The San Jose Sharks currently own a playoff spot but that spot is far from secure as their season has been far worse than last year’s 111 point finish. While a number of Sharks have performed well, key Sharks haven’t been as good as expected. Here are the five most disappointing Sharks thus far this season.
5. Matt Nieto
Nieto has unfairly been harshly criticized by many Sharks fans for not having as many points as expected. In reality he hasn’t been terrible by any stretch. With a decent finish to the season he could very easily match his 24 points in 66 games as a rookie last season. Nieto’s elite speed has made him effective on the forecheck and created space for a number of different linemates this season. For a good chunk of the first half of the season Nieto’s Corsi-for percentage was at or near the top of the NHL leaderboard. While he deserves more credit than he has gotten for his overall game, the fact of the matter is goals and assists are expected from a kid as talented as Nieto. Sure enough his low point totals have a lot to do with bad luck but his production is still nonetheless disappointing. It would be much more disappointing if the low totals were purely out of bad overall play but possessing the puck as much as he has, he plain and simple needs to put the puck in the net much more frequently.
4. Antti Niemi
Given his track record in San Jose for having a .920 or better regular season save percentage every other season, I certainly expected more from Niemi this season. Coming off a below average year and a terrible playoff needing a new contract after this season, I expected the best Niemi we have seen to date. Unfortunately for Sharks fans that hasn’t been the case. Recently Niemi looked terrific in a shutout of his former club the Chicago Blackhawks but then he looked like a flopping fish against the Edmonton Oilers. Currently Niemi owns a .914 save percentage on the season which doesn’t make one feel good about him getting hot in the postseason. The single postseason in his career where he posted a save percentage above .914 was in 2013 when he posted a .930 in the playoffs. That regular season his save percentage was a a career high .924 and he was nominated for the Vezina. When he won the Stanley Cup with Chicago he posted a pedestrian .910 save percentage that was actually lower if you take out the only series he was good in, coincidentally against San Jose. Outside of the Conference final against the Sharks, Niemi wasn’t very good at stopping pucks in the 2010 playoffs. In two of four playoffs with the Sharks, Niemi has finished with a sub .900 save percentage, that isn’t nearly good enough. Niemi has shown he is capable of getting hot but far too infrequently does that happen. Not stepping his game up during a contract season is very disappointing.
3. Justin Braun
Last season Braun was absolutely fantastic as a two-way defenseman. In the first half of the year he was solid on the top pair alongside Marc-Edouard Vlasic and then when pairs were mixed up Braun carried Brad Stuart as his partner. Stuart had a down year and Braun made up for it, being the alpha Shark on that second pair. This year Braun started out strong again with Vlasic but after about 20 or so games into the season he started to struggle and has not yet found his game again. Currently out with a broken bone in his hand, Braun has not been the same defensively reliable stud that we saw the previous two seasons. Instead there have been a number of lackadaisical misreads or plays where he gets caught staring at the puck like on this goal below by Minnesota’s Jason Zucker. The Sharks don’t have a whole lot of depth on the back end and they need Braun to find his game again if they want to have any significant playoff success. Thus far it has been a very disappointing year for Braun.
2. Tomas Hertl
After dazzling as a rookie, Tomas Hertl has struggled mightily this year. Unlike Nieto it hasn’t been because of bad luck, but rather health. Watching Hertl skate this season it is evident that his knee is not fully recovered from last season’s injury. What made Hertl a star last year was an explosive stride and acceleration that allowed him to jet through the middle to score multiple breakaway goals. At full speed Hertl wasn’t and never will be a speed burner like Nieto, but a year ago his strides were much more powerful than they have been this season. Hertl hasn’t been able to get the same push off which has limited his ability to create separation from defenders. As a rookie Hertl scored 15 goals and 25 points in 37 regular season games. Thus far this season Hertl has just 10 goals and 22 points in 54 games. Fewer goals and points in 17 more games is certainly disappointing after he was able to come back at the end of last season for a strong playoff. One has to wonder how much the “minor setback” on the knee injury during the offseason has affected him this season.
1. Patrick Marleau
Like Nieto, Marleau has dealt with some serious bad luck this season when it comes to offensive production. Despite throwing his usual amount of shots on goal that he does every year, Marleau is on pace for his worst goal scoring season since his third year in the league back in 1999-2000. His shooting percentage therefore is crazy low at just 6.8%. Generally speaking when a player is slowing down because of age, the shots, chances, and opportunities are what decrease, not the execution or success rate of those opportunities. Again this isn’t a list of the five worst players on the Sharks, rather the most disappointing. Marleau being on pace for less than 20 goals when he is an annual 30 plus scorer, that is extremely disappointing. At this point of the season we are used to seeing Marleau have around 18-22 goals, but he is sitting on just 11 right now. The Sharks are going to need him to have a strong stretch run and find the back of the net in the playoffs with regularity if they want to make any noise.