Jacob Middleton

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 3-2 comeback win in OT vs. Devils

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 3-2 comeback win in OT vs. Devils

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SAN JOSE -- The Sharks got a taste of redemption Thursday night, earning a 3-2 overtime win over the New Jersey Devils at SAP Center. Captain Logan Couture, playing in his second game since returning from a 17-game absence, scored 38 seconds into the extra session. 

After dropping a 2-1 contest in New Jersey eight days prior, the Sharks turned the tables and split the season series with the Devils. It required a come-from-behind effort, as San Jose dug a significant 2-0 first-period hole.

The Sharks found their groove in the second frame, however, and maintained that surge throughout the rest of the game. With the victory, San Jose ended a five-game losing streak.

Here are three takeaways from what the Sharks hope is the start of a resurgent six-game homestand.

Black and white

Since taking over for Pete DeBoer, interim coach Bob Boughner has been adamant that he wants the Sharks to be a "hard" team to play against, one that isn't easily pushed over and never relents. They couldn't have been further from that in Thursday's first period.

The Sharks edged the Devils 12-5 in hits in the first period, but that was deceiving. In the moments when it truly mattered to bring a physical presence, San Jose provided the resistance of tissue paper.

On the Devils' first goal, for instance, the Sharks allowed Miles Wood to drive straight from behind their own net and across goaltender Martin Jones' crease. San Jose lost sight of the puck in the resulting collision at the side of the net, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic ended up accidentally pushing it across the line.

The Sharks went into the first intermission trailing 2-0. Whatever was said in the locker room in between periods certainly worked, because when San Jose returned to the ice, it looked like a completely different team.

The second period belonged to the Sharks, and they got back to the kind of style Boughner wants to see. They out-shot, out-hit and outdueled the Devils in the faceoff circle in the middle frame, and managed to tie things up going into the third.

At this point in the season, establishing an identity is more important to San Jose than points are. As upset as Boughner must have been after the first period, he had to (mostly) like what he saw from the Sharks from that point on.

Strength re-established

There was about a 10-game stretch in mid-January when the Sharks' penalty kill -- which had been the team's undeniable strength all season long -- experienced a bit of a down spell. Any issues appear to have been solved, as San Jose's penalty kill has been back near top form over the last handful of games and was again Thursday night.

Not only did the Sharks kill all four of the Devils' power plays on the evening, but they also managed to score on one of them themselves. Joel Kellman and Marcus Sorensen combined for a perfectly executed 2-on-1 on a second-period kill, and Sorensen's resulting goal pulled San Jose even at 2-2. It was the Sharks' seventh short-handed goal of the season, which ranks in the top 10 in the NHL.

You don't often see bad teams ranking atop the league's special teams, but that's the case with San Jose. On one hand, the Sharks can be proud of how consistently strong they've been while short-handed this season. On the other, they must be disappointed that it hasn't meant much in the grand scheme of things.

[RELATED: What Kane hopes to teach young Sharks for rest of season]

Growing pains

After the trade deadline passed, Sharks general manager Doug Wilson insisted that the team would use the final 20 games of the season to see what some of the younger, lesser-proven players could provide. San Jose has been true to that word in the two games since, and as is often the case with youngsters, there seems to be a corresponding down for every up.

Thursday was no different.

New Jersey's second goal came immediately following a terrible defensive zone turnover by defenseman Jake Middleton. San Jose's first goal was scored by Mario Ferraro, and assisted by fellow rookie Noah Gregor. Shortly thereafter, Lean Bergmann -- playing in his first NHL game since Nov. 7 -- took a bad tripping penalty in the offensive zone, sapping much of the team's momentum. Several minutes later, Kellman made a tremendous cross-ice pass to find Sorensen for the tying goal.

Get used to the growing pains. This is who the Sharks are for the remainder of the 2019-20 season.

Sharks takeaways: What we learned from rough 4-2 road loss vs. Flyers

Sharks takeaways: What we learned from rough 4-2 road loss vs. Flyers

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The Sharks came out of the trade deadline the same way they went into it, suffering a road loss to an Eastern Conference opponent in which San Jose wasn't all that competitive.

In a 4-2 loss Tuesday night at Wells Fargo Center, the Sharks fell behind the Philadelphia Flyers within the opening two minutes. They managed to go into the first intermission with the score tied, but the Flyers mostly controlled the final two periods. Philadelphia scored twice in the second, and the depleted San Jose lineup lacked the firepower to keep up.

With the loss, the Sharks conclude a winless four-game road trip in which they were outscored 13-6 and never tallied more than two goals in any single contest.

Here are three takeaways from another loss that revealed San Jose's shortcomings.

Not Burns' best

Several of the Sharks' best players are either injured or now playing for other teams. One of the few who remains in San Jose's lineup -- defenseman Brent Burns -- is unlikely to favorably remember Tuesday's defeat.

The Flyers' first goal of the game came on a power play resulting from Burns' early hooking penalty. He was also on the ice for both of Philadelphia's goals in the second period, at least one of which he likely could have prevented if not for a bad turnover. Offensively, Burns had a rather pedestrian performance for his standards, finishing with zero points and two shots on goal.

