Why improved goaltending must be key to Sharks turning season around


Why improved goaltending must be key to Sharks turning season around

For the Sharks to have success moving forward, the team is going to have to channel the performance they had on Thursday against the Winnipeg Jets as well as Tuesday night against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Well, except that maybe Martin Jones should channel everything except the last couple of minutes of both of those games, since the opposition found the back of the net. 

Through three games so far on the current six-game homestand, the Sharks have played two games in which they've felt good about their defensive effort and the offensive push that followed. Both of those games, however, also featured the opposing team scoring goals late in the game that made things all too interesting.

There's no denying it.

If San Jose is going to have any chance of turning the season around, the goaltending needs to be a lot better. 

This isn't to say the team getting outscored 58-40 is entirely the fault of Jones and backup Aaron Dell. The Sharks' five-on-five play has had trouble establishing a rhythm through the first month-plus of the season and has struggled as a unit to find the back of the net. Meanwhile, the defense has struggled with finding its identity right up until Tuesday's game when Radim Simek returned to eat up some minutes and balance out the blue line's responsibilities. With the team in front of them having trouble, it would be hard for any netminder to completely keep the team in every game.

But in two games where the Sharks have played up to their potential, the effort between the pipes hasn't quite matched. Jones gave up the game-winning goal to the Jets with 1:24 left in regulation last Thursday after San Jose's offense outshot Winnipeg 39-15 in the first two periods alone. Then on Tuesday against Chicago, Jones surrendered a shut-out bid with the Sharks up 3-0 by allowing two goals within 68-seconds at the end of regulation. 

While both of those games were Jones' starts, Dell isn't completely off the hook. He has followed up his brilliant start in Montreal last month with two starts that have left little to be desired. 

Sharks can't afford another season where goaltending can't get the job done. Since the Sharks were scoring more goals last season, they were able to stay competitive in their division and then get all the way to a Western Conference Final despite not having the best tandem tending twine. But the Sharks aren't scoring as many goals so far this season -- ergo, the contingent between the pipes has less wiggle room.

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This is the goaltending group the Sharks have to work with -- at least for the foreseeable future. There have been questions as to whether the Sharks might consider calling up Josef Korenar from the Barracuda, but there's no guarantee the rookie netminder's 1.82 GAA will translate seamlessly to the NHL level. For now, San Jose needs to work with what they have. 

With the Sharks as far down in the standings as they are 16 games into the season, every facet of their game has to turn around if they're going to somehow climb out of the hole they're in. They won't be able to make any kind of a climb if the goaltending doesn't tighten up as well. 

Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau react to ex-teammates on Sharks' staff


Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau react to ex-teammates on Sharks' staff

SAN JOSE -- No, the days of the player-coach hybrid aren't making a comeback. Although, if you're Joe Thornton or Patrick Marleau, it might feel that way.

With the introduction of Bob Boughner as San Jose's interim head coach, the organization brought in staff that includes former Sharks Mike Ricci and Evgeni Nabokov -- two players who were on the roster back when the now 40-year-olds hadn't reached their veteran status yet.

"It will be interesting to see them on the bench," Marleau said. "But they're very professional and they'll do a great job."

Marleau played with both Ricci and Nabokov in the early 2000s, while Thornton only logged time with Nabokov after coming to San Jose from the Boston Bruins in 2005. While it has been some time since either newly-appointed assistant coach has rocked a teal sweater, Ricci and Nabokov have stayed with the organization in different capacities over the last few years. Having that closeness and a high level of familiarity is something that can benefit the team as they go through a midseason coaching change.

"I know what they've been through and I know a lot about them, so it's easy to communicate with them," Marleau said.

Thornton agreed with his teammate's assessment.

"They've been here for a long time now," Thornton said. "To have them on the bench now is going to be fun."

Both Ricci and Nabokov have spent the last several seasons working on the development side of the Sharks' organization and have worked closely with players on the AHL Barracuda -- a team that has been coached by Roy Sommer up until he, too, was recently named assistant coach under Boughner. In his introductory press conference on Thursday, Boughner outlined how he believes his new coaching staff might function.

