Three takeaways: Sharks have all but clinched the division

Three takeaways: Sharks have all but clinched the division

SAN JOSE – Apparently sick and tired of not having any success against Buffalo, the Sharks controlled much of Tuesday night’s game against the Sabres in a 4-1 win. Here are our three takeaways from the game, as San Jose has now won three of the first four games on its longest homestand of the season…

1 – The Sharks have pretty much clinched the division

The Sharks (42-20-7, 91 points) have opened up a mammoth nine-point lead on the rest of the Pacific Division. Second place Calgary and Anaheim have 82 points apiece, tied for second place. Every team has 13 games remaining.

Even if the Sharks post just a .500 winning percentage the rest of the way, they’ll finish with 104 points. For the Flames or Ducks to catch them in that scenario, they would have to post a record along the lines of 11-1-1 over their final 13.

No one in the Sharks’ dressing room would say that the race is over, of course.

“We’re not taking anything for granted here, we want to keep winning hockey games,” Martin Jones said. “We’re trying to play for playoffs here. Just got to keep building our game.”

The Sharks are setting their sights on Chicago (93 points) and Minnesota (92 points) instead, assuring home ice advantage throughout the first three rounds.

Pete DeBoer said: “We’ve got to keep our eye on the ball, and that's winning as many games as possible, make sure we're playing the right way heading into the playoffs, and tracking down the teams ahead of us. There's no doubt [the division lead is] nice, but we’ve got a lot of work left to do."

San Jose has not won the Pacific Division since 2011. Anaheim has won it each of the last four seasons, while the Coyotes claimed it in 2012.

2 – Jones benefiting from extra rest

Perhaps no one on the Sharks’ roster, other than maybe captain Joe Pavelski, looks more rejuvenated coming out of the bye week than Jones. The Sharks’ number one netminder has allowed two or fewer goals in each of his last seven starts, and made another 22 saves on Tuesday against Buffalo.

Jones has been getting more rest than usual even after the bye week, as Aaron Dell has started three of the last seven games and figures to get at least four or five more starts before the end of the regular season.

Jones’ biggest save on Tuesday came in the third period, when he sealed his five-hole on a Jack Eichel on a breakaway and Pavelski increased the Sharks’ lead to 3-1 just after that.

“He’s got a lot speed,” Jones said of the Sabres’ young forward. “Our guy was kind of flat-footed, [Eichel] took it to the net. He didn’t have a lot of time or space, so just tried to make sure there wasn’t any holes there.”

The Sharks didn't surrender many prime scoring chances on Jones, as the puck was in their offensive zone for the majority of the night.

“We were in and out of our end pretty quick,” Dylan DeMelo said. “We got in on the forecheck and turned some pucks over, sustained some pretty good O-zone time. The shot totals obviously speak for that.”

3 – Haley adds more than the game-winning goal

Micheal Haley clearly got lucky on his second period goal that put the Sharks up to stay, but he also offered some insight on his more notable role of keeping things honest out there.

In the game’s first minute, Buffalo’s Evander Kane hammered Justin Braun on the forecheck, shaking up the Sharks’ defenseman. Haley found himself on the ice with Kane a few shifts later, and decided to remind Kane that he was in the active lineup, too.

“I was just letting him know that there’s two sides to each team. I can start running people, too,” Haley said. “It was fine, it was nothing. It was just a big hit to start the game, and when I went on [the ice] he was there, so I thought we’d have a little chat.”

Did play calm down after that?

“I think so. I don’t know. I didn’t see anymore big ones,” Haley said.

A good reminder for the advanced stats-only crowd that the game isn’t played in a vacuum, eh?

Three takeaways: Sharks having trouble explaining meltdown

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Three takeaways: Sharks having trouble explaining meltdown

NASHVILLE – The Sharks are returning to San Jose on Sunday in a crisis. Nothing good came from Saturday’s 7-2 loss to Nashville, their sixth straight in regulation. Let’s get to the painful three takeaways…

1 – No answers

Neither Joe Pavelski, Brent Burns nor Patrick Marleau – the three players made available to the media after Saturday’s game – offered any kind of in-depth analysis of what’s going wrong. Frankly, I’m not sure anyone really knows. It’s hard to believe that this is the same club that had lost just two games in regulation in its previous 14 before the losing streak began.

“If you’re putting a consistent effort in, battling, competing – it’s tough to lose six in a row,” Pavelski said. “You look at six in a row, and it just seems daunting. Like, how do you get there? So, I think we’ve just got to take a deep breath, really kind of refocus.”

Believe it or not, coach Pete DeBoer thought Saturday’s loss was “a step in the right direction” when asked why Friday night’s 6-1 beat down in Dallas wasn’t enough of a wake-up call. How often do you hear that after a five-goal defeat?

