Sharks look to rebound following 2 down seasons

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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — Two straight seasons of finishing near the bottom of the standings after years of being a Stanley Cup contender has put the San Jose Sharks in an unusual position.

Spotty goaltending, poor defensive structure and a lack of consistent scoring have turned one of the more consistent franchises into one of the least successful heading into this season.

“Everyone’s got a chip on their shoulder,” captain Logan Couture said. “We’ve got something to prove. Maybe a lot of people have written us off. So it's up to us to go out and prove them wrong.”

After making it to the Western Conference Final in 2019, the Sharks have fallen flat the past two seasons. Coach Peter DeBoer was fired following a slow start in 2019-20 and the Sharks finished last in the Western Conference.

They then were dealt a tough hand last season when COVID-19 protocols forced them to hold training camp in Arizona and spend the first month on the road. They found a groove midway through the season before they ran out of gas down the stretch, leading to a seventh-place finish in the division.

Now they are dealing with the controversy surrounding winger Evander Kane. Kane faced gambling allegations in the summer, though he was cleared before the start of training camp. But he is also being investigated on allegations of physical and sexual abuse against his estranged wife and is staying away from the team until that probe is finished.

There were also issues with Kane in the dressing room with players going to general manager Doug Wilson to complain about him.

Coach Bob Boughner believes dealing with those issues the past few years will help this season.

“I think that we learned a lot about ourselves in the last year,” Boughner said. “There is definitely a culture that we hold ourselves accountable to and a standard how we want to act as a team and a family. We got away from that last year.”

REPLACING KANE

Kane's absence will leave a big scoring void as the Sharks have few proven wingers. He led the team with 22 goals and 49 points last season. San Jose will need rebound seasons from Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc and hope Alex Barabanov and Rudolfs Balcers can build on promising campaigns last season.

BETWEEN THE PIPES

The Sharks were hindered by the worst goaltending in the league the past few years when Martin Jones was the starter. San Jose's .891 save percentage over the past three seasons was the lowest in the NHL and led to the decision to buy Jones out of his contract. Added in his place are Adin Hill, acquired in a trade from Arizona, and free agent James Reimer.

The 25-year-old Hill appeared in 19 games last season for Arizona, going 9-9-1 with a .913 save percentage, 2.74 goals against average and two shutouts.

EASE THE BURDEN

One of the big additions this offseason was third-line center Nick Bonino. Without a third trusted center, Boughner had to rely too much on Couture and Tomas Hertl in a defensive role last season and they both tired down the stretch. Bonino will be able to match up against opposing scoring lines and let Couture and Hertl focus more on scoring.

HERTL'S FUTURE

One issue hanging over the Sharks this season is Hertl's future. He's entering the final year of his contract. The Sharks typically have signed their pending free agents a year early but that is harder because of the flat cap. If San Jose doesn't contend for a playoff spot, Wilson could opt to deal Hertl before the deadline for prospects or picks.

SCHEDULE

After opening at home on Oct. 16 against Winnipeg, the Sharks head out on a five-game road trip. That's nothing compared to what they faced last season when they played their first 12 games on the road because of local COVID-19 rules.

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Josh Dubow, The Associated Press

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