Better faceoffs on Sharks agenda

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Better faceoffs on Sharks agenda

SAN JOSE Theres a pretty good reason the Sharks were having trouble getting sustained pressure in the Phoenix zone during Saturdays 3-0 loss at HP Pavilion.

If you believe head coach Todd McLellans numbers, and, well, theres no reason not to, San Jose won just six of 24 offensive zone draws. That, combined with goalie Mike Smiths deft skill at handling the puck, was a major factor in the team suffering its second shutout of the season.

You take that lack of time in the O-zone because you lost the faceoff and combine that with Mike Smiths ability to play the puck out on our forecheck, we were never in their end, said the coach.

Overall, the Sharks are 11th in the NHL in faceoff percentage with 51.1 percent success rate. Thats not a terrible number, but its below where they were last season when they finished second in the league (53.7 percent) behind only Vancouver. That might not seem like much of a difference, but for a team that relies heavily on puck possession, its notable.

We need to get better at it. In the past weve been good, said Patrick Marleau, who is back centering the second line after starting the season as a wing on the top line. Were not where were used to being. The personnel hasnt changed, so it might be a little bit more of a mental thing and more focus from the players would help.

A quick glance at the individual numbers among Sharks centers says that Joe Thornton leads the team (54.4 percent), followed by Michal Handzus (52 percent), Marleau (49.5 percent), Logan Couture (48.9 percent) and Andrew Desjardins (48.4 percent).

Faceoffs are more about just the guy lining up in the middle, though.

There are two parts of it the centerman who takes the faceoff and everybody else knowing what to do off of it when you do win or lose, said Marleau.

To be fair, there isnt a huge difference in faceoffs between the top team in the league (Boston 55 percent) and the worst (Calgary 45.6 percent). Much of the time, faceoffs come down to simple dumb luck.

Still, that differential is controllable, according to McLellan.

Sometimes when the referee drops the puck it bounces a certain way or it hits a foot and theres nothing you can do about it. But, I do believe you can control that swing between 45 and 55 percent, and you should be able to swing it your way.

And just how do you go about that? It involves a whole slew of variables, according to McLellan.

Are we getting help from the wingers? Are we changing up our tactics when we go in? Are we doing the same things over and over again and getting the same negative results? Are we prepared to use or feet? Are we prepared to go to our forehand? Are we prepared to lose a faceoff on purpose and get the forecheck going?

We continue to work at it.

Sharks get some down time with a break in schedule

Sharks get some down time with a break in schedule

SAN JOSE – A weekend with no games on the NHL calendar is rare enough. A weekend without any games or practices, though? That’s virtually unheard of in the middle of the season.

But with nothing until Wednesday's home game, and after a stretch of 10 games in 18 days, Sharks coach Pete DeBoer chose to give the players and staff a full Saturday and Sunday off. DeBoer and assistant coach Johan Hedberg were seen quickly scurrying from SAP Center a few short minutes after the game ended, while defenseman Brent Burns had his massive camouflage backpack stuffed to capacity while conducing his postgame media availability.

“It’s packed and ready to go,” Burns said, without going into any detail as to what exactly was in the bag.

DeBoer explained his rationale behind the respite on Friday morning.

“The way [the schedule] laid out after the month we’ve just had – the injuries, the stuff we’ve dealt with – it just made sense. We’ve got another push until the Christmas break after this with a tough schedule. 

“With our travel and the World Cup and everything, it didn’t make sense to come down here and skate when we had a chance to actually recharge mentally and physically.”

Although the team was aware of the break for some time, there’s no question that the Sharks have earned it. As they wake up on Saturday morning (presumably after sleeping in), they find themselves with a three-point cushion in the Pacific Division with a 15-9-1 mark. San Jose has won six of its last seven, including triumphs over perennial contender Chicago, chief rival Los Angeles, and the top team in the Eastern Conference, Montreal.

Their two longest road trips of the season are also already behind them, including a five-game trip in October and a six-gamer in November.

