Go check out the stats for each team. In goals for per game, goals against per game, power play percentage, faceoff percentage, blocked shots, takeaways, and many more the Sharks rank in the top half of the league (and many times higher than that). On paper, the Sharks do not have a glaring weakness to be exploited. But, the games are not played on paper. The Sharks greatest weakness does not show at first glance, it is something to watch for as each game develops in itself.
Fast Starts Almost Every Night
Every coach in the NHL would kill for a fast start. They preach getting on top of the opponent before they even get in stride. The Sharks are very good at this. They have scored 32 goals in the first period. Five more than the next best team in the NHL. Meanwhile, Alex Stalock and Antti Niemi have only allowed 12 goals in the opening frame. A 20 goal difference. To bring in the cliché boxing metaphor, the Sharks hit hard in the first round and daze the opponent.
Their intensity and precision is there almost every night. In the first period, the passing is crisp and deadly. The chaos they create inside the offensive zone gasses defenders and makes the Sharks look unbeatable. But, when faced with a goaltender on his game, that opponent can survive the opening barrage.
Take, for instance, Saturday’s game against New Jersey. The Devils have surged of late but are still a very broken team. Their offense is non-existent on some nights. In the first frame, they managed three shots on Nemo. But the Hall of Fame bound, Martin Brodeur kept his Devils close. At the end of one period, it was 2-0. The second period was still all Sharks, but Brodeur stood tall and even robbed Couture from point blank with a nifty glove save (stick tap to the greatest goalie of this generation, maybe all time). Then, came the third. All of a sudden, the Devils realized they were a professional hockey team and ramped up the pressure. Here is the Sharks greatest weakness. If they don’t put a team down and out of reach, they get complacent and allow them back in. Strong play from Niemi and just enough pressure back kept the two points secure.
At 41, this old man’s still got it.
Sharks Greatest Weakness Rears its Head Late
So, there it is. The Sharks greatest weakness is, in fact, their own heads. Dominating the first two periods is enough. Some nights, that’s true. But, when facing the best teams in the league, it definitely will not be. The Sharks are well off in the Pacific, but one, lesser-known stat is a major red flag. San Jose is 17th in the league in winning percentage when they score first. What? Surely, that is a misprint. Nope. 11 wins, 1 loss, and 4 overtime losses have the Sharks at a .688 win percentage. That puts them behind elite teams like Pittsburgh, Chicago, Boston, and St. Louis. It also puts them behind some very questionable teams. Stragglers like the Flyers, Predators and Stars? The Sharks greatest weakness is that of a team that has not quite made the jump to elite status.
Sure, the Sharks’ record has them sitting pretty in the Western Conference. But often, they require heroics from Antti Niemi to preserve wins. Many of the Sharks wins after that blistering start have been much closer than they should have been.
What’s the Solution?
While it is a weakness, there is a way around this. And while it sounds simple, execution is more difficult than the average fan gives it credit for. Just keep your “foot on the gas.” If it were that simple, it would never be a problem. But the flow of a game is different with each goal. Every minute closer to the end makes the team down a goal just a little more desperate. It is hard to maintain high pressure throughout a game. When your team goes up by two, why risk giving up a goal by pinching in?
The Sharks greatest weakness is a nice one to have. It intrinsically means that they have the lead in a game. Some teams hardly ever lead (cough Buffalo cough). But this chink in the Sharks’ armor will doom them in the playoffs. When playing resilient and talented teams, blowing a lead will take the wind out of their sales.
Jumping out to a lead is key. Keeping it is another entirely. They do not need to slam on the gas all game long, but the Sharks do need to keep just enough pressure to hold opponents back from coming from behind.