Sharks

Why Sharks believe they're turning things around after win over Oilers

Why Sharks believe they're turning things around after win over Oilers

SAN JOSE -- Suffice to say, the Sharks don't look like the same team that started a six-game homestand on Nov. 1 with one of the worst records in the NHL.

With a 6-3 win over the Pacific Division-leading Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday night, the Sharks have won four in a row and appear to be climbing out of the hole they dug themselves in the first month of the season.

Not to jump the gun or anything, The Sharks aren't out of the woods yet. But after the past six games, it looks like they're finally turning the corner and playing the way they expect to.

"Every game, I feel like we're more comfortable," said Tomas Hertl, who scored a goal Tuesday. "Everybody plays better. So now we have to just keep going."

The Sharks spent a good chunk of the first month of the season looking out of sync -- offensively, defensively, you name it. The culprit? Focusing too much on individual play and not working together as a unit.

"We weren't playing our system," Marc-Edouard Vlasic summarized Tuesday. "We were freelancing. We were doing our own thing. And it's funny when you stick to it, to what you do best, the results follow."

Erik Karlsson, Vlasic's defensive partner, agreed.

"We lost ourselves a little bit," said Karlsson, who had three assists Tuesday. "But right now we're working hard for each other and getting ourselves in good spots out there."

Sticking to that system yielded positive production on Tuesday against the Oilers. The Sharks scored six goals, and largely contained Oilers superstars Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid. 

"We had a big task in stopping one of the best lines in hockey and I think we did a good job of that," Karlsson said. "I think everyone contributed offensively and defensively. I think we played the right way for 60 minutes even though they scored three goals. But I think we stuck with it."

"They're at the top of the division and I thought we did a good job of defending McDavid and Draisaitl as a group tonight," Sharks coach Peter DeBoer added. "I thought we had some individuals who did a really good job, but I thought everyone on the ice with those guys was aware."

Of course, getting the jump on the Oilers fewer than five minutes into the game didn't hurt, either. 

"We got the first goal, which took a little bit of the pressure off," DeBoer said. "We got to play out in front most of the night. Those kinds of things make a difference."

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Now, as Hertl mentioned, the Sharks have to keep going. With an 8-10-1 record, San Jose is still under .500.

That's not good enough for a team accustomed to playing in the postseason. 

"If you're under (.500) you're not in the playoffs," Hertl said. "We're trying the best and over the last four games, we actually look like the Sharks."

If they keep looking like the Sharks that Hertl is talking about, the outlook on the season gets a little brighter.

Doug Wilson admits Bob Boughner has 'upper hand' to stay Sharks' coach

Doug Wilson admits Bob Boughner has 'upper hand' to stay Sharks' coach

Throughout his lengthy tenure as Sharks general manager, Doug Wilson had never made a mid-season coaching change prior to firing Peter DeBoer on Dec. 11 and promoting Bob Boughner to interim head coach. While no decision has been made on whether or not Boughner will be retained moving forward, it sure sounds like Wilson is heavily leaning in that direction.

Wilson provided an update Thursday in a conference call with reporters on how the Sharks currently area proceeding given the indefinite pause of the NHL season due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, and spoke very highly of the job Boughner did in an interim capacity.

"We know we've got some work to be ready for next season, whenever that may be," Wilson said, "but while our results for the year aren't where we needed them to be or want them to be, I was pleased to see some of the overall play improved over the last half of the year. I thought more often than not we were playing the game the right way ... I thought we played as a team with identity and structure more so in the second part of the year."

The coaching change didn't produce immediate improvement, but San Jose eventually found a more consistent game with Boughner at the helm. The Sharks went 14-20-3 after the coaching switch, and they likely would have been even more competitive if not for severe injuries to several key players.

"I think Bougie and his staff did a lot of good things," Wilson continued. "They were certainly hamstrung with many of our top players out at times, it was almost like a patchwork lineup. But the things we were looking for, I thought were addressed. Bougie and I have talked a lot about just clarifying how we want to play, and ultimately, getting your team to commit to playing the right way for longer periods of time, regardless of your talent level. 

"So, he and I will go through this process. We'll keep those discussions in private, but I think there's no doubt the things that I talked about that improved as the year went on ... Bougie and his staff deserve a lot of credit."

That would seem to be an odd amount of praise for someone Wilson doesn't plan to bring back -- if that indeed is that case. Wilson went as far as to admit Boughner has a significant advantage over other potential candidates.

"Does Bob know our group and have the upper hand in this process? Absolutely," he said. "But I think you have to be thorough in this process."

Indeed, it sounds like Boughner already has a leg up on the potential competition. Still, Wilson knows he wouldn't be doing his job if he was limiting the scope in any way.

