What's gone wrong with the Sharks?


What's gone wrong with the Sharks?

SAN JOSE The playoff race in the Western Conference has been whittled down to four teams clamoring for three spots, and if you believe the math, the Sharks are the least likely to make it of the four.

Theres been no shortage of opinions as to whats gone wrong for a club that was supposed to challenge for the Stanley Cup this year after two deep runs in each of the past two seasons (cue Ray RattoDrew Remenda).

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Here, in no particular order, are some of the more common notions why the Sharks are where they are, and why these reasons may or may not hold water. The answer probably lies somewhere in between.

They arent motivated

Why its true: This has obviously been the biggest criticism of the Sharks over the years, and the conversation usually begins with Patrick Marleau. The former Sharks captain hasnt shown the kind of effort youd expect from the teams second highest-paid player in the midst of a playoff push, as he has just two goals in his last 18 games. Marleau isnt the only one, though. Logan Couture has to be held accountable here, too. The second-year All-Star has just three goals in his last 15 games (two in the same game) since the NHLs trade deadline, which, coincidentally or not, was when he saw his best friend on the team traded to the Avalanche in Jamie McGinn.

Why it isnt: Statistically speaking, Couture and Marleau are still second and third, respectively, on the Sharks in scoring. Joe Thornton is another player that is often on the receiving end of being too relaxed, but his play on the ice and his numbers on the scoresheet reveal otherwise this season. Thornton has been the Sharks most consistent offensive threat for the past two months, and has at least a point in 21 of the last 31 games.

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The schedule

Why its true: The Sharks are coming off of two deep runs in the past two springs, with generally the same group of corps players. Thats a lot of hockey. A nine-game, 15-day road trip to conclude February and 17 games in March havent helped matters, as the team hasnt had nearly enough time to practice or rest.

What it isnt: The Sharks had a light first half of the year, and that should have given them plenty of energy for the second half. Nearly everyone on the roster has gone through a Western Conference travel schedule before and should be plenty used to it by now.

They just arent good enough

Why its true: The Sharks have a top heavy offense, but their third and fourth lines dont produce enough and are too reliant upon young players like Andrew Desjardins and Tommy Wingels, who are still learning the ropes of what it takes to play in the NHL. The defense, meanwhile, is as thin as its ever been. Colin White and Jason Demers have shown that they aren't everyday NHL players; Brent Burns shows some offensive flash but still makes at least one or two egregious errors a night, and goaltender Antti Niemi has not looked like the player who led Chicago to the Stanley Cup in 2010 or started 34 straight for the Sharks in the second half of last season.

Why it isnt: A lineup that includes Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture, Dan Boyle, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Marty Havlat and Joe Pavleksi boasts as much top-end talent as there is in the NHL. There should be enough there to at least secure a playoff spot. Period.

Trades havent panned out

Why its true: The Jamie McGinn trade may be viewed as one of the worst deals of the Doug Wilson era for years to come and when realignment goes through, McGinn could end up being a thorn in the Sharks side while playing for a division rival in Colorado. Daniel Winnik has had his moments, but could easily walk at the end of the season as an unrestricted free agent. TJ Galiardi has been hurt, but hasnt done much when hes in the lineup, anyway. The acquisition of Dominic Moore has been a complete and utter failure. The center is essentially playing on the fourth line and has just four assists in 19 games and a -8 rating at the expense a high second round draft pick. Ouch.

Why it isnt: Winnik scored a couple of big goals last week during the teams three-game winning streak, and has seemed to find chemistry with Desjardins and Wingels. Hes also seen time on the penalty kill. Galiardi still has time to make in impact after returning from a back injury, and as a restricted free agent at the end of the year, the club could conceivably keep him around.


Why its true: Antti Niemis numbers this season arent terrible, but the goaltender has failed to both steal a game or make the big save something an NHL starting goaltender has to be able to do on occasion. He looks shaky in net when it comes to rebound control, and hasnt been able to find any sort of rhythm.

Why it isnt: Niemi cant score goals. The Sharks' offense has taken a step back this season, and their 2.51 team goals-against average is still eighth best in the NHL.

Notes: DeMelo will play for Sharks soon; Couture battling illness

Notes: DeMelo will play for Sharks soon; Couture battling illness

SAN JOSE – Dylan DeMelo may finally be coming to a San Jose Sharks game near you.

The 23-year-old defenseman, who has yet to play in any of the first six games, will likely make his season debut shortly, coach Pete DeBoer indicated on Monday.

“That’s something we discuss every day,” DeBoer said. “We like him, we’re very comfortable with him. We’d have no problem putting him in. I know Bob [Boughner] has no problem playing him, and not worrying about playing him against anybody out there. It’s a nice luxury to have. 

“We can get to the point where it’s too many games where he’s sitting out. We’re getting close to that. We’re going to have to get him in soon here.”

