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Peter DeBoer highlights penalty kill, five-on-five play as areas of concern

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New Sharks head coach also sees Brent Burns as a defenseman long term and thinks the collapse against L.A. cast a pall over this season.

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Lots of interesting stuff in Elliotte Friedman's latest 30 Thoughts column as the Sportsnet reporter relayed portions of an interview he conducted with new Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer. When asked about what the Sharks need to correct in order to bounce back from their worst season in a decade, DeBoer pinpointed their penalty kill and five-on-five play as areas for improvement:

What must the Sharks correct? DeBoer pointed out the penalty kill went from 85 per cent in 2012-13 and 84.9 the next season, to 78.5 this year. "Historically, it’s not bad. We have to figure out the reasons why. Was it goaltending, structure, system…probably a little bit of everything." The year DeBoer’s Devils went to the Cup Final, they were first at 89.6 per cent. That’s the best in the NHL since 1997-98. He also said San Jose’s five-on-five play "was not at the level of a contender." They scored 142 such goals (22nd) and allowed 156 (24th).

Particularly down the stretch this season, the Sharks' penalty kill was flat-out costing them games. On the whole, they yielded more than 70 unblocked shot attempts per 60 shorthanded minutes, the 12th-worst mark in the league, after being the 5th-least permissive kill in 2013-14. To that end, bringing in the bench boss of a team that's boasted arguably the best shorthanded unit in the league over the past three years should help the Sharks return to their prior performance level when down a man. Reducing the shorthanded minutes of veterans like Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski who were underperforming in that game state this season wouldn't hurt either. As we've discussed before, former Devils assistant Dave Barr ran the 2011-12 New Jersey PK Friedman is referring to and he's been mentioned as a potential addition to San Jose's revamped staff.

With the right solutions, DeBoer thinks the Sharks can return to the playoffs, which is a big reason why he took the job:

"I wanted to be in a spot where the expectation was a team could and should be in the playoffs," the new coach said last week. "That hasn’t always been the case over my career in the NHL, and I thought it was very important. It’s not like I was turning down jobs, but I prefer this rebuild."

DeBoer said as he did his interviews, then started talking to the players, he could see the 2014 playoff disappointment "dragged into last season and played a big part in what happened there. They are ready to leave it behind them now…and would all agree it was something that hung over them all year." Why? "You continually answer questions about it. It’s not easy, but they are a motivated group that played at a high level for a long time. They want to get back there."

DeBoer was also quick to quash any notions that Brent Burns, whom he coached as Todd McLellan's assistant for Team Canada's recent World Championship team, will be a forward again anytime soon:

"He’s a defenceman. At the World Championships, he was the best and it wasn’t close. You can count on one hand the number of players in the world who can be an all-star at forward and on defence at the NHL level." DeBoer watched a lot of him in the lead-up to his interviews. What did he see? "You can’t play that position part-time. He was a little bit uncomfortable. We have to commit to him playing there, so he can really become comfortable with it."

Finally, DeBoer confirmed he's had ongoing discussions with Doug Wilson on what to do in net but wouldn't divulge what the plan is. Hopefully that doesn't mean Martin Brodeur is coming out of retirement.