LOS ANGELES The night couldnt have gone much worse for the San Jose Sharks.Not only did the team lose in regulation to the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday night, 5-2, but the other four teams they are in direct competition with for a playoff spot all gained points in the standings.San Jose (36-27-10) sits in 10th place in the Western Conference with 82 points, two out of a playoff spot. There are just nine games remaining in the regular season.Leading 2-1 at the second intermission, the Kings increased their lead on the power play.Torrey Mitchell and Andrew Desjardins were whistled for high-sticking penalties less than a minute apart, including Mitchells double minor. Jeff Carter was called for interference nullifying the two-man advantage, but that was no matter, as Anze Kopitar scored his fourth goal in as many games on a wrist shot from the high slot at the four-minute mark.Kopitars goal came on a delayed penalty to Brent Burns, meaning the Kings would, in fact, get more time with a five-on-three. The Sharks killed it off and kept the game within reach on a nice passing play between Marty Havlat, Logan Couture and Dan Boyle that resulted in Boyles first goal in 17 games at 6:56.Any thoughts of a comeback were quashed when Dustin Penners wrist shot beat Antti Niemi at 15:54, after Slava Voynov picked off Ryane Clowes errant pass towards Boyle in the neutral zone. It was a bad goal by Niemi, making his 12th straight start.Carter's late empty-net goal capped the scoring.The Sharks have lost two straight, including Mondays 5-3 loss to Anaheim.The Kings took a 1-0 lead with a shorthanded goal. San Jose got caught with too many men deep in its own zone, leading to a two-on-one rush. Mike Richards, with Carter to his right and Boyle defending, took the shot himself and beat Niemi at 15:26.It was the 10th time in 12 games the Kings scored first.The Sharks responded, though, with Kopitar still in the box on a goalie interference penalty. Havlat skated the puck towards the slot, had his shot blocked by Rob Scuderis skate, but got the puck back and fired in his fourth goal in four games.Los Angeles had the better of the zone time in the second period, outshooting the Sharks 16-5 in the frame, and finally capitalized late. Kopitar set up Alec Martinez for a one timer in the circle at 15:49 and the Kings had a 2-1 lead at the intermission.The Kings outshot the Sharks for the game, 42-22.The Sharks inserted Jim Vandermeer and Colin White back into the lineup, while Brad Winchester and Jason Demers did not play. Injured forwards Michal Handzus, TJ Galiardi and Tommy Wingels also missed the game.The Sharks host the Boston Bruins on Thursday.
SAN JOSE – Brent Burns has resumed his place among the NHL’s highest scoring defensemen. His nine points (3g, 6a) puts him first among all blueliners, and ties him for second overall in the league scoring race with six others.
For the rest of the Sharks’ defense corps, though, the points haven’t been there just yet. Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s overtime score on Tuesday was the first goal by a Sharks defenseman that employs the use of a razor on a regular basis, while he and the four others on the back end have combined for just three assists in seven games.
While that lack of production is reflected in the team’s goals-per game average – 2.26, 26th in the NHL – coach Pete DeBoer isn’t all that concerned. He attributes it more to being unlucky than anything else.
“We’ve put a lot of pressure on the other team five-on-five. The puck has bounced, or we just haven’t finished,” DeBoer said. “We’re getting some chances. Most nights we’re out-chancing the other team, and usually that’s a formula for success for us.”
The Sharks have been a strong team in terms of possession, as the coach indicated. They are averaging 32.4 shots per game, fourth in the NHL, and are second in the NHL in shot attempt percentage in close games (56.3 percent).
Still, they could have more. Vlasic, Justin Braun, David Schlemko, Paul Martin and Brenden Dillon have a combined 51 shots on goal, but they’ve also had 48 attempts that have been blocked. In fact, Braun and Martin both have had more attempts blocked than have that made it through to the goalie.
“Five-on-five we haven’t really been getting the tips or the dirty goals around the net that come off shots, but that starts with us getting it through,” said Braun, who has seven shots, but 12 that have been blocked. “The more shots we can get towards the net the better chance we’ll have for the forwards to bang some home, and go from there.”
David Schlemko is also scoreless through seven games, but he managed six shots against the Ducks on Tuesday and has 17 for the year (with 13 blocked). Other than Burns, he’s been the Sharks’ most effective defenseman at getting the puck through.
Brenden Dillon (nine shots, eight blocked) and Paul Martin (five shots, 10 blocked) have one assist each.
Martin indicated that it gets harder and harder every year to get shots through, as more teams commit to getting in lanes. The Sharks also make it a point to put the puck on Burns’ stick as much as they can, considering how much of a weapon he is. Both are factors in those low point totals.
