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Do Sharks Really Believe in How Boughner Wants Them to Play?



Credit: AP Photo/Paul Sancya

It’s not just one thing wrong with the San Jose Sharks right now.

That much has been evident on a road trip where the Sharks have given up 14 goals in two games, including six in the first period against the Pittsburgh Penguins and two short-handed goals 37 seconds apart against the Detroit Red Wings.

But I’m going to focus on one thing.

“I think it starts from our goaltender on out,” Sharks head coach Bob Boughner said after the Red Wings steamrolled his club 6-2. “I think our goaltending has got to be better.”

I’m not focusing on the goaltending.

Also, the operative word there is “starts.” Obviously, Boughner is not putting all the blame at the feet of James Reimer, who has seen his Save % drop from .936 to .916 in just the last four contests. Reimer has been pulled in back-to-back appearances.

Instead, I’m focusing on how good teams respond to adversity.

Good teams stick to their game when their goalie gives this up between the feet:

Good teams stick to their game when their goalie doesn’t come up with the big save here:

Or here:

There’s still more than half the game left — more than enough time to mount a response if you’re the San Jose Sharks.

And actually, they did when Jasper Weatherby made it 3-1 a little more than a minute later.

This was the moment when the San Jose Sharks take a breath and start to play to their purported dump-and-chase, defense-first identity.

Instead, they wasted the next few minutes with plays like these.

Brent Burns (88) whiffs on the Michael Rasmussen (27) chip-and-chase, Rasmussen beats Timo Meier (28) up the ice, and it’s a two-on-one — albeit a well-defended odd-man rush, Meier’s stick keeps Rasmussen to the outside, while Jaycob Megna (24) is guarding against the pass.

I’ll get to the point after this clip.

Call-up Scott Reedy (54) is in the right position to break up the pass. He and Jayden Halbgewachs (89) advance up the ice, Reedy to Halbgewachs, Halbgewachs to Reedy.

At center ice, Reedy has options — and he opts to drop the puck back, presumably to Halbgewachs. Turnover.

What do these two plays have in common? Besides preceding a backbreaking Pius Suter goal just minutes later?

This is a team chasing offense in a 3-1 game with over 30 minutes to play. That’s not the mindset which the San Jose Sharks are supposed to play with: Burns should think defense first, while Reedy should get it in deep for Halbgewachs to retrieve. If you’re going to think offense first, you better execute.

This isn’t picking on Burns and Reedy in particular — pretty much the entire San Jose Sharks squad played the wrong way after going down 3-0. But it’s instructive that a player with 1,203 NHL games under his belt essentially made the same mistake that a player with three NHL games made.

“When we’re down, we think we have to score right away,” Tomas Hertl acknowledged. “We change our game and we actually give up more goals.”

That’s what bad teams do, they fold under pressure and break from their identity.

Let’s go back to the netminding. About a couple weeks ago, Reimer was rocking a .936 Save %, second-best in the NHL. That kind of goaltending certainly makes it easier to play the right way. You make a mistake, Reimer, more likely than not will clean it up.

Not so right now. You make a mistake, it ends up in the back of your net, and you feel like you have to chase the game.

“You’re down 3-0 and you try and open up, you play a lackadaisical game, cheating for offense,” Boughner said. “We got to get back to our foundation, our basics, and I think that we’ve gotten away from it for two games.”

Hertl agreed: “We know our system and we play good when we’re on. We have to go back to it.”

Of course, the San Jose Sharks said the right things after they eked out an 8-7 shootout win over Arizona on Tuesday. They said the right things after an 8-5 loss to Pittsburgh. They said the right things after this blowout.

But this recent defensive slide begs the question: Do the Sharks actually believe in the way that Bob Boughner wants them to play? It’s easy to believe when you’ve got Reimer stopping .936 of all shots — but when it’s hard, that’s when you show that you really believe.

San Jose isn’t showing that right now.

“There’s lots for us to fix [to] be on the same page,” Burns admitted.

“We have to go back to it before it’s really too late,” Hertl said.

The Sharks, out of the playoffs the last two seasons, are putting themselves in a familiar position: They’re losing valuable points early and forcing themselves into a corner later in the year.

This is something impending UFA Hertl knows all too well: “If you lose a couple like that and then you start hunting and every game, we have to win this one — it’s just so hard.

“If we show up like the last two games, it will be a long season.”

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