Joe Pavelski

Main reasons for Sharks' struggles in atypically disappointing season

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USATSI

Main reasons for Sharks' struggles in atypically disappointing season

To say the Sharks' season thus far has been a major disappointment would be the understatement of 2020. San Jose is in the midst of its worst season in more than 15 years, and it has been a bumpy ride from the start.

The four consecutive losses to begin the season weren't the final nail in former head coach Peter DeBoer's coffin, but they did set his eventual dismissal in motion. A dismal October was counteracted by an impressive November, but a lengthy losing streak to begin December prompted Sharks general manager Doug Wilson to make a change behind the bench.

San Jose had been performing better under interim head coach Bob Boughner since the switch, but three blowout losses heading into the All-Star break have dried up any momentum the team had generated. The Sharks sit 11 points back of playoff positioning with 32 games left to play and several teams ahead of them to leapfrog. Here are the main three reasons San Jose finds itself in such unusually bad shape:

Goaltending 

The most obvious sign that a team's season has taken a wrong turn is a coaching change. The second-most obvious? A goalie switch.

Martin Jones entered the season as the Sharks' No. 1 goalie by default. His playoff experience, combined with his hefty and immovable contract, gave him the leg up on backup netminder Aaron Dell. But not all of that postseason experience has been impressive, and Jones didn't do anything to answer the question marks he entered the current season with. He lost nine of his first 11 starts, and the Sharks have only won one of his last 10. Over those two separate cold streaks, he failed to post a save percentage of .900 or better in 16 of the 21 games.

Other than stopping pucks, consistency is arguably the most important quality in a goaltender, and Jones simply wasn't providing that, nor has he for quite a while. Dell, on the other hand, has been a breath of fresh air since taking over the No. 1 spot, stealing Jones' job and running with it. While Dell's numbers aren't overly impressive since becoming the starter, they're better than Jones', and it's likely Dell's steady presence in net that has given Boughner the confidence to stick with him.

Despite the improved goaltending since the coaching change, the Sharks still rank near the bottom of the league in all of the important metrics. San Jose's cumulative save percentage (.891) ranks third-worst in the NHL, while the team's cumulative goals-against average (3.10) is tied for sixth-worst. And that's not the worst of it. The Sharks' goalies have actually performed substantially better when the team has been shorthanded than they have at even strength.

There are no obvious ways for the Sharks to improve their goaltending situation moving forward, so what you see is likely what you're going to get. If San Jose is going to make a second-half comeback, both Dell and Jones will have to be considerably better than we've seen thus far.

Power play

The Sharks are averaging nearly one fewer goal per game than a season ago, and when you combine that with some substandard goaltending, disaster ensues. Just ask DeBoer.

Some of that offensive drop-off was expected, but San Jose's fall from a power-play juggernaut to its current middling state certainly was not, at least not to this extent. Last season, the Sharks scored at the sixth-highest clip in the league with the man-advantage, scoring on 23.7 percent of their power-play opportunities. This season, that scoring rate has plummeted to 16.7 percent, seventh-worst in the NHL. And that's only half the problem.

Through the first 50 games, San Jose has had only 138 power-play opportunities (2.76 per game), the sixth-fewest in the league. Last season, the Sharks went on the power play 241 times, or 2.94 opportunities per game.

So, not only are the Sharks going on the power play less often, but they're also not being very effective with the opportunities they do get. For a team that has been shorthanded 163 times already (fourth-most in the NHL), that's just asking for trouble.

[RELATED: Sharks mailbag: Is Wilson's job as GM in serious jeopardy?]

Emergence of younger players

When Joe Pavelski, Gustav Nyquist and Joonas Donskoi departed in free agency over the offseason, the Sharks lost 58 goals -- or roughly one-fifth of their 2018-19 season total. It wasn't going to be easy to replace that kind of production, and with little in the way of offseason signings in the forward group, San Jose inevitably was going to be reliant on several of its younger players taking the next step in their development to help fill the void.

Well, that hasn't really happened.

Tomas Hertl, an injury-replacement All-Star, is on pace to score 25 goals after notching 35 a year ago. Timo Meier appeared to make the leap last season when he tallied 30 goals and 66 points, but he has failed to expand upon that promise in the current campaign. Barclay Goodrow might already have set a career-high with eight goals scored and Kevin Labanc is on pace to do the same, but even that improvement hasn't been as considerable as necessary. Furthermore, none of the prospects the team had hoped would explode on the scene actually have, whether it be Antti Suomela, Sasha Chmelevski or Dylan Gambrell. 21-year-old defenseman Mario Ferraro has been the one major bright spot, which should tell you everything you need to know about the current state of the Sharks.

San Jose entered the season as one of the oldest teams in the league and knew it would need some of its younger players to step up. They haven't, and while that already has negatively impacted the franchise's present, it could continue to moving forward if some players don't emerge.

NHL.com snubs Sharks-Golden Knights Game 7 as best game of 2010s

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USATSI

NHL.com snubs Sharks-Golden Knights Game 7 as best game of 2010s

NHL.com named a Game 7 ending 5-4 and involving a three-goal comeback, two division rivals and an overtime winner as the best game of the 2010s.

It just wasn't the one with the Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights. 

