Only this past Saturday, the San Jose Sharks seemed to be rocking and rolling into the same regular season groove they always seem to find themselves in year and year out. They had just beaten the Anaheim Ducks handily and were winners in four of their last five, improving their record to 5-3-1 after stumbling out of the gate to a 1-2-1 mark.
Unfortunately, the Sharks failed to score a single goal in their two game road trip which ended Thursday in St. Louis.
Tuesday’s game in Minnesota saw the Sharks outshoot the Wild, 36-16, only to fall 1-0 on a 5-on-3 power-play tally.
Against the Blues, the Sharks once again couldn’t find a way to puck in the net in their 2-0 loss. Both St. Louis goals were scored 5-on-5 but the real issue was San Jose’s inability to score.
The loss to St. Louis now makes it three straight road games in which the Sharks have been shutout (their only loss in that previously mentioned hot five game stretch was a 4-0 decision in Calgary). Granted the Sharks were without Joe Thornton for the second half of Thursday’s game after getting a game misconduct for a questionable “blind-side” hit midway through the second period.
However, the Sharks cannot rely solely on the stars for offense. Devin Setoguchi, Joe Pavelski and Ryane Clowe–who for the most part make up the second line–have zero goals between them over the last five games and just one 5-on-5 goal amongst the trio all season.
Other sources of secondary offense include second year center Logan Couture, the speedy Torrey Mitchell, and defensemen Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Jason Demers.
Couture has four goals on the year but has yet to record an assist and has just one point in his last five games. Furthermore, Mitchell hasn’t scored since the opening game of the season and has just three points on the year.
Defensively, Vlasic and Demers–who are the two most gifted offensive defenseman on the roster behind Dan Boyle–haven’t been able to produce on the score-sheet. Vlasic has yet to record a point and Demers has just two assists in 11 games despite recording 21 points in 51 games as a rookie last season.
While offensive contribution from the role players needs to increase mightily moving forward, the overall play isn’t completely in need of repairs. In fact, even though the Sharks find themselves with an unfamiliar 5-5-1 record, the way in which they have been reaching their inconsistent results isn’t overly concerning.
Sure, the offense has been struggling, especially on the road, as the three straight shutouts is a franchise record that nobody is proud of, but the offense is bound to come around. The Sharks have too much offensive power even outside their Team Canada participants from a year ago that the offense will find their groove.
Barring injury (knock on wood), the Sharks will have no problems cranking up the offense. Getting the guys on track scoring wise is inevitable. That said, defense and goaltending were the major question marks coming into the season for the Sharks, but over the last few games they’ve been excellent in both aspects.
Over the last seven games, the Sharks have allowed more than two goals just once, and haven’t given up more than two in their last four.
Antero Niittymaki has jumped out to a hot start between the pipes and hasn’t allowed more than two goals in each of his last six games. For the season, Niittymaki owns a .930 save percentage, and a 1.75 GAA, both amongst the top 10 in the league. And after slumping out of the gate, fellow Shark netminder Antti Niemi was extremely strong in the loss against St. Louis on Thursday, turning away 27 of 29 shots.
Clearly the Sharks are not getting the results they are used to as a .500 record is far below where they usually stand in recent seasons but there is absolutely no reason to panic. If the Sharks were losing games 5-4 and 6-3 on a consistent basis due to poor goaltending and defensive coverage, than there would be much more to worry about. Good news for Sharks fans though is that they are playing much stronger on the back end then experts were suggesting they would prior to the season.
All three defensive pairs of Boyle-Douglas Murray, Vlasic-Niclas Wallin, and Kent Huskins-Demers have been clicking as of late in their own end. Simply put, if the solid defensive play can continue to hold its own, the Sharks should be in good shape moving forward.
The lack of road and secondary scoring have certainly hurt, but thankfully the Sharks get a break in the schedule and will play their next five games at home to work out their offensive woes.