After floundering as low as 12th place in the Western Conference during January last season, the Sharks went on one of the more impressive second-half runs in recent memory. They shot up from 12th to second but GM Doug Wilson believes the poor first half to be a major reason to why the team fell flat in their Western Conference final bout with the Vancouver Canucks.
Therefore it should come as no shock that Head Coach Todd McLellan and the rest of the Sharks have been talking about getting off to a fast start this season. However, through four games the Sharks are just 1-3. And that only win came at home against the lowly Phoenix Coyotes, a team many have predicted to finish amongst the bottom five or six teams in the entire NHL.
Now, for most teams, this 1-3 start wouldn’t be a storyline. Yet this year’s Sharks may be one of those exceptions. All the talk about a fast start, all the firepower and supposed defensive depth and the Sharks have just two points through four games.
Is there cause for concern this early in the season?
That depends on how convinced one is on the importance of the Sharks’ record in the months of October and November. Throughout the course of the first two months or so, these struggles are almost assured to continue. Perhaps not at the rate of three losses every four games, but they certainly won’t be erased at the flip of a switch. In other words, don’t bank on seeing the Sharks’ season long winning streak come during the next six weeks.
With all the overhaul, it will take some time for players to adjust to the tendencies of new teammates. Considering that the Sharks have seven skaters on the current roster who played elsewhere last season, there is plenty of chemistry needed to be formed. Not to mention rookies Andrew Desjardins and Tommy Wingels are still young to the show. Desjardins played in 17 games last regular season and Wingels saw action in just five.
How does the phrase go? “Rome wasn’t built in a day”?
With all the changes, the Sharks have two defense pairs getting used to brand new partners and when Martin Havlat returns, three of the four forward lines will have at least one brand new player to the organization.
Not to mention the top line of Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski is a relatively new combination. Yes, the trio spent time together on the power-play over the years but back then Pavelski mainly played the point on the man advantage.
This year’s power-play look is significantly different and consequently it has yet to fire on all cylinders. If it weren’t for Brent Burns’ absolute pea-rod of a one-timer on a 5-on-3 Monday night, the Sharks power play would be ranked in the middle third of the league.
Dan Boyle and Brent Burns now man the points on the No. 1 unit. Sounds great but what does that really mean? Well imagine the equivalent of a young Jason Kidd and Steve Nash on the same NBA team. Two star point guards on the floor at the same time? They certainly aren’t guaranteed to mesh right away. In time, however they should be a dominating force.
Right now the Sharks are going through those early season kinks trying to feel each other out. And unfortunately there is nobody who can pin point exactly how long it will take before the chemistry develops to a level where we can say “the Sharks are the hottest team in the NHL.”
That will happen though, this team is too good on paper not to eventually get on an extreme tear. Barring any significant injuries (Sharks fans feel free to knock on wood) the Sharks will be a major force to be reckoned with.
But if I’m the coach or GM of a Sharks opponent, I would definitely thank the schedulers if “our” schedule has our Sharks match-ups earlier on in the season.
Now for the Sharks sake, what could help speed along the Sharks’ feeling out process? Two words: Martin Havlat. One of the reasons the Sharks made the Dany Heatley-Martin Havlat swap is because they lost some forward speed when they sent Devin Setoguchi to Minnesota in the Brent Burns trade. And what can speed do? Well other than the obvious, speed can make up for mistakes.
San Jose has been making plenty of mistakes early on this season and captain Joe Thornton is right in the middle of that group not performing to his typical level. Both Thornton and second year center Logan Couture have been limited to one assist so far on the season.
But Havlat returning will do wonders. Perhaps not immediately as he’s bound to have some hiccups adjusting to new players like everyone else on the team. However, his speed on the second line should open things up for the entire squad.
In each of the first three losses (two of which came against the Ducks) the opponent was clearly the faster skating team. Fortunately Havlat is one of the fastest skaters in the game today and his presence alone can help change that trend. The Sharks are hopeful their star winger will be ready to make his debut Friday in New Jersey and if he is cleared for action, he’ll be quite the welcomed sight on the ice.