SAN JOSE -– The Sharks power play has gone cold. In the last four games, San Jose has managed just Joe Pavelski’s five-on-three marker against Anaheim on Dec. 31 in 20 opportunities.
Still, there’s probably not too much apprehension regarding that part of the Sharks’ game, as they are still in seventh place in the NHL at 21.8 percent. There’s enough talent and experience among the units that they are likely to get going again at some point soon, especially when Joe Thornton makes his expected return later this week.
What is of greater alarm is the team’s five-on-five play. The Sharks are just 24th overall in the NHL in five-on-five scoring, and those listed below them are essentially a Who’s Who of lowly non-playoff teams: New Jersey, Arizona, Carolina, Columbus, Edmonton and Buffalo.
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Head coach Todd McLellan called the Sharks’ even strength scoring a “big concern,” especially recently. For him, it starts with working harder.
“Five-on-five, there’s a lot of work that goes in to creating a chance,” he said. “You can’t just go looking for a chance, you’ve got to be prepared to play, you’ve got to be competitive, you’ve got to have good wall work, you’ve got to have timing and support, your passing has to be clean and crisp.
“And, you have to sustain some [offensive] zone time. You can’t just be one and out. When you’re shooting from a distance and the rebound happens to be lying around, we never get to it. You start all over again. It’s a cycle that repeats itself over and over again.”
The Sharks have just 12 goals over their last six games. Three of them have come on the power play, one was scored with the goalie pulled for an extra attacker, one was a penalty shot conversion, and one was an empty net goal.
That leaves six goals in typical even strength situations in the last six games. Three of them are courtesy of Pavelski, two have come from Melker Karlsson, and one by Andrew Desjardins.
Conversely, they have allowed 15 even strength goals-against over that same span, losing four of six games overall (2-3-1).
What’s the problem?
Tommy Wingels said: “I think we can find ways to be more creative, find ways to use ice better. … But, ultimately we’ve got to get more pucks to the net. I think that’s where our game has kind of fallen off a bit, is we haven’t scored a dirty goal in awhile.
“Plays around the net –- Melker had one last night -– those are the kind of goals that, like it or not, the majority of goals five-on-five in this league are scored that way. We’ve got to get back to playing that way.”
James Sheppard would also like to see the Sharks go to the crease with more authority.
“We want to get pucks to the net and get bodies around the net,” Sheppard said. “We know that we’re not going to get two-on-ones with a wide open shot every time. We’re going to shoot the puck as hard as we can, and it’s just getting rebounds and battling and making sure that we’re beating guys to second pucks.”
Power plays and penalty kills will go through ebbs and flows throughout a season. Strong even strength play can make up for when either of those units are struggling. That’s not presently happening.
Instead, several Sharks have gone cold. Sheppard has one goal in his last 24 games; Wingels has gone 12 in a row without a goal, Patrick Marleau has one goal in his last 17; Tomas Hertl has one goal in his last 12, and Couture has just one non-empty net goal in his last nine.
More production is needed, especially with the injured Thornton sidelined for the next two games.
“The rest of the group needs to step it up,” McLellan said. “We’ve had some guys that have been dry for awhile, and it’s time to get playing.”