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Too Little, Too Late? Sharks Starting to Play ‘Winning Hockey’

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Credit: Hockey Shots/Dean Tait

Too little, too late, the San Jose Sharks might be learning how to play winning hockey.

For a second straight victory – granted, once again, versus inferior competition – it’s not that the Sharks won, but it’s how they won.

“We did a really good job of building off what we did in Anaheim,” head coach David Quinn said of the Sharks’ 3-2 win over the Arizona Coyotes, which follows a 6-1 rout of the Ducks. “Our puck management, our turnovers have really cost us. I thought over the last two games, we’ve really done a much better job in managing the game and making it harder for our opponent. Making life hard on your opponent isn’t just skating fast and being physical, it’s making it hard for them to possess the puck by not turning over.”

I’ve written extensively about this, most recently, here:

Sharks Have Formed Bad Habits (Since Pavelski’s Departure)

After the Sharks’ 6-5 OT loss to the Vancouver Canucks three games ago, San Jose were 31st in the NHL in Rush Chances Against. Naturally, a lot of these chances have come from turnovers.

Here are a couple examples, both from the Sharks’ 6-3 loss to the Buffalo Sabres four games ago.

Tied 2-2, Luke Kunin (11) tries to hit the weak side defenseman, Radim Simek (51), who’s jumped up on the play. Jeff Skinner (53) and Alex Tuch (89) earn both an odd-man rush and a rush chance off this turnover, which Skinner cashes in on.

Eerily, seven minutes later, Kevin Labanc (62) makes the exact same mistake, looking for weak side defenseman Nick Cicek (59). It’s not an odd-man rush, but Jack Quinn (22) and Dylan Cozens (24) enjoy another rush chance.

For that game, SPORTLOGiQ tracked Buffalo with an ugly 14-9 Rush Chances and 11-6 Odd-Man Rushes advantage.

The 10-16-5 Sharks have had a lot of rock-bottoms this season, this loss just the latest.

“They outcompeted us for a lot of the night. That can’t happen,” alternate captain Nick Bonino acknowledged afterwards. “That’s something that you can’t really say about us to this point in the year. It’s very rare for that to happen.”

Could this be the San Jose Sharks’ “Come to Jesus” – or more accurately, come to the back half of the Draft lottery – moment?

“We had a meeting before the Anaheim game and really kind of laid it out, the situations, and why we lose hockey games. Where we are from a goals against standpoint and why we give up our goals. It’s not because of our D-zone coverage,” Quinn said last night. “We keep track of our stats and we’re pretty thorough in it. Our D-zone coverage, we don’t give up much at all. It’s under 20 percent of why we give up our chances against. Turnovers are about 40 percent of why we give up our chances.”

The room has responded to this meeting, and we can see it in the scoring chance numbers.

Per SPORTLOGiQ, the Sharks were up 8-3 Rush Chances and 6-4 Odd-Man Rushes over the Ducks. San Jose bettered that against Arizona with a 4-1 Rush Chances and 3-0 Odd-Man Rushes edge.

“We lose this game a month ago,” Quinn opined.

Another way, besides Rush Chances and Odd-Man Rushes, to measure if the Sharks have really turned the corner?

With last night’s one-goal victory, San Jose is 5-5-5 in one-goal games. Up to Dec. 13, that .500 Points % in such games is tied for third-worst in the league with the Ottawa Senators and Dallas Stars, just ahead of Buffalo (.429) and Arizona (.455).

Let’s see if they can improve on that figure.

“We’re just trying to play smart situational hockey and winning hockey,” Scott Harrington, who entered the line-up three game ago, offered.

The Sharks are now seven points out of the last wild card berth in the Western Conference.

That doesn’t sound like a lot, but the San Jose Sharks will have to go on a .637 Points % tear in their next 51 games to reach the 90-point mark, which, based on recent history, doesn’t even put them in the playoffs, but at least puts them in the conversation.

“We just got to keep chugging along here,” Quinn said.

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