It was a season of fewer games; but for the San Jose Sharks, it was a season of many phases and it was a season of many ups and downs. A review of the Sharks performance this shortened year reveals how they are just short of the league’s elite.
Season Review at a Glance
First, came Patrick Marleau’s flying start that led to seven straight wins. But, as January faded into February, the high flying league leaders faded as well. The offense dried up as the Sharks lost seven straight and fell back to Earth. The tough times continued until late March as the Anaheim Ducks stumbled into a home-and-home with San Jose. The Sharks swept the pair of games as they returned to the Tank. The Sharks won their next five straight at home and vaulted right back into the playoff race. San Jose finished strong with a few hiccups to curious teams like Dallas and Columbus and felt confident going into the playoffs. Vancouver was caught flat footed in the first round and were swept easily. But the Sharks could not solve Jonathan Quick and fell to the defending champs in seven games.
Review of the Forwards
Four players provided the large majority of the Sharks offense in 2013. To review the Sharks offense is really to look at Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture, and Joe Pavelski. Only these four out of the 15 forwards that played at least ten games scored more than 19 points total. The weakness in San Jose’s game may come from that very fact. The four were often spread over three lines, however. We will move
forward ahead by grading five of them.
Joe Thornton: A-
The Captain had another solid year for San Jose. While his goal scoring is no longer what he hangs his hat on, he still led the team in points. He also led the team in faceoff percentage with 58.5%. Thornton’s only real problem was in his handling of the puck. He led the team in giveaways. His speed is down, but he knows exactly how to keep up in the league. Hockey IQ is hard to measure, but there is no other player on the roster that deserves the “C.” At age 33, Thornton’s biggest enemy is time. He certainly has the talent still, but his athleticism could be his downfall going forward.
Patrick Marleau: B
The perennial Sharks goal-scorer started the season with nine goals in five games. He was arguably the reason for the Sharks 7-0-0 start. However, Marleau went cold along with the rest of his team; he only recorded two points in the next eight games. His streaky ways returned. In the playoffs, he found a scoring touch again but could not bring them past the champs. His physicality lacked and at his age, it does not look to get any better.
Logan Couture: A
The youngster had a coming out party this season. 21 goals in 48 games gives the outlook that Couture may be able to join the scoring elite in the very near future. His stick handling skill and speed on the ice make him a deadly sharpshooter. But what surprised more, was his ability to play both ends of the ice exceptionally. He blocked 51 shots to lead all forwards. His hockey IQ reminds many of a younger Joe Thornton. The future in San Jose blows kisses after he scores.
Joe Pavelski: B+
The other side of San Jose’s future is in the little guy. Standing at a generous 5’11” is the third center for the Sharks. Pavelski can fall into the same habit of streakiness that plagues Marleau. He had a strong year on the scoresheet, but the numbers came in bursts. His consistency leaves something to be desired, but his patented hard-work plays are nightmares to defend.
The Rest of the Forwards: C+
The downfall of the Sharks game comes from a lack of threatening forwards beyond the four big names. With Clowe failing to score before his trade and only Martin Havlat scoring more than five all season, the remaining forwards lacked a certain scoring punch. They were never badly outmatched, but they also failed to wow anyone.
Instead of grading the individual defensemen, the group as a whole will be inspected. The Sharks were, one of the best teams at blocking shots. With 800, they were only 26 behind the top team in the league during the regular season. While none of the Sharks skaters are in the top 25 for the statistic, it shows that the team shares the brunt of blocking shots. Three players had more than 80 during the regular season. The Sharks did not rely on physicality to hold their opponents at bay. In fact, they ranked 11th in fewest penalties in minutes per game. Dan Boyle proved he can still pull his weight with smart plays and even some highlight reel goals. Brent Burns proved versatile as he bounced back and forth between the blue line and the forward position. Overall, the defense earned a B+ grade for being smart rather than being brick walls.
Seeing as he was a finalist for the Vezina, Antti Niemi received national acclaim as one of the best in the league. While his save percentage and goals against are nothing record-setting, he faced the most shots of any playoff goalie. He carried the load in the shortened season and provided stability in the net. Niemi earns an A and also the team MVP. Mainly through his stamina and consistency, Niemi emerged as an elite netminder in the league.
Todd McLellan was close to losing his job at the close of last season. But this season gave Sharks fans faith that their head coach was more than capable of piloting a playoff team. His move of Brent Burns to forward sparked the offense at the perfect time. The offense picked up and more importantly, the special teams that plagued San Jose in 2012 became one of the best in the league. GM Doug Wilson also made a team that looked to be selling at the deadline spring back to life with the acquisition of Raffi Torres. Unfortunately, the staff could not solve the LA Kings unless they were at home. The Sharks’ lack of success on the road eventually saw them out of the playoffs as well. A review of the coaching staff brings up a much more positive outlook than years past. This review gives the staff a B+.