Arizona Coyotes

How struggles in faceoff circle plagued Sharks on disastrous road trip

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USATSI

How struggles in faceoff circle plagued Sharks on disastrous road trip

That is not how the Sharks wanted to enter the All-Star break.

Coming off consecutive wins over the Columbus Blue Jackets and Dallas Stars, San Jose had a chance to reach the unofficial midway point of the regular season riding a massive wave of momentum, perhaps large enough to carry the team back to the postseason. All that sat between the Sharks and that development was a crucial three-game road trip against Western Conference foes.

At the very least, San Jose needed to keep its head above water. Instead, the Sharks drowned in disaster.

Facing the Arizona Coyotes, Colorado Avalanche and Vancouver Canucks -- all teams San Jose potentially would have to leapfrog to make the playoffs -- the Sharks reverted back to kind of performances that put them in such a deep hole in the first place.

San Jose was outscored 14-4 and outshot 117-73 over the course of the three games. Those two stats obviously are interconnected, but Sharks interim head coach Bob Boughner pointed to another area of failure as a big reason for his team's struggles.

"The big difference this road trip is we've been horrible in the faceoff circle," Boughner said following the 4-1 loss in Vancouver on Saturday night. "You're never starting with the puck. Even in the offensive zone, you're chasing, and you can't chase pucks all night. That limits your possessions and tires you out."

Boughner's correct. The Sharks were thoroughly dominated in the faceoff circle over the course of the road trip, which might have had something to do with them scoring only one goal over its final six periods of play. San Jose won only 45.1 percent of the draws against the Coyotes, 45.6 percent against the Avalanche and only 38.0 percent against the Canucks.

It's only the third time this season the Sharks have won fewer than 49.0 percent of the draws in three straight games, and the most recent instance also coincided with a three-game losing streak. Whether it's shooting, scoring or simply gaining possession of the puck, Boughner is hoping the All-Star break will provide the Sharks with the needed respite to address their shortcomings.

"This is probably a great break for everybody, mentally," Boughner said. "Recharge the batteries and come back and try to forget about this week of hockey and put a good week in as soon as we get back."

[RELATED: Report: Wilson won't disrupt Sharks' core at trade deadline]

The Sharks' final week heading into the All-Star break was an unmitigated disaster. If they're still planning on qualifying for the postseason, they can't have any more like it.

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in unimpressive 6-3 loss vs. Coyotes

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AP

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in unimpressive 6-3 loss vs. Coyotes

BOX SCORE

Coming off a brief -- albeit impressive -- homestand, the Sharks looked to carry their momentum into a critical three-game road trip, beginning Tuesday night against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena. Instead, that momentum has been brought to a halt, as San Jose fell 6-3 against its divisional foes.

The Sharks dug themselves a big hole, as Arizona's Phil Kessel provided his team with a 2-0 advantage five minutes into the second period with his second goal of the night. San Jose then battled back in short order, tying the game up within the next five minutes of play, but it would be mostly downhill from there.

Aaron Dell did his best in net to give the Sharks a chance, and the score likely would have been much worse if not for some of his big saves, particularly in the early going.

Here are three takeaways from the battle in the desert/

Unnecessary penalties

The Sharks no longer are the most penalized team in the NHL, but they're still shooting themselves in the foot too often with some of the penalties they are taking.

You don't have to look any further than Stefan Noesen's hooking penalty early in the second period to get the point. On the complete opposite end line from San Jose's own goal, the fourth-liner took a terrible hooking penalty, and it cost the Sharks big time. On the Arizona's resulting power play, San Jose's penalty-kill unit was atypically caught out of position, allowing Kessel to slide an easy goal past Dell to increase the Desert Dogs' lead to 2-0. 

The Sharks have constantly relied on their top-ranked penalty kill  this season, and it has been a tremendous ace in the hole for the team. But if they keep giving the opposition unnecessary advantages, it won't matter how great it is.

Dell is the guy

If it wasn't clear before, it should be by now. Aaron Dell is the Sharks' No. 1 goalie, and he has run away with the job.

