**I am posting this here on behalf of Patrick Zmolek who decided to try his hand at writing a Sharks article please give him full credit for the work below and if you want to read more from Patrick please let him know! Enjoy**
This is my first time trying to write something like this, and thought I would give it a shot. Give you fans someone else’s point of view rather than Ian Reid’s. Not saying he does not do a good job at assessing and analyzing, just throwing out other options here. Also, my Xbox is getting tired of me. So here it goes.
41 games are in the books, and the Sharks just wrapped up a western Canada trip with a hard fought 4-1 victory over the Jets. This is the first 3 game win streak since a 6 game road trip sweep back in November. They are currently tied for 3rd place in the Pacific Division with the Canucks, but have 2 games in hand and have more ROW, giving them the tie-breaker. With the win tonight, the Sharks have now scored 117 goals, to 113 goals against. Thank you, Toronto for gifting us 7 goals, which allowed us to go back into the positive. Our PP currently sits at 7th with 21.0%, our PK is 17th at 79.7%. Away from the Tank, the Sharks are 15-6-2, second only to the Capitols. Our home record, conversely, is 6-12-0, which is second to none, from the bottom anyways. That last stat is where we will begin this assessment of the team, as it is the most glaring and needs the most attention if this team hopes to play past April.
The Tank is not what it was. Not even 3 years ago San Jose was known for its sellout crowds, and loud volumes. The Sea of Teal was alive and well. Not anymore. After a historic breakdown in the playoffs to the Kings two seasons ago, the fan base, at least in terms of home game attendance, has started to putter out. Poor decisions from the marketing team, rising season ticket prices in an already high cost of living market, and just poor trades and acquisitions on the team have affected the fans in a negative way. Couple that with years of playoff under achievement and you have a recipe for disaster. Granted, a good team will find ways to win with or without crowd support, but the fact that we are having better fortune in hostile territory is perplexing. Another stat that is worrisome is our two OT losses. Well, not so much the losses, but rather the lack of OT games, period. The sharks this year have been to extra time 6 times, winning in OT 3 times, one win by shootout, and then the 2 OT losses. Not being able to score an equalizer, to force a game into OT is costing us points. There are 11 teams that have as many OT losses as the Sharks have OT games. Those are lost points and missed opportunities. In the end, though, it all comes down to the team, and how they play that can fix this problem, so let us look at the team this season.
Last season was an unnecessary rebuilding project, accentuated by the arrival of the legendary John Scott. While he did have a career year here in San Jose, and definitely was a fan favorite, he just was not any good when he put the gloves on. Fast forward to this year – instead of hoping Dillon was ready for top 4 minutes, we brought in Paul Martin to pair with Burns. Instead of hoping Niemi finds his game again, we bring in Journeyman Martin Jones. Instead of bringing in another goon to scare the other team, we bring in Joel Ward to fill the void left by Ryan Clowe’s departure. These were the moves that needed to happen last season. Now the Sharks are closer to being a complete team. Depth at defense is still an issue, but we now have a legitimate top 4. Our depth in the forward department seemed unfathomable, but the extended loss of Couture poked a few holes in that idea. Or showed just how big a piece he was to the team. The jury is still out on that. However, his return has brought some life into the Sharks offensively. New coach DeBoer has shuffled the lines a bit, putting Hertl up with the Joes, with Jumbo centering; Marleau centering with fellow speedster Nieto and power forward Ward; Couture centering with rookie Donskoi and Wingels; and finally sophomores Tierney and Karlsson with Brown/Smith/Zubris, with Tierney at center. The fact that Karlsson is on the 4th line speaks volumes to the depth the Sharks have (see: Couture injury impacts), and I do not expect to see him stay there. On defense, Braun and Vlassic are the top pair, followed by Burns and Martin, and Dillon, Demelo and Tennyson making up the 3rd pairing. The pieces are in place for this to be a playoff team; they have the grit where they need it and the skill in spades. Burns is leading all defensemen in goals, and second in points. Being paired with Martin has been a revelation, as the veteran blue-liner can play that shut down defender, allowing Burns to play with the forwards, something they did not have with Dillon last season. Vlassic and Braun are solid as ever, and are a good complement to each other. Looking at this roster, there is no reason why this team should not be in contention for at least the Pacific Division title, but there they sit, just over .500 for the season, so what gives?
One thing that separates the Sharks from other teams is secondary scoring. Top goal scores – Pavelski (22), Burns (18), Marleau (14); top assists Thornton (23), Burns (22), Pavelski (20); top points Pavelski (42), Burns (40), Thornton (32). After Ward, who sits 5th on the team with 27 points, it drops to 19 with Vlassic. That is a huge jump from 5th to 6th. Roughly 60% of all points have been scored by 5 skaters. While that is great for those 5, the only way go deep in the playoffs is with that secondary scoring. DeBoer has acknowledged this and has shuffled the lines, and it has had immediate results: a 7-0 thumping of Toronto, an ugly 5-4 win over Calgary, and a hard fought 4-1 win over Winnipeg. Scoring over those 3 games has been spread out over the lines, and we hope that trend continues. Now let us look at that game against Calgary. Midway through the second period, The Sharks were up 3-1, and then came a double minor high-stick penalty to brown, followed shortly by a tripping penalty to Burns, 2 powerplay goals later, it is 3-3.
What happened? My opinion, Martin Jones happened. Last year, in relief Quick, Jones had a 4-5-2 record, with a .906 save percentage and 3 shutouts. It is important to note that LA did not make the playoffs that year, and had problems that did not involve goal-tending. The year prior he was 12-6 with .934 save percentage and 4 shutouts. So far this season, he is 18-13-2, with a .912 save percentage and 4 shutouts. While the numbers look good, they do not tell the full tale. He has had great games, and just been a wall, and other games he looks like Swiss cheese. Consistency is a huge problem for him. That leads me to believe that he was not quite ready for starter duties. Perhaps a shared starter would be perfect for him, allowing him to ease into a starting role. Stalock was just recalled up from a conditioning stint from the Barracuda, and looked sharp in his first game back against Winnipeg (I do not care what you say about him trying to play the puck and almost giving up that short-handed goal; he was tripped, end of story, no goal), and if his play like that continues, it is in the Sharks best interest to play him more and allow Jones to develop a bit more and improve his consistency.
One thing I haven’t really touched upon is new coach Peter DeBoer. A few words before wrapping this up – Beginning of the season he seemed no different than any other recent coach the Sharks have had – sit back and watch, and hope for the best. After the 4-1 loss to Winnipeg, he seemed to actually take a positive role, calling out the team, shuffling the lines, and being more active rather than passive. Maybe that is what the Sharks need, a more active coach (no, I am NOT advocating for Tortorella, we do not need that kind of “active” coach), which is something we did not have with MacLellen.
To sum up the state of the Sharks, at this midway point, I will go back to a word I used earlier – perplexing. Dr Jekell/Mr Hyde does not begin to describe this team. Coaches, veterans, rookies, everyone needs to sit back and reevaluate their game, and figure out what is going on. 6-12 at home is not acceptable. This team has the potential to run deep in the playoffs, but they need to find their heart. My overall conclusion for this team is that they do figure it out, they string together wins and fight it out to the end and make it to the playoffs. However, I do not see us making it out of the second round. I fear the amount of effort that it is going to require to make the playoffs after a below-average start will drain them and leave them empty at the end of the season. Maybe they can pull out a series win, but they have dug themselves into a deep hole, and now have to play catch up. Let us hope that the second half of the season brings a better team, more aligned with their potential, and that we can at least pull out a .500 record at home.