Sharks have the talent to bounce back, but a lot needs to go right

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There were seven teams that did not qualify for the NHL’s expanded 24-team playoff field this past season. Over the next few days we are going to take a look at each of them to examine whether or not they are capable of bouncing back this upcoming season. We start today with the San Jose Sharks. 

There was no bigger disappointment during the 2019-20 NHL season than the San Jose Sharks.

Coming off of a trip to the Western Conference Final, there was still a championship level of expectation surrounding this team at the start of the season. But instead of competing for the Stanley Cup the Sharks ended up finishing with the worst record in the conference and the third-worst record in the entire NHL.

It was just the third time in the past 22 years that they failed to make the playoffs, while their .450 points percentage was one of the worst in the history of the franchise. Only the initial expansion years and a random down year in 2002-03 were worse.

What went wrong?

In a word, everything.

• They never addressed the goaltending issue that plagued them the previous year as the duo of Martin Jones and Aaron Dell finished with the second-worst combined save percentage in hockey (ahead of only Detroit). They were 31st the previous season.

• Injuries mounted as Evander Kane, Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl, and Erik Karlsson combined to miss 60 man games due to injury.

• Karlsson and Brent Burns both had down years.

• They never replaced the 52 goals they lost with the free agent departures of Joe Pavelski and Joonas Donskoi, while several returning players saw regressions or declines.

There is still a strong core here … and also some concerns

• For as bad as the 2019-20 season went this is not a hopeless situation. There is still a good amount of top line talent here.

Logan Couture, Timo Meier, Evander Kane, and Tomas Hertl are all excellent players provided they can stay healthy. Even this past season — a down year for a couple of them — they were all still on track for a 25-goal, 60-point pace over 82 games.

• Scoring depth beyond that top-four was a big issue following the departures of Pavelski and Donskoi. The Sharks attempted to address that this offseason by trading for Ryan Donato and bringing back Patrick Marleau. I don’t think Marleau has much left in the tank, but Donato is a smart addition that could give the bottom of their lineup a little more scoring punch.

• They also still have what should be an outstanding top-three on defense with Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic.

[Sharks use sign language to draft Ozzy Wiesblatt in touching moment]

That trio is going to be one of the deciding factors in whether or not the Sharks are able to bounce back, because they have to be better than they were a year ago. Especially when it comes to the former two.

While their offensive production was still elite for defenders, their overall performance took a big step backwards during 5-on-5 play. Their possession numbers dropped, while they were only 50-50 players in terms of expected goals and scoring chances instead of having a sizable edge like they normally do. In other words, they were productive. They did not dominate. A large part of the Sharks’ success is based on those two dominating and controlling the pace of the game. They have to get back to that level.

The question is whether or not either one is capable of doing that.

Injuries have taken their toll on Karlsson during his brief time in San Jose, while Burns is going to turn 36 during the 2020-21 season. At some point he is going to hit a wall and begin slowing down. Was last year the beginning of that? It is a big question. But not as big as this question.

Is the goaltending good enough?

Without this, nothing else on this team matters.

In a goaltender-heavy market the Sharks’ solution to this massive problem was to acquire Devan Dubnyk from the Wild, a 34-year-old goalie coming off the worst season of his career and whose .890 save percentage was the second-worst in the league — worse than either of the Sharks’ goalies (Jones was at .896 for the second year in a row).

That seems, shall we say, not ideal.

But for as dubious as that seems, I am not quite ready to write off Dubnyk. During his entire Minnesota tenure he was one of the league’s best goalies until this past season. He also had a difficult year off the ice (he missed time due to a personal family matter).

It is entirely possible that he could bounce back, and if he does it would be a massive swing in the Sharks’ favor. Even league-average goaltending would be a potential game-changer for this team. Even a .905 team save percentage would have shaved 20 goals off of their total on the same number of shots from this past season.

The outlook

Given the age of their core players, as well as their massive contracts, there is question the San Jose Sharks are running out of time to win with this group. But it is not out of the question for them to still be competitive this season.

There are just a lot of “ifs” at play here. Goaltending. Karlsson and Burns returning to elite form. The top players staying healthy. Depth forwards like Kevin Labanc and Ryan Donato making a big impact.

If all of those things go right, yeah, they absolutely can be a playoff team again.

The problem is when you have that many “ifs” with a team there is a good chance that some of them are going to go wrong. The Sharks can not afford that.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Bruins set NHL record with 12 straight home wins to start season

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
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BOSTON — The Boston Bruins set the NHL record for most home victories to start a season with their 12th straight, topping the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 in overtime with a power-play goal from David Pastrnak.

The Bruins broke the mark of 11 that was set by the 1963-64 Chicago Blackhawks and equaled by the Florida Panthers last season.

“That felt awesome,” Bruins first-year coach Jim Montgomery said. “We talked about it after the second (period) going into the third. There’s been a lot of great teams in this league and you’re able to set a precedent, break a record. It’s pretty special and it doesn’t happen if those guys don’t believe in themselves like they do.”

Boston, which trailed 2-0 late in the second period, tied it with 9:33 left in regulation when David Krejci scored his second of the game on a shot from the right point.

