What's gone wrong with the Sharks?

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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.

Goaltending

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.

Ahead of trade deadline, Sharks must decide on top line

Ahead of trade deadline, Sharks must decide on top line

SAN JOSE – Less than 48 hours before the NHL trade deadline on Wednesday at noon, the Sharks’ brain trust has at least one important decision to make.

Are they comfortable rotating left wingers in and out of the Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski line, or should an upgrade be attempted via the trade market? There are a number of players said to be available that could provide the team with some forward depth and scoring punch ahead of the playoffs.

Seven different wingers have played on that so-called top line, none of them lasting more than one continuous stint there than Patrick Marleau from Nov. 21 – Jan. 3. 

In total, seven different players have started a game on that line, including Marleau (25 games), Tomas Hertl (13 games), Kevin Labanc (6 games), Mikkel Boedker (5 games), Timo Meier (4 games), Joel Ward (4 games) and Melker Karlsson (4 games). Injuries have played a role, of course, but it seems as if coach Pete DeBoer has been looking for someone to seize that position. 

Pavelski, though, didn’t seem overly worried about the ongoing alternation.

“We’ve had a few different players there, and I don’t think it’s a concern,” said the captain. “You’re always looking for chemistry and something set in stone if you can get it, but throughout a game, things change.”

DeBoer laid out what he’s looking for in a player to skate alongside Thornton and Pavelski, as well as the kind of player that wouldn’t fit in that role.

“You have to play [at Pavelski and Thornton’s] level and their work ethic,” said the coach. “They want the puck. They want to hunt the puck and want someone to get in there and retrieve pucks so that they can have possession. 

“I can tell you a guy who doesn’t fit would be a guy who is strictly a shooter, or kind of lets other people do the work and just goes to holes. They need somebody that’s going to work at their level and hunt the puck, so that’s got to be part of it.”

Labanc is the latest player to hold down that spot, starting there for the last four games and remaining there for Monday’s practice at Sharks Ice. Just 21 years old, Labanc has contributed a respectable seven goals and 18 points in his first 46 NHL games. Still, he hasn’t scored a goal in his last 22 games, and has just one assist and four total shots in the last four games.

It’s debatable whether the still-smallish Labanc is ready for the rigors of an NHL schedule on a full-time basis, which would make it dangerous for the Sharks to go into the postseason with someone like him in such a key position. DeBoer, though, praised the rookie’s recent efforts.

“I thought he’s done a good job. He’s got some of those [aforementioned] attributes,” DeBoer said. "He’s an offensive guy, [and] he thinks on their level offensively.”

Other teams in direct competition with the Sharks for a Western Conference title are adding pieces, particularly up front. Anaheim acquired scoring winger Patrick Eaves from Dallas, the Blackhawks brought in Detroit forward Tomas Jurco, and Minnesota gave up a haul to Arizona for center Martin Hanzal.

If the Sharks don’t make a move, they will likely go the whole season without bringing in a single player from the outside other than their young prospects. That would be unique, especially for a team that has championship aspirations.

Pavelski seemed to insinuate that he expects at least one body to arrive.

“Whoever we get, hopefully they’ll fill a little depth or add a little something, and we’ll go from there,” he said.

But if not?

“It doesn’t change anything if nothing happens, that’s for sure. We’re going to keep trying to get better.”

 

Notes: Sharks' Donskoi nearing a return; Sorensen recalled

Notes: Sharks' Donskoi nearing a return; Sorensen recalled

SAN JOSE – Sharks forward Joonas Donskoi took part in his first full practice in more than a month on Monday, as he battles back from an upper body injury and the flu.

He will not play against the Maple Leafs at SAP Center on Tuesday, but appears to be close.

“He looks good. Getting closer,” Pete DeBoer said. “Obviously, it’s been awhile. It’s his first real practice and contact. So, it’s a good step.”

Donskoi, who is wearing a brace around his right shoulder, said he “feels great,” and joked that it’s been “boring” skating only with injured defenseman Dylan DeMelo, “even though he’s a really good guy.” He was supposed to accompany the team to its game in Vancouver on Saturday, but fell ill.

Donskoi skated on the third line right wing with center Tomas Hertl and left wing Melker Karlsson for Monday's practice. The Sharks’ top two lines remained the same, while the fourth line was Chris Tierney centering Joel Ward and rookie Marcus Sorensen. 

Micheal Haley did not skate for personal reasons, but is expected to be available for the Maple Leafs.

Donskoi has been out since aggravating an injury on Jan. 23 in Colorado, and has missed 16 of the last 19 games overall. In 44 games, he has six goals and nine points for 15 points and an even rating.

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The Sharks recalled Sorensen on Monday morning, while reassigning forward Barclay Goodrow to the Barracuda. Sorensen has one assist in two NHL games this season.

In 43 games with the Barracuda, the 24-year-old winger has 34 points (17g, 17a).

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The Sharks confirmed to CSN that their third round pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft belongs to the New Jersey Devils, as compensation for DeBoer. Originally, it was thought that the Devils would not seek compensation for the coach, who was still under contract despite getting fired by New Jersey on Dec. 26, 2014. He was named as Sharks coach five months later.

San Jose still has its first round pick, a fourth, fifth, two sixths and three sevenths in the upcoming draft to be held in late June in Chicago. Its second round pick was dealt to Toronto last season as part of the deal for defenseman Roman Polak.