The primary goal of the San Jose Sharks is to repeat.
The Sharks entered the 2016-17 NHL season with the Western Conference Champion title to their name. Although head coach Peter DeBoer may have experienced deja vu as his former team, the New Jersey Devils, lost to the Los Angeles Kings in six games in the 2012 Stanley Cup Final, he still achieved great things in his first year in San Jose. DeBoer, however, needs to aim to avoid past mistakes.
Line shuffling is a part of the game, but the endless shuffling of line combinations and defensive pairs is annoying. In DeBoer’s tenure with the Devils, he overplayed the “CBGB” line of forwards Ryan Carter, Stephen Gionta and Steve Bernier. Don’t get me wrong, the “CBGB” line was an excellent depth line that was well balanced, but their possession was less than perfect. In the 2011-12 playoffs, all three players’ corsi was below -10. None of them were very effective.
The Sharks’ fourth line of Timo Meier, Tommy Wingels and Melker Karlsson looks glittering and lethal. After months of speculation, Meier’s debut was a highly anticipated one. The Sharks called up the right winger on Dec. 15. The following day, Meier scored his first NHL goal on his first shot on goal, contributing to the Sharks’ 4-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens at Centre Bell.
Karlsson’s a well-known forward with six goals and seven assists along with a plus-eight rating in 42 games thus far. Aside from Meier, Karlsson fits seamlessly into the fourth line. Wingels, not so much.
As the Sharks reach the halfway point of the 2016-17 NHL season, an abrupt trade occurred Tuesday afternoon. The Sharks acquired right wings Buddy Robinson and Zack Stortini, and a 2017 seventh round draft selection from the Ottawa Senators in exchange for Wingels.
We’ll see what happens, but I think it was a good move for both clubs. Robinson is a 25-year-old prospect from the San Jose Barracuda, who could be a late bloomer. Robinson has zero points in four games thus far. Stortini, on the other hand, has 14 goals and 27 assists in 257 NHL games, but hasn’t played in a game since Oct. 8, 2011, against the St. Louis Blues at Scottrade Center. The Senators’ fourth line has been struggling lately, and a change of scenery can possibly help Wingels improve his offensive skill. Wingels left the Sharks in the middle of his seventh season with 51 goals and 71 assists in 337 games.
The New York Islanders’ previous fourth line of Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck brought energy to the Barclays Center. In a Coach’s Corner segment, veteran analyst Don Cherry complimented the Isles’ fourth line, calling them the “best in hockey ever.”
Imagine if the Sharks inserted rookie forward Barclay Goodrow into its fourth line. He has the size and strength to play solid along the boards and in his own end. He can also chip in and score. Prior to his recall, Goodrow had 12 goals and seven assists in 32 games with the Barracuda. Goodrow deserves more ice time in the NHL.
Defense wins championships. The Sharks’ defensive pairs need to step it up a notch. Dylan DeMelo is out for eight weeks with a broken wrist after suffering an injury in the Sharks’ game against the Edmonton Oilers on Jan. 11.
Brent Burns is a fan favorite, an offensive defenseman, but the Sharks cannot rely on just him to get the job done. Burns hit the 20 goal mark and collected two assists on Monday night against the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center. The Sharks’ scoring woes are starting to show and its defense has to apply pressure on the opposing team. Marc-Edouard Vlasic is treading water with three goals, 12 assists and a plus-four rating in 44 games, but the Sharks need production from non-scorers such as Justin Braun, Brenden Dillon and David Schlemko. They also need to avoid defensive lapses, turnovers and mistakes.
It’s a cliche, but if DeBoer wants the Sharks to hoist a Stanley Cup, goaltender Martin Jones needs rest. The Sharks have had bad experiences with overworked goalies. Jones isn’t former Devils and Blues goaltender Martin Brodeur. He’s not going to win a title after starting over 83 percent of his team’s games. Unfortunately, the 27-year-old is currently on pace to start 72 games this season, and his fatigue is going to show.
Backup goalie Aaron Dell has been excellent in net, despite limited action this season. In eight games, Dell posted a 6-2 record with a .933 save percentage. While those aren’t flawless numbers, Dell has provided consistency and credibility, justifying his roster spot with the Sharks.
As the Sharks head into the All-Star break, they obviously need to improve, and they took a step in the right direction by adding size and depth to their reserve list. Robinson and Stortini will join the Barracuda.
After improving its home record to 17-6-1, the Sharks are serving their fans better this season. Last season, the Sharks led the NHL in road wins with a 28-10-3 record, but recorded a lowly 18-20-3 home record.
In general, the Sharks’ offense was pretty much a powerhouse, including contributions from Burns. The Sharks have to stick to their foundation, win faceoffs and take early leads in order to win games.