In Burns' defense, he has taken on a larger load of the minutes in the aftermath of Erik Karlsson's season-ending injury, averaging nearly 27 minutes per game since the fellow former Norris Trophy winner went down on Feb. 14. That said, San Jose will be at a talent deficit throughout most of its remaining games, and if Burns is struggling, that will be too tough to overcome more often than not.

Ears burning

Prior to Tuesday's game, Sharks general manager Doug Wilson explained that he's looking forward to seeing what some of San Jose's younger, less-proven players can do with their increased opportunities throughout the remainder of the season. Although the Sharks lost to the Flyers, Wilson has to be pleased with certain individual performances.

Of the few youngsters Wilson specifically mentioned by name, Joel Kellman, was included. The 25-year-old Swedish winger didn't take long to show why, pulling San Jose even with the Sharks' first goal of the night. 

Defenseman Jake Middleton got the primary assist on Kellman's goal, just as he did on Tim Heed's goal in the first game of the road trip. Tuesday marked Middleton's fourth NHL game since being called up from the AHL last week, as it did for Noah Gregor, who managed to notch his second goal of the season with a wicked slap shot in the third period.

Kellman, Middleton and Gregor are the type of players Wilson was talking about prior to the game. Afterward, the GM has to like what he saw from them.

[RELATED: Wilson pleased with Sharks' haul, but work is just starting]

Dell dropping off

Tuesday marked the fourth loss in goaltender Aaron Dell's last five starts, over which he has allowed 19 goals against. That's not a good trend, but frankly, it's not as big of a deal as it would have been a few weeks ago.

Heading into the trade deadline, the Sharks had every reason to see what they could get for the pending unrestricted free agent. Had Dell's struggles occurred earlier, it likely would have diminished whatever San Jose got in return for him. Well, no trade was made, and Dell will remain with the Sharks for the duration of the season.

That is likely to be the extent of it, however. Assuming San Jose is unable to unload Martin Jones' hefty contract, it is difficult to see a situation in which Dell re-signs with the Sharks in the offseason. As such, he needs to get back on track -- not to build up his value as a trade piece, but as a free agent instead.

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in annoying 2-1 road loss to Devils

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Sharks takeaways: What we learned in annoying 2-1 road loss to Devils

BOX SCORE

The New Jersey Devils entered Thursday's game against the Sharks at Prudential Center as one of only three teams in the league with fewer points than San Jose. That no longer is the case after New Jersey came from behind and held off the Sharks for a 2-1 win.

The Sharks got on the board first and maintained that lead through the first half of the contest, but Jesper Bratt scored on a breakaway late in the second period to pull the Devils even and P.K. Subban's power-play goal in the third proved to be the game-winner. San Jose had an advantage in shots, scoring chances and high-danger chances, but New Jersey netminder Mackenzie Blackwood came up big when it mattered most.

Here are three takeaways from a loss that ends San Jose's road winning streak at four games.

Seizing the opportunity

Things started very well for the Sharks. They had good jump in the first period and were able to take the lead thanks to some unexpected contributors.

Just over seven minutes into the game, Alex True won a faceoff in the offensive zone and passed it back to Jake Middleton, who promptly slid it across the blue line to defensive partner Tim Heed. Heed then threw an innocent-enough shot at the net, but thanks to plenty of traffic in front, it slid past Blackwood for the first goal of the night.

True made his NHL debut a couple of weeks ago. Thursday was Middleton's eighth career NHL game, and Heed has gone back and forth between the Sharks and the Barracuda in the AHL in his career. Having the three of them combine for a goal was a promising sign, and the exact kind of silver lining San Jose should be focusing on throughout the remainder of a season that is not headed for the playoffs.

Bottom-dwellers

The fact that a fourth-line goal was arguably the Sharks' top highlight of the game should tell you everything you need to know about the level of competition involved. The Devils have been as active as any team as the league nears the trade deadline, and a combination of injuries to critical players and the recent trade of Brenden Dillon has similarly sapped San Jose's talent level.

The end result was a contest between two rosters that, frankly, should be at the bottom of the standings -- and are.

It would be tough for any team to overcome the injuries to Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl and Erik Karlsson -- the latter two of which were season-ending -- but the Sharks can't exactly use the same youth-movement excuse as New Jersey. Entering Thursday, the Devils' entire roster had appeared in a total of 5,648 NHL games. For comparison, San Jose's Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic had combined for 5,463.

[RELATED: True proving he deserves to be part of Sharks' future]

Promising, but frustrating

You can't pin Thursday's loss on Martin Jones, but nonetheless, his inability to finish off what was a stellar start in net through 1 1/2 periods is somewhat frustrating.

He was left out to dry on Bratt's goal, and Subban's tally was the result of some truly terrible timing to reposition. It also would have helped if someone had cleared the screen directly blocking his vision. Prior to those faults, Jones had played great and came up with several big saves to keep his team in front. His stick save on the goal line in the second period was arguably his best of the season.

With the trade deadline rapidly approaching, the Sharks surely will be looking into ways to address their goaltending problem. The odds are against Jones playing elsewhere anytime soon, but it sure would have been nice if he had something better to show for what might be his final showcase opportunity before Monday's deadline.