There are mounting concerns regarding the Sharks (10-10-4) as they have reached Thanksgiving weekend.
They’ve lost four straight, including three at home, where they are just 2-4-2, leading to speculation there could be a coaching change if they don’t quickly turn it around.
Here are 10 more thoughts and observations as the Sharks get set to wrap up their homestand with three games against the Ducks, Flyers and Bruins…
1 – Here’s something to keep in mind in regards to Todd McLellan’s job security. When Doug Wilson publicly backed the Sharks’ coaching staff shortly after the end of the season, one thing he mentioned was its ability to bring along top prospects and turn them into NHL regulars.
“One of the beauties of the coaches is when we made this decision [to go younger], one thing that they do really well is develop young players,” Wilson said on June 17. “Give them opportunities, and look at players we talk about – the Vlasics, the Brauns, the Coutures, the Pavelskis, Wingels. These are our own players that have come up through our system. Some coaches aren’t good at that. Our coaching staff understands that’s a responsibility.”
It’s hard to believe that all of a sudden, just 24 games into the season, McLellan and his assistants have lost that ability. If the Sharks want to become a younger team, and take “one step backwards in order to take two steps forward,” as Wilson has said, why get rid of the coaches that have a proven track record of developing talent?
2 – I’ve seen the Sharks’ depth, or lack thereof, mentioned a few times lately. It's a valid point.
Here’s another stat that shows how much they’ve struggled getting goals from anyone other than their top guys: In their 10 regulation losses, the Sharks have scored 15 goals. Joe Pavelski (5), Logan Couture (4), Brent Burns (2) and Joe Thornton (2) have combined for 13 of those.
Put another way, when the Sharks don’t get any production from their big guns, they can’t count on anyone else right now to pick up the slack and steal a win.
3 – On a more positive note regarding the bottom six, James Sheppard has been winning faceoffs at an impressive rate. The third-line center has won 27 of 40 draws over the last four games (67.5 percent). For the season, the 26-year-old is at 54.0 percent (74-for-137).
Unfortunately for Sheppard, that hasn’t translated into offense. He’s scoreless in his last nine games, and has five points (2g, 3a) in 18 games after a delayed season debut due to a knee injury.
4 – It’s been a rough go for a few former Sharks lately. Ryane Clowe has seemingly suffered another concussion, and there’s even been talk that his career may be over.
“In situations like this, you don’t know,” Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello told NJ.com. “He’s feeling much better, but right now he cannot play. Hopefully he can.
“A lot of players have a series of concussions of different levels and they’re playing. I’m not saying that should be the case here.”
Clowe is set to earn $4.85 million through 2017-18.
Meanwhile, the Jets and Flames waived T.J. Galiardi and Devin Setoguchi, respectively, with Setoguchi getting reassigned to the AHL. Milan Michalek was recently a healthy scratch in Ottawa, struggling to find his game with two goals and five assists in 20 games.
5 – Earlier in the week McLellan seemed to be experimenting with his defense pairs, with the addition of Brenden Dillon. At one point, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun were split up, although they played together against the Flames on Wednesday.
I asked McLellan how he weighs the pros and cons of putting Vlasic and Braun -– one of the better shutdown duos in the NHL and the team's two best players in their own end –- on different pairs.
“That question is being asked because they’ve got the best numbers. That’s obvious. They’ve got the best numbers because they’ve been the best pair. We like that. Justin Braun’s best hockey in a Sharks uniform has been spent by Marc-Edouard Vlasic throughout his career. That’s just the way it is.
“There were games when we split it up and it didn’t work, Florida (a 4-1 loss on Nov. 11) being one of them. We’d like to keep one pair where they’re at, we’d like to revive another pair or two and move it around, but it will be fluid over the next little bit.”
6 – One more note on the defense. The Dillon-for-Jason Demers trade was done due to the Sharks needing another left-handed shot and Dallas requiring a right-hander. Lately it seems more teams are placing a priority on having right-handed defensemen paired with lefties. How important is that for McLellan?
“It’s not the end of the world. It’s the best thing, it’s the most comfortable thing for a lot of players, but there’s teams that don’t even have a single right-handed shot that are finding ways to get it done. ... It would be great, but it’s not the be-all and end-all.”
On Wednesday, the Sharks did feature a right-hander with a left-hander on all three pairs, with recent call up Matt Tennyson skating with Dillon, while lefties Matt Irwin and Scott Hannan were scratched.
7 – Dillon is a pending restricted free agent, and will be due a pretty good raise next summer from his current $1.25 million. There were talks with Dallas in the offseason about an extension, but nothing came to fruition. Dillon told me he was “disappointed nothing got done” at the time, but that’s obviously now in the past.
8 – Sharks 2014 draft pick Rourke Chartier, taken in the fifth round (149 overall), may be a player to watch. The 18-year-old leads all Canadian Hockey League players in goals with 28, has 47 points (third in the CHL) and a +26 rating in just 26 games with Kelowna of the WHL.
9 – Now that the Sharks have moved on from Demers and Adam Burish, who will be the next to depart if things don’t quickly change? I don’t see the club carrying eight defensemen for very long, considering Mike Brown is nearing a return, perhaps as soon as Saturday. Irwin could be a candidate to get moved, as he’s a cheap risk for a team looking for defensemen (aren’t they all?), while 35-year-old Hannan probably wouldn’t draw much interest at this point in his career and is supposed to be acting a mentor to some younger guys even if he’s not in the regular lineup.
What about Andrew Desjardins, though? He hasn’t done much of anything this season with two points in 24 games (along with the worst even-strength possession numbers on the team), and the Sharks’ fourth line has simply been bad this season. Perhaps it’s time to give Worcester’s leading scorer Freddie Hamilton (5g, 7a in 17 games) a shot there, or recall Chris Tierney, who has one goal and five assists in six AHL games.
Or, maybe Desjardins picks up his play with better linemates, since skating with Burish wasn’t doing him any favors. He’ll be someone to watch over the next little while.
10 – Keep an eye on the Calgary Flames, because if the Sharks can’t overtake them, they’re going to have a real hard time making it to the postseason. It’s difficult to see San Jose finishing ahead of Anaheim and Los Angeles, and the Vancouver Canucks look like they’ve taken their place among contending teams again after a strange and unsuccessful 2013-14 under John Tortorella.
That leaves Calgary – now six points ahead of the Sharks – in the position of potentially ending San Jose’s streak of 10 straight playoff appearances.
The biggest trait that everyone seems to mention about the Flames is that they work. Hard. Wednesday’s 2-0 win over the Sharks was reflective of that. Even though they probably didn’t have their best game, perhaps a bit fatigued due to playing the night before, they kept the Sharks shooters to the outside and blocked 30 shots total.