"You're always looking for ways to improve your hockey team," Wilson explained. "Whether it be player-wise, staff-wise ... our list of things that we need to address is pretty extensive. You use this time wisely, and you have to explore those things.

"My responsibility is to put the best group together to help us get to the next level, but there's no doubt that those guys are all valuable people to this organization. But are we excluding adding other people? Absolutely not. ... Missing the playoffs is not something we take lightly, and we will explore every area -- players, coaching staff, additional people -- to make this a better hockey team."

[RELATED: Sharks get great injury news on Couture, Hertl and Karlsson]

It's going to be an extremely important -- albeit unprecedented -- offseason for San Jose.

There is a lot of work to be done to get the Sharks back to a level of contention, and deciding on who will be behind the bench certainly ranks near the top of the list.

Sharks' injured stars expected to make full recovery by training camp

Sharks' injured stars expected to make full recovery by training camp

It has been nearly three full months since the last time Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl and Erik Karlsson all played in the same game for the Sharks.

Couture scored with precisely one minute remaining in regulation on Jan. 5 to give San Jose a commanding two-goal lead on the road against the Washington Capitals. In what would turn out to be arguably the most crushing loss of their season, the Sharks proceeded to give up two goals over the final minute before losing 5-4 in overtime.

That was the insult. Next came the injury.

In the second period of San Jose's next game on Jan. 7 against the St. Louis Blues, Couture took an awkward fall into the end boards and emerged with a fractured ankle. He would miss the next 17 games while recovering. By the time he returned to the lineup on Feb. 25, both Hertl and Karlsson's seasons had already ended.

Hertl tore the ACL and MCL in his left knee in a 5-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Jan. 29. Just over two weeks later, Karlsson was placed on season-ending injured reserve after breaking his left thumb against the Winnipeg Jets on Feb. 14.

While the Sharks certainly experienced their fair share of struggles earlier in the season, the severe injuries endured by arguably their three best players were always going to be too much to overcome. San Jose wasn't anywhere near playoff position when the NHL season was indefinitely paused on March 12 due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Though it remains to be seen if and when it will resume, it's safe to assume the franchise's postseason streak has come to an end.

Yep, the last few months have been pretty dark for the Sharks. Not being able to play games isn't helping, but the clouds might be parting.

In addition to restocking their draft cupboard at the trade deadline, the Sharks had two collegiate standouts -- John Leonard and Brinson Pasichnuk -- officially agree to join the organization Wednesday. On a conference call with reporters on Thursday, San Jose general manager Doug Wilson hinted that some more signings might be coming down the pipe in short order.

The most promising update Wilson provided, however, was how Couture, Hertl and Karlsson are progressing from their respective injuries.

In Couture's seventh game back in the lineup, he took a puck to the face -- the guy has the worst luck -- and was placed in concussion protocol as a precautionary measure on March 8. That was San Jose's penultimate game before the season was indefinitely paused, and he has been symptom-free ever since. The only thing preventing Couture from hopping back out on the ice -- if that were a possibility right now -- likely is his conditioning level, something he recently took steps to address

"Logan is feeling really good," Wilson told reporters. "I've talked to him quite a few times over the last little while. He has used the time really well. Sounds good, he got himself a Peloton, so he's riding every day. He's just about all the way back."

Like Couture, Karlsson's recovery hasn't been set back by the coronavirus pandemic.

"Erik is close to being all the way back," Wilson said, "and will be 100 percent for next season."

Though Hertl's injury was far more serious than the other two, his injury update was the most promising of the three.

"We got great news on Tomas Hertl," Wilson informed. "Talked to him yesterday. He's well ahead of schedule. Everything is going extremely well, and there should be no doubts with him being ready when next season starts, too."

Wilson insisted that all Sharks players and personnel are adhering to government recommendations and social distancing, but Hertl still has access to the team's training facility as he goes about his rehab. Wilson believes that access, combined with Hertl's previous knee injuries, has expedited his recovery this time around.

"He has been able to go to the facility and rehab with [head athletic trainer] Ray Tufts," Wilson explained. "He has got full flexibility and extension of his knee. I think what has happened, too, is he has the benefit -- we say that now; not a benefit at the time but it certainly is now -- he knows the process to go through. This is not an unknown for him.

"And talking to him yesterday, he just sounded outstanding. He's healed up, he's rested, he has got full extension. He has got some strengthening to do, but he said he even feels that he's well ahead of where he thought he would be, and that's been confirmed by our training staff and Ray Tufts, also."

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We don't know when the next NHL season will begin. Heck, we don't even know if the current one will continue.

But whenever the Sharks next take the ice with a legitimate chance to contend for the postseason, it appears they'll have all three of Couture, Hertl and Karlsson in tow, which will be a huge help.

If San Jose is going to emerge from the recent darkness, those three likely will need to lead the way.