Well we made it through the first 21 games of the San Jose Sharks 2015-16 season under new coach Pete DeBoer. While it has been a bumpy ride the Sharks currently sit in first place in the Pacific Division with a 13-8-0 record. It’s been an interesting ride to get to where they are so far and there is a lot of hockey left to be played, but I’m going to break down how we got to where we are today. Despite the first place seed in the division I would not call the Sharks an elite team, but they are in the upper tier in the league. It’s time for The Good, The Bad and The Ugly!
There is plenty to be happy about with the Sharks right now, the Sharks had a record breaking road trip, milestones have been set and new additions have definitely panned out. Patrick Marleau, a life time Shark scored is 1000th point on the recent road trip and has actually been very good for the Sharks this year otherwise. In moving Marleau to center the Sharks have been able to roll more effective lines that should hold the Sharks over until Logan Couture makes his eventual return to the lineup. While we are talking about long standing Sharks, new captain Joe Pavelski has seems very comfortable in his new role and has lead the team on and off the ice. He currently leads all Shark scorers with 12 goals, 8 assists for 20 points and has thankfully quieted the talk of Sharks leadership woes for the time being.
Brent Burns and Joe Thornton also get honourable mentions for their offensive contributions. The bounce back story of the year has to be Tomas Hertl who has been nothing short of impressive this year and while the points may not be there yet his play with and with out the puck is night and day from his down season last year.
The sharks have also gotten a much need boost from their new comers as well, for as much flack as Doug Wilson gets (a lot of which is deserved), he made some excellent moves this off season that have payed off so far. While he definitely had some struggles early on, Martin Jones has been an obvious upgrade from Antti Niemi. Jones is currently tied for first in the league for games won (11) and leads in shutouts (3), while putting up a respectable 2.02 GAA (4th) and a .929 SV% (7th). It’s not just the statistics that have impressed me with Jones thus far though, his calming presence in the crease and maybe one of better goalies we have had based on fundamentals and technique has me hoping that Jones may be the answer for some time to come.
Another excellent addition to this team has been Joel Ward who is currently second on the team in points with 17, tied with Brent Burns. Wards play has impressed be because he always seems to score goals when the Sharks really need one. While Paul Martin has been far from perfect he has still covered for many of Brent Burns defencive gaffs which has been key to the Sharks staying on the winning side of things. Finally Joonas Donskoi was a sneaky good signing for Doug Wilson and while he might not be a guy you should run out and add to your fantasy team, he has been able to play effectively up and down the line up with any combination of players in many roles. He and Melker Karlsson have been some of the hardest working players on this team night in and night out.
While all seems sunny in San Jose it certainly wasn’t always that way, before the most recent road trip Shark fans were down in the dumps and many of the reasons were in my opinion valid and still relevant. While out of the Sharks control they have been dealt a crappy hand by the injury bug that lead to their early season woes. Not many teams are built to withstand losing five regulars at the same time as the healthy bodies have come back some of the line up decisions have been questionable at best. Let me be clear this is not a slight against Tomas Hertl who in my opinion has been great but it took the Sharks too long to move Marleau to center to replace Couture. Hertl did well in that position but it made the bottom six really bad, again not Hertl’s fault.
Chris Tierney a guy who I am a big fan of has struggled this year and while he projects as a number 2 center in the NHL he still has some work to do. The Sharks have also relied to heavily on AHL journeymen like Bryan Lerg and Michael Haley while better players like Barclay Goodrow sit on the Barracuda. While I am very impressed with the game of Nikolay Goldobin there is still a lot of work needed on his game and is probably better served on the Barracuda than splitting time between the third line and the press box. Matt Nieto has really struggled to find any chemistry through out the line up and has me wondering is he the odd man out when everyone is healthy. The Bottom six has been somewhat of a mess and has seen the coaching staff trust them so little that the 4th line rarely sees action in the third period of a game.
While the defence has been much better this year it is still the main weakness on this team in my humble opinion. When Paul Martin was sidelined with injuries the Sharks were a house of cards that completely fell apart, and when you have a guy with significant injury history being the lynch pin of the defence that’s a very bad place to be. Also Brenden Dillon has been somewhat of a disappointment, and I wonder if he would be under such scrutiny if not for his current contract. It does not help that he also has a rotating door of defencive partners in Matt Tennyson, Dylan DeMelo and Mirco Mueller none of which have been consistently good either. That being said Dillon should be able to prop some of these guys up a bit and has not done so although his +/- is currently +7 good for third on the team so its not all bad. Finally Alex Stalock has had some struggles early on in the few games he has played but a GAA of 2.88 combined with a dreadful .896 SV% just isn’t good enough for an NHL goalie, backup or not. Hopefully Stalock continues to improve as the Sharks go forward.
It’s no secret the Sharks have had attendance woes in SAP centre and there are many reasons for this issue both on and off the ice. The Sharks home record has done nothing to entice people back into the building thus far though. The Sharks currently have a 3-5-0 record at home and will need to improve on that to maintain their position in the standings. When the Sharks lost Logan Couture to injury they knew they were going to be in for a tough time but there is no excuse for the way that special teams have fallen off as badly as they have in his absence. Sure a few games to re-adjust should be expected but there is really no excuse for their continued futility. While maybe not fair Ben Smith has had a hell of a bad year. It took a few games for him to draw into the line up and then he got injured on a Vlasic shot where he was never the same after. His limited play under the Peter DeBoer system has been atrocious.
Finally we can’t talk ugly without covering the early rise of Patrick Marleau trade rumors. Now those rumors have died down quite a bit since the Sharks started winning again with only a few people clinging to them for dear life. Why is this ugly? Well its all speculation of course but the list of teams that were “leaked” was stomach turning. Most importantly of all though is the idea that if there is any truth to any of the speculation, is that Patrick Marleau would be driving the bus on a trade out of town because at the end of the day he has final say over any moves. For what its worth I don’t think that Marleau will be leaving town any time soon, the soonest we can all worry about this again is the trade deadline if at all.