“It’s never fun being down going into the third, you’re sitting in here (in the locker room) trying to figure it out,” Krejci said. “You want to come out and do the job, something special on the line. It’s hard to win in this league. To get 12 in a row at home is pretty special.”

In overtime, Carolina was playing shorthanded after being called for too many men on the ice when Pastrnak one-timed a pass from Brad Marchand inside the far post from above the left circle.

“It was a big win for us, obviously, coming from behind,” Pastrnak said.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Stefan Noesen each scored a power-play goal for Carolina, and Pyotr Kochetkov made 38 saves. The Hurricanes lost their fifth straight.

In a rematch of last spring’s opening-round playoff series that the Hurricanes won in seven games, Carolina shutout the NHL’s highest scoring team for nearly two periods and jumped ahead a pair of power-play goals in the opening period.

“We took too many penalties. That’s hurting us right now,” Kotaniemi said. “I think 5-on-5 we’re doing a really good job. We started good tonight and couldn’t keep that up.”

Boston’s tying goal was originally disallowed because of goaltender interference on Nick Foligno but overturned on a coach’s challenge after it was ruled that he was nudged into the crease by Carolina defenseman Brett Pesce.

Boston starting goaltender Linus Ullmark made 28 saves but had to leave with 13:03 left in the third period with an undisclosed upper-body injury. Teammate Connor Clifton had jumped on him to block a shot during a scramble. Jeremy Swayman made six stops in relief.

Carolina’s Noesen scored at 6:34 in to make it 1-0. And with five minutes left in the period, Kotkaniemi collected the puck near the side of the net after Seth Jarvis‘ shot bounced off the back glass and slipped it inside the post at 15:05.

Krejci scored for Boston with 31 seconds left in the second.

Boston came in with a league-high 82 goals in 20 games (4.10 per game), but it was held to relatively few chances despite getting a 5-on-3 power-play advantage early on.

TAKE NOTE

The Bruins honored captain Patrice Bergeron, who recorded his 1,000th career point when the team was on the road against Tampa Bay, with a message on the Jumbotron. The crowd gave him a standing ovation.

Bergeron became just the fourth Bruin to reach the mark, joining Hall of Famers Ray Bourque (1,506), Johnny Bucyk (1,339) and Phil Esposito (1,012).

UP NEXT

Hurricanes: Host the Calgary Flames.

Bruins: Host the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Predators postpone 2 games due to Nashville water main break

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. —  The Nashville Predators postponed two home games because of a water main break that soaked their downtown arena.

Hours after the Predators decided they couldn’t play against the Colorado Avalanche, the team announced it also postponed the game against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Makeup dates for the two games will be announced later.

The NHL said the water main break that occurred “significantly impacted the event level” of Bridgestone Arena. Team locker rooms and the ice surface are on the event level.

Predators President and CEO Sean Henry told reporters that the water in the event level ranged from 3 inches to 3 feet.

“We’re assessing it right now. We’re remediating it,” Henry said. “The good thing is, the water got shut off, the city responded in a pretty fast manner. I don’t think anyone is ready for things like this the Friday after Thanksgiving.”

Video posted by a WTVF-TV reporter shows the water puddled up on the main floor’s concourse area and the team store. The team was forced to close the store until further notice, pointing shoppers online for Black Friday specials.

The Predators’ next home game is now scheduled for Tuesday against the Anaheim Ducks.

The water issue also resulted in a switch to a different venue for a college hockey game between Northeastern and Western Michigan. They also had been scheduled to play at Bridgestone Arena, a game that was moved to Ford Ice Center Bellevue.

Rangers trade Ryan Reaves to Wild for 5th-round pick in 2025

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ST. PAUL, Minn. — The New York Rangers traded enforcer Ryan Reaves to the Minnesota Wild for a 2025 fifth-round pick.

Reaves had been a healthy scratch for eight of the past 12 games for the Rangers. He gives struggling Minnesota some extra muscle and a veteran presence.

The 35-year-old is signed through only the rest of this season at a $1.75 million salary cap hit. He has no points and 12 penalty minutes in 12 games of his second season with New York.

Reaves has played in 869 NHL regular-season and playoff games for the St. Louis Blues, Pittsburgh Penguins, Vegas Golden Knights and Rangers. He was with the Golden Knights during their inaugural season in 2017-18 when the reached the Stanley Cup Final.

Toronto’s Morgan Rielly placed on long-term injured reserve

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TORONTO — The Toronto Maple Leafs placed defenseman Morgan Rielly on long-term injured reserve with a knee injury.

Rielly was hurt in a collision with with New York forward Kyle Palmieri early in the third period of Toronto’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Islanders at home.

Rielly has no goals and 16 assists in 20 games this season and is averaging 23 minutes of ice time.

Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said following practice that the 28-year-old Rielly doesn’t need surgery, adding there’s no firm timeline for his return beyond the minimum 24 days and 10 games required for going on long-term injured reserve.

Toronto’s defense is also missing Jake Muzzin with a neck injury and T.J. Brodie with an injured oblique.