The list of things that need to get done for the San Jose Sharks in October of the 2019-20 campaign is a lengthy one. Head coach Peter DeBoer has a full plate between injuries, new players and even a suspension.
What do Sharks fans need to watch for in the team’s 14 games in October? We’ll cover it here.
The San Jose Sharks Goalies
Last season, Martin Jones and Aaron Dell combined to form the worst netminding pair in the league (as measured by save percentage). There’s been some re-writing of history, blaming the failings on a leaky defence. This was true for the first two months of last season, but the Sharks tightened things up considerably after that. The goalies, though, didn’t improve.
Both netminders matter here. Jones is the clear-cut starter, but his awful regular season last year opened a window for Dell who wasn’t good enough. The hope with goalies is if the starter struggles, the other can fill the gap. This happens on good teams, including a few recent Stanley Cup champions.
At least one of the two needs to show they are going to be a lot better this season than they were last. A strong start by either will help the team a lot and inspire confidence. The division of responsibility will be interesting. If Dell gets five or more starts, it is a sign there’s pressure on Jones. Last season, Dell’s save percentage was worse than Jones’, but 20% of the goals Dell allowed came in just two starts. It would be unlike DeBoer to hand over the top job to Dell if Jones struggles early. But it is not out of the question.
New Players In Teal
The Sharks will have several new players on their roster. Only one, defenceman Dalton Prout, comes with a meaningful NHL pedigree. A couple others have limited NHL experience.
With starting defenceman Radim Simek recovering from torn knee ligaments plus Joakim Ryan and Justin Braun gone, there are two blue line starting spots available as well as a seventh defenceman spot.
Up front, With Evander Kane suspended for three games plus the offseason departures of Joe Pavelski, Gustav Nyquist and Joonas Donskoi, there are a bunch of forward spots open.
DeBoer will insert players with little or zero NHL experience into his line-up. He has no choice on this. The players who get the first chance to earn a spot are just that, the first in line. Whether they stick or not is a different story. Keep an eye on which players contribute and which are in over their head. There are a few veteran Sharks who may wind up on lines a bit too high end for their talent. Kevin Labanc and Melker Karlsson come to mind. If they are given increased responsibility, how they handle it becomes an important story.
Barracuda and Sharks
On both the defence and on forward lines, expect unsettled situations, line blendering, line-up changes and the shuffling of players between the San Jose Barracuda (the Sharks AHL franchise) and the Sharks. Look for players in three categories: those who grow into their role quickly, those who show potential but need seasoning and those who simply aren’t that close to NHL-ready. Expect the emphasis to be with defence. It won’t be the goals the younger players score which determine their fate, it’ll be goals (and scoring opportunities) they are responsible for giving up.
Sharks Team Defence
The Sharks were a middle of the pack defencive team last season. They allowed more goals than any other team in the playoffs. This is traceable to weak goaltending and leaky defence in the first third of the season. For most of last season, the team defence was good.
When the Sharks held opponents to two or fewer goals (including the playoffs), they won 39 of 40 games. Even with the departures, the Sharks have enough offensive firepower to score. But to win, the commitment to solid defence needs to be there. While there may be a ragged game or two early on, the defence should begin to gel pretty quickly. If the Sharks are allowing odd man rushes and or allowing opponents to move quickly through the neutral zone, it’s a bad sign. Getting the team defence right is a high priority.
There is no reason the San Jose Sharks special teams can’t be special. Last season, they weren’t. The season before, the Sharks led the league in special teams scoring differential. This season needs to look at lot more the 2017-18 campaign than last season’s uglier version.
There’s a temptation to look at the Sharks four goals in five minutes power play against the Vegas Golden Knights and assume the Sharks power play is elite. In reality, those five minutes were the exception, not the rule.
The Sharks power play should be elite, given the talent they roll out. The team puts out four players who scored over 25 goals last season. Add to that, three likely Hall-of-Famers in Joe Thornton, Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns. The Sharks power play talent is among the league’s best.
