Offense is a problem for the San Jose Sharks. The injury, or shall we say re-injury, to Logan Couture is a larger problem. Recent tactics taken by Sharks opponents have been to keep them to the perimeter of the offensive zone and simply outwait them. This is because the Sharks have proven themselves unable to win one-on-one battles with the puck. There’s no Kane, Tarasenko, Stamkos, Seguin, Hall, or any other prolific sniper type on the roster. There’s no R rated shooter in San Jose, just PG-13 guys opponents don’t need someone to accompany them to defend.
The Loss of Couture and an Aging Marleau
In the Sharks glory days, it was Patrick Marleau that deked and juked his way into the hearts of Northern California. Marleau’s blistering pace and ability to maneuver through defenders made him a threat whenever he touched the puck. The Canadian was a superstar. He still shows flashes of that old brilliance, such as a highlight reel goal earlier this season, but it is the only goal of its type for San Jose this year.
Marleau blows by a blue liner, drives the net fearlessly, and blows up SAP Center like the old days.
Then, there is Couture. He is the replacement Marleau. Couture may not have the speed of the elder Shark, but his stick handling and shooting are among the league’s best. But, as he’s injured, the Sharks are without a sniper. Or at least one under the age of 35.
Current Options for Sharks Offense
Brent Burns. The blue liner has been the ignition of each offensive possession it seems. He bombs slapshots an average of over 4 times a night. He can move the puck well, but it isn’t with finesse. The hairy d-man relies on his brute force to put opposing defenses on the back foot. Burns is capable of taking on opponents, but his tactics are not sustainable.
Joe Pavelski. The best player in a Sharks uniform is easily its captain. Pavelski finds ways to score. He’s not necessarily a shooter, but he is a goal scorer. He grinds out his opportunities and finds soft spots in the coverage to beat goalies around the league. He redirects pucks and deposits rebounds. But he doesn’t skate away from opponents. He can’t dance around defensemen like the other elite scorers of the NHL. Pavelski earns his money the hard way, which is proving to be difficult to maintain. His points, like all Sharks players are down this season.
In Couture and Marleau there was a pure shooting skater. That’s not to say they don’t make passes and work for their teammates, but they have the ability to use either their elite speed (Marleau) or silky smooth hands (Couture) to own the offensive zone. In other words, they can win one-on-one battles.
Marleau’s age has slowed him down to where he can no longer just blow by defensemen as he used to. He has scored at a decent clip this season, but not in the way he used to. Couture’s out. Now, teams like the Oilers can just sit in the middle of the defensive zone and prevent the Sharks from making passes across the ice.
Take the 3-on-3 period against Edmonton, a frame played without Couture. It was slow, boring, and the Sharks never really showed a threat to score. There was even extended time in the zone with the puck, a rarity in the new OT. But the Sharks were unable to make anything of it. With all the open ice, the Sharks had to hope for the Oilers to make a mistake.