The Morning After: Injured Sharks knocked around by Rangers
The Sharks injuries really caught up with them in Monday night's ugly loss against the New York Rangers. Outscored and outplayed by the Rangers, San Jose needs a quick fix for their injury problem to maintain an edge early in the season.
We’re not angry, just disappointed. Disappointed that the Sharks weren’t able to close out their first road trip of the regular season, and mildly and irrationally saddened by the realization that Martin Jones isn’t actually invincible. But it’s not the kind of disappointment that sticks, it’s the dull kind that’s easy to shrug off because it’s early in the season and the Sharks have recently been struck by a spell of bad luck.
Just three short weeks into the season, Peter DeBoer is facing his first real internal challenge: overcoming injuries. The absences of Logan Couture (out 4-6 weeks with a broken leg) and defenseman Paul Martin were really highlighted in Monday night’s ugly 4-0 loss against the Rangers. The Sharks aren't the same without Couture's energy or Martin's often-overlooked-but-always-reliable defense, that much is clear.
DeBoer has made adjustments in response to Couture and Martin’s absences like moving Tomas Hertl from the third to the second line to fill in for Couture, but the team that took the ice Monday still looked underwhelming and incomplete. The Sharks need to find a way to patch this team up enough to last until Couture and Martin are healthy enough to return to the line-up.
Couture’s injury, especially, caught San Jose off guard. I think DeBoer’s response (to call up Nikolay Goldobin and to reshuffle the lines the way he did) has been fair, but in order for the Sharks to survive this unfortunate turn of events, he needs to be willing to make changes if things aren’t working out. We already saw glimpses of this willingness to adjust against the Rangers when DeBoer switched Goldobin out for Matt Nieto on the top line part way through the game. This is good. This is reassuring.
I say this because from former coach Todd McLellan, we learned that you can’t run the same plays and send out the same line combinations and expect different results. Lines need to be reshuffled if the Sharks aren’t scoring and with the Sharks AHL team, the SJ Barracudas so close by, it makes it that much easier to recall and send down players as the coaching staff sees fit.
After racking up milestones and unlocking achievements at a dizzying rate, Martin Jones now has his first loss as a Shark. Not all that exciting news, but at least now we know he’s human. For all Jones is, he isn’t untouchable and for all he can do (and I believe will do) for the Sharks, he can not carry a team that played the way it did against the Rangers, on his back.
The Sharks offense was hardly a factor against the Rangers. It wasn’t so much the number of chances the Sharks had (they had 22 shots against Antti Raanta) but rather the quality of those shots. The shot differential wasn’t actually particularly jarring — New York only had six more SOG than San Jose. The Rangers had more quality shots, however, and these shots came from well executed plays. San Jose's offense had a few of these, but not nearly enough.
The Rangers were able to set up plays in front of the Sharks net before San Jose even knew what was happening. There were way too many open passing lanes, and the Rangers puck movement in the Sharks defensive zone was too unrestricted. On the flip side, San Jose had a surprisingly hard time setting up plays when they controlled the puck in the offensive zone, even during their two power plays.
There was too much hesitance, and overall the plays that were executed were too readable. Raanta is a talented goaltender, and there was no doubt that he was able to anticipate a majority of the shots before they had even left a Sharks’ tape. Moreover, the Rangers defense was all over San Jose, often sending the puck in the opposite direction before it even had the chance to reach Raanta.
Really, the Rangers did their goalie a solid by preventing shots on goal, often times with their bodies. New York had a total of 21 blocked shots while San Jose only had 10. Perhaps this is just something for the Sharks to note and come back to later. I’m pretty convinced that it helped give the Rangers the upper hand, but take it with a grain of salt because "blocked shots" is just one of those dubious stats that may not impact the overall outcome of a game as much as advertised (see: the Corsi vs. Fenwick debate.)
Against the Rangers, San Jose just wasn’t a complete team. They looked like they had run out of gas at the end of their road trip and wanted to go home and tend to their wounded. Luckily, the Sharks get a few precious days to do just that and rest up before Thursday's match up against the Los Angeles Kings.
They’ve got that time to recover and work on those line combinations in practice and hopefully by the time they take the ice on Thursday in front of their home crowd, they’ll have put this game behind them.