Tuesday night was Dell's fourth straight start, and he has started all but one of San Jose's games since the turn of the calendar. He hadn't allowed more than two goals against in any of those starts, and while he allowed four to the Coyotes -- Arizona scored two on an empty net -- it's not as if he had a legitimate chance on any of them. In fact, Dell came up with several big saves in the opening period, without which the game likely would have gotten out of hand long before San Jose had a chance to stage a comeback attempt.

He came up with another huge save shortly after Kessel's second goal, which actually initiated a Sharks' rush up the ice and culminated in Timo Meier's game-tying goal midway through the second period. Without any of those saves, San Jose doesn't have a reason to pull Dell at the end of the game.

And without Dell's recent emergence, the Sharks' goaltending situation would be looking a lot more dire at the moment.

Power play cashes in again

After the Coyotes increased their lead to 4-2 just over eight minutes into the third period, San Jose could have folded and packed it in, knowing a tough game in Denver was next on the schedule. But to the Sharks' credit, they kept battling and gave themselves a chance to get a point or two.

San Jose kept the pressure on, and Meier eventually drew a tripping penalty with just under three minutes remaining in the contest. Less than a minute later, Evander Kane scored off a nice pass from Kevin Labanc to pull the Sharks within 4-3.

They never got any closer, but Kane's power-play marker continued a positive trend for the Sharks. With Kane's goal, the San Jose is now 5-for-13 with the man-advantage over the last five games, with at least one power-play goal in all but one of those contests. Additionally, it was Kane's 10th power-play goal of the season, moving him into a tie with the Washington Capitals' Alexander Ovechkin for the third-most in the NHL.

Sharks' power play 'problem' bites them again in 3-2 loss to Coyotes

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AP

Sharks' power play 'problem' bites them again in 3-2 loss to Coyotes

SAN JOSE -- The Sharks' power play is a big topic of discussion right now, and not for the reasons the team wants.

San Jose is 1-for-36 on the man advantage in their last 15 games. Through the first 36 games of the 2019-20 season, the Sharks have gone 16-for-108 -- a lousy 14.8-percent success rating, good for 27th overall in the NHL. 

And in Tuesday night's contest against the division-leading Arizona Coyotes at SAP Center, they were down 3-2 with less than a minute left to play and were gifted with a 6-on-3 opportunity that they could have used to force overtime. 

They did not. To put it simply, that effort on the rare three-man advantage summed up how much the Sharks' power play needs to improve.

"It's been a problem and we've got to fix it," interim head coach Bob Boughner said after the 3-2 loss, pinpointing the power play as the main factor in Tuesday's game. "We're at home. We've got to get some momentum off of our power play and we're not getting that right now. It's something we've got to look at."

In all fairness, the Sharks played pretty well for the majority of the third period, shutting down the Coyotes' power play with less than five minutes to go in a 2-2 game. Even after Oliver Ekman-Larsson put the Desert Dogs on top 3-2 with less than three minutes to go in regulation, the Sharks caught a break when Ilya Lyubushkin got penalized for playing without a helmet and Brad Richardson got dinged for cross-checking -- all within the last minute of the third frame. San Jose then pulled netminder Aaron Dell for the extra skater.

But even with a three-skater advantage, the Sharks didn't generate any decent chances. The puck was bobbled and the Coyotes had no trouble getting in shooting lanes and blocking shots.

"Wasn't good enough, obviously," Logan Couture said of the six-on-three in the last seconds of the game. "We've got to do a better job of at least getting a shot on net there.

"That's been the case for the majority of the year. There are plays to be made and we didn't make them. We had our shots blocked too many times. I had a few blocked. We've got to find a way to get it through and get an ugly one right now."

The captain is right. Even an ugly power play goal could make a positive impact. As Tomas Hertl aptly pointed out, that power play was easily the difference in Tuesday's loss.

"If we score on the power play, maybe we win the game," Hertl said. "I think we need to start to play more simple. Get a shot through, crash the net, get some rebounds."

[RELATED: Kovalchuk, Sharks not a fit]

The Sharks don't play again until Saturday night, which means they have a couple of extra days of practice. There's no doubt the power play is going to be a focal point, especially after it couldn't break through at an important point in Tuesday's game.

"It's something that, hopefully, we can learn from and get better at moving forward," Erik Karlsson said. "Being the players that we are we have to, in moments like that, make some reads and make decisions out there to create something for each other. We failed to do that in a critical moment of the game."