The Sharks’ offense has been on the attack all season, but the fruits of their efforts have not come.
The offense has been skating and putting shots on the net while creating traffic around opponents’ nets. Efforts on the offensive side of the puck have not lead to enough goals for the Sharks this season. Their puck pursuit has been strong and movement to the net has been tough for defenses to handle. The offense‘s ability to create turnovers in the attacking zone has lead to great chances.
On the other hand, the Sharks have not been able to finish their chances to put teams away.
San Jose’s top line from last season has been underperforming having scored less than 50 percent of the goals they scored last year more than halfway through the season. Due to the line’s ineffectiveness, it has been shuffled many times throughout the entire season and during games.
With 32 games left in the season the top line of Dany Heatley, Joe Thornton and Partick Marleau have a combined 49 goals and 123 assists and are behind their pace from 2009-10, when the trio tallied 254 points (103 goals, 151 assists) and Joe Pavelski is on pace to match his 51 points from last year. The offensive production has been poor for the Sharks and it must pick up the production being that Ryane Clowe is the only player who is ahead of his scoring pace from last season.
Clowe and Logan Couture have been the teams best offensive options and have helped kept the Sharks’ playoff hopes alive. To secure a spot in the playoffs the Sharks must put more pucks in the net starting with the big three.
San Jose’s defense has been very good when set in the defensive zone. Attackers have been kept to the outside and space has been limited for them work. Goals have been coming from the outside and from scrappy goals around the net.
The defense has been strong, but it has lost its composure and coverage when it commits untimely turnovers when trying to move the puck up the ice. The team was plagued with turnovers early on in the season and had seemed to become more consistent with successful breakouts, but the problem has fought its way back into the Sharks’ play. Recently, the Sharks have become more efficient at covering rushes against, sticking with forwards crashing the San Jose net.
With his physical play and positioning, Niclas Wallin has been an enforcer in the defensive zone and has been forcing opponents to force plays that cause their possessions in the Sharks’ defensive zone tough. He has also been reliable with the puck more often than not. He has been smart with the puck and moving it up the ice and into the offensive zone. However, his offensive production ends with the opponents blue line, but his solid defense has been irreplaceable.
Douglas Murray’s play has also been good, but is more susceptible to turning over the puck, the same for Marc-Edouard “Pickles” Vlasic. The puck moving ability from Dan Boyle has been a key to keeping up the offensive pressure.
In net, the Sharks are in the same position they were in when Evgeni Nabokov was at the helm. Antti Niemi has been making bigger saves than the injured Antero Niittymaki, but the goals that Niemi has given up tend to deflate the team just as it had happened with Nabokov.
Niittymaki, while he doesn’t make as high caliber saves as Niemi, has a better anticipation of the play and makes fewer mistakes. The mistakes that Niemi makes deflate the team’s confidence and cause the team to routinely give up leads and points for wins and points for overtime losses.
The third period meltdowns, which have become characteristic of the Sharks this season, have come from gaps in effort from both the defense and goaltending mistakes. If the Sharks don’t clean up their act then they will not make the playoffs. While the team should clean up their act to make it to the playoffs, they have not shown that they can keep up a level of play strong enough to put together a run deep into the playoffs, let alone contend for a Stanley Cup.
Goaltending and defensive zone breakouts must improve if the Sharks have any chance at Lord Stanley in 2010-11.