Calgary Flames

Sharks emphasizing importance of first goal in desire to pile up wins

Sharks emphasizing importance of first goal in desire to pile up wins

SAN JOSE -- Jumping out to an early lead doesn't always guarantee a team will win, but that's been the theme for the Sharks through the first couple of weeks of the regular season. 

And after scoring the first goal of a game for the first time this season against the Flames -- and going on to win, no less -- San Jose is looking to establish that early-game presence more often. 

"It was nice to score first for once and feel good," Logan Couture said without hesitation Sunday night after the Sharks skated away with a 3-1 victory over Calgary. "We built off the third period in the Chicago game (last Thursday) which is what we really wanted to do."

Kevin Labanc agreed. "That was a big lead for us and we've got to start every game like that. That's got to be our focus."

Per Hockey-Reference, San Jose went 31-8-5 during the 2018-19 season when they scored the first goal, and outscored opponents 102-85 in first periods according to Statspass. The Sharks then averaged 22:41 minutes of lead time per game last year, per MoreHockeyStats.com, en route to winning 46 games and coming in second place in the Pacific Division.

While history doesn't always repeat itself, it's evident the Sharks have a better chance of winning if they can get on the scoreboard first, instead of battling back from behind. As the first five games of this season have shown, rallying out of an early hole can be challenging -- and resulted in four straight losses to begin the campaign.

"We've been talking about the last five games about coming (from) behind," Tomas Hertl said. "It costs you a lot of energy and it's hard."

This isn't to say San Jose can't win a game coming from behind. Per MoreHockeyStats.com, the Sharks won 20 regular-season games last year in which they didn't score first. But with the new season comes new challenges, and as of late, San Jose is giving up too many breakaways and prime chances. With wrinkles in the Sharks' defense still being ironed out, they should be looking to get on the scoreboard first as frequently as possible.

"I still think we could be a little bit better," Hertl said after Sunday's win. "This was one of our better games but we have to work."

Surely, the Sharks want that work to carry over into their next game -- a Wednesday night matchup against the Hurricanes. In addition to being tied for second place in the Eastern Conference, Carolina is 4-0-0 this season when scoring the first goal. 

San Jose has the advantage of getting practice time in before Wednesday's game, whereas the Hurricanes will be playing the tail end of a back-to-back -- just like the Flames were the last time the Sharks took the ice. 

[RELATED: How Sorensen, Simek are progressing in return to Sharks]

If the Sharks can score the first goal again on Wednesday, they'll greatly improve their chances of notching a three-game win streak.

Dylan Gambrell's improved play aiding Sharks' quest for four-line game

Dylan Gambrell's improved play aiding Sharks' quest for four-line game

SAN JOSE - One of the biggest criticisms of the Sharks at this early point in the season has been that its younger players hadn't stepped up yet.

That changed on Sunday evening in San Jose's 3-1 win over the Calgary Flames. 

Sure, San Jose's young stars Timo Meier, Tomas Hertl, and Kevin Labanc all found the net in the victory. But when Hertl and captain Logan Couture addressed the media postgame, independent of each other, both pointed to newcomer Dylan Gambrell's emergence over the last few games as a key factor in the Sharks' recent success.

Gambrell's positive production as fourth-line center is giving San Jose more offensive depth. While the Sharks' forward attack is still a work in progress, the 23-year-old forward is evolving into the pivotal player the team needs.

"He's been given an opportunity and these last two games he's really shown what he's been capable of," Couture said. "When we have that line playing well and the other three rolling over, we're a tough team to beat."

Head coach Peter DeBoer agreed with the assessment of his captain.

"For him, that's all about competing," DeBoer said of Gambrell. "Sticking his nose in there and competing. His skill and speed will take over and he's starting to do that here regularly."

There was a spotlight on Gambrell heading into training camp after he signed a two-year contract following a season in which he bounced between the AHL and NHL. But the University of Denver product didn't readily establish his game when he was plugged into the top six through the preseason and, like the majority of the Sharks, struggled out of the gate in the first few games of the regular season. 

After penciling back onto the fourth line, Gambrell's game visibly changed. 

"I think he saw that he was close to being sent back. That's the reality of it," DeBoer admitted. "He wasn't as effective (in training camp) as he is now. And maybe that's on us. Maybe we asked him to do too much. We played him on the wing on the top two lines and maybe it was too much for him."

Back at the center position on that fourth line, however, the speedy forward has been on an upward trend. He's been more effective in the faceoff circle and more aggressive on the puck, which gives San Jose depth down the middle that they, frankly, have been missing since last season.

"He had a little tough start but now he's playing a really hard game and this is what we need," Hertl said. "Good on faceoffs, strong on the puck."

Continuing that higher level of compete can make the Sharks' quest to establish a four-line game a bit smoother. As San Jose has encountered through the first six games of the season, the Western Conference is stacked with teams that can get production out of any line they roll out onto the ice. While the Sharks' offense is still in the process of getting healthy -- Marcus Sorensen is still sidelined -- the team needs to get its four-line game in place if they're going to completing recover from their rough start to the season.

[RELATED: Sharks fans give Marleau standing ovation]

"In this league, you need four lines," Hertl summarized. "It's not about just one line. Every night you need four lines plus your goalie."

If Gambrell can continue this upward trend, the Sharks have a better chance of achieving that goal.

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in San Jose's 3-1 win over Flames

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in San Jose's 3-1 win over Flames

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE -- Good play doesn't always carry over from one game to another. But after finishing strong and getting their first win of the season Thursday night, the Sharks hoped to build on that performance three days later when the Calgary Flames came to town.

Team Teal did just that, jumping out to an early lead and never giving it up, as they extinguished the Flames 3-1, tallying their second straight win of the season.

Here are three takeaways from Sunday's game at SAP Center.

Captain clutch

When Logan Couture's teammates described him during the preseason as a captain who would "lead by example," they really weren't kidding. No. 39 was one of the best players on the ice Sunday night -- not because he scored big goals but because he set them up and let his speed set the tone for the rest of the team.

San Jose's offense got two big jolts in the first 40 minutes, and both times it was from a goal that Couture set up. The second was most impressive, as he snagged the puck from Calgary forward Mikael Backland on a Sharks penalty kill and maneuvered up the ice to set up Tomas Hertl for San Jose's first short-handed goal of the season.

Jones stood tall

When San Jose's defense got a little loosey-goosey in the second period, goalie Martin Jones kept the Sharks in the game. Not only did Jones keep the Flames off the board during the first seven minutes of the opening period, but he also stopped a few breakaway attempts that could've erased San Jose's lead.

Needless, to say, Jones had his best outing of the season by far. With San Jose's defense still ironing out some kinks and cleaning up its 60-minute game, it was exactly the kind of confident performance this team needed.

The power of playing with the lead

It's pretty incredible how much momentum a team can get just from taking an early lead. Once Timo Meier found the back of the net and gave the Sharks their first first-period lead of the season, they had all the momentum in their favor for the rest of the frame.

The Sharks just need to make sure they don't let their defense regularly take its foot off the gas, as it did during Sunday's game. They might have had the benefit of getting a good performance out of Jones and playing against a tired Flames team, but that kind of play won't cut it against tougher teams. 

[RELATED: Sharks fans give Marleau standing ovation]

Getting into turnover trouble could doom them this coming week when the Eastern Conference-leading Carolina Hurricanes come to town.