DeMelo has not played for the Sharks since the final game of the 2015-16 regular season on April 9. He served as the seventh defenseman in the playoffs, but the Sharks dressed the same six blueliners throughout their run to the Stanley Cup Final.

In the preseason, DeMelo – who would have to clear waivers in order to be reassigned to the Barracuda – beat out Mirco Mueller for the seventh job on the Sharks. He signed a two-year contract extension in the offseason.

A former sixth round pick of the club in 2011, DeMelo had a breakthrough season in 2015-16, playing in 45 games and establishing himself as an NHL defenseman. He finished the season with two goals and two assists for four points and an even rating.

* * *

While the Sharks shook up their forward lines at Monday’s skate, the top power play unit remained the same. Brent Burns, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau are still together and will try to work out the kinks to their game.

The Sharks are 3-for-20 on the power play, with just one of those coming on a five-on-four.

“We’re not shooting the puck enough, that’s the big thing,” Couture said. “We’ve got to shoot the puck, get traffic. We always have a guy in front of the net and we’ve been getting away from that.”

* * *

Couture has managed five points (2g, 3a) through the first six games, all while battling a persistent cold that he just can’t shake. It’s obvious he’s dealing with some sort of sinus issue when hearing him speak the past few days.

“It’s like a month, it won’t go away,” Couture said. “It’s crazy.”

* * *

Breaking with standard practice, the Sharks opted to stay in Detroit the night after Saturday’s game, rather than immediately flying home on the team charter.

The Sharks were a miserable 1-8-1 in their first home game after a multiple-game road trip last regular season, with their lone win coming against Edmonton in a shootout, so DeBoer figured he would try something different this year.

“When we sat down in the summer and looked at areas to improve, our record coming back from road trips was not good last year,” he said. “We looked at opponents when we came back, our travel schedule. We’re just looking for answers to fix some of the areas that maybe we weren’t real good at last year.”

Sharks shuffle up their lines ahead of homestand

Sharks shuffle up their lines ahead of homestand

SAN JOSE – When the Sharks signed free agent forward Mikkel Boedker in the summer, head coach Pete DeBoer immediately pictured him on a line with Logan Couture and Joonas Donskoi, saying a couple weeks ago that it looked good when he wrote it down “on a napkin.”

DeBoer apparently went through a few more napkins on the flight home from Detroit on Sunday, a 3-0 shutout loss to the Red Wings on Saturday surely on his mind.

The Sharks resumed practice on Monday with four entirely new lines, including Boedker up with the Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski. Couture centered Donskoi and Joel Ward, while Tomas Hertl was in the middle of the third line with Patrick Marleau and Matt Nieto. Chris Tierney skated as fourth line center with the remaining wingers.

“It’s not a panic situation or anything, I think you’re always looking for ways to get the most out of your group,” DeBoer said. “Our four-line game hasn’t been where I want it to be.”

Getting more out of Boedker is apparently part of the motivation for shuffling things up, as the newcomer has just four shots on goal through six games, with one point (a goal against Columbus on Oct. 15).

Playing with Thornton and Pavelski could help in that regard, just as it helped players such as Hertl last season.

“He’s got to shoot the puck more…and he knows that,” DeBoer said of Boedker. “I’m not concerned about him, but the nice thing about playing with those two guys is they push you to go to the areas where you have to score. Hopefully that gets him going.”

Boedker said: “It’s two of the best [players] in the league, so it’s going to be a lot of fun. Just got to listen and do the things they expect me to do, and make sure that I do them to the highest level.”

The line changes spreads out the Sharks’ speed a little more evenly among their scoring lines. They looked slow in losses to Detroit and the Rangers, especially.

“[Boedker] can bring some things to that line that Tomas maybe doesn’t,” DeBoer said. “Tomas has a great skill set, but this guy can back people off with his speed.”

Hertl will skate at center for the first time since early last January, although he saw plenty of time there in training camp when Thornton and Couture were competing in the World Cup. Last season, he had 15 points (4g, 11a) in 37 games before moving to the Thornton line full time on Jan. 9, where he took off.

The 22-year-old has three points (2g, 1a) in six games this season as a left wing.

“I think Hertl can play anywhere,” DeBoer said. “His game is at that point in his career and he’s a good enough player now that not only can he play anywhere, but I think he can make other people better around him.”

While the line changes will give the Sharks a new look on paper, Couture believes the bigger issue with the team – going back to the third period of Thursday’s 3-2 loss in Pittsburgh – is its compete level. 

“It’s compete and battle and playing the right way that we need to worry about,” he said. “We didn’t play well in Detroit, there’s no way around that. … We just didn’t compete, [and] that’s a frustrating thing, but it’s an easy thing to fix.”

The head coach echoed Couture’s estimation.

DeBoer said: “We have to realize how desperate a team we were last year every night, and the teams that we’re playing are out to hunt us based on our success last year. If we don’t have that desperation level, it’s going to be tough to win.”

The Sharks open a three-game homestand on Tuesday against Anaheim, and host the Blue Jackets and Predators later this week.