Sharks’ Recent Struggles Could Indicate Future Troubles

To put it simply, the San Jose Sharks looked completely outmatched in their two-game series with the Colorado Avalanche. The first game saw San Jose give up seven goals in two periods on route to a 7-3 loss, followed by a 3-0 shutout the following game.

Unfortunately, this is eerily similar to the Sharks’ breakdown last season. The team was above a .500 record when they were blown out by the Tampa Bay Lighting 7-1. After that defeat, the club never regained their form, dropping seven of the next eight games and a record of 14-22-3 after that loss. There are numerous reasons why San Jose played poorly after that loss in Tampa Bay, and it’s possible this season’s Sharks could see a similar collapse.

Lack of Depth Scoring and Consistent Contribution

The Sharks are not receiving enough contribution offensively from throughout their lineup. Other than the first line, which controls play and shot attempts when playing, the other forward lines have struggled.

This begins with the second line. Tomas Hertl and Evander Kane consistently find themselves here and joined by either rookie John Leonard or Timo Meier. Since the second line’s hot start, both Kane and Hertl have one point in the last five games. Leonard was scratched last game, and Meier was demoted to the third line due to their struggles as well.

Tomas Hertl #48, San Jose Sharks
Tomas Hertl #48, San Jose Sharks, Oct. 9, 2018 versus the Philadelphia Flyers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The third line, centered well by Dylan Gambrell recently, has seen some success, especially when Noah Gregor plays. However, rotating the other winger as Leonard, Meier, and Matt Nieto has been a hinderance in building much chemistry or success.

The fourth line, played sparingly, has seen three different centers, but Patrick Marleau appears to have solidified himself in that spot. Marcus Sorensen, despite being one of the worst forwards defensively through the start of the season, has played every game, and Nieto and Stefan Noesen often make up the other part of fourth, which has seen little ice time and scoring.

In the series with Colorado, the bottom three lines had one goal at even strength. This must improve for the Sharks to compete with teams of higher status in their division.

Head Coaching Decisions

After the previously mentioned Lightning defeat last season, the Sharks fired their head coach Pete DeBoer after two more games. Not that current coach Bob Boughner should be on the hot seat, but some of his recent choices have been questionable.

For example, he has been quick to bench and demote younger players who have faltered, but is yet to keep a similar intensity when veterans make errors. Leonard was scratched in the second game of the Colorado series, after his first game had a massive mishap that led to a goal against, and overall struggled against one of the league’s best teams. Also this season, Meier has been demoted from the top six forward group and Gregor has been scratched twice.

However, other players have struggled, and not seen similar punishment. Kane leads the league in minor penalties taken this season, and averages near three minutes in the box per night. Marc-Edouard Vlasic is yet to to record a point this season, has the second worse plus/minus rating of a San Jose defenseman, and made numerous poor plays leading directly to goals.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic, NHL, San Jose Sharks
Marc-Edouard Vlasic also signed an eight-year extension with the Sharks on July 1. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Sharks have yet to see consistently successful and defensively reliable lines for more than a few games. The coaching staff puts out lines that send messages to young players who are bound to be streaky, but are yet to send similar messages to veterans who also struggle.

Defensive Struggles Setting Goaltending up for Failure

The goaltending has been facing an onslaught of high quality chances against recently. The sheer quantity is incredible. In the 3-7 defeat, the Sharks allowed 42 shots on net, and in the 3-0 loss Devan Dubnyk saw 38 shots on net. The netminder also received the benefit of the post helping him out on six occasions that game.

Both goalies are playing better than their previous season in terms of save percentage above expected. Martin Jones’ .871 save percentage is misleading — he is actually improving this season. Of the 45 goalies playing in three games this season, Jones is 33rd in save percentage above expected, which is miles better than when he was fifth-worst in the same category last season.

Martin Jones San Jose Sharks
Martin Jones, San Jose Sharks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Though yet to come out with a win, Dubnyk has strung together some nice performances as of recently. In his last 151 minutes of ice time from the last two starts and relief duty of Jones, he’s had a .920 save percentage. This a great bounce back by the 34-year-old.

Despite goaltending improvement from last season, the defensive play has been subpar. The Sharks average 2.6 expected goals against at even strength per game, ranking sixth worst in the league. When players do not have consistent line combination, and the offense generates little from its depth, defensive flaws set the team up to fail.

What Can Improve?

The club has numerous players who can slot into the lineup, and each player adds something different. However, this is not an excuse for the lack of consistency. The Sharks acquired a defenseman in a string of minor trades recently, netting Christian Jaros. However, the third defenseman pairing of Radim Simek and Nikolai Knyzhov has been a pleasant surprise this season.

Overall, the team has a lot to improve, but defensive play has to be at the top of their list. I would expect Dubnyk to be the primary goalie for the near future, and the team must improve around him, heading into their first scheduled home game. Although playing in Glendale, this three-day break from play will hopefully help in their next game.