Tomas Hertl

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.

How Sharks have missed Joe Pavelski's presence both on and off the ice

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AP

How Sharks have missed Joe Pavelski's presence both on and off the ice

SAN JOSE -- Thursday was the rehearsal. Saturday is the real thing.

The Sharks welcomed back a former player in their win over the Blue Jackets on Thursday night, but no offense to Gus Nyquist -- it was just another game for San Jose.

The same cannot be said for Saturday night's bout against Joe Pavelski and the visiting Dallas Stars.

After playing 963 games in a Sharks uniform, Pavelski returns to SAP Center on Saturday night as a visiting player for the very first time. Arguably the most beloved captain in franchise history, Pavelski was signed by Dallas in free agency after he and the Sharks failed to reach a contract agreement. No ill will is harbored on either side -- quite the opposite, actually -- and his absence has been felt throughout what has been an atypically down season in San Jose.

Throughout Pavelski's 13 seasons with the Sharks, the team failed to qualify for the postseason only once and never posted a points percentage lower than 54.3 percent. Currently, San Jose is well off the pace to qualify for the playoffs and has totaled only 47.8 percent of its maximum possible points thus far. Part of the problem has been the offense, as the Sharks are scoring nearly one fewer goal per game this season (2.65) than they did last year (3.52). That might be the area where Pavelski's absence has been most evident, but the Sharks certainly have missed their former captain's presence off the ice, as well.

"A guy like that is very, very tough to replace," Sharks interim head coach Bob Boughner said of Pavelski following San Jose's morning skate Saturday. "I think more than anything, it's the friendships and the bonds he had in the dressing room. And listening to some of the player's comments the last couple days about how hard he worked and how he prepared and how he kept guys accountable, you can never have enough guys like that.

"The guys that are doing it now have done a good job, but Pavs was a guy that everybody looked up to and had a lot of respect for."

It's not as if there's a leadership vacuum in San Jose's locker room this season. There's an ample number of veterans ready and willing to carry the torch, but with the Sharks in somewhat of a transitional phase, Pavelski remains a model for which some of the next wave of team leaders can still learn from.

"Being around [Joe Thornton] and [Patrick] Marleau, the guys have a couple great examples there," Boughner added. "More than anything, it's [Pavelski's] leadership. It's how he handles himself in the dressing room, in the community and things like that. I think guys like [Logan Couture] and [Tomas] Hertl and Timo Meier and [Kevin Labanc] -- those are the guys that could really try to emulate what kind of guy he was off the ice."

[RELATED: Pavelski believes skill, character will help Sharks rebound]

Right now, "off the ice" describes all that Couture is able to do. A fractured ankle suffered in Tuesday's loss to the St. Louis Blues will keep him out for several weeks, further exacerbating the Sharks' lack of offense, as he ranks fourth on the team in goals (14) and is tied for second in assists (22). Similar to Pavelski, the impact of Couture's absence is likely to be readily apparent before long, but as Boughner explained, it's no coincidence that San Jose's current captain took over the 'C' from the previous one.

"They're their own individuals when it comes to their games," Boughner said, "but [Couture] is probably the guy that you could say is responsible in all three zones and plays the right way and plays a lot like Pavs."

Neither Couture nor Pavelski will be wearing a Sharks sweater when San Jose takes the ice Saturday night. For everyone involved, that's going to take some getting used to.

Sharks' Tomas Hertl named as All-Star replacement for Logan Couture

Sharks' Tomas Hertl named as All-Star replacement for Logan Couture

A Shark being replaced by a Shark.

With San Jose center Logan Couture being sidelined with a broken ankle for the 2020 NHL All-Star Game, forward Tomas Hertl will replace Couture on the Pacific Division roster at this year's event in St. Louis.

Couture broke his ankle in Tuesday night's loss to the Blues, and the Sharks captain is expected to miss up to six weeks.

[RELATED: How meeting got Sharks' power play on track]

Hertl already was in the running for a spot, as he was among the Pacific's candidates to be one of the NHL's "Last Men In" for the All-Star Game. Hertl has 34 points in 42 games played this season.

This will mark Hertl's first All-Star appearance.

You can see Hertl and the entire All-Star roster compete on Saturday, Jan. 25 from the Enterprise Center in downtown St. Louis.