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To Score More Goals, Sharks Want to Increase Puck Possession, Activate D Besides Burns/Karlsson



Credit: NBCS Bay Area

What’s wrong with the 3-5-0 San Jose Sharks?

Maybe it’s the travel — the Sharks had to start the season on a continuous 32-day road trip, counting training camp in Scottsdale. Maybe the team just isn’t that good — name-brand players like Tomas Hertl, Evander Kane, Timo Meier, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and Erik Karlsson have been unreliable.

Or maybe, they just need a reset — between their last game, a 3-0 loss to Colorado, to their next game on Feb. 5 in Anaheim, they’re going to have a whole week off.

“Hopefully, we’re going to make some smaller adjustments, watch some tape, see what works, see what doesn’t, start feeling good about ourselves again,” Karlsson offered yesterday. “I don’t think we played as good a hockey as we would’ve liked to. I think we’re a much better team.”

So what 5-on-5 adjustments are the Sharks hoping to see on Friday?

Possession Time

At the time of Thursday’s tilt, per SPORTLOGiQ, the San Jose Sharks ranked 29th in the NHL in Even Strength Offensive Zone Possession Time. San Jose’s 4:36 was a good two minutes less per game than league-leading Colorado’s 6:54.

How can the Sharks increase their OZ possession time?

“It starts with our rush game. We’re getting across the line,” Bob Boughner offered. “But if we’re in a change situation or we don’t have enough help, we have to delay. We have to wait for the second layer to come in. We’re not doing a real good job of that right now. We’re throwing it away.”

Tomas Hertl concurred: “A lot of the times, when we get to the o-zone, we’re just throwing it blindly at the net. Shoot from the angles. You don’t really score. Sometimes, it’s a good thing, but not every time.”

Specifically, what did Boughner mean by waiting for the “second layer to come in”?

Naturally, there isn’t a lot of tape of San Jose doing this right this year, so let’s see Colorado execute this.

Gabriel Landeskog (92) gains the zone, hands it off to Andre Burakovsky (95). The three Avalanche forwards are the first layer of the attack. Burakovsky curls, holding the puck, waiting for the second layer of attack — that’s Samuel Girard (49) coming off the bench. Usually, first layer is forwards; second layer is defensemen.

Dylan Gambrell (7) blocks Girard’s shot, but Colorado pounces on the loose puck and enjoys a 20 second-plus shift in the San Jose zone. It doesn’t result in a goal, but undoubtedly, it grinds downs the Sharks.

Hertl wants to turn the tables.

“Just use our body,” Hertl said. “Hold the puck, make more plays, wear the team down.”

Boughner has been harping on this since the beginning of season — in fact, on opening night, the Arizona Coyotes flexed an 11:12 to 5:54 All Situations advantage in OZ Possession Time.

So look for more patience from Sharks forwards when they have the puck in the o-zone. It’s all connected: It would also help if they weren’t defending so much.

“If you’re working 20-30 seconds [in the D-zone],” Hertl acknowledged, “you don’t have energy.”

Activate D

So now the San Jose Sharks have the puck in the offensive zone, what’s next?

“The other thing is getting our D more active,” Boughner offered. “We’ve given them the green light to do that, when we have full possession.”

Of course, going back to Offensive Zone Possession Time, San Jose has had trouble gaining and keeping the puck with full possession in the OZ.

Boughner wants more from his forwards: “They gotta start climbing the walls more. Not just throwing pucks back down or getting rid of their problems. We have to have more of a possession game below the tops of the circles.”

Here’s an example of what Boughner is talking about, and how that gives his defensemen a green light.

Critically, when Ryan Donato (16) gains the zone, he stops up to protect the puck. While he’s not quite “climbing the walls” — curling with the puck up the wall, toward the blueline, like Burakovsky did — Donato’s pause allows the “second layer” of the attack, Nikolai Knyzhov (71), to jump in.

Donato drops it off to Knyzhov, who shovels it to Kevin Labanc (62). Labanc gets rubbed out by Kyle Clifford (13), but that’s taking a hit to make a play, Logan Couture (39) has it now.

Couture spots Knyzhov in front — Donato is covering for the rookie blueliner — but the pass deflects off Carl Gunnarsson (4). But it’s a San Jose bounce, as the puck skitters toward Radim Simek (51), rumbling down the right wall.

Simek draws two Blues, Gunnarsson and Ivan Barbashev (49), meaning there’s an open Shark. Simek find Labanc on one side of the net, Labanc one-touches it to the other side of the net, where Couture is waiting.

Besides the goal scored, this clip is important too because of the San Jose Sharks defensemen not involved.

“The onus is on the forwards to hold onto more pucks. Get more motion. The D have to pick their spots a little more,” Boughner said. “You’ll see Erik Karlsson do it from time to time. Burnzie do it from time to time. But we need that from everybody, not just standing there and cracking shots.

“It’s a different game now. You have to generate offense not just as a forward line but as a unit of five in the o-zone. That’s something we’re concentrating on this week.”

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