In six games during the preseason, the Sharks went 2-4 and they couldn’t really find their rhythm. With the preseason out of the way and their season opening tomorrow in Stockholm, the question for Sharks fans is should they be worried after the teams subpar performance in September?
First, the Sharks were not playing well as a team, there were missed passes and misplays to areas of the ice where teammates were expected to have been, and the overall play did not flow like it had at any point last season. The lackluster play can’t and will not continue as the Sharks settle down to a regular roster. Their defense and offense will be more in sync and more productive.
The Sharks will be held together by Joe Thornton who was recently named captain. They will be able to create better scoring chances and passes will connect with intended targets at higher rates which will create better flow to their game.
Expect breakouts from the defensive zone to become more fluid and less havoc in the defensive zone. Cycling in the offensive end and puck movement will shape up to create more opportunities and more movement towards the area in front of the net.
Not to say that there were no upsides to the offense, there were some impressive individual efforts and at times some combinations were firing on a few cylinders, namely a couple shifts with combinations of Thornton, Dany Heatley, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau. The top players have held on to some of their previous chemistry and should be ready to go this weekend. The defense was able to keep opponents in check for the most part. The Sharks will live up to their expectations this season on offense and defense.
The biggest question mark for the Sharks, at least for the start of the season, is the goaltending.
Antti Niemi was less than impressive and needs to pick up his game. The biggest concern comes from the game against Adler Manheim. The question is whether his game will or can improve for the regular season.
Niemi gave up a long goal which should have been stopped and he was frozen during the shootout. It was not the defense that let the second Adler goal into the net, it was poor goaltending. The goal was reminiscent of the goals that former goaltender Evgeni Nabokov gave up which crippled the Sharks during big moments in the past few years, just not through the five hole.
Niemi, however, played well against the Phoenix Coyotes earlier in the preseason, but can he remain consistent? A lot remains to be seen.
Antero Niittymaki also looked shaky in the preseason having lost 6-2 to Vancouver, a team that looks to be in full swing already. Will either netminder step up and be the starter the Sharks have desperately needed? Will the Sharks resort to the young guns such as Alex Stalock or Harri Sateri or perhaps the more tested Thomas Greiss? Niemi will get the nod in Stockholm, but he has a lot to prove.
The games in Stockholm against the Columbus Blue Jackets will be very important for the Sharks. They will need to start the season with some momentum in Europe and bring it back home to San Jose.
The Sharks face a couple tough tests in the first month facing the Oilers who looked good in the preseason, the Flames who can be tough to play, the Devils who had an impressive preseason and appear to be packed with power, and ending October with a game against division rival Anaheim Ducks.
The division will be very competitive with the Coyotes, Kings, and Ducks showing promise for the upcoming season. Therefore, the Sharks cannot afford to get off to a slow start during the first couple months of the 2010-11 season. Any losses will create more pressure in the future to win games to stay on top of the Pacific Division let alone the Western Conference.
Sharks fans don’t have to worry too much about the regular season, the team looks like it can shape up to settle on the top of the Western Conference standings. Whether that translates into playoff success or not remains to be seen, but that’s another story for later.