The San Jose Sharks took five out of a possible 12 points, providing mixed insights on their recent six-game home stand. That is to say, as unsuccessful as it was, it could’ve been much worse, as encouraging performances against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Florida Panthers were a breath of fresh air from their 0-5 start to the season. With a plethora of good habits mingled with even more bad, here are my observations from the Sharks’ 1-2-3 record on the homestand.
Late-Period Lackluster Play And Unnecessary Blunders Define Sharks’ Homestand
The most frustrating factor of this homestand was the fact that the Sharks should’ve had at least a couple more wins easily if not for their late-period play. Loose coverage and lazy plays in their own end, especially from their top forwards, was their downfall in what should’ve been a much better homestand.
During the six-game stretch, the Sharks surrendered a mind-boggling 10 goals in the final five minutes of their 18 periods of play. Of those ten goals, seven of them either tied the game or surrendered the lead. That’s a statistic nearly unheard of at the NHL level and is just unacceptable regardless of the team’s caliber.
Much of the Sharks’ late-period issues stem from a lack of on-ice communication that leads to missed assignments and wide-open opportunities. You can take just about any late-period goal on the homestand to exemplify. But, perhaps the most prime example came from Nikita Kucherov’s last-minute game-winning goal in the third period of the Sharks’ 4-3 loss.
Call me pessimistic, but what others call a great passing play, I call an easy tap-in on a missed assignment. On-the-fly communication would’ve solved everything here as this was a miscommunication and an utter lack of awareness by both Erik Karlsson and Evgeny Svechnikov.
The moment Brayden Point comes to a halt, the late forward Svechnikov enters the play to double-team Point. At this point, Karlsson should’ve switched assignments to the floundering Kucherov who then coasted to the side of the net unattended. There was time for either Karlsson or Svechnikov to take the open man. Instead, both players came to a standstill around Point who dished a cross-ice pass to Branden Hagel, who fed an open Kucherov for the easy tap-in.
The Sharks put an exclamation on their late-period woes at home in their final tilt against the Anaheim Ducks, surrendering two goals in the final 4:30 of regulation. They ended up losing to the Ducks for the second time in a week in the shootout 5-4. Only so many lessons can be learned from repetitive mistakes. Now is the time to answer as we approach the quarter-mark of the season.
Sharks Stand Toe-To-Toe With Cup Contenders
I certainly did not expect the Sharks to come close to defeating the trio of the Maple Leafs, Lightning, or Panthers. They went beyond that by arguably outplaying all three, outshooting the opposition in two of them while carrying the play for long stretches.
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That in itself is one of the few bright spots in an otherwise disastrous homestand. That includes surprisingly edging all three teams in zone time in each of those games. All contests could’ve gone either way, with a cumulative score of 11-10. Unfortunately, they failed to replicate that success against the lower-tier teams. Keep an eye on how the Sharks respond on their upcoming road trip after an otherwise lackluster effort at home.
Increased Goal Production Show New Coaching Habits Are Paying Off
After beginning the season with a league-low 1.89 goals-for-per-game, the Sharks posted a refreshing 3.5 goals-per-game average in their six games at The Tank. This being against much stiffer competition no less, and with only one goal from their top-line center, Tomas Hertl who continues to struggle.
Despite having only one win on the homestand, this increase in goal production with little help from Hertl is an encouraging sign. If and when No. 48 regains his scoring touch, San Jose could see moderate goal production from all four lines. The bottom six of the forward corps has held up their end of the bargain, now it’s time for the top six to hold up theirs.
Erik Karlsson Cruises, Hertl Snoozes
Karlsson is scoring at a historic pace for a defenseman with 10 goals and 9 assists for 19 points in the first 14 games. It’s an offensive performance never before witnessed in our generation, as his 10th goal through 13 set a modern-day NHL record for the most goals by a defenseman to start a season. Moreover, his 12 points in his last four games earned him NHL Player of the Week honors. I think it’s safe to say, barring another injury, Karlsson is back.
On the flip side, their presumed top forward, Hertl has just two goals in those 14 games. Though he did score in the final game of the homestand, his lack of goal production is a concern. Most of that has a lot to do with his movement off the puck or lack thereof. Look for him to be more active on the backcheck and provide support off the puck as he looks to find his groove this season.
Sharks’ Road Trip Could Determine Team’s Fate
After a homestand that saw them find new and unique ways to lose, the Sharks will be looking to build on some of the positives. Flashes of dominance displayed against top teams provide faint glimmers of hope that the new coaching staff can still turn things around. The clock is ticking on the Sharks to prove to the NHL and new general manager Mike Grier that a full blow-up is unnecessary. That clock may very well run out after what’s sure to be a pivotal four-game road trip that could make or break this team’s season.
Original concept by Josh Fitzpatrick