This was a telling, if all too typical game for the San Jose Sharks.
On one hand, they pounded Igor Shesterkin with 37 shots, more than a handful Grade-A opportunities. They held the Metropolitan Division-leading New York Rangers to just six high-danger chances at 5-on-5, per Natural Stat Trick, while collecting 16 themselves. By and large, they outplayed, or at least skated up and down with, a good team.
“We did a lot of great things,” head coach Bob Boughner offered. “I thought defensively, we played a pretty good game. It was just one of those nights where we generated enough, we just couldn’t find the answer to Shesterkin.”
On the other hand, the Sharks’ offense, 22nd in NHL at 2.74 Goals Per Game, was found wanting once again, getting shut out by the Rangers 3-0.
“You score zero goals,” Erik Karlsson said, “you win zero games.”
So where will the San Jose Sharks find more offense? There are no obvious answers for a Sharks organization that might be tapped out offensively, on the big club and in the minor leagues.
One area (of many) where they’re not finding offense is on the power play.
Since Dec. 11 — that’s more than a month ago, if that needs repeating — the Sharks have given up more shorthanded goals (3) than they’ve scored power play goals (2). Since Dec. 11, they 2-for-24 on the man “advantage”.
On a recent episode of the San Jose Hockey Now podcast, we did a deep dive into what’s going right and wrong on the San Jose power play, with lots of help from SPORTLOGiQ’s micro-stats.
For what it’s worth — my conclusion wasn’t an exciting one — I think the Sharks need to keep firing away, overwhelm with shot volume over sheer skill. It’s a meat-and-potatoes method to get to an average power play because I don’t think they have the overall talent for a top PP.
Boughner and company would take average now — San Jose’s 17.0 power play is 24th in the league right now.
But we’re used to the San Jose Sharks having an ineffective power play — they were 23rd in the NHL two years ago and 29th last season. What’s more dispiriting are the short-handed goals, like the one allowed tonight to Chris Kreider (20).
That’s a poor decision by Jonathan Dahlen (76), who reaches for a puck that he has no chance on and gets blown away by Kreider’s speed. As basically the Sharks’ second defenseman on this 4F-1D power play unit, he needs to be more responsible.
I like 4F-1D, by the way, but this clip is the exact reason why old-school hockey thinking favors having two defensemen on every power play unit.
But I digress — it was a killer goal to give up, especially for a power play that’s now tied for the most short-handed goals allowed in the league — six with the New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers. The Sharks are now third-worst in the league in power play goal differential with just a +10, ahead of only the Devils and Montreal Canadiens.
“It’s a million dollar question, right?” Karlsson noted about San Jose’s power play struggles. “You have to execute, you have to be patient, you have to make the right play at the right time, take the right shot at the right time. And we’re not doing that right now.”
For what it’s worth, there’s only one team in the bottom-10 of PP goal differential that’s a clear playoff squad, the usually prolific Washington Capitals at a +11. Suffice to say, the Sharks need to turn their man advantage into an advantage if they want to sniff spring hockey.
“Even strength, he’s carrying the play.”
Yeah, let’s stop talking about the power play. Let’s listen to Nick Bonino talk about Timo Meier, selected to his first-ever All Star Game yesterday.
Meier, despite being held off the scoresheet, was a dominant presence, especially at 5-on-5.
Meier (28) draws Ryan Strome (16) and Filip Chytil (72) to him on one side, before hitting Tomas Hertl (48) on the other side.
“Yeah, just proud of him,” Boughner said of his 25-year-old star winger. “I think he’s worked hard to get to this level. He’s been our most consistent offensive player all year.”
It’s not just about the offense either.
“He’s had much better details than in the past,” Boughner said. “He’s bought in and he’s having success and it’s great to see, to get to that level that he’s at right now. He’s a tough to play against every night.”
You don’t see Meier at the beginning of this clip, but he’s along the wall, staying patient defensively as the “third man high”. Watching from the press box, I could see him flinch toward the loose puck in the corner, but then he pulls back, doing the right thing by trusting Rudolfs Balcers (92) to win it. He stays high just in the case the Rangers win it, he’s in good position defensively.
Meier doesn’t attack until Couture goes high; they switch positions, then Meier shoots. Years past, Meier might have chased the puck prematurely, leading to a odd-man rush against.
This is well-earned defensive discipline from Meier, some of the details that have earned him Boughner’s trust.
There were just 10,919 tickets sold tonight, which unfortunately, has been roughly the norm this season at SAP Center. There are good reasons for this — COVID and justifiably lowered expectations for the San Jose Sharks, to start — but there’s a lot of people missing out on Meier’s star-making campaign.
Hopefully, at least a few people out East (read: voters) were watching last night.
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