Through the first 12 games of the season, the Sharks found themselves sitting at 6-6, having gone 2-6 since an 4-0 start. A number of San Jose fans have been hitting the panic button on social media with the team’s poor results as of late. While a 5-2 win over a tired Florida Panthers team to improve to 7-6 won’t and shouldn’t completely change the confidence level fans have in the team, there are some key positives about this Sharks team that have been overlooked.
After losing to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday, much was made about the loss being to the “lowly” Blue Jackets and their 2-10 record going into the game. The Jackets however were expected to be a playoff team by many and were well rested going into the game. They also ended up beating the Pacific division leading Kings on Thursday night. They are far from a push over team like their poor record might indicate. Had San Jose lost to the Panthers team on Thursday, a mediocre club with, at best, equal expectations to the Blue Jackets playing their second of back-to-backs, it would have been a far worse loss than losing to Columbus.
1) Winning Games That They are Supposed to Win
There were rumblings from some Sharks fans after the Columbus game that it was a typical Sharks loss to lose to a bottom feeding team. Last season this was indeed a huge issue where Team Teal played down to the competition and lost a large number of points to teams they should have beat. This season however, they have started to buck that trend through the first 13 games. Thus far they are 4-1 in such games if you count the Blue Jackets as a team they should have beat. That’s a far better record than last season when they lost both games against Florida, Columbus and Buffalo, and nearly lost both games against Carolina.
The Sharks at 7-6 are not where they want to be record wise but they are making do with some significant injuries, and are 7-3 with Paul Martin in the lineup. Their two toughest opponents in recent games were the Stars and Predators, both were one-goal games until the very final moments of the third period. There are areas to improve no doubt, but they are certainly fixable problems.
2) Justin Braun Looking Like Himself Again
If you’re like me, you haven’t really noticed Justin Braun this season, and as a shut-down defenseman, that is a good thing. Last season was a defensive down year for Braun who was often caught out of position and mesmerized by the puck instead of tying up his man. Thus far this year however, Braun has been excellent defensively. Compared to last year, Braun’s Corsi is up two percent from 50.8 to 52.7 and his goals-for is up just over six percent from 50.0 to 56.2. These advanced numbers are still over a relatively small sample size of 12-13 games this season but he hasn’t made the mistakes at nearly the same rate as he was last season.
Braun struggling in his own zone last year is looking like an anomaly and the sharks need this resurgence from No. 61 to continue. Behind Braun, Martin and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, the defensive zone coverage of the other three defenseman in the lineup is suspect at best. For now though, with these three going defensively, the Sharks have enough on the back-end to be a really good team once they get Logan Couture back in the lineup in a few weeks. Until then, they aren’t playing all that bad. If they can continue to hover around that third spot in the Pacific, that will be plenty good enough as they should be set up to take off in the second half with a home heavy schedule and likely healthier lineup.