Sharks

Upcoming Sharks homestand will be difficult, but success is critical

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USATSI

Upcoming Sharks homestand will be difficult, but success is critical

Saturday’s win over the Buffalo Sabres gave the San Jose Sharks something they haven’t had all season: A .500 record.

The Sharks head home having won four of their last six games, including three of five on the road trip, and with some of their early-season hiccups in the rearview mirror. It helps when, all over that span, Logan Couture’s scored more goals than any other player, Martin Jones hasn’t allowed more than two goals in a start, and the penalty kill’s been near-perfect.

Not all of their issues are behind them, of course. They scored 10 goals at five-on-five play on the road trip, but the 16 they’ve scored all season stood ninth-worst in the league as of this writing. The power play has, predictably, cooled off, converting on only 10.5 percent of their opportunities on the five-game road trip.

Still, they’re improving, and have been one of the league’s best possession teams early in the season, even as they haven’t necessarily played to their full potential. They’ll need to, though, on their upcoming homestand.

The five-game slate is daunting, to say the least, and arguably the toughest stretch in their entire schedule. San Jose will host three playoff teams from last season, including the Western Conference finalists: Anaheim and Nashville.

Tampa Bay and Vancouver missed out on the previous postseason, but the former looks like the league’s best team and the latter is much-improved under a new head coach. Oh, and it all begins against Toronto, during Patrick Marleau’s homecoming, on Monday.

The Sharks will have their hands full over the next two weeks, leading up to a critical benchmark. From 2005-2013, 77.3 percent of teams in playoff position on Thanksgiving made the postseason, according to STATS. Since STATS published their findings, that’s jumped ever-so-slightly to 79.2 percent.

Turkey Day’s a little under a month away, but it arrives five games after San Jose’s extended stay at SAP Center ends. Less wins now means the Sharks will need more wins later, and failing to win two or more of their next five games means they’ll need to be near-perfect in the following five games, and potentially beyond.

The next two weeks won’t necessarily make or break San Jose’s season, but they will have a much clearer idea of the road ahead. For now, though, the Sharks are a .500 team.

Whether or not they can be expected be anything more, or less, depends on the results of their next five games. 

Sharks lament 'poor, poor effort' in third period of loss to Lightning

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AP

Sharks lament 'poor, poor effort' in third period of loss to Lightning

For the first 40 minutes of Saturday's game in Tampa Bay, the Sharks had the Lightning within their reach. Sure, San Jose went into an early 1-0 hole, but they kept grinding in an effort to even up the score.

But after finding themselves down 3-0 in the waning minutes of the second stanza, the Sharks' effort took a backseat on their way to losing 7-1. It collectively became a game San Jose wants to put in the rearview mirror as quickly as possible, but also served as an important lesson as the Sharks continue to iron out mistakes.

"It was a strange game," head coach Peter DeBoer told reporters at Amalie Arena after the loss. "At the end of 40, I was pretty happy with how we were playing. I didn't think we deserved to be down 3-0, but that was the reality. The third period was just unacceptable. A poor, poor effort. I think instead of sticking with it we started feeling sorry for ourselves after that fourth goal and maybe started thinking about tomorrow and you can't do that in this league. Throw that one out."

Logan Couture agreed with DeBoer's assessment.

"I thought we played pretty well through two, I thought we had some good five-on-five looks," Couture said. "I didn't like our third period. We gave them some many freebies and let our goalies down. For the first 40 I thought we played hard, it could have been a one or two-goal game."

San Jose generated a couple of good looks in the first 40 minutes, with a Kevin Labanc chance in the second being the best. But through two periods -- and most of the third period -- San Jose was unable to find the back of the net.

"I don't think we started as bad as maybe the score was telling us," Erik Karlsson said. "That's the way it goes sometimes."

Bolts' netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy stood tall as he came within minutes of handing the Sharks their first shutout loss of the 2019-20 season, but Couture insisted San Jose didn't put enough pressure on him.

"He played well, he made saves, but I think we could have done a better job with traffic," Couture said. "There were second opportunities around him and they did a good job of boxing us out. We've got to be hungrier around their net to score goals."

Even though the Sharks seemed content overall with how they play through the first two periods, there's no denying that the first five minutes set a tone for the rest of the evening. The Sharks were granted six minutes of power-play time thanks to a tripping penalty on Ondrej Palat 15 seconds into the game and then high-sticking double minor on Mathieu Joseph a little over five minutes later. San Jose couldn't convert on any of their chances, stretching their power-play goal drought to a ghastly 0-for-22.

While the power play isn't the only thing the Sharks have to correct after Saturday's loss, it has definitely raised concern.

"I've been trying to be patient through it," DeBoer admitted, "but it hasn't been good and it's getting to the point now where, tonight a big difference in the game was special teams. Especially when we get those early ones, that's a chance to grab some momentum on the road."

[RELATED: Hurricans poke fun at goalie after Thornton punch]

The Sharks are fortunate enough to have a quick turnaround after Saturday's loss, heading to Sunrise to face the Panthers in a Sunday matinee.

"Overall, I think this is a game we're going to have to learn from," Karlsson summarized. "We've got to figure out a way to be successful no matter who we are playing. Today was a tough one on the score sheet, but we have a game again tomorrow. We have to fix the things that make us successful."

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 7-1 blowout loss to Lightning

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USATSI

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 7-1 blowout loss to Lightning

BOX SCORE

The Sharks' Saturday night faceoff against the Lightning wasn't nearly as fast-paced as their previous game against the Hurricanes. And, unfortunately for the Sharks, it wasn't as good of a performance.

While the Tampa Bay squad has struggled this season, they overpowered San Jose thanks to a strong performance from their netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy, handing the Sharks a 7-1 loss.

Here are three takeaways from Saturday's game.

The other guy was better

It wasn't as if Martin Jones didn't make a couple of big saves early in the game. (At least, up until he was pulled from the game.) However, Vasilevskiy was superior on the other end of the ice.

The reigning Vezina Trophy winner was a brick wall against San Jose, coming within minutes of handing the Sharks their first shutout loss of their season.

It wasn't as if the Sharks weren't trying. They got good o-zone time and outshot the Lightning through the first 40 minutes of play. But even with a ton of pressure from San Jose's third line in the second period, Vasilevskiy remained un-phased. By the third period, the wind had been taken out of the sails of the Sharks' offense.

Doomed by special teams

This isn't the first time this season that the power play has come under scrutiny. Far from it, actually -- San Jose entered Saturday's game on a 0-for-19 stretch. But things got worse against the Bolts, as the Sharks got three opportunities in the first frame -- one minor penalty 15 seconds into the game and double minor later in the period -- and couldn't capitalize on any of them. Being on the man advantage almost looked to zap San Jose's energy.

When the Bolts got their own chance on the four-minute power play in the second stanza, they didn't have the same problem that the Sharks did. San Jose's league-leading penalty kill was almost all of the way through a Kevin Labanc high-sticking double minor when Steven Stamkos's shot picked the corner and beat Jones for Tampa's third goal on the evening.

Back on the hunt for a four-line effort

This one might seem obvious since the Sharks almost got shutout, but the effort put out by all lines needs to be noted. For a second straight game, the Joe Thornton-led third line was the strongest in San Jose's forward attack. But unlike in the Sharks' previous game, the other lines didn't generate too many good looks.

Simply put, the Sharks aren't going to win games if the majority of their team is playing a passive game like they did on Saturday. Even against a middle-of-the-pack team like the Bolts, San Jose's collective effort just wasn't good enough.