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Exit Interview: Boughner on What Went Right, Wrong for Sharks

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Bob Boughner’s headed back to Canada.

“I’m going to spend some time with the kids,” the San Jose Sharks head coach said in his exit interview today. “I haven’t seen my kids in six months, and it’s probably the longest stretch of my life not seeing my children.”

But of course, he won’t be staying there: There’s every indication that he’ll back for his second full season behind the San Jose bench.

“I’m going to be back and forth this summer,” he shared, “getting work done in preparation for next year.”

Boughner, as he so often was this season, was a picture of candor – considering his seat — in his exit interview. He shared his thoughts about what worked this year for the San Jose Sharks, how the struggling power play can get better, the role that analytics plays in his assessment of the team, and how he can improve as a coach next year.

He also talked about the rumors that the Arizona Coyotes want to interview associate coach Rocky Thompson for their head coaching position and some injury updates.

Bob Boughner, on the positives from this season:

We’ve implemented four or five guys, which I feel will be full-time NHL players — already are. I’m just thinking of the names that I think have made strides and have established themselves. I think Gambrell being one of the guys that was a question mark coming in. Knyzhov obviously having a rookie season like he did. The pickup of Balcers, that was a great pickup for us, he’s gonna really help us next year. Barabanov was signed, nice trade for us.

Then you got the Gregors and the Leonards and guys like that. I don’t want to miss anybody out the list. But those are the guys that come to mind that. After last season, we weren’t talking about any of those names.

Boughner, on the San Jose Sharks’ above-average 5-on-5 play, and if they just need a better power play and goaltending to get over the hump:

Off the top of my head analytically, we changed some systems at the beginning of the year. My No. 1 focus was to create some more offense, be an offensive-minded team. We achieved that.

When you look at the analytics, you almost have to take out games one to 10, and games 46 to 56. We know what happened here in the last few weeks in playing a young lineup. Young goalies and everything else.

First 10 games, I know every team’s the same, but a team like us with a lot of new faces, a lot of young guys, it was a pre-season for us.

We sit here today and we’re Expected Goals For in the league 10th overall of 31 teams. We’re third in the Honda division behind Vegas and Colorado.

The systems that we put in obviously worked. Inner Slot Chances, we’re fourth in the National Hockey League. Those are expected goals for. So we’re getting the chances — obviously, some nights are better than others burying our chances.

Power play absolutely has to improve. That’s not only on the players, that’s on the coaching staff, and we have to find a way to get the right guys in the right positions and get the looks that we’re looking for there. That’s, a huge part of our improvement in the off-season. I think Barabanov will help that.

On the flip side, taking games one to 10. And the last 10 away defensively, we weren’t a very good breakout team this year. We gave up too many chances.

What it comes down to me is, if you look at the analytics, is D-Zone Time Against and in the system that we play. It’s funny, you look at Boston, you look at the Islanders, you look at these teams that you know, are great defensively. But they’re not great in the analytics department of how much time they spend in their end, and it’s just their system, but they defend very, very well.

So whatever system that we’re talking about, we have to have the ability to kill more plays. When we do [that], we got to break out cleaner. We got to cut down on the giveaways in the D-zone on our exits. That’s what really got us this year.

Yes, there were goaltending issues, we all know that. But if I look at the season as a snapshot, just talking about offense and defense, that’s where we sit.

Boughner, on how the San Jose Sharks’ power play can improve:

One is the faceoffs. Starting with the puck.

We were okay as an entry team. We didn’t have a lot of issues breaking in and setting up.

There’s a couple things that are glaring for me. Our net front presence isn’t good enough. No matter who we tried there. The best power plays in the league have that that guy standing in a goalie’s eyes.

Our shooting mentality is not good enough. You should be able to generate multiple chances on your power play. Sometimes, when you’re out there for 30-40 seconds, moving it around, not getting a shot, I think we need to filter more pucks to the net, not necessarily to try picking a corner, it’s to get pucks there, so we can collapse and we can outnumber at the net. I thought for the most part of the season, we got a little too picky on our shot selection. And when we did shoot, we didn’t have enough traffic at the net.

