The San Jose Sharks have just finished another series, this time against their division rival, the Vegas Golden Knights. Their first game was Friday night, which was a nail-bitter, managing to get one point in the 5-4 overtime loss. Saturday night was a different story, as they got shut out by goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, losing by a score of 4-0, getting swept for the second time this season. The Colorado Avalanche had the honor of sweeping them for the first time.
Through this series, some of the Sharks’ glaring issues that have been plaguing their game the entire season were exposed by the Golden Knights. Here are just some of the problems the team had in the third and second to last games in this homestand.
Penalty Minutes Galore
Especially in the first game of the series on Friday, penalty minutes were a big storyline. In that first game, the Sharks earned 13 penalty minutes, five of which were from newer forward Kurtis Gabriel, after he started a scuffle with Vegas’ Ryan Reaves off the faceoff a mere two seconds into the start of the third period.
Luckily, despite the high number of penalties, the Sharks were still able to keep points off the board with the penalty kill, which has suffered as of late. When I wrote about the St. Louis Blues series in late January, I praised them for their 80 percent penalty-kill percentage through three games. Now, at 21 games played, they’ve fallen to 18th in the entire league, with only a 78 percent penalty-kill percentage.
In the second game, things got slightly better as they accrued only four penalty minutes. Gabriel once again was a culprit of a penalty, but only a charging minor instead of fighting. Mario Ferraro also got a minor penalty for slashing in the first period. Once again, the Sharks were able to kill off those two penalties.
This leads to another interesting fact. According to ESPN.com, the Sharks are 13th in the entire league in penalty minutes from minor penalties. They have a total of 193 penalty minutes off of these. On the same note, according to NHL.com, they have a total of 82 minor penalties they’ve gotten this season, which is eighth in the entire league.
Penalties are obviously a factor in the Sharks’ recent results, so to start winning again, and to gain some consistency, their minutes and the number of penalties they give up must go down.
Evident Defensive Mistakes
On Friday, Brent Burns made a key mistake, which led to Max Pacioretty’s overtime goal.
In the video from NHL.com, you see Burns overextend his stick, letting the puck pass through under it and go through goalie Devan Dubnyk’s legs, ending the game. That was just one of many defensive mistakes that were made in this game.
Sharks on NBCS tweeted a clip from the post-game show that night, where you see analyst and Sharks veteran Drew Remenda criticizing Burns for that mistake.
To add, Timo Meier, gave away that puck to the player who got the secondary assist on that goal, Mark Stone. That leads to another part of these mistakes — the constant giveaways.
In the first game, the team accounted for 11 total giveaways, four of those coming from defensive players Ferraro, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and two from Erik Karlsson. The second game saw this stat get better with only three giveaways. However, the defensemen got the blame for the giveaways for a second straight game, with Ferraro, Radim Simek, and Burns each getting one.
According to Hockey Reference, four of the top-10 players in the giveaways stat are defensemen. Burns is the unfortunate leader with 20, Karlsson with 18, and rookie Nikolai Knyzhov with 10. Seventh on that list is Vlasic, who has eight giveaways.
Another way that these defensive mistakes can be proven is through the defenseman’s overall plus/minus rating. In the first game Friday, they totaled a minus-three, with Karlsson getting the only positive rating with a plus-one.
However, in the game on Saturday the defense’s plus/minus tanked. Burns and Ferraro accounted for minus-seven of the total of minus-eight. To add, the two have the lowest plus/minus on the team so far, with ratings of minus-11 and minus-10, respectively.
The overall play of the defensemen needs to be improved, and soon, or they will continue to be the ones to blame for the current Sharks’ form.
Faceoff Percentage Decreasing Once Again
In my article about the Blues series, I discussed the fluctuation in face-off percentage between the previous series and that series. Specifically, in the last game of the series, the Sharks’ face-off percentage fell to 45 percent.
This stat is, sadly, one of the constants of the Sharks’ game, and it is so obvious that they have been struggling with it this season. In fact, according to Puckbase, they rank 24th in the league in face-off percentage at 47.4 percent, which is just over a 9 percent deficit to the current leader, the Boston Bruins.
Friday night’s loss proved why San Jose is in this spot. The Sharks’ face-off percentage ended at 43 percent, with the leader being Logan Couture with 48 percent. Vegas totaled 57 percent, with their leader being Keegan Kolesar with 67 percent.
Saturday night proved different, with the Sharks’ face-off percentage slightly increasing to 47 percent, with the leader being Joel Kellman with 60 percent. The Golden Knights, on the other hand, slightly decreased with their face-offs, totaling 53 percent. Their leader was forward William Karlsson, who won 83 percent.
I have been campaigning since the beginning of the season for improvement in this sector. However, it is a bit difficult when one of the leaders on the team, Tomas Hertl, is out under the COVID-19 protocol. Once he comes back, hopefully, there will be at least a marginal increase in this stat.
With that, that is the end of the Sharks series against the Knights. They have one more home game against the Blues on Monday, then go on a four-game road trip, in which they will see this team again, but at the T-Mobile Center. Based on these last two games, they have a lot to fix before the Sharks go for round two with Vegas.
Marco Milani is a huge Sharks fan and loves to write and talk about sports, especially hockey.