Felix’s Hockey Takes: Sharks’ Early Season Woes
Welcome to the season premiere of Felix’s Hockey Takes. That’s right. FHT is back for another year, and we are now a month into the new season. In part one of this two-part season premiere, I’m going to dissect the San Jose Sharks‘ early season woes. In part two coming up, I’ll dive into surprises and disappointments around the league in the month of October.
Recapping The Horrid Month of October
There’s no sugar coating this one, folks. The Sharks have been playing uninspired hockey, and it’s concerning. Starting off the season, the Sharks dropped the season opener and the home opener, both against the Vegas Golden Knights. Not only that, they were completely outclassed and outworked, losing 5-1 on home ice. It’s also worth noting that in the first two games alone, the Sharks were getting outscored 9-2 against Vegas. That’s how bad it was.
Enter Our Lord and Savior, Mr. Shark
Oh, and it gets worse. The Sharks would drop the next two on the road in Anaheim and Nashville before the seemingly inevitable family reunion with Patrick Marleau, who signed with the organization again on a one-year, two-way, $700K contract. Keep in mind that before this season, Sharks general manager Doug Wilson had reaffirmed his belief that it was time for the youth to get their fair shot. That is, until preseason proved no one from the San Jose Barracuda was ready enough to make the jump to the NHL.
So, I over exaggerated the reaction of the Sharks fan base for when Marleau got signed. The fact of the matter is Patrick Marleau was never going to be the one to get this team out of the already deep hole they had dug for themselves. Would he maybe provide an impact? Well, he certainly notched two goals in his season debut (and team re-debut) in a win against the Chicago Blackhawks, the team’s first win of the season. I’ll get more into his production and impact for the next couple games in a little bit. (Spoiler alert: it’s not very good)
Marleau would then tally an assist in a win against Calgary in a three-game home stand which saw the boys in teal win 5-2 against the Carolina Hurricanes and drop a 4-3 decision to Buffalo. In the Eastern Conference road trip, which I will talk more about in a little bit, Patrick Marleau tallied only 3 points (2 assists @ BUF, 1 assist @ MTL), and has had zero production since.
The East Coast Road Trip From Hell
The next five games on the road, which were crucial for the Sharks to climb back up in the standings, turned ugly for the Sharks which were 3-5-0 at that point. I’ll put it this way. If the Sharks hadn’t won in Montreal, they would have come out of that road trip winless.
@ Buffalo (4-3 OTL)
The Sharks played alright against the Buffalo Sabres, coming out of the first period with a 2-0 lead. Only problem was in the end, they couldn’t stop Jack Eichel from scoring second of the game which was the overtime winner.
@ Montreal (4-2 W)
Despite giving up the first and final goals of the game to the Canadiens, the Sharks scored four in between. It would seem for the time being that they’ve finally figured out how to play their game … or Montreal for whatever reason is just really bad against San Jose. Either way, one in the win column for team teal.
@ Toronto (4-1 L)
This was one of those games that just got away from the Sharks. They had a good first period, with Kevin Labanc depositing the first goal of the game. From the tail end of the second period onwards, everything went south as Jake Muzzin would score a buzzer beater to tie the game at 1, and then the Leafs just kept pouring it on from there. Morgan Reilly, Ilya Mikheyev, and Auston Matthews all tallied for the rest of the goals. The Sharks would get beat on the shot counter 27-17.
@ Ottawa (5-2 L)
The game against the Senators can best be described as one of the poorest showings of Sharks hockey they have put on early in the year, next to the game against Boston which I’ll go over next as well as the home opening loss against Vegas. Aside from the power play, which looked good for the most part despite going 1-for-6, the Sharks allowed the opening goal from former Maple Leaf Connor Brown. Evander Kane would score the lone power play goal and one of the two Sharks goals before Nick Paul struck twice on the scoreboard, once past the halfway point of the first and the second one around the halfway point of the second period.
Labanc would score the Sharks’ second goal on a beautiful snipe before Brady Tkachuk and Anthony Duclair took care of the rest of the scoring. Again, the Sharks did not play well at all in this game, often looking lost and listless out there. The compete level was a huge concern, and … it just wasn’t good.
@ Boston (5-1 L)
I talked about the poor showing against Ottawa. This game against the Boston Bruins may have been rock bottom for the Sharks. Before I begin, let’s be clear about one thing. Coming into this game, especially with that horrible performance against the Sens, I don’t think anyone can say they didn’t see this loss coming. Boston is a really good team. They’ve won a championship. They know what it’s like to play against championship caliber teams. They’ve been to the Stanley Cup Final a number of times, and they’ve got so much talent on that roster. They’re one of the more stacked teams in the league. Now, let’s get to it.
The Sharks got into penalty trouble in the early going, being uncharacteristically one of the most penalized teams in the league early in the season. Both David Pastrnak and David Krejci would make them pay to get the Bruins up 2-0. Brent Burns tallied a power play marker of his own in the second period, which would be the Sharks’ only goal of the game. The Bruins took care of the rest, and the Sharks looked frustrated, defeated, and just … horrible.