There’s also, and we’re going to dive deeper into it, unforced errors. There’s lots of times where we’d lose the draw, we go down, we get in and enter, we get set up, they have a little pressure on us, and instead of making the easy play, you try and thread it to somebody. That really breaks your momentum.

Boughner, on how the San Jose Sharks’ team defense can improve:

Well, we made an adjustment after game 10 in our D-zone, we were giving up too much time, and we still did, but we improved a lot. Man-on-man situations up top, we did a better job of identifying, it was a little bit of a mess there for the first 10 games.

We gave our goalie more support in front of him, our goaltending numbers improved there in that [amount of time].

I just thought that we played fast. That’s one of the things I said before the season that I wanted to do is really make sure that we’re a fast team to play against.

I’ve already commented on the offensive improvements. That’s just a direct correlation of transitioning fast, putting pucks behind people if you don’t have a play, and where we really excelled — one of the areas that we talked about all season — was attacking from below the tops of the circles and creating that triangle and quick strike mentalities and inner slot chances, those kind of things, instead of always bumping it back to our D and looking for the long shot and the tip. I thought we really attacked teams from below the tops of circle. That’s one thing that we’ll continue to do. That’s not going to change.

I also thought that on our entries, we create a lot of offense from getting the puck past the half ice, what we call our money line, where you’re transferring the puck from one side of the ice to the other and attacking that way instead of always having the puck on the one side. We did some good things in that department.

Boughner, on some of the team’s injuries:

[Simek] was an oblique strain, every time he turned, every time he tried to make a play on his backhand or hit a guy, it was a spiking pain. Cooch was banged up, multiple lower-body things, but nothing that needs fixing or anything in the summer.

Nieto was a lower-body, more of a hip flexor kind of issue. His game is speed and explosion, explosiveness out of the gates with his legs. He just couldn’t push through that.

Marcus [Sorensen], at one point had, I believe it was upper-body. I think it was something close to what a couple other guys dealt with, Timo missed games for an oblique strain. I think Marcus was a little bit of that as well.

Everybody’s going to be back and healthy for sure in September.

Boughner, on how he’s gone from a player in the non-analytics era to a coach who embraces them:

Originally when they came onto the scene, there was a lot of resistance from guys that have been in the game a long time.

We used to do it here when I was assistant coach with Pete. We didn’t dive into it as deep as we are today. But we had the areas that we wanted to focus on.

Now, it’s an amazing tool. I still say [though], analytics are helpful and they assist, but it’s got to pass the eye test first.

When we watch a game, what I’ll do in the morning, we look at the analytics from the night before in the game, we get a report on our desk in the morning, we go through that. We see what’s green, which is great, what’s red, what needs work from the night before. And then we watch the video after that, make sure it passes the eye test before I’m going to go in and just throw numbers around. Because some of it can be deceiving.

There’s a lot of analytics, you really got to decipher out what you need and what you don’t need and what makes sense, what doesn’t make sense.

There’s a lot of things we look at, but you have to still make sure that you’re using common sense, that the analytics match up with what you see.

Boughner, on Arizona wanting to interview Rocky Thompson for their head coaching job:

I’ve heard the rumors, but I haven’t got a call personally. I’m not sure Doug has.

I believe he’s going to be a great head coach. He’s actually got a mind right now, even though he does a great job as an assistant, you can tell he’s got that pedigree of being a head guy. That’s something that’s going to happen at some point.

I don’t want to lose him. I think we’re just getting started as a staff. But that’s the way our business is, and obviously, I would support that if you got an opportunity somewhere because he deserves it.

Boughner, on how he can improve as a head coach next year:

This year, the mandate was get in here, develop, give opportunities to younger players, fix the room a little bit and the culture, make sure we’re playing as a team.

We had bumps in the road, it was a little bit of a roller coaster, but I think at the end of the day, you know, we talked during the season about playing as a team, sticking up for each other, and those kinds of things, all that stuff got better.

I think moving forward: Just holding a hard line and holding guys accountable. There’s times this year where we made our decision and held guys accountable.

That’s an area, I think any coach would say it’s a fine line. You want to hold everybody to the same standard, which we do, but that has to go for your best players as well. There can’t be any blurred lines there.

