Quick bites: Rock bottom in Ottawa

If you lose to the worst team in the league, that makes you the worst team in the league, right?

Well, I’m not quite sure what to tell you. One of the few teams that has been worse than the San Jose Sharks this season was the Ottawa Senators. The very same Ottawa Senators that were proverbially scrap-heaped last season for draft picks and futures and contracts that didn’t cost quite so much. And yet, a 5-2 score line and another pile of unblocked shots directly in front of San Jose’s net glare back at us, daring us to make assumptions other than “this team is bad.”

Against one of the only other teams in the league that has performed worse in 5-on-5 shot and expected goal differential, the Sharks were average, at best. With 10 skaters on the ice, San Jose took 51 percent of all shots and only generated a lowly 34 percent of all expected goals, after adjusting for the score and venue.

Aaron Dell was poor, and even Martin Jones got in on the fun, allowing a goal on one of the eight shots he faced. Both goalies allowed more goals than what one would expect of them, given where on the ice the Senators took their shots. If you, like most people, don’t watch the game with a protractor, I’m not sure what you could possibly expect of them.

That mass of red directly in front of the Sharks’ net represents the unblocked shots the team allowed during 5-on-5 play. As much as it pains me to say so, chief among those at fault last night was Erik Karlsson, with whom the Sharks allowed an ungodly rate of unblocked shots. Not all of the blame lays at his skates; it takes five to allow a shot through cleanly. Last night was not one of his finest.

Happily, there were some good things about this mostly atrocious game. Tim Heed played 11 entire minutes at 5-on-5. With him on the ice, the Sharks outshot Ottawa by seven. They also out-chanced the Senators with Heed on the ice, generating nearly 64 percent of all expected goals on a night where the team’s ratio was half that. Together with Mario Ferraro, the team’s third defense pair helped San Jose take 62 percent of all 5-on-5 shots on a night where the team took a bit less than 54 percent.

It looked like Timo Meier just needed a change of scenery. His new line (with Evander Kane and Tomas Hertl) played well. Dylan Gambrell’s debut as third-line center was also exciting. He and Joe Thornton worked well together, even if their positions were reversed.  Sadly, Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau again struggled. Their line was the only group that gave up more shots on goal than it took, and the trio were otherwise poor. It’s becoming clearer with each passing game that Marleau simply is no longer cut out for top-six duty in the NHL.

While some individuals shone and some had rough nights, the Sharks again struggled to generate shots near their opponent’s net while allowing a high volume of shots on their own. The coaching staff didn’t help much, refusing to play Tim Heed more than all but three forwards on a night where he played the best he’s played all season. Patrick Marleau received top-five ice time among forwards at 5-on-5, and Noah Gregor, Melker Karlsson and Barclay Goodrow received just about five minutes of ice time despite a sound defensive game and a solid performance in the shot-differential column.

Even on a blowout night in a blowout season, the coaching staff refuses to budge from their plan of running veterans out there and pulling younger, less-trusted players off the ice at the first sign of trouble. That tack isn’t working, and it’s not clear why the coaching staff hasn’t attempted to change their approach.

This team needs another top-of-the-lineup player and some fresh ideas from behind the bench. Until then, or until the team magically figures it out — there are some underperforming players we can probably count on for a bit of a rebound — they’re going to repeat last night’s experiment over and over again.