The San Jose Sharks have performed below expectations thus far into the season. They are ranked 16th in the NHL standings despite playing the most amount of games—six—and despite being the representatives for the Western Conference in the 2016 Stanley Cup Finals.
Granted, the organization is technically in a six-way tie for 12th place, and 11 other teams have also played six games. So, take that as you will.
But, San Jose has looked flat and unimpressive in those six contests; they have a 3-3-0 record and own a minus-3 goal differential. Additionally, the team doesn’t seem energized and nothing appears to be clicking for them.
Some fans, who were expecting the Sharks to come out of the gate strong following a dominant postseason, are concerned that this is what the team will look like for the whole campaign.
Luckily, this won’t be the case. In fact, there are many reasons that explain the poor performances early in the year and offer a promising future for the franchise.
Chemistry Hasn’t Developed
The short offseason got even shorter for many because of the World Cup of Hockey in September. San Jose, like many other powerhouse teams, had a high number of skaters go to Toronto for the event.
Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Mikkel Boedker, Logan Couture, Joonas Donskoi, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and Brent Burns all played in the World Cup.
While most are worried about the players’ fatigue coming out of the tournament, another factor is impacting the Sharks’ organization:
A lack of practice.
Those on the roster for Team Canada or Team Europe—Thornton, Couture, Vlasic, Burns, and Boedker—went the distance in the tournament, meaning they weren’t done until September 29. Other participants, such as Pavelski and Donskoi, were knocked out earlier, but they still needed time to recover from the grueling competition.
As a result, those who played in the World Cup saw a limited amount of practice and game play in training camp.
Boedker played three preseason games, Donskoi played two, and Thornton, Couture, Pavelski, Vlasic, and Burns all only played one.
Not practicing or playing with your team is not the best way to prepare for a season, especially when you have a new player slotting into your top-six forwards.
For many on the Sharks’ roster, they’re still in preseason mode; they’re getting the feel of their linemates and making some adjustments that would have usually been made in training camp.
Still Early for the Sharks
It’s also important to note that the Sharks are only six games into the season, and they are being judged on their success in a small sample size.
Strange starts happen all the time in the NHL. Last year, the Anaheim Ducks started the season with a 1-7-2 record before surging to win the Pacific Division for the fourth year in the row. The Montreal Canadiens also started 9-0-0 before losing Carey Price and plummeting in the standings.
It’s a long season, so anything can happen.
We still don’t know what the Sharks will actually look like this year; they haven’t had time to practice together and develop a playing style that can consistently win games. It will take a while for them to do that, and that’s okay.
This was the best team in the Western Conference last season, and they only got better over the summer. I have a hard time believing they’ll be this mediocre for the entire year.
And for you analytics people out there: The Sharks are fifth in the NHL in even-strength corsi-for percentage. That’s a great sign of a better future.