The expected San Jose Sharks scoring has been missing so far this 2016-17 NHL season. What has been the missing ingredient?
The San Jose Sharks scoring drought only cost them one point to a Pacific Division rival Tuesday, Oct. 25. They dominated the Anaheim Ducks for most of the game but scored only once in regulation.
Fortunately, they returned to the defensive prowess displayed in their 2016-17 NHL season opener. Both games at SAP Center were 2-1 wins over Pacific Division rivals, though the Los Angeles Kings did not earn a point Oct. 12.
The Sharks struggled defensively for stretches in every stop of their Eastern Conference road trip last week. Two games featured two goals allowed in one period. The other three involved giving up at least three goals with stater Martin Jones in net.
By contrast, the offensive struggles remain there at home and on the road. San Jose has scored just 14 times against a goalie in regulation in seven games. Only one game featured more than two such goals.
The lack of scoring must not be mistaken for a lack of trying Tuesday. The Sharks fired 36 shots on net and held the shooting edge in all three periods plus overtime.
San Jose got good mileage from minor line tweaks by head coach Peter DeBoer. Mikkel Boedker joined the first line, Tomas Hertl was moved to center the third and Joel Ward promoted to the second.
Nothing to show for their work
Still, the scoring remains an issue. Joe Pavelski had the only regulation goal. It was originally announced as unassisted on a net-front battle in the first period. Upon review, Patrick Marleau was given a primary and Joonas Donskoi a secondary assist.
However, the Sharks surrendered the lead in the second period despite dominating with a 15-5 shot advantage. The captain gave insight into what helped his team stay the course:
"You don’t need to change anything…you can’t back off—there’s no reason to, if anything you gotta attack a little bit more…"
San Jose ended up with a 36-20 edge in shots and 66-46 edge in attempts despite losing all three event summary possession statistics: 22-35 faceoffs, 22-19 giveaways and 7-10 takeaways. Anaheim had an astounding 36-11 advantage in hits but just three more blocks (23-18)—a worse ratio of shots allowed per block (1.57 to 1.11) and percentage of attempts blocked (34.8 to 39.1).
Faceoffs are a concern for a puck-possession team. The Sharks are currently last in the league. They have been in the top quarter of the league every year since hiring Todd McLellan for the 2008-09 NHL season.
Their game was otherwise strong. The blue-line play was especially impressive.
That was fitting after a pre-game ceremony for San Jose’s best blue-liner ever, Dan Boyle. He announced through the team despite winning the Stanley Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning. He played the last two seasons with the New York Rangers the last two seasons.
Boyle played 431 of his 1093 career games with the Sharks, scoring 68 of his 163 goals and 201 of his 442 assists. He is one of the greatest undrafted free agents in NHL history. His fiery leadership and blunt assessments made Boyle a pleasure to cover.
Even San Jose defensemen that did not share a dressing room with Boyle played well. Paul Martin had two shot attempts, one hit, two giveaways and three blocks over 19:56. Brenden Dillon was unimpressive with two shots and one hit over 13:04 ice time. However, his defense-mate David Schlemko had six shots, eight attempts, a giveaway and block in 15:10.
Still, Boyle’s former teammates were next-level stars Tuesday. Justin Braun did not register any stats outside of blocked shots over 18:08 ice time. However, he had six of those.
Meanwhile, Brent Burns showed why he started the night as the points leader on the 2016-17 NHL season. He had six shots in 16 attempts with one hit, two blocks but five giveaways over 28:00 while again dictating play.
However, the big star was Marc-Edouard Vlasic. He scored the overtime goal on his second shot and fourth attempt, adding two giveaways, a takeaway and block over 21:15.
San Jose’s confidence in not shaken by the scoring drought. Vlasic was incredulous when asked whether he had planned all along to shoot on the final attack:
"Well, there was nobody back there so yeah, I just went for it. I wasn’t going to pass it on a breakaway."
Vlasic also showed little concern about the lack of scoring. He does not advocate change:
"It doesn’t matter if you score three—we won tonight. You win 2-1, you win. Most of the time it’s a race to three but if you don’t need three and can win, why not win 2-1?"
Obviously no one is panicking seven games into the 2016-17 NHL season. However, the sample size is long enough to represent a trend. Changes are in order.
The Sharks have won three of five games in which they have not scored three goals. Ironically, they split the two when they reaching that plateau. Still, winning 2-1 is not a recipe for success.
San Jose seeks its scoring touch again Thursday. The Columbus Blue Jackets visit for the last head-to-head matchup of the 2016-17 NHL season. They were the first foe on the Eastern Conference road trip and were defeated 3-2. (Marleau scored the game-winning goal into an empty net.)