Earlier this season, San Jose Sharks games made you want to get into the shower and listen to Fleetwood Mac on repeat. Later, they made you want to throw your remote at the TV. Soon, we’ll all be giggling together in as hysteria sets in. It’s really laughable what’s happened so far this year, if not totally unexpected.
The Sharks lineup features a forward group where maybe half of the players are for sure NHL quality, a defense corps giving top-three minutes to someone well past his prime (to put it lightly), two struggling star forwards and goaltenders who were arguably the league’s worst duo during the 2018-19 season.
A lack of talent up front is just icing on the cake, too. Most of the issues beyond not having enough skill up front persisted all of last season, as well. Throw in an uncharacteristically poor performance by Timo Meier and Logan Couture, and you’ve got a recipe for a you-know-what sandwich.
Last night against the Boston Bruins, the vast gulf of difference in quality between the Sharks and the league’s best teams was apparent. At 5-on-5, the Sharks’ best period was the third. During that brief window of even-strength play, the Sharks were even with their hosts in shots and actually outchanced Boston.
When the four minutes of meaningless peace before the game devolved into Don Cherry’s idea of a proper Saturday evening affair were your best effort, well. On the evening, the Sharks took just 30 percent of all 5-on-5 shots and helped themselves to just 27 percent of all expected goals. Even for a team that has failed to outshot and chance its opponent in most games this season, that’s a pitiful performance. Here are what struck me as some newsworthy pieces of that performance.
Brent Burns, Vlasic, Erik Karlsson and Brenden Dillon all played 32 or 33 shifts. But Karlsson played two minutes fewer than Burns and three minutes fewer than Vlasic at even strength. That tells me Vlasic and Burns probably spent a few long shifts chasing pucks in their own zone, while Karlsson and Dillon were more efficient at moving the puck in the preferred direction.
If you look at a table of the Sharks’ 5-on-5 shot share with each player on the ice, the numbers back up that assumption. With Burns and Vlasic on the ice together, the Sharks were outshot by 10, more than half of which were shots on goal. With the two of them paired together, San Jose allowed three-quarters of all expected goals. Their main forward opponents? Jake DeBrusk, Danton Heinen and Charlie Coyle. They’re all good players — Coyle especially — yes, but they’re not exactly the league’s most feared offensive threats.
The Sharks officially hit the “panic” button when they re-signed Patrick Marleau. If giving up 15 shots in 11 minutes of ice time is what $56 million gets you these days, I’m not sure what buttons are left to hit.
Up front, the coaching staff at least exhibited some signs of life. Toward the end of the first period, head coach Pete DeBoer and his behind-the-bench mates switched Meier and Marleau. It’s difficult to take too much from such small sample sizes of ice time, but the result of the change was positive. If the coaching staff has finally learned that Marleau needs to be played farther down the lineup, then there is at least some hope they’ll be open to more change moving forward.
On the other hand, it took giving up 34 shots in the first two periods to do so. To further complicate this brief glimpse at rational coaching, Marleau still played the second-most minutes at 5-on-5, but that may just be a sign that he, like Vlasic and Burns, spent much of the evening stuck in his own zone.
Another potentially positive sign was a lack of shots from the point, particularly the right point. Granted, on a night where the Sharks only took 17 shots on goal, it’s hard to build up a volume of shots from anywhere. If this is part of a larger trend, that’s a plus, whether it’s a coaching decision or just evidence Erik Karlsson and Burns are attempting to get the puck to their forwards more often.
Finally, Mario Ferraro continued his strong play. With him on the ice at 5-on-5, the Sharks were not outshot nearly as badly as they were with other defenders. Perhaps more playing time for the rookie should be in the offing.
Through the utter doom and gloom were at least some small positive things. Those are worth considering because they suggest what might be possible with more optimal ice time allocation or a few lineup tweaks. Mostly, this team needs a lot of help on the ice and behind the bench. Doug Wilson is sure to be all over it.