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Who Are These Sharks?

Hertl

With a tepid start to the season, the San Jose Sharks are playing uninspired hockey exactly like the same team that lost to the Los Angeles Kings it last year’s playoffs. Their record is actually worse than it looks thanks to two shootout wins: eight regulation wins and nine regulation losses. Wasn’t this team supposed to be different? How could they possibly be a .500 team a quarter of the way through season?

The San Jose Sharks are only slightly different than the team that got embarrassed by the Kings, but that might be a good thing. The Sharks are still a very good team with immense talent throughout its lineup. Even though more than a quarter of the season is done, there is still plenty of time to rise in the standings and I think they will.

Of the Sharks first 22 games, only 6 have been played at home. That means there are 35 home games left in the season versus 26 on the road. As long as the Sharks make the Tank a formidable place for other teams to play in again, this will bode very well for San Jose. Last night’s game against Florida didn’t exactly exude confidence in fans though.

While the Sharks have not played a consistent type of game, this will come between now and the end of the season. Whenever teams get a fair number of newer players, it takes time for chemistry to build along with momentum. And if we have learned anything from the Los Angeles Kings in their past two cup wins, it would be that the regular season is practically meaningless as long as you get into the playoffs. The Stanley Cup doesn’t care what kind of season you had, and frankly, no one remembers nor cares.

Now I don’t expect the Sharks to go out and win the President’s Trophy again but I wouldn’t put the division out of reach just yet. The team does have a tendency to play up against good teams to beat them and down to the lower tiered teams to lose. But what is worse: losing to the top teams and only beating the lower lever teams? Then there would be questions on being able to beat those top teams in the playoffs.

The NHL is a very grueling season where there are 3-4 games per week to go along with thousands of miles worth of travel. The Sharks have the fifth worst schedule in terms of miles traveled and as of now, only one team that is worst on that list has more points: Anaheim. The Ducks, however, have an even amount of home and away games so their travel hasn’t exactly started yet. I would expect them to fall a bit in the standings in the coming months.

A normal NHL player usually takes 3-4 seasons before fully adjusting to the schedule. When young players get drafted from junior, NCAA or minor leagues, they never play anything close to 82 games (plus playoffs). That is why it is rare to see any rookies (ie Hertl last year) dominate an entire season like an all-star player does. But Hertl, Mueller, Nieto, Tierney, and even Stalock will only be getting better over time. This is where Doug Wilson’s idea of a rebuild comes into play because this takes several seasons before they come into their own.

The NHL is such a high level of competition that the disparity of skill amongst players is very low. Speed is more of a factor as everything done in the NHL is lightning fast. Most players can hold their own in terms of skill (sorry John Scott) but because the schedule is so long and grueling, the players that truly standout are the ones that consistently play well every night. Being a former collegiate athlete, it is a little more understandable: there are some nights where you just going through the motions in a game and not play your best. This is why you hear the term off-night. Most players go on streaks and less of them score almost every night. The ones that hit the scoresheet every night rarely take a night off, work the hardest outside of practice, and clearly standout in every game. The only player that I really think does that on the team is Joe Thornton, believe it or not, who happens to be leading the team in points once again.

Now while these all seem like excuses for their poor play, the team still does need to get their game to a better and more consistent level. The Sharks still shy away from the dirty areas and tend to get too cute on plays where they pass instead of shoot. Something is still missing and I bet we see a move made by Doug Wilson before the trade deadline if things don’t pick up in the coming month…or we all hold out for Raffi Torres to get healthy again.

I am admittingly a more optimistic Sharks fan than most – hence always posting on a site called Bay Area Bias. Next week we will hear from the pessimist Sharks fan about his thoughts on this team but I’d love to hear what you think in the comments below.

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