22 Mar 19
ANAHEIM, Calif. — A four-game losing streak and shellacking from the Vegas Golden Knights provided for than enough fodder to re-ignite the season of anxiety in Sharks territory.
Erik Karlsson missed his 10th straight game in Los Angeles on Thursday. Radim Simek is out indefinitely with a major-knee injury. Joe Pavelski is on the shelf now, as well, Logan Couture missed Thursday’s game with flu-like symptoms and the Sharks are looking down the barrel of a potential first-round playoff matchup with the Golden Knights.
In short, the Sharks are all-in right now and looking for help from the dealer. Still, with eight games left, there’s still time to hit a full house with the turn and river cards. With that in mind, it’s time to open up the windows for some ventilation.
Without any further ado, let’s dig into that mailbag:
From @prairiebilbo: in your opinion, what is the major factor of the Sharks current mini-slump? Is it more to do with Simek? Karlsson? Or Pavelski? Or is it goaltending?
All of the above.
For some reason, the human brain likes to explain complex issues by isolating single variables and drawing straight lines from point A to point B. Life is seldom that simple. Most dynamics are the product of a confluence of variables working together in concert.
In the case of the Sharks four-game losing streak, a plethora of factors are in play. The team is missing two key pieces of its blue line and its captain. Then, you pull Logan Couture off the chessboard in Los Angeles and Jones gives up a pair of soft goals, all of a sudden you have a perfect storm brewing for the Sharks loss to the Western Conference’s worst team.
Get Sharks news in your inbox. Sign up now for the free Sharks Report newsletter.
I don’t know too many teams that can lose a two-time Norris Trophy winner, a 37-goal scorer, a World Cup-level two-way center and a Wookiee Whisperer without being impacted. Let’s lay off the panic button until the Sharks get healthy.
From @C_Richards97: barring a collapse by the Calgary Flames, the Sharks will be playing the Vegas Golden Knights in the first round of the playoffs. Over two seasons, including playoffs, the Sharks do not have a good record against Vegas. What adjustments need to be made?
Okay, maybe I should back track a bit. I wouldn’t lose sleep over the Sharks performance this week in view of all the injuries. The possibility of a first-round matchup with the Golden Knights would leave ball of hair in my shower drain (fortunately I have plenty to lose).
If the playoffs started today, I’d take the Sharks in a seven-game series against six of the Western Conference’s playoff teams. The exception: Vegas. The Sharks roster is loaded with supermen this season, but the Golden Knights are obviously their kryptonite.
In the wake of Vegas’ trade for Mark Stone, it’s tough to identify any real flaws in the Death Star. After reaching the Stanley Cup Final last year, the Golden Knights added a shut down line featuring three players in Stone, Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty who’ve recorded 25-goal seasons. Let that sink in.
In addition, the top line is still a handful, the fourth line is physically imposing, the defense is mobile and Marc-André Fleury is the best playoff goalie in the west.
Like our Sharks Facebook page for more San Jose Sharks news, commentary and conversation.
That said, the path to victory starts with slowing down the scoring line of Reilly Smith, Jonathan Marchessault and William Karlsson, who combined for 10 points in Monday’s 7-3 thumping at the Tank. In 13 meetings with the Sharks, the trio has racked up a combined 53 points.
The key here is playing a simple, boring game when that combo is on the ice. Too often, the Sharks have fueled this line’s transition game with turnovers in the neutral zone, allowing them to score off speed and odd-man rushes. That’s why it’s never a bad idea to send the puck in deep against this line, make them go 200 feet to score their goals. In the defensive zone, stay committed until possession is secured and the puck is cleared. Oftentimes, the Sharks will start flying north only to lose the puck and see numbers coming back the other way.
Finally, make life difficult on Vegas. The Washington Capitals snuffed out the Golden Knights in the final last spring by taking the ice away and laying the body. The Sharks have the skill and offensive talent to win a run-and-gun game vs. 90 percent of the NHL. Against Vegas, they need to find the defensive identity that defined their game in recent years, trading offensive scoring chances to play tighter defense. Easier said than done, obviously.
One area where the Sharks might be able to exploit a mismatch is on the third line. Joe Thornton’s line recorded a Corsi rating north of 70 percent in Monday’s game, producing seven high-danger chances while giving up three against (Natural Stat Trick). The Sharks can offset the damage caused by Vegas’ scoring line if the third line does the heavy-offensive lifting.
And then there’s goaltending. The biggest mismatch in this series might be Fleury against Martin Jones. The Sharks need Jones to elevate his game to the level that’s allowed him to post a .926 save percentage in 42 playoff appearances.
Here’s the good news: Fleury is currently sidelined by a lower-body injury. Maybe the puck will bounce the right way for the Sharks and the three-time Stanley Cup winner will be hindered come April.
From @maritimeshed: was not adding a goalie at the deadline a mistake?
It’s a fallacy to think that a goalie trade would have waved a magic wand in front of the Sharks goal crease and fixed all the team’s problems in net.