NHL.com and NHL.com International staff members chose the Boston Bruins' Game 7 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Eastern Conference first-round series during the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs as the game of the decade. In a 9:18 span, the Bruins erased a 4-1 deficit to force overtime and Patrice Bergeron scored the winner 6:05 into the extra frame. 

An epic comeback in a game between two "Original Six" rivals is, on paper, worthy of the crown. But Sharks-Golden Knights is more deserving. 

For one, San Jose and Vegas were much closer in terms of quality than Boston and Toronto. Yes, the Golden Knights jumped out to a 3-1 lead in the 2019 Western Conference first-round series and fewer standings points separated the Bruins and Maple Leafs (five) than the Sharks and Knights (eight). However, the 2013 Maple Leafs greatly benefited from the lockout-shortened 48 game schedule, making the playoffs despite being the NHL's worst puck-possession team.

The Sharks and Golden Knights, on the other hand, were both legitimate Stanley Cup contenders. Both finished the regular season in the NHL's top three in terms of shot share and shot quality. Had Vegas beaten San Jose, it's likely the expansion franchise would have played in a second Western Conference final in as many years. 

What unfolded on the ice in the third period in Boston doesn't hold a candle to the third period in San Jose last April. Then-captain Joe Pavelski's head bled as the result of a fluky collision with Golden Knights forwards Paul Stastny and Cody Eakin, leading to a highly disputed five-minute major penalty. The Sharks then matched an NHL record with four power-play goals on the non-releasable penalty, nearly blowing the roof off SAP Center. 

A 3-0 deficit turned into a 4-3 lead, but the Sharks couldn't escape regulation with a win. Then-Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant pulled goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and iced six forwards when Jonathan Marchessault scored the game-tying goal with 47 seconds remaining in the third period. That set up an overtime that lasted nearly 20 minutes before Barclay Goodrow sent San Jose to the second round, and the Sharks' win left the Golden Knights with a summer of animosity that made Vegas' decision to replace Gallant with fired San Jose coach Peter DeBoer so much more shocking. 

[RELATED: How struggles in faceoff circle plagued Sharks on disastrous road trip]

To recap: Game 7 of Sharks-Golden Knights included one of the most controversial (or worst, if you ask Golden Knights fans) calls in NHL history, a historic power play that sent the SAP Center crowd into delirium, a game-tying goal that silenced the same crowd not even six minutes later and nearly a full period of extra hockey. 

By comparison, the twists and turns of Bruins-Maple Leafs seem rather straightforward. 

Joe Pavelski reflects on San Jose return, believes Sharks 'did it right'

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AP

Joe Pavelski reflects on San Jose return, believes Sharks 'did it right'

Tissues were in high demand Saturday night when Joe Pavelski played his first game in San Jose since leaving the Sharks for the Dallas Stars over the summer.

Before the teams dropped the puck, a tribute video was played in SAP Center, and there weren't many dry eyes left when it was over.

Following the video. Sharks fans gave the former captain a lengthy standing ovation, which was a bit awkward for a guy who played 13 seasons in San Jose.

"It was awesome. It was pretty cool," Pavelski told reporters after the Sharks' 2-1 win. "This is a special place to myself, my family. To be out there when the building is full like that, I wanted to get on with the [national] anthem, but they wouldn't let me.

"It was pretty special. I've always had, I believe, a pretty special bond with these fans and those guys over there, and it was just a tremendous night. They did it right. Thanks to everyone involved out there and everyone that showed up tonight. Would have liked to win, for sure, but it was pretty special."

Pavelski shed blood, sweat and tears with a lot of the Sharks players he faced Saturday, which made his time on the ice a bit strange.

"It had a little bit of everything," Pavelski said. "It was weird, it was fun. It was fun just seeing the other guys and taking face-offs against a few guys. There were a few good lines out there."

Pavelski and the Stars arrived in the Bay Area on Friday, giving him time to explore the city he called home for 13 years.

"It was nice having the day off yesterday, you know, to buzz around town and see a few faces and do a few things," Pavelski said. "Not feel like I was rushed and have a few good conversations along the way.

"And today, showing up, it was, coming out of the visiting side, was a little different seeing that jersey. It was weird a few times, when you heard, whether it was 88 [Brent Burns] or Joe Thornton, my mind kinda went back, you're waiting for your name to be called. It was kinda weird how it just came and all the noises, all the sounds, smells, everything brought back good memories."

[RELATED: Pavelski's 1-on-1 with Brodie Brazil]

The Sharks picked Pavelski in the seventh round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft and developed him into the face of the franchise. He represented the Sharks in three All-Star Games and wore the "C" on his sweater for four seasons.

Pavelski was told that several of the Sharks' North American scouts were in attendance for his return, and he was asked what that meant to him.

"That's just the bond that I have with them, and vica versa," Pavelski said. "I was always thankful they took a chance on me. I think [Sharks amateur scout] Pat Funk was a big key to that, pushing for me.

"The opportunity I was given, I was able to have success with that first opportunity and going on a little run and getting myself established there, and then every year, trying to build on it and add layers and keep getting better. There's a lot of special people over there."

It was an emotional night for everyone involved, and no one will forget it. As Pavelski said himself, it was done right.