Peter DeBoer

Peter DeBoer's patience pays off in Sharks' critical series split with Golden Knights

Peter DeBoer's patience pays off in Sharks' critical series split with Golden Knights

The Sharks were not facing elimination in Game 2 against the Vegas Golden Knights Saturday night, but they might as well have been. 

A loss would have created a near-insurmountable 2-0 hole. In NHL history, home teams taking a 2-0 lead have closed out the series 89.5 percent of the time, according to Hockey Reference, and the Sharks are 0-11 in series where they've lost the first two games. 

Logan Couture's double-overtime winner ensured they'd avoid the dreaded deficit, handed the Golden Knights their first postseason loss, and taught Vegas' wide-eyed fanbase a lesson in playoff heartbreak. For the first 20 minutes and change, it looked like none of that would happen, as San Jose gave up the first two goals for the second straight game. 

But the Sharks whittled away at the lead, took it themselves, gave it back, and eventually took it back thanks in part to head coach Peter DeBoer's patience. 

Brent Burns was not at his best in Game 1, nor did he start strong in Game 2. The defending Norris Trophy winner made a costly turnover in his own zone in the lead-up to Golden Knights winger William Karlsson's first goal on Saturday, and San Jose was outscored, outshot, and out-possessed with the defenseman on the ice in Game 1. 

But Burns cut the Vegas lead in half with a power-play goal in the first period, and gave his team their first lead of the series with a wraparound effort in the second. As he has all season, DeBoer took the good with the bad from Burns and continued to trust him. Burns' 36:48 in time on ice (TOI) on Saturday only trailed Marc-Edouard Vlasic (37:26). 

Kevin Labanc also struggled in Game 1 and parts of Game 2. Labanc's ice time dipped a bit in the first two overtime periods on Saturday, when DeBoer basically shortened the bench to three lines and rotated Labanc and Mikkel Boedker on Couture's wing. 

Yet, DeBoer kept Labanc on the top power play unit both times San Jose had a man advantage in the second overtime. The second-year forward, one of the league's best power play passers this season, assisted on the game-winner with a slip pass across the slot. 

Burns and Labanc rewarded DeBoer's patience, ensuring a series split before the teams renew pleasantries at SAP Center on Monday. The second round is far from over, and much farther than if the Sharks had returned home in a two-game hole. 

DeBoer: Now healthy, series-clincher Hertl can reach 'another level' in playoffs

DeBoer: Now healthy, series-clincher Hertl can reach 'another level' in playoffs

SAN JOSE -- Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer thought Tomas Hertl’s series-clinching goal on Wednesday, in the midst of the best season of his five-year NHL career, was a long time coming.

“He would’ve gotten to this level earlier than this year if he had been healthy,” DeBoer said after San Jose swept the Anaheim Ducks out of the first round with a 2-1 win in Game 4. “He’s had some really bad luck with some really bad injuries. He’s healthy and he’s playing at another level, and I still think he’s got another level he can get to, too.”

Hertl deflected Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s point shot through Ducks goaltender John Gibson’s legs for the game-winner with 10:51 remaining in regulation, and just over a minute after Anaheim tied the game. As NBC Sports California statistician Darin Stephens noted, it was the Czech forward’s second career game-winning goal in the postseason.

Since entering the league in 2013-14, Hertl’s tied for 37th with 22 game-winning goals in the regular season and playoffs, according to STATS. Only Joe Pavelski (32) and Logan Couture (23) have more during that time, and Hertl’s played 85 fewer games than Pavelski, and 26 than Couture.

Were it not for recurring right knee issues that caused him to miss 45 games his rookie season, cut short his Stanley Cup Final in 2016, and forced him to miss another 33 last year, he’d almost certainly be higher on the list.

Five-on-five, only 11 players that played a minimum of 500 minutes have generated expected goals (xG), or shot attempts that account for quality, at a higher rate than Hertl (0.95 xG/60, according to Corsica Hockey) since he entered the league. If you include the postseason, he jumps into the top 10.

DeBoer’s right to think Hertl can reach another level, too. The 25-year-old’s 21 non-empty-net goals matched a career-high, no player underperformed their expected goals total across all situations more than Hertl, as Sean Tierney of HockeyGraphs and The Athletic pointed out.

With health back on Hertl’s side, DeBoer doesn’t see this as the young forward finally maximizing his potential. Instead, the head coach thinks Hertl is just beginning to reach it.

“This wasn’t about anyone pushing him…[He’s] been healthy and he’s starting to find the level that he’s capable of being at, I think, for a long career.”

Injuries force Sharks to experiment up front

sharks-ap.jpg
AP

Injuries force Sharks to experiment up front

oach Peter DeBoer rolled four mostly-new lines in Thursday night’s 5-3 loss to the Nashville Predators. Entering Thursday, none of San Jose’s four forward combinations had averaged more than two-and-a-half minutes per game together, and none had played together for more than 10 minutes in a single game.

Injuries forced DeBoer’s hand, as the Sharks were down two top-six forwards (Joe Thornton and Joonas Donskoi), as well as two bottom-six forwards (Eric Fehr and Barclay Goodrow), but you wouldn’t necessarily expect this level of experimentation so late in the season. Yet the experiment largely worked, as the Sharks played one of their best games this season. 

Parades to the penalty box and a late push with a pulled goalie ensured that the game was played at five-on-five for just under two-thirds of the game (39:49), the seventh-smallest portion of any game this season. During this portion, though, the Sharks controlled much of the game, out-attempting the Predators 45-38 and out-chancing them 27-21, according to Natural Stat Trick. 

Only the second line (Logan Couture, Timo Meier, and Mikkel Boedker) was out-possessed, and just barely (10-9). The Sharks were outscored, of course, but the process was there against one of the league’s best teams.

That should encourage DeBoer as the season winds down, and as injuries will continue to be an issue. Thornton’s told reporters that he will not return until he's 100 percent, and Goodrow is out for the foreseeable future after undergoing surgery to fix a broken finger. Fehr and Donskoi are closer, DeBoer told reporters at the morning skate on Thursday, but neither was ready to play against Nashville.

It's also a good sign because there aren't many other players left to turn to. Recently-signed center Dylan Gambrell is traveling with the team less than a week after playing his last NCAA game, but he won't have his first full practice with the team until Monday. The Barracuda’s season is winding down, but pretty much every NHL-ready “prospect” is up with the Sharks already, depending on your thoughts on Rudolfs Balcers. 

In other words, San Jose’s forwards are stretched incredibly thin at the moment. DeBoer tinkered on Thursday as a result, and largely made the most of it with a patchwork group. 

The remaining schedule (Vegas, Dallas, Colorado, and Minnesota) works as a decent proxy for how well a shorthanded group can play in the postseason. Thursday was a solid start.