Last season, the San Jose Sharks dominated away from the Shark Tank, posting the best NHL road record. With an early five-game road swing after the team’s 2-1 home opener win over Los Angeles, San Jose could have re-established the trend. A chance to make a statement against Pittsburgh, who beat San Jose in the Stanley Cup Final, would have sent a message to other teams as to their intentions this season.
However, the message was not delivered. Consecutive losses to Pittsburgh and Detroit capped a dismal road performance. The Sharks’ compete level either dissipated late in the game or never showed up – both apparent in the last two games.
In the game against Pittsburgh, San Jose controlled the tempo of the game with the top line creating chances around the Penguins’ net. Crisp passing and execution in the neutral zone gave the Sharks an easy transition to attack.
San Jose finally found the net when Tomas Hertl tapped in a rebound. Joe Pavelski took the initial shot and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury was unable to handle. Fleury did not have his stick on the goal as he lost his piece of lumber, knocking an early puck away from a shot on net.
Strong play in the neutral zone led to Patrick Marleau picking the pocket of a Penguins player for a turnover. He fed Logan Couture on the break, who passed the puck back to Marleau where he finished the play with his second goal of the season.
For two periods, San Jose outmatched Pittsburgh with their speed. However, the compete level to finish did not occur in the third period. Down two defensemen, the Penguins rallied with three goals to stun the Sharks.
The Penguins woke up in the third period, turning the table on the Sharks. Though a tough loss to swallow early in the season, the Sharks’ learned an important lesson – 40 minutes of hockey will not get the job done.
In Detroit, the Sharks came out flat and remained dormant in a 3-0 shutout loss to the Red Wings. With the added depth Sharks management added during the offseason, speed would not be a concern. The roster is loaded with talent and has the firepower to score goals with speed.
Instead, the young forwards of Detroit got the best of San Jose. Not only was the Sharks’ compete level lacking but their play in the neutral zone was weak. All three goals by the Red Wings resulted from exploiting the Sharks in the neutral zone. Gustav Nyquist benefitted from the Sharks’ inability to contain the zone with two goals.
After both losses, Sharks’ head coach Peter DeBoer was dissatisfied with the team’s effort to play a full 60 minutes. The season may be young, but these early signs of not competing are concerning for a San Jose team looking to get back to the Final.
A Silver Lining Despite Not Making an Early Statement
Although a crazy seven-goal third period saw San Jose at the wrong end of a 7-4 decision against the New York Rangers, some positives came from the defeat. Despite being down, the Sharks would not go away, keeping within striking distance. The team showed determination and competed for the whole game. San Jose can look at this defeat in playing all phases of the game not matter the deficit.
Burns was a big factor in keeping San Jose within the range of New York to comeback. He had two goals in the game, but the team was unable to sustain the momentum. Burns saw his five-game point streak end against Detroit, but his early play has been encouraging. For the Sharks to be successful this season, Burns must contribute offensively.
Martin Jones has been steady in net. He cannot be faulted for the last two games as his teammates in front did not perform. Jones was victimized in Pittsburgh when the Sharks failed to clear the puck in front of their net. Against Detroit, he kept his side in the game stopping quality chances off turnovers. With the lack of compete level, commitment on defense has been an issue for the Sharks.
Early Test Passed
Aaron Dell earned his first NHL win between the pipes for the Sharks in a 3-2 win over the New York Islanders. He made 21 saves and is the fifth Sharks goaltender to win in a debut. The journeyman goaltender earned the backup job with his strong play with the San Jose Barracuda last season.
Two things stood out in Dell’s debut. First, he looked poised as he made stops and deflected rebounds away from second-chance opportunities. The Islanders were trying to pepper the rookie goaltender with shots, but the Sharks’ defense helped to make Dell comfortable.
Second, although the Islanders took a 2-1 lead, Dell was not rattled. Dell calmly thwarted a good scoring chance by John Tavares, who looked to add to the Islanders’ lead. He battled the rest of the way and his effort got rewarded as the Sharks scored two goals to secure his first win.
This may have been only Dell’s first game, but he passed the initial test in showing Sharks management he is a reliable backup. He must battle like he did to remain as a backup to Jones.
A disappointing end to the road trip has San Jose needing to get back on track. Although failing to make an early statement in losing to Pittsburgh, another message could be sent beginning Tuesday. With a home stand about to begin, the Sharks must send a message that the Shark Tank will be tough once again.