Home News San Jose Sharks, David Quinn need changes on porous defense

San Jose Sharks, David Quinn need changes on porous defense

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New San Jose Sharks goalie Vitek Vanecek had a career year last season for the New Jersey Devils. He started 52 games, earned 33 wins, and finished with a .911 save percentage that was among the best in the NHL for goalies with a similar workload.

What happened with the Devils this season, though, is not Vanecek’s favorite topic.

“It’s a tough question. They changed a little bit (their) defense. It’s hard to answer this question,” said Vanecek, who the Sharks acquired on March 8 for Kaapo Kahkonen. “I don’t know. I don’t want to talk about New Jersey anymore. I’m in San Jose right now.”

Vanecek, who had a .890 save percentage in 32 games this season behind that leaky Devils defense, likely won’t play for the Sharks until the fall as he rehabilitates a lower-body injury he suffered in February.

Whenever Vanecek is healthy, though, he’ll be with a Sharks team that has to solve its own massive defensive issues.

Going into Saturday’s game against the St. Louis Blues, the Sharks had allowed a league-high 197 goals during 5-on-5 play and were the only NHL team that had allowed more than four goals per game overall.

Last season, the Sharks allowed 220 goals during 5-on-5 play, the third-worst mark in the NHL.

This isn’t necessarily just on the goalies. The Sharks, per moneypuck.com, had also allowed 192 high-danger shots against this season, more than any other team, and their goaltending has been better this season than it was last year.

Before the Vanecek trade, San Jose’s team save percentage was .891, with both Kahkonen and Mackenzie Blackwood having solid underlying numbers. Last year, the team save percentage was .881, the worst in the NHL.

The Sharks want to take a step forward and have a better season next year, and it probably has to start with defense.

“Our biggest problem is really puck management in a lot of ways,” Sharks coach David Quinn said. “We have a hard time ending plays, which can really cause you trouble. Those are two areas, puck management, and ending plays, that can improve from our end of it and make us a better defensive team.”

The Sharks just finished a three-game homestand in which they were outscored 12-5 during 5-on-5 play. Still, before the wheels fell off, they were tied or leading in two of the three games going into the third period.

Nashville Predators center Tommy Novak (82) scores a goal past San Jose Sharks defenseman Calen Addison (33) and goaltender Magnus Chrona (30) during the third period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, March 19, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. The Predators won 8-2. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)
Nashville Predators center Tommy Novak (82) scores a goal past San Jose Sharks defenseman Calen Addison (33) and goaltender Magnus Chrona (30) during the third period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, March 19, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. The Predators won 8-2. (AP Photo/George Walker IV) 

For the season, and before Saturday, the Sharks were only 14-12-6 when leading or tied after two periods. That speaks to puck management — and game management.

“They don’t beat themselves,” defenseman Jan Rutta said when asked what the Sharks can learn from recent opponents like the Tampa Bay Lightning and Dallas Stars.

“That’s been the case a lot of times this year when either we played a good game or we had leads, and a lot of times, we just find a way to beat ourselves. Those teams, they make you earn every win and every puck, and I think that’s something we can definitely take from them.”

Also, do the Sharks have the right personnel to make vast improvements on the defensive side?

Getting both center Logan Couture (groin) and defenseman Matt Benning (hip surgery) back healthy next season figures to help, although Couture’s ability to return to 100%, and stay there, is a bit of a question mark.

Better two-way mindsets from the forward group also would not hurt.

On the blue line, Rutta, Benning, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Mario Ferraro, and Kyle Burroughs are all under contract for next season. Henry Thrun, Calen Addison, and Ty Emberson are set to become restricted free agents.

There’s always turnover from year to year with any team, but how much will there be with the Sharks as general manager Mike Grier continues to reshape the roster? How much will there be with team defense in mind?



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