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Inconsistency Is a Constant for the 2020-21 San Jose Sharks

2020-21 San Jose Sharks

Inconsistency is something most coaches abhor. For the San Jose Sharks inconsistency is their norm in the 2020-21 season.

2020-21 San Jose Sharks Inconsistency; Six Games, Two Opponents

In two recent games, one against the St. Louis Blues and the next game against the Colorado Avalanche, the Sharks totalled 12 goals, six in each game. Sounds consistent. But they allowed two goals in one game and seven in the other. Not consistent. Then, after netting six goals in two consecutive games, the Sharks were shutout by the Avs on Wednesday evening. Again, not consistent.

The Sharks inconsistency shows up across their games with the Avs. The teams have met four times this season and played 240 minutes of hockey. In the first 145 minutes, the Avs dominated the Sharks, outscoring them 12-3. Over the next 35 minutes, the Sharks outscored the Avs, 6-0. In the most recent 60 minutes, it was back to the Avs, outscoring the Sharks 4-0.

The last two games against the Blues also highlight the inconsistency. The Sharks lost a pair of one-goal games; the first 3-2 in overtime and the second, 7-6 in regulation. In the overtime loss, the Blues scored all three goals with an extra skater, one each at 6-on-5, 5-on-4 and 4-on-3. In the 7-6 loss, the Blues scored six times at even strength and once short-handed. Two very different ways to lose.

The San Jose Sharks inconsistency comes from pretty much everywhere. Netminders, defencemen and forwards. Veterans, young players and rookies. Special teams and even strength. Name it and unless it’s Logan Couture, it’s probably been inconsistent.

San Jose Sharks Inconsistency In Net

There’s been no more maligned position for the Sharks than the goalie spot. Netminders Martin Jones and Devan Dubnyk man the position. By the numbers, they’ve been bad. Strangely though, they’ve actually had a very modest impact on the team’s season. The Sharks have been good in close games. They’ve gone to overtime six times and won four. In games decided in regulation by one goal (or two if an empty netter was involved), they’ve lost just twice. The goalies have rarely played a decisive role in a loss and they’ve clawed back a few points in shootouts.

Both goalies own a save percentage under .900. Jones has been the more bizarre. Despite regulation mediocrity, he’s been brilliant in overtime and shootouts. He’s allowed just one goal in five overtime sessions (on a power play, no less), stopping 16 of 17 for a sparkling .941 save percentage. He’s also turned back 11 of 12 shootout attempts, a .917 save percentage. It doesn’t make much sense that he’s been mediocre in regulation and stellar in the extra sessions, but that’s par for the course with the San Jose Sharks inconsistency.

Defence and Forwards

The San Jose Sharks inconsistency also shows up on defence. Only three Sharks players are positive at even strength. Two of the three are defencemen: Nicolas Meloche and Frederick Claesson. They’ve played five and four games respectively.

Erik Karlsson has been inconsistent, and not in a good way. At even strength, Karlsson has a Corsi For (CF%) of just 45%, worst among Sharks starters. On the penalty kill, he’s been on the ice for just 38 minutes and opponents have tallied seven goals. He’s managed just five points in 16 games. It’s not nearly enough for the league’s highest-paid defender. Still, he’s had a few brilliant games, including the 6-2 win over the Avs.

Meanwhile, key forward Tomas Hertl has 11 points in 17 games, but he’s only tallied a point in seven of these games. Since his three-point game to start the season, Hertl’s averaged just a 0.5 point per game. It’s not nearly enough.

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Special Teams

The Sharks power play has been abysmal. Though there have been signs of improvement in recent games, the issue dogged the team. Especially troubling, the team’s top unit went a dozen games consecutive games without a power play goal. I guess that can be considered consistent, just not in a good way.

The penalty kill started the season strong but has fallen rapidly in the past few weeks.

On special teams, the Sharks differential is minus-7, near the bottom of the league.

Approaching the 2020-21 San Jose Sharks Inconsistency

Perhaps inconsistency is not surprising for a team that has played as many different players and player combinations as the Sharks. The team has seven players who’ve played either one or two games this season. The team has iced 32 players overall. That’s a lot in just 20 games.

Some may accord the San Jose Sharks inconsistency to their early schedule, which mandated 12 straight road games to start the season (covid-19 restrictions in Santa Clara County). It wasn’t merely the regular season games that were on the road, but the preseason activities as well. No doubt, this played a role in the team’s struggles.

Still, most of it is simply not playing the way which fits the team’s style. The Sharks have three power forwards on par with most any in the league. Evander Kane, Hertl and Timo Meier. For the Sharks to get scoring from them, they need these players to go behind the net. Against the Avs on Monday, with the Sharks trailing 2-1, this is exactly what happened. Couture fed Kane behind the net. All five Av defenders locked eyes on Kane. The powerful Kane spun off defender Samuel Girard. The puck-watching defence didn’t notice Kevin Labanc sliding down to the blue paint area. Kane’s pass to Labanc resulted in a tap-in goal. It looked easy.

The Sharks need to get player mismatches behind the net, and if the other team puck-watches, high-grade scoring chances will ensue. Alas, the team doesn’t seem to emphasize this. The next game, the Sharks didn’t make a meaningful attempt to play from behind the net until 27 minutes into the game.

Going behind the net is an afterthought, not a prime directive. And too often, even when the Sharks power forwards play behind the net, the Sharks players in front of the net seem confused about what they need to do. The San Jose Sharks inconsistency might not be completely solvable, but ways to improve are obvious.

San Jose Sharks Inconsistency Makes Sense

When a team decides not to play to its strengths, inconsistency is not a surprising result.

All the reasons for the San Joe Sharks inconsistency point to underlying issues. This team is not designed to win. It lacks depth and one has to wonder how motivated players are up and down the line-up. Most of the deficiencies discussed in our season preview have proven out.

Bob Boughner became the team’s interim head coach in December 2019 and became the head coach, without the interim tag, in the recent offseason. But his staff is new for this season and it shows. So do Boughner’s frustrations. He has openly thrown multiple veterans under the proverbial bus, including Jones and Marc-Edourad Vlasic, who played a career-low 13:08 minutes in the Monday win against Colorado.

The Sharks are where they should be, close to the cellar of the Honda West Division. 2020-21 isn’t going to be the San Jose Sharks season. But this season’s team will play a key role in what the team becomes in the years ahead by (hopefully) allowing younger players to develop and (hopefully) getting a high draft pick. Which it appears was the design all along. At least in that regard, the Sharks approach is consistent.

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