The San Jose Sharks – through the first two weeks of the regular season – owned the worst offense in the NHL. Still do, in fact.
But if the Sharks have any hope of beating the Carolina Hurricanes today and ending their season-opening seven-game losing streak, they’ll need to cut down on the high-danger chances against, which, in turn, should help prevent so many pucks from going into their own net.
Goalie Mackenzie Blackwood covered up a lot of Sharks mistakes through his first four starts this month, but that dam broke wide open on Thursday, and the Sharks’ defensive shortcomings were exposed for all to see in what became a 6-0 thrashing at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena.
Five of the six goals the Sharks allowed came at even strength, and in those situations, per Natural Stat Trick, San Jose gave up 17 high-danger chances and created just five.
The Sharks have now allowed 18 goals during 5-on-5 play in seven games this season, tied for the third-worst per-game average in the NHL.
It’s an issue the Sharks faced last season as well but never fully solved, as they allowed 220 goals in 82 games during 5-on-5 play, a total which was again, third highest in the league.
Of course, it’s almost impossible to win with the 1.14 goals per game the Sharks (0-6-1) are averaging so far. But if good defense leads to offense, then that might be a way for the Sharks to get out of this.
Maybe it’s the only way.
“It’s too much up and down right now,” Sharks defenseman Mario Ferraro said. “Some nights we’re physical and we’re competing hard enough and other nights, our foot’s off the gas, and it’s just not good enough.
“Maybe we’re thinking too much on what we’ve got to do offensively and how to create, and I think just narrowing it down to the little things: our compete, being good teammates, and working hard every night. Until we’re consistent with that, we can’t worry about scoring.”
Against the Lightning, San Jose was too slow to pucks and often too late to react. Tampa Bay won races all over the ice and moved the puck through a shoddy Sharks defense with frightening efficiency.
One can say it’s the personnel, and that the overall lack of speed and anticipation is just a fundamental flaw of the roster.
But it might go deeper than that. Maybe there’s a lack of trust right now.
“I think there’s definitely hesitation,” Sharks coach David Quinn said. “I don’t think guys trust each other yet. I think guys are hesitant to do what they’re supposed to do because they’re wondering if the other guy’s going to do what he’s supposed to do. When that happens, that’s when you get hesitation.”
“We need to come together,” Sharks defenseman Jan Rutta said. “I think there’s too much second-guessing, and it translates to our game.”
Looking at Thursday’s game, you can see Rutta’s point. The Lightning play fast not because they have the quickest skaters in the league, but because they know where each other is going to be, and move the puck accordingly. It’s a corps of players that’s been together for a while, and it shows.
The Sharks can’t get into a rhythm because it seems they’re always chasing the game. They want to play a certain aggressive style, but there’s no predictability when they have the puck.
And when they don’t have possession, they need to be in a better position to defend.
“We’re not the biggest team but we’ve got to start finishing more checks,” Ferraro said. “That was a big emphasis, especially against all of these skilled teams. They have a lot of speed and it’s the only way we’re going to be able to slow them down. Tonight was an example of what happens when we’re stick-checking too much and not playing physical.”
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“We have to be way more on our toes,” Quinn said. “Too often when they got the puck, they made a play. A guy would get it and then we’d arrive, instead of arriving when the puck arrived.
“When you allow that much time and space, you just have no chance. People are going to look at the zero and the fact we didn’t generate a lot of offense again, but when you’re hanging on for dear life and you finally get the puck out your zone, you’ve got to change and you’re not able to sustain any transition or any zone time.”
The question becomes, is it something this group of Sharks skaters is capable of fixing?
“Absolutely,” Quinn said. “I know that we can play a hell of a lot better than we did tonight.”