The San Jose Sharks entered their second game in a series against the Anaheim Ducks looking to make strides in the top-heavy Western Division. Looking to advance to the fourth and final playoff spot, the Sharks needed two points and to limit the Ducks to help accomplish this.
The team switched up their look at all three positions, adding Rudolfs Balcers into the lineup, switching Marc-Edouard Vlasic from the second to the third pairing with Radim Simek, and starting Devan Dubnyk in net. However, this was not enough to pot more than one goal in the game, and the Sharks fell 2-1 in a shootout.
Dubnyk Success Despite Defense
Although Martin Jones started the first of the back-to-back games, head coach Bob Boughner assured that was mainly due to the long lay-off for Jones, and that was his reason for starting. Including the loss to the Ducks, Dubnyk has a .934 save percentage since Jan. 22.
And, the team has not made it easy for him to put up that high tally. The Ducks put up seven shots on a singular powerplay, on route to outshooting the Sharks 33-27 in tonight’s game.
Per MoneyPuck, the Sharks defense allowed 2.88 expected goals against, further proving Dubnyk’s dominance. The new San Jose netminder had numerous spectacular saves, especially in the dying moments of overtime, sprawling to keep the puck out and send it to a shootout.
The main concern was the new second pairing, with Simek sliding up the lineup to join Erik Karlsson. Expected goals% allows one to see how well a team faired with a particular player on the ice. An xGoals% above 50 means the team controlled scoring chances more with a given player playing, and under 50% means the opposite. Simek’s 17.8% and Karlsson’s 33.1% at 5-on-5 indicates the new pairing did not play very well.
The new third pairing of Nikolai Knyzhov and Vlasic was also narrowly outclassed in shot attempts against their competition. The Brent Burns and Mario Ferraro top pairing is in a league of its own compared to the other team’s pairings, and rightfully saw lots of ice time.
Goal Scoring Stalls
The Sharks, throughout this season, have been unable to help Dubnyk’s play. The team averages one goal-per-game of scoring when the former Wild netminder starts. The Sharks powerplay has stalled as of recently, with just one goal in its last 27 attempts.
Even at even strength, the Sharks left a lot to be desired. The top line for the Ducks series played phenomenally, with Kevin Labanc, Logan Couture, and Evander Kane leading the way. After that however, the scoring has not been present for San Jose.
The second line, centered by Tomas Hertl, has not scored recently. Although Boughner was happy with his Czech center’s performance in the second game of the series, he still clocked significantly less ice time than third-line center Dylan Gambrell.
Hertl has received little help as of recent. His linemates have never been consistent, throughout the season seeing a blend of Kane, Ryan Donato, Timo Meier, John Leonard, and now Patrick Marleau. With Hertl receiving inconsistent partnerships, as well as the less productive wingers in comparison to Couture, it is easy to see why the 27-year-old struggles.
The Sharks’ bottom-six has speed and grit but mounted few goals, similar to the rest of the squad. Especially when the third line seemingly switches every game, it makes sense why the team has been unproductive.
Constant and Sometimes Unnecessary Lineup Changes
Boughner has tweaked his lineup between virtually every game and often produced little. As mentioned in the analysis of the last game, changes to the defensive pairings were needed, with Vlasic’s down season hitting its lowest point.
However, many of the offensive changes throughout the season have performed below expectation. Couture has probably been the best and most consistent Sharks forward of the season and benefited from Labanc always being on his right wing. Whether the duo had Kane or Donato on the left side, they have performed effectively.
Recently, Hertl has played with 41-year-old Marleau, who’s logged one assist through 10 games this season. That is tied for the worst point total of every Sharks forward who has played more than a game. Playing a forward who is yet to produce offensively this season with Hertl, who has one point since Jan. 22, puts both players in poor positions to succeed. Meier was most recently added to this line, also in a slump, and yet to score a goal since the second game of the season.
In a short season, sample sizes will be small, and immediate success is needed. However, constant changing of the lines, and placing struggling players together, in my opinion, further harms the team.
Heading to the Kings
The Sharks begin a two-game series against the Los Angeles Kings, who are bottom of the Western Division, on Tuesday. Picking up four points, and not allowing any points to the division rival is a must.
The Sharks must set their players up to succeed in a series in which they ought to win. A key to this would be adding Donato back to the top-six forward group. With six points through ten games, he has been a pleasant surprise for San Jose and should see more ice.
Playing the same defensive pairings is also likely the best option. Although the second pairing was subpar in its first game, with time they should be able to be more solid defensively. Improving a struggling a must powerplay is a must to gain momentum for offensive players who have recently stalled. Off a great start, Dubnyk likely will look to continue his stellar performance recently.