The San Jose Sharks saved their worst for last, losing 8-5 on New Year’s Eve to the Calgary Flames.
On one hand, getting roasted by the Pacific pace-setter — in a contest where a regulation victory would’ve given San Jose the divisional lead — was a let-down. On the other hand, the Sharks completed their best month of an up-and-down season, going 9-4-2 after a .500 November.
In honor of the eight goals allowed, here are eight things that San Jose needs to do to sustain their December success through the rest of the year.
Stay with Your Man
This was a consistent problem for the Sharks last night.
Justin Braun said recently, “You’re doing somebody else’s job, when really, you should just stay with your guy.” He was speaking specifically about his partnership with Marc-Edouard Vlasic, but sticking with your man and trusting your teammate to do his job is the hallmark of a championship-caliber team defense.
That trust was lacking last night.
Brent Burns (88) turned it over, in part because of a rolling puck, but the dam burst when Marcus Sorensen (20) chased Radim Simek’s (51) man, Matthew Tkachuk (19), freeing Mikael Backlund (11).
Fight Through Picks
Off the draw, Tkachuk and Mark Giordano (5) switched, Tkachuk going high, Giordano going low.
Joe Thornton (19), correctly, chased Tkachuk, but he was held up by Michael Frolik (67). Could Frolik have been whistled down for interference? Absolutely. Should Thornton have just blasted through Frolik? From this vantage point, it’s impossible to say for sure, but Frolik is giving three inches and 25 pounds to Thornton.
It was a tough night at the faceoff circle for San Jose, as they won just 45 percent of their draws. Joe Pavelski, who lost the faceoff in this clip, had a particularly rough go of it, winning just two of nine attempts.
While winning faceoffs isn’t as critical to winning hockey as other factors, they’re obviously better won than lost.
Don’t Let Up
Seconds away from completing a penalty kill that had been highlighted by a dynamic Aaron Dell doorstep save on Sean Monahan, Tomas Hertl (48) stopped in his tracks when Tkachuk backed into him. Tkachuk then beelined toward the net, while Hertl appeared to still be sorting out his defensive assignment. Erik Karlsson (65) also got caught high chasing Monahan (23), leaving Brenden Dillon to fend off essentially a 3-on-1.
Identify the Open Man
It wasn’t an outstanding pinch by Vlasic (44), but Braun compensated by cutting off Johnny Gaudreau’s (13) shooting option. At this point, Timo Meier (28), who had done a good job covering for Vlasic, failed to identify the open man.
Burns was chasing Sam Bennett (93), but then Evander Kane (9) moved in. Between Kane and Burns, somebody had to take charge and somebody had to step back. Instead, they collided, opening up a seam for Bennett to find James Neal’s (18) skate.
Tighten Up Gaps
The Sharks’ problems weren’t confined to the defensive zone, as the Flames scorched them in transition time after time.
Forecheckers Hertl and Kane failed to hamper Giordano’s breakout pass to the weak side (Lindholm). Burns tried to step up on Gaudreau, but Monahan came from behind to accept the pass and carry the puck in — Joonas Donskoi (27), Vlasic and Hertl too far away to help. Coaches and players talk about staying on top of the opposition; this was not an example of it.
Before everybody forgot about Gaudreau in front of the net, San Jose’s forecheck once again proved toothless.
On the Vlasic dump-in, the Sharks failed to follow a couple tenets of successful dump-and-chase hockey: Enter the zone with speed — all the forwards went in flat-footed — and try to outnumber the opposition on the puck, in this case, Giordano along the half-wall. This lack of resistance on one end led to an easy Flames zone exit and entry.
Anyway, more often than not, it’s not just one thing or one person that leads to a goal against. No Shark was blameless in last night’s debacle and these eight items weren’t their only issues.
But it wouldn’t be surprising if the team video review of this loss — if Pete DeBoer doesn’t burn the tape first — featured at least some of these suggested improvements.