So, much more than half the season has been played. But Sharks Mid-Season Review provides a much better headline than Sharks 71% of the Season Review. As all but four Sharks take mid-winter vacations, Team Teal stands at 80 points, seven behind the league leading Anaheim Ducks. In case you’ve been a little behind on your Sharks news, here’s your opportunity to sound like you’ve been following all year long.
Sharks Mid-Season Review
80 points at this point in the season is nothing to be ashamed of. Unfortunately, with the competition in the Western Conference being what it is, 80 is only good for fourth best in the playoff seeds. The Sharks began the season blazing out of the gate. An 8-0-1 start was capped off by a save of the year candidate by Antti Niemi in a shootout against the Red Wings. Oh, and I won’t forget to mention the four goal game by the teenager (not anymore) Tomas Hertl. Scoring came from all parts of the ice as Marc-Eduoard Vlasic broke out and Patrick Marleau never fell into (a long) slump. Brent Burns and Joe Thornton continued to bring the Czech sensation Hertl into the spotlight with dominating play.
But as the Sharks came back down to Earth, the Ducks flew right by them. Their division rivals went undefeated for a huge portion of the season at home. Injuries handicapped the Sharks as they tried to keep pace. Logan Couture came down with a hand injury and probably missed out on Sochi as a result. Tomas Hertl himself was brought down by a knee injury in a collision with Kings captain Dustin Brown. Raffi Torres is still recovering from surgery in the preseason as well.
All in all, however, the Sharks have been a surprise this season. Not in the fact that they are contending for a top playoff spot, but that they have been one of the most offensive teams in 2013-14. The Sharks mid-season review of yester-year spent most of its time discussing the strong defense and puck possession strategies that Todd McLellan loves so much. After an abysmal 2013 campaign at even strength, the Sharks are now one of the league’s best 5-0n-5 teams.
The greatest story of the Sharks season will be the breakout year of rookie Tomas Hertl. While the story was tragically cut short by a knee in a black sweater, it is still going to be the moment Sharks fans look back on this season. Well, unless they win the Cup, of course.
Hertl brought a new zest for the game into the locker room. The youngster came into northern California wide-eyed and star struck. Even after his first two goals, he didn’t seem to believe his own life. The post-game interview after his even more massive four goal game confirmed it. “This is dream.” Hertl was leading Calder Trophy talks and also leading all rookies in scoring. His growth in all facets of the game was phenomenal. And it can all be owed to the Sharks venerable leader: Jumbo Joe.
The Wiley Veteran
Jumbo Joe Thornton just earned himself a new contract. At 34 years old, the captain has proven his worth to this team for numerous seasons now. This season has been no different; in fact, he is having one of his best as a captain in San Jose. With 48 assists, he is second in the league only behind Sidney Crosby. His newest apprentice, Tomas Hertl, has thrived in his first season in North America. He has embraced the fact that his best years are behind him and shoots the puck only as a last resort. Thornton also ranks in the top 15 in faceoff percentage. He has lost a step or two, but his hockey IQ has kept him competitive and valuable. Of course, after that four goal game by Hertl, Joe had his own take on how he would have celebrated a game of that magnitude. Let’s just say it wouldn’t be kid friendly by any means.
Before that brand new contract came in, this was Logan Couture’s team in the making. He is the captain of the future in San Jose. But Joe’s usefulness hasn’t quite run its course yet. Logan quietly put together his own strong season. The numbers are not through the roof, but his intangibles are much improved. Couture has embodied the look and feel of a leader more and more this season. Centering the second line with Patrick Marleau, he has successfully taken on the toughest competition this season. His 30.4% time on ice against quality opponents is tied for the best in the league. Despite his tough competition, he still earns a +13 plus/minus. Before his hand injury, he was on a roll. And since he’s been gone, the Sharks’ offense has struggled.
In the midst of so many injuries after the end of 2013, one man stepped his game up. Exponentially. Not-so-Little Joe Pavelski exploded for seven goals over four games in January. The hard-working forward now sits at fourth in the league in goals with 29. He has not only erupted on the score sheet, but has also developed into a leader in his own right. Pavelski has been versatile and durable to say the least. He hasn’t succumbed to injury this season playing all 59 games. Joe has also been flipped in between three separate lines. He can play with anyone and can thrive anywhere. On a team like San Jose, he mans the third line center position, but he could start a top line on many other teams.
The Wild West
If the Sharks were in the Eastern Conference, they would occupy the second seed instead of battling for the fourth. The East is far behind the West. The Sharks, healthy or not, are thriving in the jungle that is the Western Conference. However, the Sharks are not quite in the ranks of the league’s elite. Why? They may compete with the best, but they can’t put away the rest. Losses to Buffalo, New York (Islanders), Nashville (twice), and a record-setting one in Edmonton have given San Jose a loss to the last place team in every division. Injuries or just one ex-LA King playing out of his mind, the best teams are deep and find ways to win.
This is not to say that the Sharks are not out of the talks to win a Cup. They are more than capable of competing with any team in this league. And at full strength, which they will eventually get, they are going to run four lines of scoring. Their depth will be hard to handle. Pavelski on the third line and Raffi Torres on the fourth? Good luck matching up against that. But that is all contingent on the big if: “if they get healthy in time.”