After 10 games into the season, the San Jose Sharks find themselves as one of the top teams in the Western Conference, boasting a 7-2-1 record and gaining 15 points. They have been able to come together quickly as a team, and are reaping the benefits early on in the season in result. But how have they achieved that in such little time? Well, let’s break it down.
In any sport, and especially hockey, it’s about doing the little things well, and a few things stick out.
First, special teams, where the San Jose power play is currently ranked seventh place (24.5 percent) and the penalty kill (88.9 percent) is ranked fifth, which has not allowed a goal in a seven straight games. Being able to capitalize when they have the man advantage has always been a strong suit for the Sharks, and this season is no exception.
It also looks like the signing of Larry Robinson is already paying off big-time with the penalty kill looking better than it has over the past few seasons.
Another strong suit over the past few years has been faceoffs, and the Sharks have been very good in that department yet again, dominating their competition at times. They’re second in the league winning face-offs, posting a rate of 56.8 percent, and I do not see that slowing down any time soon.
Another key? Defense. San Jose has only allowed two goals per game, which is tied for the second- best mark in the league. This is a combination of many thingsm inlcuding the signing of Brad Stuart, who has paired with Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and they have done pretty well at shutting down the opposing teams’ top lines.
Another key on defense that has been great and may be overlooked, is the Sharks’ ability to block shots. They are second in NHL with 170 total blocked shots, making that 17 blocked shots per game. Shot-blocking is definitely not hero’s work compared to scoring goal and putting up points, but somebody’s got to do it. The good news for the Sharks is that right now everybody is doing it and it’s paying dividends.
But, the most important part of your defense is ultimately your goaltender, and Antti Niemi has been rock-solid in net so far. He is tied for first in the league with six wins on the season, and his 2.06 goals against per game is good for eighth in the league. He makes the big stops to keep San Jose in the game, or the timely ones to keep the lead late in games. In my opinion, he has been the Sharks’ MVP so far this season.
All this defense is great, but the offense has to be there, and it’s definitely been here. Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton lead the Sharks with 14 points each, and have been on fire during the first few weeks of the season. Marleau leads the NHL in goals with nine, while Thornton is tied for first in the league with 11 assists.
Also playing well, are Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture. Pavelski has kind of been the third wheel on that first line with Thornton and Marleau, but by no means has he been slacking off. He has scored five goals to go with his eight assists and is only one-point behind San Jose’s ‘Big Two’. Couture has been doing all of his work on the second line, and has six goals and give assists, good for 11 total points.
To be a great team you have to play all facets of the game well, and so far this season the Sharks are doing just that. Whether it be winning key face-offs, getting a timely save from Niemi or another Thornton assist on a Marleau goal, the team has been doing it all. And in this shortened-season every game counts (yes I know, this phrase is becoming so cliche that it’s ridiculous), so anything you can do to help you win and get ahead is all the better.