Joe Pavelski is pleased with what he’s seen so far, despite the challenging circumstances.

“Guys have handled it well,” said the captain. “There hasn’t been a whole lot of rest time, and we’ve found a few different ways to win, especially on nights that it hasn’t been easy. The biggest thing is guys have shown up and played hard. We’ve got a pretty good structure in here, guys are responsible, we’ve found a few goals, and [Martin Jones] gives us a chance every night.”

Joe Thornton said: “It’s been a lot of hockey. It will be nice to get a couple days after this to relax and recover a little bit.”

The schedule will ramp up again in short order. After three games in four nights next week, the Sharks will fly to Toronto and open up a four-games-in-six-days road trip with the Maple Leafs on Dec. 13.

* * *

The Sharks reassigned forwards Kevin Labanc and Ryan Carpenter to the AHL Barracuda on Saturday morning. Carpenter was a healthy scratch on Friday as Tommy Wingels got back in the lineup. 

It’s likely that the move was made at least partially because the Sharks are up against the salary cap, and that one or both players could return by the time they host the Senators on Wednesday.

Three takeaways: Sharks see similarities between Jones, Price

Three takeaways: Sharks see similarities between Jones, Price

SAN JOSE – The Sharks continued their hot streak with a 2-1 win over the Canadiens in a classic goaltender’s duel Friday night. The three takeaways from the game…

1 – Price, Jones similarities

Martin Jones was the standout star with his 31 saves, but the Sharks had to beat Carey Price on the other end to reward their own goalie. Price entered the night as the NHL leader in save percentage (.947), and third in goals-against average (1.68) and is probably on his way to another Vezina Trophy at the end of the season.

That the game came down to a battle in net was no surprise, as a prescient Pete DeBoer said Friday morning “we have to be prepared to win 2-1.”

There was talk after the game that there are some similarities between the Sharks emerging goaltender and the Canadiens superstar. 

“Actually, we spoke to [Sharks assistant/goaltending coach] Johan Hedberg about that, and he does see a lot of similarities between the two of them,” assistant coach Steve Spott said. “Their mannerisms in the net – they're both very, very calm. Both very quick. And both hockey clubs believe in their goaltenders. It was a great duo on that ice tonight. I think for any fan to see those two goaltenders was pretty special tonight."

Brent Burns, who won the World Cup with Price in September, said: “Very similar. … [Jones is] unflappable. They’re both big, very calm and great positioning. Very similar.”

2 – Strong start

The Sharks knew they were getting the weekend off from practice after the game, with no chance of any late changes as DeBoer and Hedberg were seen quickly departing for getaway flights after the final horn (that’s why Spott handled the postgame media duties). 

At this point in DeBoer’s second season, there seems to be a real trust factor between the coaching staff and the veteran team that no one will start their mini-break early. The Sharks were flying in the first period, jumping all over the Canadiens and seizing a 2-0 lead that Jones helped preserve over the final two frames.

Spott said: “It was good to come out like that and establish that momentum. We know how fast Montreal is and how deep they are up front, and obviously we know Carey Price. It was a good start. We were able to hold onto that."

“Whether you get the days off, you want to play hard,” Joe Pavelski said. “You want to come out [quickly], especially at home, at the starts.” 

3 – Escaping injury

Injuries are always a concern with so many games in so few days, and there were a few scary moments for San Jose.

The Sharks lost Kevin Labanc for a stretch in the first period after the rookie went hard into the boards on a hit by Alexei Emelin, but he came back in the second after he apparently went through some concussion tests.

Spott said: “He took a good hit. He came back. He went in and had to obviously do some [head injury] protocol.”

David Schlemko’s situation looked much worse, as the defenseman limped off of the ice and up the tunnel in the second period with what looked like a right leg or ankle problem. He returned midway through the third, though.

“It didn't look good when we saw it on video, but thankfully I think we dodged a bullet there,” Spott said.