Sharks’ Compete Level a Concern

Before embarking on a six-game road trip, the San Jose Sharks left SAP Center with a bitter taste. Three consecutive losses left coach Peter DeBoer searching for answers with a struggling Sharks offense. Given the talent on the roster, DeBoer was juggling lines desperate to find a breakthrough.

NHL teams are bound to have off-nights no matter who is penciled in the lineup or the abundant of talent a team has. San Jose’s compete level has contributed to their off-nights. A reason for the inconsistencies has been not playing a full 60 minutes of hockey. This was the case on the Sharks’ first road trip suffering losses to Pittsburgh in Detroit to conclude the trip.

In previous articles, I have noted the Sharks failure to send an early message due to the lack of offense and compete level. Against Pittsburgh, a third-period meltdown left San Jose unable to close out the game. In Detroit, the team did not show up in a 2-0 shutout loss. For a team looking to return to the Stanley Cup Final, the inconsistent play needs to be corrected. Otherwise, a bumpy ride is in store to secure a playoff spot.

Despite the Pacific Division looking weak so far, the current road trip is a critical stretch for San Jose. The trip got off on the right foot as Martin Jones recorded his first shutout of the season in a 3-0 win over Washington. Wins against Florida and Tampa Bay had signs pointing to a positive road trip.

San Jose’s 4-2 win over Florida is a perfect example of how the Sharks should compete when facing a deficit. Despite former Shark Jason Demers scoring two early goals in the first period, the Sharks remained opportunistic. Patience paid off late when Brent Burns made a power move to the net and his individual effort was rewarded with a goal. Burns’ goal was the turning point which sparked the comeback.

After San Jose lost 7-4 to the New York Rangers I did not expect the compete level to be a concern. Despite the deficits in the game, San Jose refused to go away, almost completing a comeback. Unfortunately, too many mistakes thwarted any chance to secure a possible point.

Now with two straight losses to Carolina and St. Louis, the compete level has come into question again. The recent offense moved San Jose from 27th to 24th currently in the league, but these latest defeats should not have occurred. For a team wanting to come out of the gates flying, the Sharks have done nothing but provide letdown performances after positive outings.

For some reason, I feel the message in the locker room is not getting relayed sufficiently during intermissions. San Jose found themselves outshot early 6-0 against St. Louis in the third period. Jake Allen played alright and made some big stops for the Blues, but the Sharks did not do enough to tie the game. The effort came at the worst time, with a power play in the final minute searching for the equalizer. Why the effort came in desperation time is beyond head-scratching.

Failure to Reward Solid Performances

One aspect of San Jose seen in recent years which has been frustrating is playing down to lesser teams. Aaron Dell was admirable in his last start, giving San Jose a chance against Carolina. He gave up one goal, but his counterpart, Cam Ward, stopped all shots faced. Dell deserved better considering how well the Sharks began the road trip.

Doug Wilson, San Jose Sharks
Doug Wilson, San Jose Sharks

Dell earned the backup job after a strong second half last season with the San Jose Barracuda. Despite looking intimidated when relieving Jones against Pittsburgh, I believe Dell will provide strong goaltending when called upon. His teammates in front need to step up so he can gain confidence after each start.

I do not think Doug Wilson wants to force his hand and make a trade for a backup goaltender. He may have to trade a top prospect which would not be a good idea. San Jose will be transitioning in the coming years and the current prospects look promising to keep the Sharks competitive.

Clock Still Ticking for Wingels and Nieto

Tommy Wingels has stepped up recently on the current road trip for San Jose. However, my stance remains unchanged with his time in teal. He has been inconsistent from the start and will continue to struggle despite the recent production. A player from the Barracuda is more worthy of playing his minutes.

Double for Matt Nieto, who clearly has fallen out of favor with DeBoer. Nieto has been a healthy scratch but did play against St. Louis. I believe he will be the first to go as he failed to be relevant against the Blues and pretty much since the season started. Wilson made a terrible decision giving Nieto a qualifying offer during the offseason. A change of scenery needs to happen soon to benefit both sides.

Inconsistencies Must Stop Now

If San Jose wants to be the team to beat in the Western Conference, then the compete level better change quickly. The Sharks are fortunate the Pacific Division is a current logjam where no team has looked poised to take a stranglehold of the division.

But the compete level circles back to the idea that any team can win on a given night no matter the matchup. This has happened a few times already for San Jose in which the compete level did not show up or play a full 60 minutes of hockey. For the Sharks to buck the trend, a consistent offense needs to happen.