San Jose Sharks flashing contender potential despite losing streak

Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images /

The San Jose Sharks’ longest winning streak of the season came to an abrupt halt with a three-game losing skid fueled by a lack of effort and questionable reasoning from the league.

Getting consistent production from the San Jose Sharks‘ third and fourth lines has been a problem for head coach Peter DeBoer since his hiring. Younger players generally get an opportunity in training camp to claim open spots, but the hunger to make a consistent impact never shows up.

DeBoer will give his players at least 6-8 minutes of ice time, especially for the fourth liners, as the top two lines get more action late in the game. The time may not seem significant, but for players looking to stay in the NHL, the challenge is to keep grinding.

Antti Suomela is a casualty of not making an impact after showing plenty of promise during his time in the Finish League. After making the opening-night lineup, Suomela did not carry over his performance from preseason into the regular season, often being a non-factor on the ice.

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Unfortunately, his presence with the Sharks was short lived and was re-assigned to the San Jose Barracuda of the AHL. For a player who was sought after by most of the league, Suomela will eventually be back in teal. The time he spends with the Barracuda will help him in the long run.

It’s been a disappointing start to Suomela’s NHL career, but since his demotion, a few players currently in the lineup appear to provide the stability the Sharks desperately needed.

Joe Thornton is getting time on the third line after being out of the lineup early this season due to a knee infection. The future Hall of Famer is coming off another significant knee injury from last season and struggled to find his legs. And yet, in the past few games, Thornton appears to be getting stronger, moving his feet better in the offensive zone.

For the Sharks, keeping Thornton on the third line is proving beneficial for the younger players. Marcus Sorensen appears more confident in handling the puck and using his speed to attack. Thornton does get on the power play and maybe on different lines depending on if DeBoer juggles the combinations to spark the offense. Regardless, expect the grizzled vet to remain a third liner.

Lukas Radil got called up from the Barracuda and looked poised to remain with the Sharks the rest of the season. He was one player who just missed out on making the roster out of training camp. His impact came at a vital time, scoring a nifty back-handed goal against the Arizona Coyotes a few weeks ago to secure a road win for San Jose.

In 13 games, Radil has six points and is getting the luxury of being paired with Thornton on the third line. After a sluggish start in which San Jose trailed 2-0 to Los Angeles, Radil started the rally with a third-period goal, breathing life into a quiet Sharks bench and the crowd at SAP Center. The Sharks would fall in overtime but earned a critical point in the standings.

On the blue line, Radim Simek patiently waited for his opportunity after being a healthy scratch for almost a quarter of the season. In his debut against the Montreal Canadiens, the physical defenseman let his presence known, throwing checks and playing sound defense.

Simek is not a offensive-minded defenseman compared to Brent Burns or Erik Karlsson, but he provides stability on both ends of the ice. He appears set to remain in the lineup barring any injuries or dip in defense, which he has not shown since making his debut.

Both Radil and Simek are locking down their positions to remain with the Sharks while a dependable blueliner, over the years, does not seem to be playing at a high level.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic signed an extension in the offseason, stating his intent to be a Shark for his entire career. Usually a reliable shut-down defenseman capable of keeping the top lines from scoring, Vlasic’s play is trending in the wrong direction. His plus/minus rating is the worst on the team (-13). Whether he is playing through an injury or a lack of effort, the hope is Vlasic returns to his usual self soon.

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The concern should not just be on Vlasic but the entire team after the last three games. Martin Jones is playing stronger between the pipes but cost San Jose against the Winnipeg Jets to snap the five-game win streak. An unacceptable result against a Jets team who the Sharks could see in the playoffs.

As a whole, the Sharks put together two lackluster efforts at home against the Los Angeles Kings and Coyotes. San Jose showed little effort, lacking the drive to generate offense. Just two points got earned from both games which are unfortunate considering the team could be in a tie with the Calgary Flames for first place in the Pacific Division.

Not to make matters worse, but the Sharks will be without Karlsson for one more game after he was slapped with a two-game suspension. This came after Karlsson delivered a hit to Austin Wagner of Los Angeles in the second period in the Sharks’ 3-2 overtime loss to the Kings.

The hit did not warrant any sort of suspension. Karlsson delivered a clean check to Wagoner and was not vicious or meant to cause injury. In hockey, keeping your head up when skating is critical as to be aware of players on the ice and avoid receiving a big hit.

Wagner kept his head down and received a clean hit, but the NHL Player Safety committee saw it differently. The reasoning for the suspension has zero merit, and seems like a case of the NHL protecting teams who have won the Stanley Cup.

To have player safety monitored by a goon in George Parros does not help either. He was notorious for dirty hits and doesn’t seem to have a clue in regards to Karlsson.

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An opportunity to claim the Pacific Division hasn’t materialized as the Sharks find themselves in the thick of a crowded race. Hopefully any bad juju from the recent games doesn’t linger, and the Sharks can get back to their winning ways.