The San Jose Sharks immediately felt the pressure of a new hockey season and were instantly put on the back-pedal after dropping four games in a row to start 2019. They continued to have a horrible October and were 4-8-1 by the end of the month.
The team has been recovering during November, and have been fighting their way back into the standings. They have now won six straight games to get within a couple of points of a playoff spot in the Western Conference. I, like many others, completely expected the team to continue their tank, so this good news comes as a welcome surprise.
There are many good things occurring for the Sharks right now, and I think it is worth analyzing what the team has been doing right, as well as what could still use some work if there are plans on continuing this strong run. As I said, the Sharks, even after winning six straight are not within a playoff position yet, so they must keep up the momentum if they are to succeed.
Captain Couture Finally Finding His Element
Logan Couture has now had three multi-point games in a row, which is something the Sharks desperately needed from their newly named captain. He started off the season incredibly slow and did not hesitate to speak out about his frustrations.
Everyone knows Couture is an incredibly skilled player, but in October he failed to put up the offensive numbers he has been known for. Now that his output has changed and we are starting to see the Couture we are used to, perhaps other Sharks will follow suit, as Evander Kane and Tomas Hertl are the only Sharks who’ve scored consistently, with 12 and 10, respectively.
Karlsson and Burns Channeling Their Norris Natures
When you have a defensive pair as stardom-worthy as Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson, one can surely expect there to be some sort of security on the back end of the ice. However, even with the booming defensive power from the Sharks, the two former Norris Trophy-winning defensemen were noted for their sloppy play to start the season, which included giveaways and poor backchecking, as well as a lack of the offensive production the duo are known for.
The Sharks have the second-best penalty kill in the league right now and are trailing only the Pittsburgh Penguins in that category, so it may sound strange to comment on the Sharks giving up messy goals. However, the issue for them right now is their five-on-five play, which is slowly getting better thanks to players like Burns and Karlsson beginning to step it up. Just take a look at this clip of Burns taking the puck up ice and sniping a shot past Anaheim Ducks goaltender John Gibson in a recent 5-3 victory against the Ducks.
Improvements Still Needed from the Sharks
One of the main reasons the Sharks are continuing to give up goals is a result of poor goaltending that was evident even through the Sharks’ winning spree. Martin Jones continues to let in multiple goals a game and his save percentage is still below .900.
You could make an argument that he has been improving over the last little stretch, but it would be a lackluster argument at best. Plus, most of the games have not been decided by a Jones save, but brutal attacking play in the offensive zone that the Sharks are known for.
Jones must play better if the team is going to survive the season and make it into the playoffs. Whether or not he has that ability in him is unknown. In 2016, we saw him help carry the team to a spot in the Stanley Cup Final where the Sharks were ultimately defeated by the Penguins. However, since then, he has been on a continuous downward spiral and is showing no signs of improvement.
When it comes to players other than the goalie who could use some work, Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton are two names that come to mind who I believe are a couple of good plays away from finding their mojo. While the veteran players both sit at the ripe age of 40 and aren’t necessarily expected to put up outrageous numbers, something about their game has been lacking as of late.
Marleau can still out-skate many of the younger players in the game, and I believe he has the capability to score 20 goals or more by season’s end because the talent is definitely still there for him.
Thornton isn’t known for being a goal scorer and he’s actually yet to score a goal this season, but the primary passer could use at least one goal to boost his confidence.
These are just a couple of improvements that I believe the team would benefit from. If they occurred, it would drastically help the Sharks and their quest for the franchise’s first Stanley Cup win.