I think at times, because the situation we’re in and we’re fighting for every point, some guys might have got away with more than we wish for. But we were sort of at the mercy of trying to win important games at that time of year.

It’s not a problem at all. But that’s something, if you look in the mirror, and you say next year coming in, I think that day one, you gotta make sure everybody’s on the same page, they stay on the same page, and no one veers from that path.

I think that I have a real good relationship with all these players. I’m a player’s coach. But at the end of the day, obviously, we got to make sure that the job’s being done.

Boughner, on where Ryan Donato needs to improve to establish himself as a top forward in an NHL line-up:

Everybody knows he’s got a great offensive skill-set. He can help you from the top of circles down. I think it’s the other part of the game that he struggles with from time to time.

As the season went on, guys get worn down and they slow down a bit.

It was a matter of him being able to stick to the details, help us out that way.

But the one thing about Ryan, he can help any team because of his offense. He’s good in front of the net on the power play. He’s a guy that loves coming to the rink, he’s a great teammate, and all those things.

We just got to get the details of his game just a little better. When you’re playing against top-end players, if you want to be a top-six guy, you gotta be responsible in all areas of the ice, and that’s sort of what we talked about.

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JAMES R.

Thanks for all the amazing content this year, Sheng! Boughner probably makes it easier by how candid and forthcoming he is. I hope it continues next year!

[…] Bob Boughner addressed what went right and wrong for the San Jose Sharks this season. (San Jose Hockey Now) […]

timorous me

Lots of really good insights from a head coach here. Definitely appreciate Bob’s consistent candor and thoughtfulness. And I think it is fair to judge this season with something of an asterisk. To not have a preseason for a new coaching staff must be really hard, and that’s not even considering how long they were away from home, how they couldn’t really connect as they normally would as a team. Next season’s ceiling is probably as a playoff bubble team, but I do think that’s achievable. And with guys like Balcers, Barabanov, and and maybe Chemelevski in the fold, there’s… Read more »

david barnard

the defense of this team is shattering! LC cannot handle top lines-from his defensive responsibilities standpoint-any longer. his numbers: 76th Offense/20th Defense, Overall 58th percentile. Hertl’s counting stats were hurt (once again) by sub par PP goal scoring. he was a gem otherwise! best center on the team, hell, best player on the team! Hertl’s percentile ranks: 84th Offense/89th Defense, Overall 86th. now get after that PP next season!!! Gambrell’s numbers are abysmal for supposedly a “defensive forward”! as the most consistently played 3C this season his numbers are: 5th Offense/31st Defense, Overall 8th percentile! yeah, sorry Boogie this dude… Read more »

timorous me

I do wonder how differently the team’s defensemen might operate–and how the game plan from Boughner might be altered–if the goaltending could be trusted more. You had the change last season, which is hard to even remember now, when Bob took over and instituted some extremely conservative measures to try to get the team defense to improve from its god-awful status. He did that, but it meant completely neutering the attack. That wasn’t sustainable, and so it seems he tried to find a balance this year between the ultra-conservative approach and one where the team could generate enough offense to… Read more »

david barnard

iirc the stats i looked at after BB took over, the team rebounded from a season and a half of really bad NZ play, with lots of turnovers going back into our net, into something resembling decent NZ play. that kind of fell apart this season i think. he brings up the poor DZ play, but i felt the NZ play he’d established late last season was all but missing this season.

david barnard

i think i’d like to see him get creative w/the PP and try running it from behind the net. you could put either Burns or Karlsson down there and have the other stay up top. that way you could get the puck to Hertl more so he can get his PP goal scoring back up to where it was in 2018-19. i think Hertl’s being relied on too much to run things down low. maybe even Labanc could run it from behind the net. they’re really missing prime Jumbo in this regard, where he’d basically operate full time below the… Read more »

david barnard

yeah, it’s single sourced form EH. i use McCurdy too and the free stuff from MoneyPuck and NatStatTrick. i don’t have access to SL. still, it’s no big revelation that the team was pretty bad defensively. this just kind of shows where they stand among their peers around the league by percentile grouping.

[…] — What does Bob Boughner think went right — and wrong — with the Sharks this season? (SJHN) […]

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