Vancouver Canucks

How struggles in faceoff circle plagued Sharks on disastrous road trip

sharksfaceoffsusatsi.jpg
USATSI

How struggles in faceoff circle plagued Sharks on disastrous road trip

That is not how the Sharks wanted to enter the All-Star break.

Coming off consecutive wins over the Columbus Blue Jackets and Dallas Stars, San Jose had a chance to reach the unofficial midway point of the regular season riding a massive wave of momentum, perhaps large enough to carry the team back to the postseason. All that sat between the Sharks and that development was a crucial three-game road trip against Western Conference foes.

At the very least, San Jose needed to keep its head above water. Instead, the Sharks drowned in disaster.

Facing the Arizona Coyotes, Colorado Avalanche and Vancouver Canucks -- all teams San Jose potentially would have to leapfrog to make the playoffs -- the Sharks reverted back to kind of performances that put them in such a deep hole in the first place.

San Jose was outscored 14-4 and outshot 117-73 over the course of the three games. Those two stats obviously are interconnected, but Sharks interim head coach Bob Boughner pointed to another area of failure as a big reason for his team's struggles.

"The big difference this road trip is we've been horrible in the faceoff circle," Boughner said following the 4-1 loss in Vancouver on Saturday night. "You're never starting with the puck. Even in the offensive zone, you're chasing, and you can't chase pucks all night. That limits your possessions and tires you out."

Boughner's correct. The Sharks were thoroughly dominated in the faceoff circle over the course of the road trip, which might have had something to do with them scoring only one goal over its final six periods of play. San Jose won only 45.1 percent of the draws against the Coyotes, 45.6 percent against the Avalanche and only 38.0 percent against the Canucks.

It's only the third time this season the Sharks have won fewer than 49.0 percent of the draws in three straight games, and the most recent instance also coincided with a three-game losing streak. Whether it's shooting, scoring or simply gaining possession of the puck, Boughner is hoping the All-Star break will provide the Sharks with the needed respite to address their shortcomings.

"This is probably a great break for everybody, mentally," Boughner said. "Recharge the batteries and come back and try to forget about this week of hockey and put a good week in as soon as we get back."

[RELATED: Report: Wilson won't disrupt Sharks' core at trade deadline]

The Sharks' final week heading into the All-Star break was an unmitigated disaster. If they're still planning on qualifying for the postseason, they can't have any more like it.

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in familiar 4-1 loss vs. Canucks

sharkstakeawaysusatsi.jpg
USATSI

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in familiar 4-1 loss vs. Canucks

BOX SCORE

The Sharks closed out a forgetful unofficial first half of their regular season against the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena on Saturday night. Just like so many of San Jose's games thus far, it ended in a lackluster loss.

While Team Teal ended up suffering a 4-1 defeat at the hands of the Canucks, it could have been much worse. The Sharks were unable to sustain any kind of offensive pressure, and goaltender Aaron Dell had to be on top of his game to prevent the score from getting out of hand -- which it eventually did.

The loss completes a winless three-game road trip for San Jose, over which the team was outscored 14-4.

Here are three takeaways from the Sharks' final game before the All-Star break:

Message not received

After San Jose's 4-0 loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday, Sharks interim head coach Bob Boughner didn't mince words when calling out his team, saying, "I think it's time to man up." Boughner then sent another message to his squad when he made Marcus Sorensen a healthy scratch for Saturday's matchup with the Canucks, pleading for more "relentlessness."

Who knows about Sorensen, but as for the rest of the Sharks, it did not appear that they heeded their coach's message. At no point throughout Saturday's game did San Jose impose its will on the opposition. In fact, it usually was the other way around.

The Sharks entered Saturday trailing the Canucks by 10 points in the standings. It's 12 now, and for a team with such little margin for error, San Jose's performance did not reflect the kinds of urgency one would expect.

Shots, shots, shots

The Sharks are averaging nearly one fewer goal per game than they did last season, and while you can point to the absence of certain individuals as perhaps the main reason why, it's really tough to score without getting pucks to the net. San Jose provided even more evidence of that fact Saturday night, accumulating only seven shots on goal through the first two periods, compared to 27 for Vancouver. It wasn't simply a failure to get shots through, either. The Canucks had attempted 54 shots entering the third period, while the Sharks had attempted precisely half that number.