My Take On The Sharks’ Season So Far
By this point, the Sharks don’t even look like a team. There’s no identity. There’s no structure in this game. There’s no willingness to compete and win battles. There’s a hesitation with this team that’s very, very concerning. No one wants to make a mistake. Neither Martin Jones nor Aaron Dell have really improved from last season, and when Dell was given the opportunity to take the number one spot away from Jones, he didn’t grab it.
Now, I will say this, and also discussed this in the Teal Town After Dark postgame show against the Senators with Erik Landi. None of this is solely on one or two players. None of this is just on Jones or Dell. Should they still be better? Absolutely, because right now, neither goalie is playing great in net. We’ve already established that.
That being said, the goalies aren’t the only ones playing games, folks. You’ve still got five guys in front of them that need to do their jobs, and they need to be much better at it.
Now, the game against the Winnipeg Jets on Friday night? Much, much better. The Sharks were peppering the Jets from the start. Connor Hellebyuck was on his game or else it would have been a 3-1 or 4-1 game at the end of the first period. It ended up being a see-saw battle on the scoreboard. Unfortunately, one lazy shift resulted in a critical error late in the game, and the Jets took the win 3-2 in regulation.
That was a great start, but you have to play 60 minutes of smart, relentless hockey. The Jets were hungry on the puck in those final minutes of the third, and for whatever reason, the Sharks took their foot off the gas pedal and let Winnipeg score the go-ahead goal.
Also, another thing to mention is that Connor Hellebyuck — for the most part — was seeing all the shots. So, I think if the Sharks had gotten more traffic in front of Hellebyuck, they might have had more of a chance to really rally up that scoreboard.
Aside from the game against Winnipeg, the five guys need to help out their goalies. I don’t care if it’s Logan Couture, Joe Thornton, Marleau, Tomas Hertl, Timo Meier, EK9, etc. I can go up and down the lineup and say, to a man, these guys have to be better as a team. They’ve got to be willing to work for those pucks like they did against the Jets. They’ve got to be aggressive and help out in the face-off battles and get that puck possession. They have to be willing to work in the trenches along the boards to retrieve those pucks, because before the Jets game, they looked scared. They looked like a team that lost a lot of confidence, and I’m truly hoping that their aggressive game plan against Winnipeg is going to carry over into tonight’s game against the Vancouver Canucks and into the rest of the remaining four games of this home stand, and into the rest of the season.
The Time For a Change Behind The Bench Is Nigh
Furthermore, I truly think that Peter DeBoer is on the hot seat. He has to be. I would be really worried if the Sharks play the rest of this home stand like they have early on. As a matter of fact, the whole coaching staff should be on notice.
I know that’s typically not Doug Wilson’s thing to fire a coaching staff midseason, but if it has to happen, it has to happen. This team needs a new voice and a new direction. Inevitably, Doug Wilson’s going to be looking over his shoulder too, as great of a job as he’s done with most of the blockbuster trades.
One thing I’ve noticed with the coaching staff is their inability to adjust. Now, this year, we saw the return of Bob Boughner who helped the defensive corps tremendously in PDB’s first year as the Sharks’ head coach. However, this second time around has been a disaster. Granted, in Pete’s first and second year with this team, they had since-retired Paul Martin paired with Burns. Paul Martin was no EK65. Martin didn’t have a Norris Trophy like both Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns do.
That being said, Erik Karlsson has been having an absolutely brutal year. In fact, he and Marc-Edouard Vlasic have been pitiful thus far. Bear in mind that Erik Karlsson inked an eight-year, $92M dollar contract, the highest paid defenseman in franchise history. Vlasic is on the second year of an eight-year, $56M contract. Burns and Brenden Dillon have been okay. The only one on the blue line who’s really impressed me thus far has been Mario Ferraro, who’s been able to hold his own in his first year in the NHL.
Aside from the D corps, the line blender up front has been in full effect. The TOI distribution is still iffy. I feel like the only positives about the coaching staff, maybe even in spite of Steve Spott, is the power play and penalty kill. According to NHL.com, the Sharks are 9th in the league when on the man-advantage, with a 23.4% conversion rate. They are 1st in the league when killing penalties, with a 90.7% success rate. So, like our friend Ian Reid has always said on the postgame shows this year, the issues haven’t been on special teams. It’s been 5v5 play.
Up to this point, the Sharks lead the League in 5v5 goals-against, allowing 40 of them. They have allowed 51 goals-against total, which is third worst in the League, and an average of 3.64 goals-against per game, fifth worst in the League.
So, the bottom line is something’s got to give. If a coaching change doesn’t happen soon, maybe Doug Wilson pulls the trigger on a trade. I don’t know. But something needs to happen soon.
The Sharks, hopefully, know what they need to do from here. There’s still time to salvage what’s left of the season, but the clock’s ticking. This will either go really bad and then good again, or this team’s going to sink like the Titanic. Either way, there are going to have to be changes. The team knows they have to play better. Again, they did play a much better, much more aggressive game against Winnipeg. They need to repeat that same formula, except for all 60 minutes this time. No letting off the gas pedal. This is going to be an interesting season.