Sharks' storylines to watch over final nine games of season


Eight is not great for the Sharks.

The Sharks lost their eighth straight game on Thursday night, dropping a 5-4 shootout decision to the lowly Chicago Blackhawks, who actually snapped their own eight-game losing streak at the expense of San Jose.

The defeat also officially eliminated the Sharks from Stanley Cup playoff contention. The Sharks, of course, have been out of it for weeks, but this was the literal nail in the coffin.

It’s also the first time in franchise history that San Jose has missed the playoffs in three straight seasons.

So what’s next for the Sharks? I don’t mean during the offseason. The Sharks still have nine games left in the 2021-22 season.

Here’s something to watch for a number of San Jose players from now until the end of the season on April 29.

Bob Boughner

Before we get to the players, let’s look behind the bench.

This is the second eight-game losing streak that Boughner has helmed as Sharks head coach. Last year, San Jose dropped eight straight from April 10 to April 24.

An upcoming back-to-back on Saturday and Sunday against playoff hopefuls Dallas Stars and Minnesota Wild doesn’t look like the best place to snap the streak.

If the Sharks’ losing streak reaches double-digits, it’ll be their longest since the 2005-06 squad lost 10 straight from Nov. 5 to Nov. 30.

That’s San Jose’s longest non-expansion era losing streak. They lost 17 straight in 1992-93 and 13 straight three times from 1991-93.

When Doug Wilson was still in charge of the organization, I thought Boughner’s job was safe for next year, but a new GM might want his or her say on who’s behind the bench. So the spotlight is definitely on Boughner and his coaching staff to finish the season.

Rudolfs Balcers

Boughner believes that Balcers can be a key two-way forward.

“As the team gets better, and as we move forward, I think Rudy settles into a third-line left wing role, that could play both sides. That can be a penalty killer,” Boughner said. “If he can be a full-time penalty killer, play on a good team on a third line, chip in offensively, he’ll have a heckuva career.”

The potential is there, but if the 25-year-old winger is going to be part of a winning solution for San Jose, plays like this against the Blackhawks on Thursday night – Calvin De Haan gets a step backdoor – can’t happen.

Balcers did make up for the gaffe with this third period goal.

One more goal this year gets Balcers to double-digits for the first time in his NHL career.

Alexander Barabanov

Since 2019-20, just four Sharks forwards – Timo Meier, Tomas Hertl, Logan Couture, and Evander Kane -- have surpassed 0.6 Points Per Game in a season. Barabanov, currently at 0.57 Points Per Game, is looking to join this club. 

Also, two areas where Barabanov has shown improvement this year is his willingness to attack the net and puck management. Look for that to continue as the pending UFA puts the finishing touches of his contract campaign.

“He plays a harder game than he probably gets credit for,” Boughner said. “He's tough for his size and he's not afraid to go into traffic. Tommy and Timo get a lot of credit on that line, but really, Barbie's the guy that does a lot of the dirty work. He's a guy that comes out of the corners in traffic, in areas where he can get pucks, he's pretty skilled that way.”

Here's an example from Thursday night, 5-foot-10 Barabanov (94) battling 6-foot-4 MacKenzie Entwistle (58) to standstill, on the shift that would lead to Jaycob Megna’s game-tying goal:

Sasha Chmelevski 

The Sharks will have to make a decision on RFA Chmelevski (55).

More plays like this…

And less like this…

…will go a long way toward making that decision. I’m always watching how Chmelevski’s high hockey IQ makes up for his below-average skating. Like any player, the good has to outweigh the bad by a lot.

Logan Couture

Couture is four goals away from 300 in his NHL career. He’ll be just the third player to score that many goals as a Shark – Joe Pavelski has 355 and Patrick Marleau has 522.

Jonathan Dahlen

I get the consternation with playing a veteran defenseman in Radim Simek over a talented rookie like Dahlen at forward, like Boughner did Thursday, I do. The Sharks are out of the playoffs, it’s not even a Jonah Gadjovich over a Dahlen – at least Gadjovich is young – it’s a 29-year-old blueliner with likely no future at forward ahead of Dahlen.

On the other hand, per Natural Stat Trick, Dahlen’s underlying numbers have imploded since the All-Star break:

A lot of individual shot metrics catch my eye with Dahlen, because at his best, he’s finding the soft spots to unleash his dangerous shot.

There’s a ton of extenuating circumstances, of course – Dahlen hasn’t always played with the most-skilled linemates, he has dealt with a variety of injuries, the long NHL season might be catching up to him – but he’s clearly been a different and not-as-good player in the second half of the season as opposed to the first half.

Something the coaches will notice too, and again, not all on the rookie: Since the All-Star break, Dahlen has been on the ice for one goal for – and 10 goals against at 5-on-5.

That, by the way, is the second-worst 5-on-5 Goals For Percentage among Sharks forwards since the All-Star break, behind only Lane Pederson.

Timo Meier

Meier, at 32 goals and 72 points, is a longshot to be the fifth Shark to score 40 goals (the last was Joe Pavelski’s 41 in 2013-14) – and more likely to be the 13th Shark to reach 80 points (the last was Brent Burns’ 83 points in 2018-19).

Brent Burns

The Athletic noted that Burns could catch Scott Niedermayer in this impressive number, a testament to the 37-year-old’s stamina.

Something else to look for: One more goal and Burns crosses double-digits once again. The last time that Burns failed to score 10 or more goals in an 82-game season was 2009-10.

Mario Ferraro

People forget, because he’s already so embedded into the fabric of Sharks, that the 23-year-old Ferraro is still a developing young player.

Against the Blackhawks on Thursday, you saw flashes of why Ferraro could top out as a solid second-unit power play quarterback. That, coupled with his defensive prowess, would make the already-valuable Ferraro that much more so.

“On that second unit, I think he feels pretty comfortable distributing pucks to the flankers,” Boughner said, “[though] there's not gonna be a lot of deception.”

Ferraro showed some, however, on that fake shot-pass to Scott Reedy, who does a nice job, too, of being patient with the pass that goes off his skate and managing a shot.

Erik Karlsson

Karlsson kind of answered the question himself recently, when I asked him what his priorities are to close the season.

“It's about setting up the summer and making sure that you enter it with a good mindset and a healthy body. That's where I'm at this stage in my career,” Karlsson said last week. “You have [nine] games left, it is what it is. It's not much you can do about it. You show up every day and we play with pride. You try and do the best out of the situation that you're in. But for me, it's about making sure that I can go into this off-season and prepare for next year.”

I know some fans won’t like that answer, but it’s a realistic one and it’s Karlsson trying to set himself up to have a dynamic start to next year like he had earlier this season. Karlsson does appear to be the type who plays better when he has something to play for – like he did from October until his January forearm surgery.

RELATED: Sharks remain motivated despite being eliminated from playoff contention

Adin Hill

Can Hill get healthy enough to get back between the pipes before the end of the season? At last check last week, it’s not trending well, and not the statement you want to make to a Sharks’ front office trying to figure out what to do with three starting goalies in Hill, James Reimer, and Kaapo Kahkonen this offseason.

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