San Jose tested Vancouver goaltender Thatcher Demko more in the third period with 10 shots on goal, and Barclay Goodrow was even able to find the back of the net to prevent Team Teal from being shut out for a second consecutive game. But considering how badly they needed a victory, the Sharks' slow start doomed them in the end.

[RELATED: Report: Wilson won't disrupt Sharks' core at trade deadline]

Not-so-special teams

The Sharks have been able to hang their hat on their No. 1-ranked penalty kill all season long, but it hasn't been nearly as dominant as of late. Vancouver went 1-for-6 on the power play against San Jose, marking the third time in four games that the Sharks have been scored on while shorthanded. And in the only game San Jose didn't allow a power-play goal, the Sharks gave up a short-handed goal to the Avalanche. 

The Canucks' lone power-play goal Saturday proved to be the game-winner. The Sharks haven't had many relative strengths this season, but when the few that they have had start to stumble, San Jose simply doesn't have much recourse.

Aaron Dell lifts Sharks to big win vs. Canucks, earns another start

aarondellsharkscanucksap.jpg
USATSI

Aaron Dell lifts Sharks to big win vs. Canucks, earns another start

SAN JOSE - The Sharks named Aaron Dell the first star on the evening after they defeated the Vancouver Canucks 4-2 at SAP Center on Saturday. Really, it would have been silly to give that first star to anyone else.

But in San Jose's first win with Bob Boughner behind the bench, the 30-year-old backup netminder didn't just keep the team in front of him in the game. He also earned himself his first back-to-back opportunity of his 2019-20 campaign, with Boughner all but confirming after the win that Dell would get the start over Martin Jones when the Sharks host the Coyotes on Tuesday.

Earlier in the season, Jones might have gotten the nod to start Tuesday's game regardless of how Dell played on Saturday. But this is Boughner's team now. And the interim head coach is going to play whoever the hot hand is.

"This is a competition," Boughner told reporters after San Jose's victory over Vancouver. "Both guys are good goalies."

Despite an up-and-down first few months of the season, Dell came up big in his first start of Boughner's tenure. He had a shutout bid going against the Canucks up until 7:57 in the third period. Sure, he let two goals in late, but he also strung together some highlight reel-worthy stops to stymie Vancouver's mounting offensive push. Dell stopped 33 of 35 shots, improving to 18-6-3 in his career when recording 30 or more saves in a contest. Needless to say, the performance added to Dell's glowing resume against the Canucks, who he holds a 6-1-0 all-time record against.

"He was our best player," Boughner said of Dell. "He made some key saves at key times and kept us in it when we were starting to take on water. That's what a goalie does in a win like that" 

Teammate Timo Meier agreed with his new coach

"Definitely wouldn't have been able to win without him," Meier said. "He was really solid in net. He played great for us. He's definitely a huge part of this win. He kept us in the game."

Although Dell will start San Jose's next game, Jones won't be sitting around waiting around for his next start. No. 31 is expected to get some extra practice time in with newly-appointed goalie coach Evgeni Nabokov, which Boughner sees as a big positive for San Jose's goaltending tandem.

"Jones is going to get a chance to work with Nabby for a few days, which is an advantage for us," Boughner said.

As for Dell's next outing, it's anyone's guess how he will play in a second straight start. He's 2-2-0 lifetime in back-to-back starts and, again, hasn't played consecutive games yet this season. If his next start is anything like his start on Saturday night, however, the Sharks should be in a good position to get another win.

Of course, San Jose's success won't start and end with how Dell plays on Tuesday against Arizona. The Sharks might have gotten into the win column on Saturday, but they still have work to do to improve the game -- mainly when it comes to playing tight defense for a full 60 minutes.

[RELATED: How Thornton, Marleay feel about ex-teammates as coaches]

"It's just one game so we've got to string some (wins) together," Marc-Edouard Vlasic said after Saturday's win. "We played better. We stuck more to our system. Turned (the puck) over too many times, but other than that, we played the way we wanted to."

"It's a start," Meier said. "We know there are still a lot of things we need to clean up, but it's a step in the right direction."