“I liked our game tonight better than I liked [Friday’s game] regardless of the score,” DeBoer said. “I don’t just look at the score. If you want to just judge it on the score than you might not say it’s a wake-up call, but I thought we were much more competitive tonight. 

“It was a step in the right direction. Every team goes through tough parts of the season, and this is ours. We’ve got a lot of character in the room. We’ll get through it.”

2 – Couture injury would spell doom, as Hertl still MIA

Let’s face it – if Logan Couture is out for any extended period of time, this team is DOA once the playoffs begin. Couture has been the Sharks’ best player since the All-Star break, and they don’t have anyone on the current roster or in the system that could replace him. As of Sunday morning, there was still no word as to the severity of his injury after taking a puck to the mouth and going to a local Nashville hospital.

If Couture were to miss time, Tomas Hertl would likely become the team’s second line center. At this point, though, Hertl doesn’t even resemble an effective third line center. He was victimized on Nashville’s first goal, which was similar to one of the Wild goals on Tuesday, when he was just too slow and not strong enough on his skates in getting outworked for a loose puck.

3 – Haley shows some emotion that others lack

It’s understandable that Micheal Haley didn’t like getting hit from behind by Calle Jarnkrok in the third period. But, you can’t just make a beeline for a guy and punch him in the face. Haley will almost certainly get suspended for the play.

At least, though, Haley showed a little bit of fire, including his first period fight with Cody McLeod. Perhaps guys like Hertl, Joonas Donskoi and Mikkel Boedker could take a lesson from the fiery Haley. Those three, in particular, have been virtually useless during this six-game stretch. 

If I’m DeBoer, I’d get on the phone with Doug Wilson and Roy Sommer and ask for a few guys from the Barracuda so I could – depending on the team’s health situation – scratch all three of them for Tuesday against the Rangers. Drastic times call for drastic measures, do they not?

Sharks need to 'figure it out pretty soon' after another thrashing

Sharks need to 'figure it out pretty soon' after another thrashing

NASHVILLE – Apparently, one wake up call wasn’t good enough for the plummeting San Jose Sharks.
 
Just one day after suffering what was arguably their worst game under coach Pete DeBoer, Nashville put up a touchdown on the Sharks in a 7-2 win, giving San Jose its sixth straight defeat – all in regulation.
 
After getting outscored 13-3 the last two nights, including Friday’s 6-1 loss in Dallas, where do they go from here?
 
“In two years, last year and this year so far, we haven’t had one night like this almost. Now we have back-to-back nights,” Joe Pavelski said. “I think it’s just a reality check. A gut-check time.
 
“It’s on us as players. Bottom line is we haven’t put the effort in that we need to have right now, and it snowballed on us a little bit at times. I think we’ve got to take a deep breath and really take a look in the mirror, refocus a little bit and understand there’s hockey out there, but it’s not going to fix itself.”
 
What has to be fixed immediately is the defensive structure that has been so vital to the Sharks’ success in the Pete DeBoer era. Even when the club was going through stretches of struggling to score, as it was earlier in the season, it was still collecting points in the standings with its ability to limit the opposition’s scoring chances.
 
While the game against the Predators was actually a little better in that regard, believe it or not, it was still nowhere near the level it needs to be for the postseason. Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s absence was partly to blame for that, but the Brent Burns-Paul Martin pair has been a disaster lately. Both have a minus-nine rating during the six-game losing streak, and that number is indicative of how they’ve looked, too.
 
“We’re giving up some goals. It’s a combination of things,” DeBoer said. “Obviously it’s not good enough to win games, so we’ve got to figure it out. I don’t have an answer standing here for you, but I know our group. Every team I’ve ever coached has a tough part of the season. This is obviously ours. We’ll regroup, and figure it out.”
 
Burns, who admitted to a “bad read” on Nashville’s second goal when Roman Josi sped around him, said: “It’s a tough league when you’re not executing little things.”
 
The Sharks actually looked strong early, poised to put the Dallas disaster behind them. The first few shifts, they had the puck in the Nashville end.
 
But Tomas Hertl was outmuscled behind the net by Colin Wilson on Colton Sissons’ goal at 4:14, Burns got beat on the second, and the Sharks never recovered. Patrick Marleau’s second period power play goal offered life, but that was extinguished 24 seconds later when James Neal answered with a power play goal of his own. The Sharks never got closer than two goals after that.
 
“When things are going bad, those are the things that are happening,” Burns said of Neal’s response to Marleau’s marker. “So, you’ve just got work through it."
 
Will they be able to work through it with just seven games left in the regular season, though? That this cold spell is happening in late March doesn’t speak well to the Sharks’ chances in the postseason, which begins in just two-and-a-half weeks.
 
Burns said: “Right now we should be just tightening up everything. … We've got figure it out pretty soon.”