Given the amount of turnover the San Jose Sharks had during the 2023 offseason, it’s difficult to find many trends across the team’s 2022-23 and 2023-24 seasons. But in the first quarter or so of this campaign, one small pattern has emerged. The Sharks are 0-2 in shootouts thus far, continuing an area of struggle from last season, when they went 1-6.
They’ve taken plenty of games to the final showdown over the last two seasons, but can’t seem to win many of them. Amidst their challenges in shootouts, a few takeaways emerge — revealing crucial information about their abilities in that specific facet of the game in addition to the team as a whole.
Sharks Don’t Have the Best Skill Players
So far in 2023-24, 19 teams have participated in at least one shootout. Following a six-round shootout loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Nov. 24, the Sharks have a shooting success rate of 1 for 9, or 11.1 per cent, which is dead last in the league in shootout percentage. Such a standing is simply a result of the Sharks’ roster as currently constructed.
Right now, the Sharks just don’t have as many capable on-puck skaters as most other NHL rosters. When selecting his shootout lineup, head coach David Quinn doesn’t have the luxury of sending out players who can be trusted to put the puck in the net in one-on-one situations. Shootouts require precision, craftiness and quick hands. They’re a test of pure skill, and the Sharks do have some, but less than a lot of other teams. Players such as William Eklund and Fabian Zetterlund create some intrigue for the Sharks’ potential in shootouts, but given the team isn’t as deep as much of their competition, finding other players to participate becomes difficult, particularly when it goes to extra rounds as it did against the Canadiens. The disparity in skill was obvious, as the Canadiens put several shootout attempts on goal while the Sharks missed the net more often. It’s a continuation from last season when the Sharks finished near the bottom of the league in shooting percentage.
Right now, the Sharks’ challenges in scoring in shootouts are largely a result of roster construction. It’s an area that will likely get better over time, but there’s a long way to go to get to that point.
Sharks Goalies in a Tough Situation
The Sharks’ .625 save percentage in shootouts is 17th out of 19 teams, and the team was similarly among the worst at recording stops last season. This obviously isn’t good, but the goaltenders have been put in difficult positions.
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When the shooters struggle to score, the pressure increases for the netminders, making their job more difficult than it needs to be. Stopping a shootout attempt isn’t easy, and it gets even harder when it comes with the feeling that allowing any goal might automatically mean a loss, given that the offence usually doesn’t answer. Their goalies over the last few seasons certainly haven’t been elite, but the shootouts provide another example of the team facing difficulties as a result of skaters playing poorly and hanging their goalies out to dry. The outlook for their goaltenders could use some clarification, but that might not happen until the team in front of them improves.
William Eklund Can Help Lead Future Shootouts
When it comes to improving the outlook for the team in shootouts, the discussion starts with the aforementioned Eklund. He was the only Shark to score in the shootout against the Canadiens and is establishing himself as perhaps the team’s highest-skilled forward. He should be the main first shooter from now on and can potentially help set a tone if he converts.
As for the rest, there are still a lot of question marks. Zetterlund and Tomas Hertl deserve some opportunities given their track records and play this season, although neither has scored a shootout goal this season. Perhaps Mikael Granlund’s spectacular goal against the Vancouver Canucks on Nov. 25 showed that he can create some looks at the net, but his overall offensive performance has been less than inspiring.
Besides Eklund, the Sharks should experiment with various players in their shootout lineup. Doing so couldn’t hurt given their difficulties with it, and perhaps they’ll find a solution that allows them to change their fate faster than previously anticipated.