SAN JOSE – Members of the San Jose Sharks left SAP Center three weeks ago feeling as if they had hit rock bottom. They had just given up 10 goals for the second consecutive game and there was speculation, fair or otherwise, that their coach was in jeopardy of losing his job.
Now the Sharks are going into Monday’s game against Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals feeling about as good as they have all season.
The Sharks on Saturday scored twice in the third period, got several key saves, and held on to a 4-3 home win over the Vancouver Canucks, the same team that trounced them by nine goals in their own building at the start of the month.
Mike Hoffman and Mikael Granlund both scored in the third period and Calen Addison and Tomas Hertl each added two assists as the Sharks improved to 4-1-1 at home since that 10-2 drubbing at the hands of Erik Karlsson and the Pittsburgh Penguins on Nov. 4. That loss came two days after the Canucks crushed San Jose 10-1, handing the team its most lopsided home defeat in 32 seasons.
“Think about where we were three weeks ago against this team and how far we’ve come and the progress we’ve made,” Sharks coach David Quinn said. “No one’s probably faced more adversity than we have, and these guys have stuck together and all they’ve done is come here and get better every day.”
Certainly, for the Sharks, there was nowhere to go but up after a 0-10-1 start, which matched the NHL record for most losses to begin a season.
Saturday, though, marked the third time in six games the Sharks have scored three or more goals – no small feat for a team that scored once or fewer in 11 of its first 15 games.
Hoffman has six goals in six games, Hertl has 11 points in his last 11 games and Granlund has five points in six games.
“We’re playing way better as a team right now,” said Granlund, who went end-to-end for his third-period goal that gave the Sharks a 3-2 lead. “Individually, we’re spending time in O-zone, getting more chances. That’s when individuals can feel better playing with the puck.
“Let’s keep it going and turn it in the right direction here.”
The Sharks arrive at the quarter-mark of their season at 4-15-2 for a .238-points percentage that not only ranks last in the NHL but is the worst for the franchise since 1995-96 when it began 2-15-4.
On Nov. 5, the Sharks had a team save percentage of .869, third-worst in the NHL. But Mackenzie Blackwood and Kaapo Kahkonen have combined for a .912 save percentage in the last 10 games, with Kahkonen making 32 saves in Saturday’s win.
In that time, the Sharks, per Natural Stat Trick, have cut down on 5-on-5 high-danger chances allowed, from 12.9 per game to 10.8 – a modest improvement, but noticeable nonetheless.
Hoffman’s third-period goal Saturday came on a 4-on-3 man-advantage, and San Jose is now 4-of-12 on the power play in the last six games. Before that, the Sharks were 7-for-46.
The penalty kill remains a work in progress, but after killing just 41 of 59 penalties through the first 16 games of the season, the Sharks are 13-for-16 on the kill in their last five games after the Canucks scored twice on the man advantage on Saturday. One of those kills came early in the third period with the Sharks up by two.
“We had a couple of big kills when we needed them, and then we get the 4-on-3 and we score, which is huge,” Quinn said. “We showed a lot of grit, a lot of character here tonight and we’ve been certainly going in that direction.
“The physicality throughout the game, not just the stuff that happened after somebody gets hit, but just the subtleties of the game when you need to be physical that maybe a lot of people don’t recognize. It was winning hockey. That’s what it looks like.”
Quinn was talking about the sequence that took place at the 5:40 mark of the third period. Addison was run over along the boards by Canucks center Elias Pettersson. Matt Benning came over to get in Pettersson’s face, cross-checking him a couple of times before a host of players from both teams joined the scrum.
The Sharks haven’t been in a ton of those situations this year, as a chippy game reached a boiling point. Near the end of the second period, Hertl and Dakota Joshua traded pleasantries after Joshua took a couple of extra whacks at a puck that was next to Kahkonen’s pad. Both received roughing minors.
In any case, perhaps those types of moments can bring a team closer together, one that wants to show it is better than its record indicates. The Sharks lost 3-2 in a shootout to the Montreal Canadiens.
“The steps we’ve taken the last few weeks since I got here, I’ve seen how much better this team’s gotten and how much more consistent we can be and have shown we can be,” said Addison, who was acquired from Minnesota on Nov. 8 and now has four assists in his last four games.
“Obviously, we played a real complete game tonight. I think we should have won last night too. It’s huge for our group.”
“It always helps when you dig in like we did tonight, lean on each other, and do it together,” Quinn said. “And when you win and you get that feeling, and come in the locker room after, all that can do is bring you closer together.
“That certainly won’t be lost on us as we move forward here.”