Sharks Have Things to Fix As Young Guns Rise to the Occasion

The San Jose Sharks once again have drawn a series, this time against their division rival, the Los Angeles Kings. They won the first game a shootout, by a score of 2-1, which is something we’ve seen a lot of lately, while in the second they lost by a score of 6-2. 

With that, it seems that the Sharks have lots of work to do in order to obtain consistency in their games moving forward. Based on the two games against the Kings, as well as the last two games against the Anaheim Ducks, these are just three of many things that need some tuning up. 

Sharks’ Attraction to Shootouts

As a moth is attracted by a lamp, the Sharks, for the past three games straight, have been attracted to winning in the shootout. The first time was against the Ducks, where they won on a Kevin Lebanc goal, not to mention Martin Jones making two straight saves.

Martin Jones, San Jose Sharks, NHL
Martin Jones, San Jose Sharks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In the first game against the Kings, the third time that they’ve been in a shootout situation, after losing the second time in Anaheim, they won off of a goal by Logan Couture. Jones came in clutch again, making a big stop at the end from Gabriel Vilardi. 

Now, some wouldn’t care that the Sharks are winning in a shootout, because wins are wins, no matter how they come, right? Well, yes, but eventually it will get tiring watching them constantly have to play extra hockey to win games. 

To add, they are going to be playing two home games within three days. One on Saturday against Vegas, and facing the Ducks again for a game on Monday, so they will be worn out if they keep on this trend. 

Penalties Possible Reason for Second-Period Woes

When I last wrote about a recent Sharks series, I mentioned that the Sharks “seemingly disappeared” when it came to the second period of their games. It was also mentioned by THW’s Josh Frojelin that in the first game against the Ducks this was overcome in the shootout win

Alas, the first game against the Kings saw these woes reappear, with a possible breakthrough as to why they came to existence in the first place. This is possibly because of the Sharks constantly being in the penalty box.

In that first game, they accrued eight penalty minutes, half of their opposition with only four penalty minutes. These contained two high sicking penalties from Timo Meier and Matt Nieto and a too many men on the ice penalty served by Ryan Donato. 

Ryan Donato San Jose Sharks
Ryan Donato, San Jose Sharks (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

In the second game, the penalties increased dramatically to 14. Those penalties included one for holding, slashing and high sticking and for two interference. Not to mention an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty to Donato, as well as a delay of game because of a lost coach’s challenge. However, it’s interesting to note that only two of those penalties came in the second. 

In fact, their woes showed up at the two ends of the game, as they gave up three goals while accruing two penalties in the first, and giving up four goals, getting three penalties in the third. 

Despite their constant stays in the penalty box, they still rank atop of the league in the penalty kill. According to ESPN, they rank third, only behind the Minnesota Wild and Anaheim, with 91.5 percent, with a margin of 1.4 percent behind the leader. 

In the case of this series, that percentage proves true, with the first game-killing three out of the four power plays, allowing a goal by Dustin Brown on the too many men penalty. The second game saw them performing worse in this stat, allowing three goals on the powerplay. 

Young Players Having an Effect

According to Elite Prospects, the Sharks have the 14th oldest team in the league, with an average age of 26.81. This means they have a relatively younger squad. Coincidentally this season, we’ve seen the rise of young stars on the team, like Noah Gregor, Sasha Chmelevski, John Leonard, Nikolai Knyzhov, among others. 

This trend continued Tuesday night in the first game against the Kings, with the first goal being netted by Timo Meier, who is only 24 years old. Also in that game, Knyzhov, the 22-year-old rookie, got his first NHL point on the secondary assist from the Couture goal at the end of the first period. He also got the primary assist on the Tomas Hertl goal at the end of the first in the second game Thursday.

Speaking of Hertl, who is 27 years old, scored another goal in the second period, being the only goal scorer in that unfortunate loss. Those two were his first two goals in nine games, with his last goal coming in the second game against the Arizona Coyotes all the way back at the beginning of January. 

Tomas Hertl San Jose Sharks
Tomas Hertl of the San Jose Sharks (Photo by Kavin Mistry/NHLI via Getty Images)

Continuing with the second game, John Leonard, the rookie out of UMass, made his return to the lineup, subbing in for Rudolfs Balcers, who has done quite well on the third line the past couple of games. 

Leonard served on the same line Balcers did with Marleau and Gregor, and got no points, two shots on goal, a total time on ice of just under nine and a half minutes, and a plus-minus rating of minus-1. 

Finally, goalie Alexi Melnichuk made his NHL debut in the third period of the second game in relief for starter Martin Jones. He was on the active roster after news came out that Devan Dubnyk, the Sharks regular second goalie, has a lower-body injury, according to a tweet from The Athletic’s Sharks writer Kevin Kurz. 

I think in seeing these two games, despite recent setbacks, the future of the Sharks looks extremely bright, and we’ll be in good hands with these young players. 

So, the Sharks are faced with these faults in their game with their constant need for a shootout to win a game, as well as becoming very familiar with the penalty box. Luckily, the young depth of the team is making things a bit better. If these younger players can keep moving on this same track, and the two faults can be improved ー even marginally, the Sharks are on course for a pretty decent rest of the season. 

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