“A lot of times we key on making sure that [Burns] gets the puck. But teams do a better job each year at getting in lanes and blocking shots and fronting pucks and packing it in [around the net],” Martin said. “It’s harder to get pucks through to the net than it used to be.”
The primary role of the defense, of course, is to defend. Except for some notable lapses against the Rangers and Red Wings, the Sharks have been doing that fairly well, holding the opposition to just 24.9 shots per game, second in the NHL.
As long as they keep that up, and Burns continues to produce, the Sharks will be in a good position to win on a nightly basis.
“We’re defending well,” DeBoer said. “That’s our team defense, and that starts with us controlling the play, playing in the other team’s end [and] putting pressure on the other team. I think that’s something that we’ve prided ourselves on all the way back to the beginning of last year.”
SAN JOSE – Prior to the season’s start, Marc-Edouard Vlasic mentioned that the Sharks’ blue line group might not get the league-wide respect it deserves due to it only having “one offensive defenseman.” He was, of course, referring to Brent Burns.
Through the first six games, that was the truth. Burns entered Tuesday night’s action with nine points, tied for the league lead in scoring, while the other five Sharks defenseman had just three assists – combined.
For at least one night, though, it wasn’t Burns who was the offensive hero. That honor went to Vlasic, who seized a loose puck in the neutral zone in overtime against Anaheim, raced ahead towards goalie John Gibson on a partial breakaway, and finished off a beautiful goal in giving the Sharks a much-deserved 2-1 win at SAP Center.
“Put my head down, breakaway, cut across and I was able to put it in,” said Vlasic, who had the presence of mind to use his skate to keep a backchecking Corey Perry from knocking the puck away.
Pete DeBoer said: "He's got some speed when he wants to use it, and he's a big game player. That's what he does. Those guys find another level at key times, and he's one of those guys.”
The goal served as poetic justice in that the Sharks were the much better team throughout three periods. San Jose held a 35-20 advantage on the shot clock but only managed one goal, a power play marker by Joe Pavelski in the first period. Chris Wagner answered that late in the second period, despite San Jose registering 15 of the 20 shots in the middle frame.
DeBoer rearranged all four of his forward lines after the Sharks were shut out in Detroit on Saturday, and the Sharks looked much more dangerous despite just the single lonely marker before overtime.
“There’s a lot of good little things that we did well,” Pavelski said. “We were on the attack, felt like we were on the inside. We just weren’t cashing in or getting that bounce.”
Logan Couture said: “We created some chances. We could have had a couple. Each line played pretty well.”
DeBoer, too, liked what he saw from his new combos.
“If we keep playing like that, it's going to come,” he said. “But, it was a nice response game after the Detroit game.”
Perhaps the most consistent part of the Sharks’ game through seven games has been their penalty kill. San Jose fought off all three Ducks advantages, including a brief five-on-three in the first period shortly after Pavelski had opened the scoring.
Micheal Haley took exception to a high hit by Clayton Stoner on Patrick Marleau, and dropped the gloves with the Anaheim defenseman. He was issued an instigation minor to go along with a fighting major and 10-minute misconduct, and one minute and 24 seconds later, Tomas Hertl was busted for a faceoff violation.
Couture, Burns and Paul Martin worked to nullify the two-man advantage, and the Sharks proceeded to kill the remaining time on the Hertl penalty, too.
“It was an important time of the game with a one-goal lead,” said Martin Jones, who made seven saves on the PK and 19 total.
Penalties like Haley’s, where he was sticking up for a teammate, are also easier to get up for according to the goalie.
“I don't think he was expecting to get an instigator call on that one, but yeah, we'll kill that off, for sure,” Jones said. “Hales is a good team guy to go out and do stuff like that."
San Jose is 18-for-22 on the penalty kill overall, including a third period kill of a Joe Thornton holding-the-stick minor at 4:09.
“We’ve allowed [four] goals against, but they were unfortunate bounces or really nice shots from them that we could do nothing about,” Vlasic said. “Penalty kill has been good. Guys have been bearing down, blocking shots when we need to.”
The Sharks will remain at home where they will host the rebuilding Blue Jackets on Thursday and Predators on Saturday. After an odd training camp with many players missing and a tough five-games-in-eight-days road trip after the home opener, they’ll get a chance now to enjoy a much more normal day-to-day routine, with practice.
Tuesday’s win could serve as a solid foundation on which to build.
“That was definitely one of our better games this year,” Couture said. “It was good from basically start to finish.”
Especially the finish.