It is easy to get wrapped up in the Sharks early season results. Not only are they getting results on the ice, they are passing the eye test in a big way. This looks like a good team. It is fun to extrapolate the statistics from the first two games over a season. And easy to predict they won’t hold.
So here are five easy predictions, along with one tricky prediction, for the Sharks season.
5. The Joes Will Not Go Plus-164
In the opening game against the LA Kings, Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski each went plus-3. They both were plus-1 against Anaheim, though Patrick Marleau did the work for that score on his own. Two games in, each is plus-4. Extrapolate and you get each Joe going a plus-164 for the season. Alas, it won’t end that way. They have, however, played dominant hockey against two teams that roll out top quality forwards. It is an impressive way to start the season.
4. Martin Jones Will Not Finish With a .979 Save Percentage
Martin Jones was excellent in the preseason. He’s been even better in his first two regular season games with the Sharks. The lone goal he let in came on a terrific tip, less than two minutes into the season opener. In the 118 minutes since, nothing has gotten past him. When the spectacular save has been necessary, Jones has made it. But for the most part, he has made it look easy. He is always on his angle while moving fluidly, not frenetically, in his crease. Jones style reflects the sage advice of legendary coach John Wooden: “Be quick, but don’t hurry.”
A .979 save percentage is not realistic to maintain. Jones is a first time NHL starter this year, it is unknown how he’ll do in his new role. Still, these two game are important. A team’s confidence soars knowing mistakes aren’t likely to wind up in the back of their net. Having Jones off to a strong start enables the Sharks to play confident, aggressive hockey. Which is a big part of winning hockey.
3. Patrick Marleau Will Not Score 82 Goals
Patrick Marleau is known for hot starts. Extrapolate his first ten games of the season over the last several years and you get the sort of stats you’d expect from a Hart Trophy finalist. His two goals against Anaheim were both terrific efforts, part of a strong game for the Sharks veteran. Marleau is looking for a bounceback season. We will get a better idea on whether he bounces back this year based on his play from November on.
2. Mike Brown Will Not Play 82 Games
The Sharks forward has surprisingly played in both of the first two games. Also surprising, Brown has averaged nearly ten minutes of ice time per game, despite spending nine minutes in the penalty box so far. Brown has been, well, surprisingly good. He has buzzed effectively on the ice with linemates Barclay Goodrow and Chris Tierney. So far, the fourth line that has been everything Sharks fans have hoped for: an asset, not a liability. Brown’s eight hits leads the team and is tied for 15th in the league. His Corsi through two games is 55%, well above his career average of 43%. Still, greater talent will win out. Ben Smith will play often, Melker Karlsson, once he returns to health, will play often. Prospects will play some games and perhaps even Raffi Torres will play at some point. Brown is a marginal NHL talent, know for his ability to fight and be a pest. Nonetheless, with the results in the first two games, he is earning his ice time.
1. The Sharks Will Not Go 82-0-0
Two games in and the Sharks have won both. Importantly, both games were division games against rivals expected to be strong playoff competitors. A perfect season will not happen. A strong start to a new era with a new coach is encouraging. To be certain, the two wins were not flukes. The results are coming because they’ve been the better team in both games. By a bunch.
Bonus Prediction: Brent Burns Will Have a 100% Face-Off Win Percentage
So far this season, Brent Burns has one goal, one assist and one face-off win. Burns will not see the center of the face-off circle often. As a defenseman last year, he took zero face-offs, the same number every other Sharks defenseman took. Even when he was a forward in 2013-14 season, Burns was an infrequent visitor to the face-off dot. He finished ninth on the team in face-offs taken, just behind the lightly-used John McCarthy.
Will coach Peter DeBoer have Burns take another puck drop this year? In DeBoer ‘s last two full seasons in New Jersey, a defenseman never took a face-off. In the entire league last season, only seven defensemen took more than one face-off. Hampus Lindholm led with five, Dustin Byfyglien took three, five other defensemen took two each. Johnny Boychuk was the only defenseman credited with more than one face-off win last year; he had two.
It is possible that 3-on-3 overtime hockey will cause a “major” increase in defensemen taking face-offs. It is also possible that we’ve seen the last of Brent Burns in the face-off circle this season. If so, he’ll finish among the leaders for defensemen in several face-off categories. Including that perfect win percentage.
ZEKE is a native of the DC area where he witnessed the birth of the Capitals franchise. After graduating from Cornell University, which had seen hockey glory before he arrived, he moved west to San Jose. There he witnessed the birth of the Sharks franchise. His wait to witness a Championship from any of these teams finally ended in 2018.