The month of December is now upon us and I believe it is finally safe to say the San Jose Sharks have found their groove. Despite two recent losses, the spurt of overall success throughout the last few weeks couldn’t have come at a better time, sparing us Sharks fans from suffering a heart attack right before the holidays.
The beginning of the 2019-20 season was undoubtedly a scary time for Sharks fans. The team hovered around dead last in the Western Conference for the majority of the first month and familiar struggles that had plagued season’s past were at the forefront – most notably a shaky Martin Jones. In fact, I had practically counted the team out of a chance to make the playoffs solely based on the team’s dreadful performance in October.
November was a saving grace and the Sharks managed to achieve a spectacular 11-4-0 record for the month, which has led them straight back into playoff contention. I believe it is finally time to rescind my comments and regretfully say that perhaps I counted the Sharks out too early. Don’t get me wrong, there are still patches in play where the Sharks do need to improve on, but for the most part, I only have good things to talk about for the team after watching them play this past month.
Now that we can reflect more heavily on the month of November, let’s take a look at some of those accomplishments worth talking about.
Martin Jones Looking More Comfortable
Even after the 6-0 run the Sharks went on in November, I was quick to make comments of continued poor goaltending by Martin Jones. Regardless of the wins the Sharks were tallying, Jones’ abilities in net remained to be in question and the victories seemed to be gained through overwhelming offense from the Sharks, rather than a steal from the goalie. A poor goals-against average and save percentage tormented Jones throughout the 2018-19 season and success for the Sharks relied on Jones improving his numbers this season.
Jones currently sits at an .892 save percentage, which has seen a substantial increase from the beginning of the season. This number needs to get to the .900 mark for the Sharks to be a real Stanley Cup contender, as the team is certainly not on anyone’s radar to do so. Personally, I do believe the Sharks still have it in them to win a Cup – but it relies on Jones hitting this save percentage.
We must keep a sharp eye on him as December unfolds because I truly believe the hopes of the team rests in his glove.
Couture Continues to Carry
While fans might have been able to predict the slow start for Jones, I don’t necessarily think anyone expected Logan Couture to come out to as slow of a start as he did in October, especially after he was named the team’s captain.
Perhaps it was exactly that – his new captaincy meant plenty of added responsibilities and combined with nerves, it would explain the lack of early production. Whatever the reasons were, he seems to have found his footing and has earned himself several recent multipoint games, along with two overtime winners. You can view one of those gorgeous goals that netted the Sharks a win against the New York Islanders in this video below.
Couture’s leadership will be imperative to the Sharks’ success going forward, and as long as he keeps playing the way he has been as of late, I don’t think he will have any trouble continuing to put the team on his shoulders.
Sharks Just Need to Stay Out of the Penalty Box
While I can surely show admiration for the recent clinic the Sharks have been putting on, it would be wrong not to touch on the main area where I believe the team is still lacking – most notably, an inability to stay out of the penalty box. Don’t get me wrong, the Sharks have a great penalty kill, but staying out of the box in the first place is a huge problem nearly everyone on the team is facing – just take a look at this video showing Joe Thornton taking a rather controversial roughing penalty.
I keep watching them constantly sacrificing potential offensive zone time in an effort to kill off penalties. Even if the group manages to kill them off (and usually they do), it is no excuse to be taking so many in the first place. Just exactly how long have the Sharks spent in the box this season? According to NHL’s statistics, the Sharks have a total of 327 in penalty minutes. This number is astronomical and in my eyes, the main reason still holding the Sharks back from greatness.
I mean honestly, we can hate on Jones and backup, Aaron Dell all we want, but as long as the Sharks keep taking pointless penalties, can we truly place all of the blame on the goalies? I don’t think so.
December will be a critical month for the Sharks in terms of their playoff future. With a little more fine-tuning, I honestly believe the Sharks can make it far in the Stanley Cup run. We will have to wait and see if Jones keeps up his good play, as he has been known to be quite inconsistent, but if he can find his mojo, I think the Sharks will be a real threat come April.