power play has another fruitless performance against the Jets, Wednesday’s practice should be all about the man advantage. It’s simply not championship caliber right now, and it hasn’t been since October.

3 – Jones responding to rest

It appears that no Sharks player has benefited more from the bye week than Martin Jones, who was spectacular in a losing performance with 25 saves. He made a number of stops in the early going, before Brent Burns left Zach Parise wide open in front of the net for a power play score. He got a little lucky with that strange neck-hole save on Chris Stewart, but also stopped three breakaway attempts throughout the course of the game.

“He was great,” Pavelski said of his goalie. “He made some huge saves, and it wasn’t our best game.”

The goalie called it a “good, hard, playoff-style game tonight.”

Jones, if you recall, saw his save percentage decline month-to-month from November to before the bye week in late February when he was overworked. In three starts since the break, though, he’s stopped 80 of 84 shots (.952 save percentage).


Sharks need better goaltending with NHL playoffs just around corner


Sharks need better goaltending with NHL playoffs just around corner

SAN JOSE – Goaltending has been a hot topic all season for the Sharks. Even when they’ve been winning games, the performance between the pipes has been under scrutiny.

Now, with the playoffs just a couple weeks away and San Jose tryng to snap a season-long five-game winning streak, the performance of Sharks goaltenders Martin Jones and Aaron Dell is yet again being scrutinized.

There’s no mistaking it – they need to be better.

Even Sharks coach Peter DeBoer, who isn’t one to call out players after a loss, seemed particularly perturbed with the Sharks' play in net. He said just as much after San Jose's fifth straight defeat, a 4-3 loss to the lowly Anaheim Ducks on Friday.

“I don’t want to sugarcoat it, but I think we had them for six chances, and they scored four goals,” he said at the time. “You can’t lay it at one guy's feet, but you can’t win in this league with [an.800 to .900] save percentage. We’ve got to find a way to get an extra save, and on (the other) end we’ve got to find a way to get another goal.”

DeBoer isn’t wrong. Jones might be tied for third place among all NHL goalies with 34 wins under his belt, but his .898 save percentage is 58th out of 69 goalies who have played at least 10 games. Dell's .887 save percentage is 67th. Combined, the Sharks' .891 save percentage is last in the league.

In March, a month in which the Sharks have gone 6-4-1, San Jose has scored 37 goals and allowed 36. Those aren’t stats you want to see heading into the postseason.

To be fair, all the blame can’t be laid at the feet of the netminders, much like DeBoer said. Defensive breakdowns in front of the net don’t do Jones and Dell any favors – and with a banged-up blue line that’s missing Erik Karlsson and Radim Simek, those mistakes become more apparent.

It also doesn’t help the Sharks' offense has dried up, scoring no more than three goals in each of the last five losses. Leading goal-scorer Joe Pavelski has missed the last three, making matters worse.

But San Jose still, as DeBoer mentioned, needs to get more key saves from its goaltenders. 

[RELATED: Why Sharks believe five-game skid will strengthen them]

Now, with the Sharks having secured a playoff spot over the past week, the last few games of the season are going to be focused on being ready for the first round. In addition to getting the lineup healthier, the Sharks also have to focus on allowing fewer goals. A better defensive effort will go a long way, but Jones and Dell also have to buckle down and stop the puck more if San Jose is to hang on to home-ice advantage in the first round.

Don’t expect the goaltending conversation to cool off during these last weeks of the regular season. Goaltending is going to be a major focus as the playoffs get closer. If the Sharks want to still be playing hockey in May and June, it simply has to be better than it is right now.

Sharks not satisfied with single point, believe skid will strengthen them

Sharks not satisfied with single point, believe skid will strengthen them

Well, the Sharks certainly made it interesting. Every time the Ducks scored a goal on Friday evening, the Sharks came back and were able to tie things up. They even got the game-tying goal late in the third period that took their contest into overtime – at least, before they lost 4-3.

Perhaps at a different time of year, getting their first point in five games would feel better. Not on this night. 

The focus remains on the work to be done with just seven games left in the regular season. For Team Teal, they need to clean their game up and get back into the win column.

“It’s better than nothing, but overall, we’re just not finding ways to win games now,” Timo Meier told the media in Anaheim regarding the single point. “We’ve got to find a way to win games. It’s an important time of the year. Playoffs are really close.”

San Jose put a better effort on the ice on Friday than they did the previous evening in LA against the Kings, but the opportunistic Ducks were able to bury more of their chances,

"I don’t think we gave them very much," Peter DeBoer said. "Every chance they got, they stuck in the net, though."

DeBoer was more critical of the team a second night in a row, and rightfully so. Despite outshooting the opposition, the Sharks weren’t able to find the back of the net enough times. They allowed two goals while playing on the penalty kill and tallied 14 giveaways. Plus, outside of Meier’s power-play marker, San Jose still went one-for-five on the man advantage. Despite tying the score up three times, the Sharks couldn’t keep the Ducks from responding.

Clearly, all areas of the game need to be tweaked.

“We’ve got to find a way to get an extra save, and on (the other) end we’ve got to find a way to get another goal,” DeBoer said. “We could’ve used a power-play goal tonight -- another one.”

Perhaps the only silver lining, as Meier put it, is that the Sharks are going through this stretch now instead of once they get into the playoffs. San Jose is still trying to get some of its key players healthy and into the lineup so they can make a deep playoff run with the lines and pairs they want. The goal, at least at the moment, is to make sure this five-game skid is a lesson to learn from and not a prelude to the future.

"Get stronger as a team, get tighter as a group, and learn," Meier said. "It’s going to make us stronger going into the playoffs because there are going to be lots of ups and downs coming up. It’s going to make us stronger and we’ve got to react the right way.”