The San Jose Sharks (32-36-12, sixth Pacific) have played a lot of ‘catch up’ hockey this season, both in-game and in the standings. Though it’s past due time to catch a whiff of a Wild Card spot, the Sharks have shown it’s never too late turn a game around.
The month of April saw the longest losing streak of the season extend to 10 games, which ranks third all-time in franchise history. That should tell you everything you need to know about how often the Sharks trail in games. Since Apr. 2, the Sharks have trailed during 12 out of 26 intermissions, about half of the time. That’s a mediocre figure, but becomes a bombastic one upon the realization that the team has converted only three of those games into wins.
But in seven of the 10 games lost during the streak, the Sharks faced opponents who are now poised for postseason play. In the eight times the team played a playoff contender in April, six games have ended with just a one-goal margin. Only against Vegas was San Jose able to flip the script in a trailing game and complete a comeback.
So taking into account strength-of-schedule, playing from behind seems less like a penchant and more like an expectation for a squad who has faced a little bit of everything: from controversially losing the previous season’s best scorer due to legal (et al.) issues, to extended injuries and illnesses, to icing 15 rookies this season, the most of any team.
Playing against the Edmonton Oilers (47-27-6, second Pacific), it feels like a given that the Sharks will trail for some or all of the game, especially considering the team has been outscored 10-3 in three total losses to the Oilers this season.
Losing — even by a marginal score, and against even the best opponents — is not a trend that the Sharks should want to continue, especially when not too long ago they were considered perennial playoff contenders. San Jose is now due to miss the postseason for the third season in a row.
With two games left, a match between the Sharks and the Seattle Kraken to cap the season off may well turn out to be a dud. In other words, the Oilers will be the last chance the Sharks have to leave a toss-up season behind with a feather in their cap.
Pour it on for a straight-20
The Oilers are set to face off against fellow Californians, the Los Angeles Kings, at the two- and three-spot in the Pacific Division Quarter Final. Not much separates the two, as Edmonton has 100 points to LA’s 98 ahead of this game.
The Kings have thrust themselves into contention this season off the backs and young legs of newcomers Quinton Byfield, Rasmus Kupari, Sean Durzi, Arthur Kaliyev and Jordan Spence, who have mainly filled ins for injured players, but kept the ship sailing. The Oilers have largely relied on their stars Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, while Evander Kane has provided some extra punch to the Edmonton offense.
With playoffs in sight, the Oilers could be playing conservatively, considering their first-round matchup against the Kings is gridlocked. This is despite how the point tallies stack up after the last two games of the season, though the Oilers likely want to keep their home-ice advantage.
In the only losses the Oilers have suffered this month, one trend sticks out: they were overwhelmed in at least one period of the game. In Edmonton’s 5-1 loss to the Minnesota Wild, the Wild scored three unanswered goals in the second period. The Columbus Blue Jackets scored four of their five goals in the third period to come back and beat the Oilers 5-2.
That’s any amount of reason to suggest the Sharks should try for the same. It’s a task that is easier said than done, though the Sharks have hit a late stride recently, scoring at least three goals in five of their last eight games. If they can pour it on for at least a full period or get to a sizable lead, will it wear the Oilers down enough to convince them to save it for LA?
Shoot it from 60 feet out
In the past two games, against the Golden Knights and the Anaheim Ducks, we’ve seen three instances of Jaycob Megna firing the puck from the point to create a goal, with all three goals coming at even-strength. Brent Burns, who is known for these types of plays, has also been effective with his own point-shot goal, though the blast came on the power play against the Ducks.
Either way, it’s a great model for not just the other four defensemen, but Sharks skaters in general. Don’t forget center-turned-winger Nick Bonino’s unassisted goal against the Knights. It actually caught Logan Thompson off-guard:
Nick Bonino with a Goal vs. Vegas Golden Knights https://t.co/Gh4TGznJHa— NHL on Scoreboard Page (@NHLonSP) April 25, 2022
The Sharks have long been known around the league to generate a lot of their offense from the point, but it’s easy to get why that kind of play has been a mainstay. The point blast is a three-tool play: score on the tip, score on the rebound or score on the shot.
If San Jose can execute on what is arguably part of the team’s identity for most or part of this game, getting Ryan Merkley or Mario Ferraro working the point shots like Megna has been credited for, we may see some sustained scoring chances at the Oilers’ end.
“Stay out of the penalty box!”
Whereas all but the penalty kill seemed to be lost in the Sharks’ untenanted arsenal at the halfway point of the season, the trade deadline came and took two pillars in Andrew Cogliano and Jacob Middleton.
Not that the special team has crumbled, as the Sharks are still chugging along at a 85.3 percent kill, with just five goals-against in the month of April, but two of those were within the last two games.
Guys like McDavid, Kane and Draisaitl — and don’t forget Zach Hyman, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Tyson Barrie — will be on the ice, so the Sharks won’t be able to afford the volume of trips to the box to which they’ve recently become accustomed.
Bold prediction: The Sharks will get one win to spoil the Oiler’s series sweep. Also, I’m calling it: Thomas Bordeleau will score his first NHL goal.