Sharks change strategy on the PK

577602.jpg

Sharks change strategy on the PK

SAN JOSE What do you do when your penalty kill sits at 29th in the NHL, after finishing last season 24th in the league?

Simple. You change it up.

Thats what coach Todd McLellan did during a very technically oriented portion of Wednesdays practice at Sharks Ice. Specifically, the Sharks would like to be more aggressive in the neutral zone, making it tougher for opposing teams to bring the puck up the ice.

Its all new to everybody, said Marc-Edouard Vlasic. We went through it on the ice, and I think everybody got a good sense of what the coaches wanted to change.

The Sharks have allowed at least one power play goal in six of their last seven games, dropping their penalty kill percentage to just 72.3 percent. The one game in which they didnt allow a goal while down a man was against Pittsburgh, was when the Penguins didnt have a single power play opportunity.

Against the Kings on Monday, the Sharks gave up a goal on a two-man disadvantage in the second period, and later allowed Anze Kopitar to get his own rebound on a Los Angeles power play in the third period after the Kings easily moved the puck through the neutral zone.

Kopitar's goal, in particular, is one the Sharks dont want to see again.

Last game there was one on the rush that we didnt really want to give up, said Boyle.

Our up-ice pressure in what weve done coming through the neutral zone, weve made a number of mistakes and its costing us, said McLellan. Weve got to look at ways at filling those holes and starting to support each other for mistakes.

That, in particular, was something McLellan was trying to explain on Wednesday. He slowly walked through every situation on the ice and positioned each player based on where the puck was, or where it was going.

Its all different than what we have been doing on the forecheck. Positioning, trust factor, just basically trusting that in the new system that everybody will be doing their jobs, said Vlasic.

Fortunately for the Sharks, a good power play and excellent five-on-five numbers have been able to mask the penalty killing problem. San Jose is seventh in the NHL on the power play (21.3 percent) and second in the league in five-on-five goal differential (1.39).

Our power play has been fine this year and were scoring five-on-five so thats a real healthy sign, said McLellan.

Boyle agrees with his coach, saying: The power play has been pretty good and five-on-five has been pretty good. The PK has kind of been the one area that needs major improvement. We definitely dont think its a personnel issue. We have the right guys. We just have to clean it up.

Three takeaways: Fourth line leads the way for Sharks in Arizona

Three takeaways: Fourth line leads the way for Sharks in Arizona

For the first time in five tries this season the Sharks managed to secure a regulation win over the last place Coyotes, 4-1 at Gila River Arena on Saturday. They keep their four-point lead over Edmonton, and are assured of going into the bye week in sole possession of first place in the Pacific Division.

Here are our three takeaways from the win…

1 – Burns turns the tide…again

For the second time in a week, Brent Burns changed the momentum of a game with his deadly wrist shot. The Sharks were on their heels early – Arizona had a 16-9 shot advantage in the first period, perhaps jolted be a pregame ceremony – but Burns’ shot through traffic staked the Sharks a 1-0 lead and they were on their way.

“We kind of weathered their storm early,” Joe Pavelski told reporters. “There was a lot of energy in the building.”

It was similar to a game in New Jersey last Sunday, when Burns had a pair of second period goals, erasing a 1-0 deficit and putting his team on the track to victory.

According to Elias, Burns – who added a third period power play goal, too – is the first defenseman to score 18 goals on the road since Paul Coffey’s 22 in 1983-84. His 26 goals equal his total from last season, tying his franchise record.

“He’s having an MVP season,” Pete DeBoer told reporters. “He’s been that good for us all year and it’s every night. I don’t know what else to say. In my mind right now he’s the best player in the league, and we’re happy to have him on our team.”

Burns remains in third in the league in scoring with 63 points, four points behind Edmonton’s Connor McDavid.

2 – Dell gets the job done…again

Getting his second start in a week, Aaron Dell made a new season high (and, thus, career high) with 36 saves. His best stop was early in the second period on Radim Vrbata, when he managed to snag a pin-balling puck from crossing the line, keeping the Sharks ahead 2-0. Had that one trickled over, the Coyotes might have been able to seize the momentum.

“I think I had it the whole time,” Dell told reporters. “I kind of saw it for a second and then when I turned back I was able to find it and scoop it underneath me.”

DeBoer said: “He’s been good every time we’ve put him in there.”

