It wasn’t just one bad game for the San Jose Sharks on Saturday, a 6-2 drubbing at the hands of the Colorado Avalanche.
San Jose was already getting away from their game on Thursday, a 4-1 loss at Winnipeg.
“Yeah, I think a little of that [happened] against Winnipeg in the second half of the game there,” Bob Boughner admitted after the Colorado game.
Down two goals with nine minutes to go at Winnipeg, the San Jose Sharks started to – literally – look at just one side of the ice.
Brent Burns (88) steps up on a questionable pinch of Evgeny Svechnikov (71) – Burns’s reach is long, but Svechnikov is able to keep it away and finesse the puck past Burns.
At the moment Burns is stepping up, a San Jose Sharks forward should be backchecking to fill in Burns’s vacated spot on defense – if a defenseman goes forward, a forward has to go backwards to cover. Instead, Jonathan Dahlen (76), closest to the defense, is literally watching Burns lose a not quite 50-50 battle – his head is turned toward Burns and he’s stopped skating, instead of skating hard, head down to where Burns was. In other words, he’s thinking offense and not defense.
Because Burns’s spot on defense is empty, Pierre-Luc Dubois (80) is able to skate into the puck and enjoy a 2-on-1 from center ice on with Kyle Connor (81). Only a desperation stab at the puck by a prone Ryan Merkley (6) short circuits the 2-on-1.
Dahlen gets a chance at redemption, a chance to advance the puck to Burns, who’s trying to push the play forward. Dubois, however, easily intercepts Dahlen’s soft pass up the middle, and Dahlen, instead of helping out defensively, jumps off the ice, leaving the problem for his teammates.
“Sometimes when you press,” Nick Bonino acknowledged after this loss, “structure goes out the window a bit.”
If structure had been tossed out of the window on Thursday at Winnipeg, it clearly hadn’t been found by Saturday at Colorado.
The returns of Erik Karlsson, Jake Middleton, Radim Simek, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Timo Meier, Kevin Labanc, and Matt Nieto from multi-game COVID protocol absences didn’t help the search.
“We mishandled the puck three or four different times on their third goal,” Boughner lamented.
Adin Hill (33) actually started the sequence right, with an accurate, hard pass up the middle to Alexander Barabanov (94). The goalie was probably the best San Jose Sharks puckhandler on this shift.
Under Jayson Megna (12) – Sharkcuda alumni Jaycob’s brother – pressure, Barabanov tries to drop the puck back to the Rudolfs Balcers (92) or Tomas Hertl (48), the speed coming from behind up the middle. In principle, it’s a good idea, but Tyson Jost (17) sniffs it out.
Jost does an incredible job of keeping the puck onside, but Burns comes up with it (0:05). Burns tosses it to the weak side, where Balcers and Hertl are first on the puck, no Avs around. Easy zone exit, right?
Wrong. Hunting the same puck and not communicating, Balcers and Hertl collide. That split-second of confusion encourages Megna and Jost to pounce on the forecheck. Alex Newhook (18) comes into the picture, firing a shot that Burns deflects to the corner.
Burns follows up with another strong defensive play – he bodies Newhook off the puck in the corner (00:22). Balcers grabs that loose puck, and the closest player to him is his teammate Hertl. Easy pass, right?
Wrong. Under zero pressure, Balcers somehow misses Hertl and Megna scoops it up. Balcers, perhaps, was looking for Barabanov, who’s higher up the ice, instead of the simple play to Hertl.
This time, it’s Burns’s defensive partner Mario Ferraro (38) who comes up with the big defensive play, as he takes down Jost along the opposite wall (00:32).
Barabanov has it again – and again, he opts to pass it to the speed coming from behind – Hertl, who’s covered.
Samuel Girard (49) claims the puck up high, evading a Hertl dive, and walks it down low, beating Barabanov one-on-one, to find the open Newhook. Balcers, who’s defending the slot, chases after Jost, who’s also open. Hertl, behind on the play, couldn’t recover on Newhook.
Here’s an example of someone playing pretty good hockey (Burns) but getting tagged unfairly with a -1, by the way.
But that aside – it’s also a reminder that scoring a goal, like Barbanov did later, doesn’t mean you had a good game.
“Right now,” Boughner said, “it looks like we’re trying to win every shift and force things. That can’t happen.”
The wheels came off for the San Jose Sharks after the Newhook goal.
“Then we just started doing things that were uncharacteristic,” Boughner said. “Terrible changes tonight. Changing on the way back when you know it’s an outnumbered rush [coming at you]. Those are the things that can’t seep into your game.”
It’s just a two-game losing streak, right? No big deal.
Good teams, however, stem the tide and get back on track quick.
“We got to get back a little more to our identity and it can’t be just for 10-15 minutes at a time,” Boughner said. “We have to grind out wins. And to grind out wins, you have to play the majority of [the time] to your identity.”
Meier defined that for us: “It’s simple hockey, go on the forecheck, put pucks in a good place, go get it back. Breaking out well, just a simple game. We did it well in the beginning and we faded away from it.”
Are the San Jose Sharks one of those good teams that can find its identity with relative ease?
We’ll find out this Tuesday at Minnesota.
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