Three games is a small sample size — I know. But as the San Jose Sharks settle into their 2016-2017 campaign, its clear that this team is on track, the mojo that took them to the Stanley Cup Final months ago not far removed.
Sure, they suffered their first loss on Monday in a 7-4 road defeat to the New York Rangers, a game that featured defensive miscues and mistakes galore to the point that head coach Pete DeBoer called it a loss that they “deserved.”
It was disheartening to watch the Sharks give the Rangers open looks at the net on most of New York’s goals. Rick Nash had all day to tuck in a rebound off the boards in the second period. In the third period, after Brent Burns had cut a two-goal deficit in half, Kevin Hayes and Jimmy Vesey netted easy goals within seconds of each other. Both involved missed assignments and ended up in tap-ins. Both were crushing goals that were too much for the Sharks to overcome, despite a late push.
Sharks’ Depth and Talent Is a Luxury
Nevertheless, the Sharks have already shown through three games that they can stay in and even win games when they are outplayed or are not on top of their game. Against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday, they hung on to a 3-1 win (Patrick Marleau scored an empty-net goal late) despite failing to add on to a 2-0 lead and letting the Jackets hang around. The Sharks had their chances, but went scoreless on four power-play opportunities.
DeBoer told CSN Bay Area that it was a “good, sloppy road win,” a paradox that only coaches can come up with.
Again, it’s far too early to generalize. But the last two games have shown the Sharks have the depth and talent to beat any team in the NHL even if they are off. They did that against Columbus, and they almost beat the Rangers in Madison Square Garden while falling asleep on defense on multiple occasions.
Why? Because they have the luxury of Joe Pavelski grinding out four points or Brent Burns releasing hard shot after hard shot that winds up in the back of the net. Because their forward lines are loaded and their defensive unit is stellar — assuming there are no more aberrations like Monday night — bolstered by the underrated addition of David Schlemko.
This was apparent right away in the opener against the Kings, when all four lines rolled effectively and the second line — consisting of newcomer Mikkel Boedker, Logan Couture and Joonas Donskoi — set up Burns’ game-winning goal. The depth that this team discovered it had in the run to the Stanley Cup Final is still there, and even scarier. The Pavelskis, Hertls Thorntons and Coutures are mainstays on the top two lines, but being able to place a Marleau or a Joel Ward on the third line and a Tommy Wingels or a Melker Karlsson on the fourth line means the Sharks almost always have offensive threats on the ice.
Big Tests on the Horizon
But just having talent and depth is not enough in this league — the Sharks would surely know. This season, expectations are ramped back up again, with the team coming back as legitimate championship contenders. They have not played their best hockey yet by far, but they will have to find a groove for the remainder of this grueling early-season east coast swing that pits them against the New York Islanders on Tuesday night, the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday (in a Stanley Cup Final rematch), and the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday.
Those are three playoff teams, and three games where it will be an imperative for the Sharks to use their depth and talent while putting together an un-sloppy 60 minutes.