Goaltending is certainly the Sharks top area of concern, as we saw Thursday in Los Angeles, but there wasn’t exactly a slam dunk option on the market at the deadline. We’re talking about Jimmy Howard, Brian Elliott and Ryan Miller, not Fleury, Carey Price or Henrik Lundqvist. There’s no guarantee that any of the available goalies would have performed any better than Jones or Aaron Dell.
And don’t dismiss what Jones means to the Sharks dressing room. The guys believe in him. Are you really going to yank him come playoffs and upset your team? Coaches aren’t going to stir up controversy and inter-team division on the eve of the playoffs unless it’s completely necessary.
The one scenario where the team could have really benefitted from a goalie trade is a situation where they find themselves trailing 0-2 in a playoff series. Then, you might make a goalie swap to give the team a spark.
At the end of the day, Jones will need to be on his game in the playoffs and the Sharks have to play quality defense in front of him or they won’t be going anywhere. We’ve seen it for stretches this season. Now, it’s about finding consistency for an extended run.
From @trivialpershoot: who is going to sit when Pavelski comes back?
When Pavelski returns, it’ll be all about who is going and who isn’t.
Joonas Donskoi ended up being the odd man out when the Sharks finally rolled out a healthy-forward roster on March 15. Donskoi has produced just five points in his last 16 games and he hasn’t found the back of the net since Jan. 10. He made the decision easy.
If Donskoi doesn’t pick things up in Pavelski’s absence, my guess is that there’s a chair waiting for him in the press box again once the captain gets healthy. But if he finds his game, someone else’s spot could be in jeopardy. Normally, the focus would turn to Kevin Labanc, but he’s acquitted himself well on Thornton’s line, accumulating 19 points in 22 games since the all-star break. Head coach Pete DeBoer might be hesitant to break that line up unless Labanc makes it completely necessary.
Assuming that’s the case, DeBoer might turn his eye to the fourth line. A segment of Sharks territory would be more than pleased to see Micheal Haley or Melker Karlsson take a seat with a healthy lineup.
But at this point, Donskoi appears to be the forward in the cross hairs. It’s time to put up or shut up for the Finnish forward.
From @coldstonestev: When Karlsson comes back do you see Heed switching to his off-side and sitting Ryan?
Joakim Ryan is really struggling out there. He looks lost and playing with Brent Burns isn’t an easy assignment. When Karlsson comes back, DeBoer will surely boot Ryan to the press box, which means he has two options: skate Jacob Middleton on the third pairing or move Tim Heed to his off-side.
My educated guess suggests he’ll go with the latter.
First, DeBoer is skeptical about playing unproven rookies to begin with. It’s hard to envision an scenario where he’d suit up a defenseman with just one game of NHL experience in the playoffs. Heed, meanwhile, continues to play solid hockey as Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s defensive partner. He’s earned every right to stay in the lineup when Karlsson returns.
At this point, I can’t imagine that DeBoer will be skating three concrete-defensive pairings in the playoffs. Karlsson and Vlasic don’t have enough time to develop chemistry now, so I’m expecting a mix-and-match scenario similar to what we saw early in the season. Under this format, DeBoer will give heavy minutes to his big dogs, Burns, Karlsson and Vlasic, allowing Heed to skate for 10 to 12 minutes as the sixth guy.
That’s a role he can handle whether he’s on the right or left side of the blue line.
From @casubieowner: is the loss of Radim Simek a bigger deal than expected? The Sharks have struggled without him in the lineup.
Yes, Simek is a big loss. Burns isn’t the easiest player to skate with. He’s a freelancer, so it requires someone who can read and react to his movements without getting caught thinking on the ice. Simek performed this role to near perfection.
In addition, he’s physical, strong on puck retrieval and good at clogging up the neutral zone by closing gaps. The Sharks miss him, but it’s a loss they should be able to overcome once Karlsson rejoins the lineup.
From @teal_puck: with only five picks in draft, what are the most glaring prospect needs? Might Sharks trade some players to add more picks?
[related_articles location=”left” show_article_date=”false” article_type=”automatic-primary-section”The Sharks are actually in a pretty-decent spot prospect-wise considering that they’ve only received one top-10 pick (Timo Meier) this decade. The Barracuda rank second in the AHL’s Pacific Division, Joachim Blichfeld just won the Western Hockey League’s scoring race, Ivan Chekhovich finished second in scoring in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and Ryan Merkley earned the second-most points among Ontario Hockey League defensemen this year. In addition, Sasha Chmelevski put together a breakout performance for Team USA at the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championships.
As you can see, the cupboard is actually quite full.
That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if Doug Wilson gets on the phone in June and swings a few deal to acquire a couple more picks. I wouldn’t expect a trade for a first rounder, but with everything that’s on Wilson’s plate this summer, I could see him parting ways with a restricted free agent, such as Joakim Ryan or Kevin Labanc, for picks if he knows he isn’t going to be able to re-sign them.