"We met last night as a staff and this morning and we still need to work through some things," Boughner admitted. "But Mike Ricci and Roy are going to be on the bench with me. Roy's going to move to the defensive side and run some power play. Ricci was a great penalty killer his whole career and I think we're going to be able to enjoy some of his expertise. I'll be running the forwards and obviously Nabby will (oversee) the goalies. There are still some job responsibilities we'll have to sort out in the next few days. But for now, I think those guys are excited. It was a big day for them as well."

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As far as reuniting Ricci and Nabokov with their former teammates, Boughner thinks working closely with Thornton and Marleau will benefit the entire roster as the Sharks try to, yet again, turn their season around after a tough stretch of losses.

"I think you can see, even in the morning, there's that report there," Boughner said of watching the reunion during morning skate. "There's deep respect. There's a lot of familiarity with those guys and I think that's going to help. Ricci and Roy have seen these young guys all the way up. I think there's great chemistry that we're going to have there."

Sharks fail to correct bad habits in first game after coaching change


Sharks fail to correct bad habits in first game after coaching change

SAN JOSE -- Thursday could have been a fresh start for the Sharks. As shocking and emotional as it was to go through a midseason coaching change, they were presented with the opportunity to turn things around.

Unfortunately, Thursday's game against the Rangers featured a lot of the same problems. Missed opportunities, loose late-game play and yet another notch in the loss column.

Sure, getting accustomed to a new coach's ways can take some time. But that doesn't give the Sharks a pass when it comes to playing a full 60-minute hockey game.

"It's tough, it's difficult, but there's no excuse," captain Logan Couture said after the 6-3 loss. "Lots of teams have [gone through a coaching change]. A lot of teams in this league have done it and they've gone on winning streaks. The team that did it last year won the Cup. So, we've got to find a way. Tonight wasn't good enough once again."

San Jose did, in fact, have a great chance to get back into the win column in Bob Boughner's first game behind the bench. Even with New York continuing to grind away, the Sharks were able to take a 3-2 lead at the 4:12 mark of the third period thanks to a big goal from Brenden Dillon.

But then the defense took its foot off of the gas and Martin Jones couldn't stop Mike Zibanejad or Artemi Panarin from pushing the Rangers over the hump. In a matter of minutes, the Sharks went from defending a lead to being in a hole they didn't have time to dig out of.

"When you have a lead in the third with 15 minutes left, you have to defend a little bit harder and not turn the puck over like we did," Couture continued. "Play harder in our own end, which we did not. Defend our slot harder tonight, and I don't think we did."

Dillon agreed. "Frustrating when you have a lead like that. Especially at home, we have to be able to close it out. If we give up the tying goal, and then a couple more, it's just frustrating."

Letting up late isn't the only thing that is plaguing the Sharks right now. San Jose has struggled to play a full 60-minute game for the bulk of the season thus far. Thursday's loss showed yet again that San Jose isn't playing full games on a nightly basis -- regardless of who is behind the bench.

"I think we did some good things tonight, but obviously it still wasn't a full 60," interim head coach Bob Boughner observed. "I think in the third period we ran out of gas there a little bit."

[RELATED: Boughner confident in staff, wants Sharks to play inspired]

Martin Jones, who surrendered three goals in the third period, agreed. "Have to play a full 60 minutes, you have to," he said, acknowledging that having an adjustment period with a new coaching staff isn't an excuse. "They had more jump in the third period than us. We've got to find a way in a tied hockey game to come out with a little bit more energy. I don't know how many shots or scoring chances we had in the third, but we need to apply more pressure in a close hockey game like that."

Whether it's applying more pressure or tightening up, the Sharks clearly still have a laundry list of things they need to clean up. Now with the dust settling in regards to the coaching change, San Jose has no other option but to dig deep and keep working.

"There's a lot of work to be done," Boughner reminded everyone. "We'll have a good practice day tomorrow. Sort some things out."