The San Jose Sharks’ pregame tributes to Brent Burns and Doug Wilson were the highlights of an otherwise embarrassing weekend at SAP Center. Mental lapses and unforced errors continue to be a mind-boggling trend for the team en route to finding new and unique ways to lose. The fact that both games were very winnable just pours more salt in the wound of their 0-4 start to the season.
As difficult as it was to watch for Sharks fans, positive trends arose from the shambles of dreadful play that headlined the Sharks’ weekend. Like their play, we’re going to start with the good and work our way to the mid to late-game atrocities. Here’s what I observed from the Sharks’ forgettable two-game homestand.
Sharks’ Strong Starts Show Signs of Life
The first periods of both games were among the lone bright spots of an otherwise painful pair of games to watch. Each contest started very promising with San Jose punishing the opposition at each touch of the puck. In fact, the opening frames looked as if the Sharks had gotten the message from their head coach on establishing a successful in-your-face identity. Thanks to a fast-paced, rugged style of play, they went into the first intermission with a lead in both tilts.
It wasn’t as if the Carolina Hurricanes or Chicago Blackhawks were sputtering out of the gate either. The slow starts for them were merely the byproduct of a punishing forecheck and backcheck in all three zones by the Sharks. Unfortunately, falling into old habits caused them to stray from their initial success. But, it was good to see them not back themselves into their own zone for at least the first period.
Erik Karlsson Is Finding His Groove
Erik Karlsson looked like his old self again, being in on all three of the Sharks’ goals this weekend with a goal, two assists, and three points in the two games. What is a disturbing trend for Sharks hockey is a good sign for Karlsson, who was a difference-maker in carrying the play and dictating the pace. Minus a couple of team-wide hiccups in his own end, his speed, shot, and offensive zone entries were a sight for sore eyes on a team that otherwise struggles with puck possession. If the Sharks are going to find any success this season, it’s going to have to be on the back of their top-dollar defenseman.
Second-Period Collapses Becoming the Norm in 2022-23
The Sharks stopped punishing their opponents yet again in the second period and beyond, resulting in an all-too-familiar outcome. After Saturday night’s contest, the Sharks have been outscored in the middle frame 9-1 just four games into the season. To make matters worse, their second-period collapses graduated to a higher tier against the Blackhawks.
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With San Jose carrying a two-goal lead into the middle frame, the Blackhawks responded with two shorthanded goals in a span of two minutes and eight seconds to seize a 3-2 lead. With respect to them, both goals had about as much to do with their play as Mickey Mouse has to do with politics. A look at one of the two goals tells you all you need to know about the mental blunders that have plagued the Sharks.
This visual in particular requires no breakdown. Four Sharks surround the net on their own powerplay, leaving the only wide-open spot for Sam Lafferty who’s parked right in front of Kaapo Kahkonen. These are mistakes that have no place at any level of professional hockey, let alone the NHL. If these types of mental blunders continue, their NHL-record 71-loss campaign in 1992-93 could be in jeopardy.
Sharks’ Atrocious Puck Management
“Atrocious” doesn’t even begin to describe how the Sharks have managed the puck so far this season. Making the simple play would’ve spared them the trouble of digging the puck out of the back of their net on most occasions. Not even their top players were exempt from attempting forced plays through bodies and cross-ice passes that are almost certain to result in unnecessary turnovers. They’ll need to make simpler plays on Tuesday night (Oct. 18) against a New York Islanders team that makes a living on taking advantage of their opponent’s mistakes.
‘Timo Time’ is Late for the Season
After being blanked on the weekend homestand, Timo Meier has now failed to register a goal through the first four games, tallying one assist and posting a minus-3 in the plus/minus column. The cliche “Your best players have to be your best players” has never rang more true for the Sharks who can’t afford their top dogs to be no-shows.
Meier has shown dominance in carrying the play, single-handedly entering the offensive zone with speed and possession to start the cycle down low. However, this has all too often resulted in giving the puck away in the corners. In short, he’s a victim of trying to do too much. His early season woes uncoincidentally reflect his team’s struggles to simplify the game and make the easy play. Look for him to get back on track in a big way soon.
Road Ice Advantage?
The upcoming road trip is suddenly a welcomed change of scenery for a Sharks team ready to put an embarrassing homecoming weekend in the rearview mirror. It won’t be an easy gauntlet in the Tri-State area with matchups against the Islanders and New York Rangers. What’s more, they certainly have a lot to clean up in a short amount of time before they take on the Islanders on Tuesday night at 4:30 PM Pacific. It’ll be interesting to see how they respond to some of the worst hockey they’ve played, even to their standards.