GLENDALE, Ariz. — Bob Boughner thought the San Jose Sharks played better in a loss today than a victory last Thursday.
“Actually, it’s funny how it goes. I thought we played better structure and better as a team today than we did in the first game,” Boughner said after San Jose’s 5-3 loss. “We spent a lot more time in their end in the o-zone. We played a little faster, I thought.”
I agree, to a point, but I wouldn’t say the Sharks played particularly well tonight. Maybe that’s coming as they shake off the rust from an 11-month layoff? Or maybe not?
Two contests still haven’t answered the many questions surrounding this expensive group that was the league’s third-worst team last year.
SPORTLOGiQ does agree with Boughner’s assertion that San Jose played more in their own end — at least the disparity in possession wasn’t as wide as it was on Thursday: The Sharks enjoyed 6:21 of OZ Possession Time today, the Coyotes 7:03, a far cry from Thursday’s Arizona 11:12 to 5:54 edge. San Jose didn’t allow themselves to get pinned down as much as they did in the season opener.
In terms of playing faster, that was part of their problem, trying to play fast but not executing. But I’ll get to that in my “Winning Play” article later.
Here are a few quick thoughts from tonight.
Since San Jose Hockey Now skewered Erik Karlsson after the season opener, I feel compelled to lead off with this.
I thought Karlsson was markedly better today — not yet at the standard that he himself set as a two-time Norris Trophy winner, but trending upward.
Karlsson’s feet were better, which is the main thing I look for when watching him — I don’t care so much about his inability to dislodge Phil Kessel from in front of the net — that’s not his game. But if he can skate, he can be great, lack of physicality withstanding. He was escaping the forecheck with more ease and defending along the wall with more persistence — when Karlsson is on, his feet and darting stick are gnat-like, poke checking to jar pucks loose from the puck carrier.
The offense will come for him. The instincts and touch with the puck are still there. But it’ll be the defense and ability to break out of the zone that can make him more than an empty-calorie point producer.
Boughner agreed that Karlsson was better: “Erik struggled first game. He would admittedly say that. He was better tonight, for sure.”
This is promising. Like I wrote yesterday, let’s see where he’s at when we enter February.
What’s More Important Than Faceoffs?
Two years ago, the San Jose Sharks had four reliable options to take faceoffs: Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton, Barclay Goodrow, and Tomas Hertl.
Now? They’re down to Hertl and they haven’t added anybody particularly competent to fill the void. Logan Couture takes a ton of draws, but he hasn’t won more than 47 percent in a season since 2013-14.
“The onus is on the centers, but we also need to get help from the wingers coming in the circle too,” Boughner said. “But it’s definitely a weakness of our team right now.”
Here’s the caveat: One of the first things that the hockey analytics movement figured out was winning faceoffs, in the long run, doesn’t matter that much.
Obviously, it matters on specific plays, as it did today.
But big picture, Doug Wilson and Boughner must subscribe somewhat to this new-school philosophy — or they wouldn’t trot out Couture, Noah Gregor (who played wing last year and wasn’t a 50 percent-plus winner in juniors), and Joel Kellman (47.1 percent won last year) as his pivots behind Hertl.
But sometimes, you’ll get days like today, where Hertl struggles (39 percent), dragging down the entire team (40 percent).
Of course, it’s great to have four 50-plus options like the Sharks had in 2018-19, but that’s the luxury of a true Cup contender. First and foremost, you need the guys who can get the puck back if you lose the draw.
Now does San Jose have that?
Help Me, Radim. You’re Our Only Hope.
“We really need Simek back.”
That’s what Boughner said after the game; the Sharks hope to have Radim Simek back this Monday against St. Louis.
That’s not a ringing endorsement for the play of Nikolai Knyzhov, Jake Middleton, and Nicolas Meloche through two games.
Let’s not kill the youngsters too much — they’re being asked to swim when perhaps they’re not ready.
“It’s a lot to ask two young guys who haven’t played much to get out there,” Boughner admitted of Middleton-Knyzhov today.
But again, it calls to question Wilson standing pat during this off-season’s UFA buyer’s market. Just for example, Ben Hutton just signed for one-year, $950K deal with the Anaheim Ducks. Not that Hutton is some lodestar, but NHL-caliber defenders were available by the bushel for cheap and for not much term this off-season.
The pressure on these Sharks is greater too, when you consider the top of their current defensive pyramid — Karlsson, Brent Burns, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic — aren’t exactly dominating right now. If they were, you could throw two Roombas out as your bottom-pairing and still win games.
These youngsters don’t appear ready — yet. They have talent, we’re just two games into the season, so there’s still plenty of time for Wilson to be vindicated.
But right now, putting so much weight on Simek’s problematic knee is troubling.
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