Sometimes, it’s the obvious. For the San Jose Sharks, the inability to generate offense has them down in their series against the Edmonton Oilers, 2-1.
San Jose’s three goal outburst in Game 1 is their only scoring of the series. Getting shutout in back-to-back games isn’t going to get a team very far.
The Sharks offensive numbers, paltry as they are, tell the story. They are actually minus on their power play, having given up two goals while only scoring one in 14 chances. Yup, almost a half game’s worth of power play time has resulted in, well, less than nothing. When other teams get overly aggressive, the idea is to make them pay, not shoot yourself in the foot.
The Top Players
The Sharks top players aren’t providing much. Of the players expected to produce offense, none really are. Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Brent Burns, Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture and Mikkel Boedker have combined for one assist in three games. They also comprise half the team’s payroll.
In all fairness, Couture is playing through a brutal injury, the result of a puck to the mouth. It’s both remarkable he is playing and dubious whether he should be playing at all.
Thornton missed the first two games of the series, the result of a knee injury suffered late in the regular season. Though he played in Game 3, one sequence was telling. Late in the game, with the Sharks trailing by a goal, Thornton left the ice with 2:30 to go in the game. But when the Sharks pulled goalie Martin Jones for an extra skater with 1:47 left, Thornton wasn’t out there. After a time out with under a minute left, again Thornton remained on the bench. The player with nearly 1,400 career points is not sitting on the bench for the final 150 seconds of a one-goal game if he’s right.
A Style Match
The irony is that the Sharks are playing the sorts of games where the team thrives — a low scoring, limited time-and-space game is their sweet spot. Plenty of power play opportunities has historically worked out well for Team Teal. Some have made an issue of Edmonton’s physicality, but this is not a major issue. The Sharks are not a heavy team, but they are capable of handling heavy teams.
San Jose has done several good things. They have limited the league’s top scorer, Connor McDavid, to a goal and an assist. The defensive pairing of Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun, assigned to the McDavid line, are a combined plus-1. Goalie Martin Jones has not been a beast, but his .935 save percentage is good enough to get wins. Jones has faced only 77 shots in three games, meaning the Sharks defense is not giving up a ton of chances. Most teams will win the series if their goalie has a 1.66 goals against average, which is what Jones is currently sporting.
What Edmonton has done, though, is take away the Sharks offense. Aside from the two strong periods in Game 1, the Sharks have been tepid. They’ve managed just 39 shots in Games 2 and 3 combined, few of the high danger variety. Odd man rushes have been non-existent. Clean entries into the offensive zone are difficult to come by, and even when the Sharks have accomplished this, they usually find themselves playing at the perimeter, not inside.
The Sharks offer up a solid forecheck, but Edmonton deserves credit for not making the sorts of turnovers which can lead to quick strike scores. The Oilers have been very responsible both on defense and in transitioning from defense to offense.
And yes, the Oilers have been opportunistic. The Sharks have not made a ton of errors, but they have made enough. Some, such as Drake Caggiula’s exit from the penalty box resulting in a breakaway chance, have not come back to hurt the Sharks.
Others, such as David Schlemko’s misread resulting in a clearing attempt up the middle have been very costly. On this play, Schlemko attempted to clear the puck from the end boards. Zach Kassian moved to seal the side boards, so Schlemko decided to move the puck up the middle of the ice. But Schlemko didn’t realize Kassian had veered towards the middle. The Oiler winger was able to knock down the clearing attempt, corral the puck and get a backhand shot past Martin Jones. The only score in the 1-0 game.
Oiler goalie Cam Talbot’s .964 save percentage is a combination of his own strong play and a defense which isn’t making mistakes near the net. The combination has left San Jose no room for error. And while the Sharks haven’t made many errors, a few have proven the difference.
The Sharks are playing almost well enough to win. They are by no means out of the series, though Game 4 will either even it up or put the Sharks in a deep hole. There are plenty of places the Sharks can find a goal or two or three. The big guns are important, but all four lines can score. And while its less likely the Sharks defensemen break the drought, the five defensemen other than Burns had 18 goals and 95 points on the season. Defenseman Paul Martin has one of San Jose’s three goals in the series.
It is not useful to overthink the issue. Edmonton has been the better team, but the Sharks are competitive. If there is one thing which can help the Sharks, it is probably scoring first. Edmonton hasn’t skated while trailing in any of the three games. The Sharks’ lone lead came on the overtime winner in Game 1. Edmonton has yet to feel the pressure of trailing in a playoff game.
• There are bright spots for San Jose, perhaps none brighter than Timo Meier. The highly touted rookie had a challenging season. Splitting his time between the Sharks and their AHL franchise, the ninth overall draft pick received mixed reviews. However, in this playoff series again Edmonton, Meier is playing his best NHL hockey yet, at a time when signs of progress are welcome.
• Surprising in his absence is the Sharks top rookie skater, Kevin Labanc. He has yet to appear in the series. Two rookies have skated all three games, Meier and Marcus Sorensen. In the regular season, Labanc doubled up Meier and Sorensen combined in goals, assists and points.
ZEKE is a native of the DC area where he witnessed the birth of the Capitals franchise. After graduating from Cornell University, which had seen hockey glory before he arrived, he moved west to San Jose. There he witnessed the birth of the Sharks franchise. His wait to witness a Championship from any of these teams finally ended in 2018.