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What Can Sharks Learn from Disappointing Win?



AP Photo/Tony Avelar

“Oh, they know, Sheng. Trust me. They know.”

That’s what captain Logan Couture offered when asked how he was going to convey the message to his teammates that last night’s 8-7 San Jose Sharks’ shootout victory over the Arizona Coyotes was unacceptable hockey.

Count alternate captain Tomas Hertl as one of the converted. Per SPORTLOGiQ, San Jose got doubled up 20-10 in Slot Shots on Net by lowly Arizona.

“Our game is more to play hard, play small details, be really good in the D-zone,” Hertl said. “We will not beat top teams [playing this way] because they’re more skilled. We just gave up so much. We have to learn from this.”

It sounds like a definite message was delivered — we’ll see how the Sharks respond on Thursday when they welcome the Philadelphia Flyers to SAP Center.

“I mean, no disrespect to them. But their record is what their record is,” Couture admitted about the 6-22-3 Coyotes. “We have a team that’s going to come in Philly, it’s going to be hungry, and we can’t give up that many chances.”

“We’re going to be able to do a lot of teaching off that tape. And hopefully, guys learn their lesson,” San Jose Sharks head coach Bob Boughner said. “It doesn’t matter who you play in this league. It’s never easy to get two points and you got to play the right way.”

So what can the Sharks learn from tonight’s defensive breakdowns?

Well, how much time you got?

Let’s focus on a couple things that Boughner mentioned.

“Just too many guys standing around our net,” he said. “Too many unmanaged situations with the puck.”

The first two Coyotes goals of the game were a perfect illustration of these two things.

I get what Alexander Barabanov (94) is doing. He’s flat-footed and trying to give it to safety valve Erik Karlsson (65) to break out. But obviously, the execution here — Phil Kessel (81) intercepts the Barabanov pass with ease — leaves a lot to be desired.

All this leaves Lawson Crouse (67) all by himself in the slot.

There’s a lot going on here: Couture (39) is slow to catch up on Crouse, but it’s not his fault. Barabanov had 100 percent possession along the wall, you can’t expect a turnover there. At some point, you need to be able to push forward on the attack if you’re Couture.

Meanwhile, Barabanov and Karlsson aren’t necessarily positioned badly — the Sharks place a particular emphasis on defending the inner slot, which they actually do here — Kessel has to forgo feeding Johan Larsson (22), who skates right in front of James Reimer.

But thinking on the fly and considering how sudden the turnover was, there could’ve been more of an adjustment from Karlsson to help Couture, at least for the shot block. Again, Crouse is not necessarily Karlsson’s man, but there’s something to be said about thinking on your feet when need be.

This is a play that Brent Burns (88) has completed a million times — the 6-foot-5 defender has held off plenty of big forecheckers like the 6-foot-4 Crouse. But Crouse gets the better of Burns here around the net, as bad a place as you can turn it over, and Janis Moser (62) has all day.

Noah Gregor (73) is along the wall, in the right place to provide Burns a passing option, but when Crouse wins it, he’s slow to recover on Moser. I would guess that he expected Burns to win the one-on-one battle, as Burns has so often in his career. As in Couture’s case, Moser is Gregor’s man, but the suddenness of the turnover understandably catches the winger by surprise.

That said, Gregor’s reaction seems delayed — and maybe Karlsson could’ve helped Burns more by being more aggressive on Crouse. Matt Nieto (83) had Karlsson’s backside covered.

I’ve written about this a lot, but a play isn’t over when one mistake (Barabanov and Burns’s turnovers) is made — how you recover from a mistake is just as crucial and instructive as the initial gaffe.

San Jose Barracuda call-up Jeffrey Viel, playing his first NHL game this season (and also scoring his first-ever NHL goal), gave a succinct review of this rocky picture horror show: “Both teams were pretty bad defensively and made a lot of turnovers.”

That said, the Sharks did manage to score seven goals, pretty good for a goal-starved team that came into the game as the sixth-most anemic offense in the league.

“Generally speaking,” Boughner said, “offensively I was pretty happy.”

I wanted to focus on an area of offensive improvement that Boughner touched on recently.

“Where we’ve struggled at times is, it’s not just throwing it in, it’s where you’re throwing it in and putting your dumps in a spot where you run your routes,” he pointed out when asked how the Sharks could get more scoring chances off the forecheck.

Essentially, the Sharks haven’t been putting the puck in places where it can be more easily recovered on the forecheck.

It’s a lucky bounce for Viel, but a key here is Jonah Gadjovich (42) dumping the puck in with a deft touch, in a place where Viel (63) can pounce on it in stride.

This isn’t exactly a dump-in, it’s actually a world-class bank pass from Karlsson. But the important thing is the delicacy from Karlsson — the puck caroms to the outside, to Barabanov’s forehand — again, a place where the intended target can recover the puck with relative ease.

Couture does the rest.

Like Boughner said, it’s not as simple as getting the puck in deep if you’re the San Jose Sharks, it’s also where you put the puck.

There’s something to be said about the fact that two players with such disparate resumes — Karlsson is a future Hall of Famer, Gadjovich is a young waiver wire pick-up trying to establish himself in any NHL role — can accomplish, albeit in far different fashions, the same basic hockey goal.

Hopefully, the Sharks can come together on Thursday against the Flyers, before this trend of underwhelming efforts against less-than-spectacular opposition — their last three contests, two losses, against Seattle, Vancouver, and now Arizona — submarines their season.

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