Dell, whose goals-against average is down to 1.95, outplayed Sharks nemesis Mike Smith, who had stopped 121 of 127 San Jose shots in three games this season.

“We got to Smitty in the first period, which was great,” Pavelski said. “We kind of know what he’s done to us the past few games, stopping a lot of pucks. … That was a big key for us.”

3 – Fourth line magic

Through two periods, the Sharks’ top two lines had generated a total of three shots on goal – one each from Joe Thornton, Kevin Labanc and Patrick Marleau.

Fortunately for the big guys, the fourth line was there to pick up the slack. Melker Karlsson posted three points (1g, 2a), Micheal Haley had one goal and one assist, and the fourth line generated all three of San Jose’s goals through 40 minutes.

One goal from the fourth line is a bonus. Three is virtually unheard of. 

“They showed up and played the right way,” DeBoer said. “Right from the drop of the puck they put pucks behind the other teams defense, they had good support, they created a lot of chances, and got rewarded for it. I think Dell and them were the difference in the game early through the first half, until we got going a little bit.”

Burns leads the charge, Sharks dominate Coyotes

Burns leads the charge, Sharks dominate Coyotes

BOX SCORE

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The San Jose Sharks were facing a team that had been playing well in an arena buzzing with energy following a pregame ceremony.

Once they handled the initial onrush, the Sharks struck first to subdue the crowd and their opponent.

Brent Burns scored two goals, Aaron Dell had a career-high 36 saves and the Sharks beat the Arizona Coyotes for the first time this season, 4-1 on Saturday night.

"We kind of weathered their storm early; there was a lot of energy in the building," Sharks center Joe Pavelski said. "We got to (Coyotes goalie Mike Smith) in the first period. When you get one or two on him early, it kind of breaks them down a little bit and play from behind. That was a big key."

The Sharks bounced back from a slow start in their last game by scoring two goals in the first period and another early in the second to quiet a crowd energized by a ceremony honoring the first Coyotes team in the desert. Dell was sharp in his 11th start of the season, and the Pacific Division-leading Sharks were good in front of him to avoid a season sweep (1-3-1) by the last-place Coyotes.

Melker Karlsson had a goal and two assists, and Micheal Haley had a goal and an assist for San Jose.

Burns, of course, was at the center of the offense from the blue line.

The NHL's third-leading scorer, he had a goal in the first period and his 27th of the season in the third to match the team record for goals by a defenseman that he set in 2015-16. It was his third two-goal game of the season and second in the last three games.

"He's having an MVP season. He's been that good for us all year and it's every night," Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said. "I don't know what else to say. In my mind, he's the best player in the league right now."

The Coyotes could not capitalize on a rowdy, sellout crowd. Arizona peppered Dell with 29 shots in the first two periods but didn't score until Martin Hanzal punched in a rebound in the third, when they were down 3-0.

Hanzal scored his fifth goal in five games and Smith stopped 29 shots for Arizona.

"We were pretty good in the period and I don't want to say they were lucky goals, but they scored first and after that, it's hard to chase a team like the Sharks," Hanzal said.

The Sharks trailed 3-1 in the first period and 6-3 in the third before rallying for a point against Florida on Wednesday. On Saturday, they took an early lead when Burns fired a shot through traffic to beat Smith to the stick side.

Karlsson made it 2-0 late in the period, keeping the puck on a 2-on-1 and wristing one past Smith on the stick side again.

San Jose kept the pressure up early in the second, making it a three-goal lead when Haley scored on a one-timer from between the circles for his first of the season.

Burns stopped Arizona's momentum late in the period, wristing a shot that slipped through Smith's pads on a power play.

"That wasn't my best game. I thought our team did a good job tonight to give ourselves a chance to win," Smith said. "They were opportunistic in the first period and we couldn't capitalize on our chances and when that happens, you usually lose."

NOTES

Along with honoring their 1996-97 team — the first after the franchise moved from Winnipeg — in a ceremony before the game, Arizona also announced its all-time starting six, which included current players Smith, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and captain Shane Doan. ... Haley's goal was his first since March 5, 2016 against Vancouver. ... Hanzal moved past Pat Elynuik for 13th on the franchise list with his 116th career goal.

UP NEXT

San Jose hosts Boston on Sunday before getting a five-day break from all hockey-related activities.

Arizona hosts Anaheim on Monday before playing five of its next six games on the road.