Last season, and in the playoffs (save for five stunning minutes), the Sharks power play was mediocre. This must get fixed and it needs to happen in the first month. It isn’t a talent problem. There will be a lot of heat on the coaches to get this right from the start of the season.
The penalty kill also wasn’t very good for most of the season and at times, like in the series against Vegas, it was a major problem area. Among the off-season departures, only Justin Braun was a penalty kill fixture (Pavelski would take key face-offs on occasion). Of the top eight Sharks in penalty kill ice time from the highly effective 2017-18 penalty kill, six are still on the roster (Braun and Chris Tierney are not). There is a lot of continuity here and the Sharks rightfully have high expectations.
Because of the continuity and the proven abilities of both units, the penalty kill and power play are areas the Sharks can have a substantial early season advantage.
The Sharks Season Openers
The Sharks face the Golden Knights in the first two games of the season, opening the season on the road then hosting the Golden Knights in the next game. The games are ‘must watch’ given the rivalry. It’s so intense it went past the boiling point in the pre-season.
But in terms of learning what the Sharks are going to become this season, the Golden Knights games don’t hold a ton of meaning. Truth is, the Sharks need to experiment a lot in the opening month of the season and it needs to start in the opening game. The Sharks need to focus on what they need to do and worry less about the opponent.
Vegas, for what it’s worth, is among the teams with the most continuity entering the season. They should be good early on and it’ll be tough to get points in these games. But take very little from the score in these games. Whether the Sharks win both, lose both or something in between, this is where the process begins. For now, the process is more important than the result.
The San Jose Sharks October
The San Jose Sharks will be a very different team by the end of October than they are on day one of this season. Enjoy watching the new players trying to make their mark. Hope the netminders aren’t repeating last season. Look at the special teams where the expectations are rightfully high. Keep an eye on things like odd-man rushes allowed.
It’ll be a bonus if the Sharks have a strong month. But as long as they don’t put themselves into a big hole, the record won’t be critical. October is mostly about figuring out which new players fit in and where they can be effectively deployed. If the Sharks accomplish this, October will be a successful month.
There’s been a lot of discussion in Sharks Territory on the suspension of Evander Kane for abuse of an official. The incident happened during the Sept. 29 preseason game against Vegas. Kane brought up two issues afterwards and one has merit. On what happened in the game, Kane is at fault. He crossed a line, vastly overstated the issue in his postgame remarks and deserved the suspension. The official (linesman Kiel Murchison for the record) may have been a bit overzealous, but only modestly so. The game was already very chippy (114 penalty minutes – Kane alone had 27 – but six other players had at least nine PIMs) and Kane had already fought once. The official was right to step in to prevent another fight. The force he applied to Kane was modest, though Kane did go down to the ice.
Kane also alleged he’s been officiated differently than other players in the league. This point has merit. It didn’t happen in the game against Vegas, but it did happen a lot last season where the rules seemed to bend against Kane often. No example was more obvious than the brutal head shot he took from Zdeno Chara with the official staring right at it – and doing nothing. Some reported Kane yelled “are you blind?” at the official. Given the terrible non-call, Kane had a legit point. That player safety followed up by doing absolutely nothing was flat out disturbing.
Kane led the league in PIMs last season and most were deserved. He is often undisciplined and loses his poise too frequently. Still, he merits fair treatment and I had a strong sense he was treated differently by the officials compared to every other player on the ice. Not every game, but often enough to notice.
Kane can be certain what happened in Vegas won’t stay in Vegas. He can expect to be officiated differently, with some officials taking this incident more personally than others. It’s wrong for officials to do this, but wrong won’t stop it from happening. An apology for shoving Murchison might have mitigated the issue a bit. That didn’t happen, but he’d be wise to make an apology at some point very soon. Either way, though, I suspect the suspension is just the beginning of the ramifications Kane will face.
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