It has been an up and down, Jekyll and Hyde season for the San Jose Sharks in 2014-15. A number of players have impressed and a number have disappointed. The following are the top five performers on Team Teal thus far this season.
5. Brent Burns
Yes, you read that correctly, Brent Burns is the fifth most impressive Shark this season. Despite the fact yous truly is a major proponent of the Burns belongs at forward campaign, that doesn’t mean he hasn’t done some good things. The primary good thing he has done this year is absolutely crush it on the power-play. The hulking wookie sized and often wookie looking figure has 13 points on the man advantage from the point. He has been so-so on zone entries but once established with possession, Burns has a wicked quick and powerful release from the point. Burns is able to get a ton of shots off without having to wind up for a big slapper. His half slapper/wrist shot combo has plenty of gusto behind it. The goal below wasn’t on the power-play but it came right after a man advantage. Not only can Burns shoot the puck but he is an underrated play maker. He sets guys up for re-directs on a regular basis. Offensively speaking he is a dynamite weapon and I was livid at one point last year that head coach Todd McLellan didn’t even have him on the second unit. The Sharks had a dismal power-play last year with Dan Boyle having a down year. In 2013-14, the Sharks power-play finished at just 17.2%, 20th in the league. This year with Boyle gone and Burns and Logan Couture on the top unit instead (both saw time on the second unit behind Boyle last year), the Sharks power-play is clicking at 21%, eighth best in the league. Furthermore, Burns has started to come around at even strength recently while paired with Marc-Edouard Vlasic. In the last seven games prior to Monday’s shootout loss Burns was a plus-5.
4. Logan Couture
As mentioned here recently, Couture is having an under the radar career year. The 25-year-old center is essentially money in the bank for 30 goals every season. He scored 30 in his first two full years, was on pace for more than 30 during the lockout shortened season, and last year an injury prevented him from having a chance to get there (was on pace for 29). In his fifth season this year, Couture is again on pace for 30 goals and on pace for a career high in points as well. He not only plays on the top power-play unit but he kills penalties on a regular basis and is frequently deployed against the opponents top lines. While his face-off percentage has been a bit underwhelming this year compared to past seasons, he is still a positive possession player and his current line is going well the last few games. Possibly the injury to Tommy Wingels is a blessing in disguise as it has allowed Matt Nieto to jump back into the right wing spot alongside Couture and Patrick Marleau. Over the last few games this trio has looked awfully similar to the end of last season when they were the Sharks best line against the Kings in the playoffs.
3. Joe Thornton
The future hall of famer doesn’t put up the same offensive totals that he used to but he is still a dynamite force. When he missed four games with injury earlier this year the Sharks were blown out twice by the St. Louis Blues and squeaked out two victories against a beat up Jets squad and a free falling Wild team. The Sharks were miserable on the power-play without Thornton’s calm and collected presence on the half wall. With 41 points in 46 games, Thornton is on a 73 point 82 game pace which is still elite offensive production. While Couture sees a lot of top line matchups, Thornton still sees more than his fair share as well, including a huge responsibility in defensive zone face-offs. Thornton is currently third in all of the NHL behind only Manny Malhotra and Patrice Bergeron with an astounding 58.5% success rate in the circle. There are a few reasons why Thornton has a lot of empty net goals this season, first and foremost is luck and secondly he is always out there defending a one goal lead in the final minute. Fans around the league like to bash on Thornton for not having a ring and being stripped for the captaincy but the fact of the matter is he is one of the best players of all time and is still arguably the most valuable player on the Sharks roster.
2. Marc-Edouard Vlasic
Vlasic is arguably the best shut-down defenseman in the entire NHL. Last season he was finally able to rise on the national scene as he and Drew Doughty were Team Canada’s best defensive pair en route to winning the Gold medal at the Olympics. This year Vlasic has continued to be his usual defensive stud but has also scored arguably three of the top five biggest goals this season for the Sharks. Those two games against the Jets and Wild when Thornton was injured? Vlasic scored both game winners in dramatic fashion. He scored with less than 10 seconds remaining to beat the Jets, and he scored in overtime against the Wild. Not to mention Vlasic scored a huge tying goal against St. Louis in the last 30 seconds of their lone victory against the Blues this season. With Thornton healthy for that game, it was a terrific pass from 19 that Vlasic was able to sneak through traffic for the dramatic equalizer seen below.
1. Joe Pavelski
What can you say about Joe Pavelski? He is a dynamite super star all his own. While he may score a few more goals than he otherwise would while playing with Joe Thornton, he doesn’t need Thornton to be great. Over the years Pavelski has shined centering his own line with lesser linemates and still been a point per game player. He is super duper star in the league and was arguably the biggest All-Star snub this season. He is on pace for a second straight 41 goal season, and leads all Sharks forwards with a plus-11 rating. The next closest rating amongst Sharks forwards is Couture at plus-4. That pretty much says it all about Pavelski, compared to his teammates, he is carrying the load both offensively and defensively. He lights up opposing goaltenders on the power-play, he sells out to block shots on the penalty kill, and is a dynamite even strength player to boot. Currently Pavelski owns the best even strength goals for percentage on the Sharks at 59.2% and fourth in Corsi-for percentage at 54.8%. There is nothing not to like about what Pavelski does on the ice, he can make plays as well as he can score and he is a three zone player.