Who has edge between Sharks-Golden Knights as series shifts to Vegas?


Who has edge between Sharks-Golden Knights as series shifts to Vegas?

What remains a seven-game Stanley Cup playoff series has transformed into a best-of-five, with the Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights splitting the first pair in San Jose.

Game 2 on Friday was filled with drama, controversy and frustration for San Jose fans, and now the series gets a little more interesting as it shifts to Southern Nevada.

Here are five observations headed into Game 3.

What do we make of this series now?  

It’s difficult to determine where the Sharks are at right now in regards to momentum, after one of their absolute best recent performances (a 5-2 win in Game 1) followed by one of their worst (a 5-3 loss in Game 2).  

To be clear, their resilience in erasing a three-goal deficit should be applauded.  But digging that initial early hole, in addition to allowing two short-handed markers, resembled a regression to some of San Jose’s worst stretches from the regular season.

Moving on from 'The Call'

Let’s hope when this series is over that Brent Burns' disallowed goal is no more than an afterthought. From my vantage point, Logan Couture’s contact with goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury (outside the crease) was incidental and not initiated by the attacking player, so the goal should have fallen as perfectly a legal tally under Rule 78.

But moving on is imperative, just as the Sharks did in the second round in 2016. In overtime of Game 4 against the Nashville Predators, Joe Pavelski was (infamously) tagged for goalie interference on what would have been the game winner, in what turned out to be a 4-3 triple-overtime loss. San Jose won the next game 5-1, and took the series in seven.

Stay with Jones

Sharks coach Peter DeBoer is making a solid decision in sticking with goaltender Martin Jones to begin Game 3. It’s not to say Jones will have every start of this series etched in stone, should some of the Vegas scoring trends continue. And it’s not to discount the capabilities of backup Aaron Dell.

But going in a different goalie direction is a major change at this juncture, and should only be used by San Jose in the way that a rip-cord works on a parachute. Besides, should that Burns goal have counted Friday, how close was Fleury to being pulled on the other side?

Vegas' additions have been difference-makers

Neither Max Pacioretty (one goal, three assists), Mark Stone (three goals) nor Paul Stasny (three assists) were part of Vegas’ storybook run to the Stanley Cup Final last season. They each were separate acquisitions to help the Golden Knights get better, and, so far, they have been the standouts of this series through two games.  

[RELATED: Couture thought he'd lost a testicle after blocking a shot]

Karlsson contributing, but Vlasic hurting?

It’s hard to be critical of defenseman Erik Karlsson, the Sharks’ leading point-getter with four assists. But several have commented that he takes an occasional stride or two that doesn’t “look right." 

My interpretation and response to that sentiment is that it would be no surprise if he were skating through an injury that does impair him but not to the point where he can’t contribute. Refer to the 2017 postseason, and what Karlsson played though with the Ottawa Senators.

As for Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who left Game 2 with an undisclosed injury, one of hockey's weirdest dynamics is at play. Sometimes, the worst-looking injuries tend to be playable (see Joe Pavelski), and the most innocent-looking injuries (taking a shot below the arm) have the worst ramifications.

Sharks fired Peter DeBoer after rocky start, but what comes next?


Sharks fired Peter DeBoer after rocky start, but what comes next?

The Sharks' dismissal of Pete DeBoer is both mildly surprising, and not shocking, all at the same time. It’s a sad truth in professional sports that the head coach takes a fall for his team. It also offers an intriguing aspect, though, to see what kind of response the team delivers after the change.

It’s been difficult to figure out who the Sharks are this season, and that’s a scary trait when you’re responsible for assuring their success. They’ve lost four, then won three. Then lost seven of eight, only to win nine of the next 10. It’s almost a season’s worth of highs and lows as if they’ve ridden an entire amusement park worth of roller-coasters in just 10 minutes.

Other confusing trends include their defensive struggles in 5-on-5 situations, yet their utter dominance on the penalty kill. As well on the other side, their ability to draw a significant number of penalties but rarely be able to capitalize with any consistency on the power play.

A lot of folks will look at the goaltending stats to blame, but the eye test tells a better story. Save percentage and goals-against average are not complimentary right now for either Aaron Dell or Martin Jones. But those numbers are flawed because of the quality and quantity of “Grade-A” chances the Sharks have been giving up dating to the start of last year.

Not all shots are created equal. This holds true in hockey and in basketball. A lay-up usually converts at a much higher clip than shots from beyond the arc. San Jose essentially has been routinely giving up slam dunks while trying to shoot too many 3-pointers.

Team defense has to be a top priority to turn around, no matter who the head coach is.

It’s not realistic to think that change or improvement will take place overnight, but obviously, there will be a lot of extra attention surrounding the Sharks in coming weeks and months, as well as a lot of pressure on the new men at the helm. Bob Boughner was the only member of the staff retained, and will be joined by fan favorites Mike Ricci, Evgeni Nabokov and longtime AHL staple Roy Sommer.

[RELATED: Why firing DeBoer doesn't solve all of Sharks' problems]

The $80 million question (think salary-cap space) right now is, what happens next for the Sharks?

Does this move from a tactical or symbolic standpoint unify a group that seems to have all the right pieces but hasn't had consistent results? It has become a notable trend across the NHL to see high-profile clubs make moves early when things don’t launch well.

But to think that any team can match what the St. Louis Blues did last season -- going from worst in the league in January to a Stanley Cup win in June -- definitely shouldn't be considered a reliable blueprint.

Why Sharks firing coach Peter DeBoer doesn't solve all their problems


Why Sharks firing coach Peter DeBoer doesn't solve all their problems

It was time for a shake-up, there’s no question about it. And when things go sideways, the head coach typically takes the bulk of the blame.

But, the Sharks still have a lot of work to do.

So while those calling for Peter DeBoer to be out of a job have been granted their wish, it needs to be understood that his firing isn’t the beginning nor the end of San Jose's problems.

Don't get me wrong: The first stretch of the Sharks' 2019-20 campaign has been downright rough. They lost the first four games of their season and, despite having plenty of talent in the lineup, have struggled mightily to dig out of the hole they're in now. Even during the six-game winning streak, those games weren't always pretty.

And through that stretch of wins, there were issues that San Jose needed to address, whether it was goaltending or lack of offensive depth or the penalty kill being overworked.

Long story short: This isn’t just about coaching. Honestly, the Sharks still might lose a lot of games.

Please remember that DeBoer took the Sharks to the Western Conference finals last season with Martin Jones and Aaron Dell posting save percentages under .900. And DeBoer took the team to a Stanley Cup Final in 2016 after beating two stacked teams in the Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues. This isn't the story of someone who can't coach a Cup-contending team.

So, what was the issue?

Even before DeBoer's firing, the Sharks have been in a team in flux. After the first four defeats, DeBoer had his own list of complaints as to how the team was playing defensively. And offensively. Quite frankly, he wasn't happy with how the team played as a whole during the winning streak in November.

Whatever the core reason is for San Jose's woes, something still has to change now that DeBoer is out the door. After nearly erasing its October deficit with a phenomenal record in November, San Jose has gone 0-4-1 so far in December, a slide that has dropped the team five points out of a playoff spot.

[RELATED: Sharks scuffling because of bad combo of scoring, penalties]

December is a weird month to try to right the ship. The Sharks have a homestand coming up but with two long breaks shoved in the middle. They have a three-day layover ahead of a back-to-back with St. Louis and Vegas, and then another a few days later with the Kings and Flyers.

The Sharks absolutely could go on a run before the new year. Just don't expect the coaching change to solve all of their problems.