This 2013-14 NHL season preview features the San Jose Sharks.
A perennial Stanley Cup contender who consistently falls short, San Jose started the season with 7 consecutive wins and looking like a powerhouse.
What followed was 7 straight losses, and just 6 wins, 3 of them in a shootout, in a span of 23 games.
They then went 12-5-1 in their final 18 games.
With a highly inconsistent regular season, not many knew what to expect from this team come playoff time, especially following the trades of Ryane Clowe and Michal Handzus at the trade deadline.
Oddly enough, this trimmed down, quicker Sharks team looked more dangerous in the post-season than the previous iterations.
They unexpectedly swept the Vancouver Canucks in round 1 before pushing the Los Angeles Kings to 7 games in round 2.
What went right in 2012-13
Logan Couture has officially arrived as the offensive leader of the San Jose Sharks. He scored at a 36 goal pace during the regular seasons and looked unstoppable on some nights. He’s one of the fastest skaters in the NHL, which is invaluable on a team with limited speed.
Blues vs. Sharks-8660.jpg by sarah_connors Attribution 2.0 Generic via Flickr
Goaltender Antti Niemi was his usual lights out self this past season, posting a .924 save percentage and 2.16 GAA. He improved on those numbers when it mattered most, posting a .930 save percentage and 1.87 GAA in the playoffs. He also registered 4 shutouts in the shortened season, giving him 23 over the last 4 seasons. Only Henrik Lundqvist has more in that span.
Brent Burns moved from defense to forward, a position he played before in Minnesota. He responded with a career high point per game average, scoring 9 goals and 20 points in 30 games once he returned from a sports hernia injury which caused him to miss the first month of the season.
Thanks in large part to having 4 players in their top 6 that can take faceoffs, the Sharks finished with the second best percentage in the league at 53.4%.
Perhaps not coincidentally, they also had a top 5 penalty killing unit that operated at an 85% success rate.
What went wrong in 2012-13
The lack of scoring depth really hurt the Sharks this past season. Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski accounted for 54 of the team’s 124 goals scored.
A large part of that was an inexplicable “zero” in the goal column for Ryane Clowe in 28 games played with the Sharks. Once a consistent 20 goal man, Clowe somehow couldn’t score a single goal despite playing over 16 minutes per game, including time on the top power-play unit. That likely contributed to him being traded to the Rangers at the trade deadline instead of perhaps signing a contract extension.
Another non-participant in the offense this season was Martin Havlat. The enigmatic, Injury-prone winger did manage to get into 40 games in 2013, however he scored just 8 goals despite finishing 5th on the team with 89 shots on goal.
Speaking of shots, San Jose put the second highest amount of rubber per game on opposing goalies this past season with an average of 31.8 per game. The problem? A team shooting percentage barely over 8%.
So what did they do to get better?
The only addition of note is former Pittsburgh Penguin Tyler Kennedy. He’s an excellent 3rd line player who will bring energy and a bit of a scoring touch to the bottom 6, which hasn’t been strong for the Sharks the last few seasons. He’s also fast, which will help on a team widely considered to be one of the slower groups in the NHL.
By Derek Ortiz (Own work – SJ Sharks Teal And White Game) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons
Player to watch
Logan Couture is the next face of the franchise in San Jose and 2014 could very well be the year he fully embraces that role. He’s been on the cusp of stardom for a couple of seasons now, and 40 goals and 75+ points would certainly cement him as one of the game’s premier players.
They will make the playoffs if…
The Sharks making the playoffs is like death and taxes over the last 15 seasons, as they’ve only missed the post-season once in that span. They still need to figure out what to do when they get there though.
They will miss the playoffs if…
Antti Niemi has a mediocre season. He’s just so important to the team’s success, and even more so now that solid backup Thomas Greiss has moved on.
Last season, many were wondering if the Sharks would be sellers following their trading of Michal Handzus and Ryane Clowe. This season however marks a unique situation with the entire core this team is built around entering the final year of their contracts. Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dan Boyle are all UFAs at season’s end and unless the Sharks are playing lights out hockey come February, it’s hard to imagine all three finishing the season there. If I had to choose, I’d say Boyle is most likely to be moved, but it will be close to, if not on trade deadline day.
Rookie most likely to have an impact
The price of trying to win a Stanley Cup and coming up short the last 15 years or so is that the Sharks’ prospect cupboard is among the most empty in the league. Not only have they traded away promising young players like Charlie Coyle, but they’ve also developed a tendency to whiff on their first round picks at the draft.
Having said that, one of the few remaining prospects they have is Tomas Hertl. A first round pick in 2012, Hertl is an all-around talent in the mold of Martin Havlat. He excels in any game situation and has the ability to help his team in many different ways, whether it be on the scoresheet, defensively or even by throwing a hit. Look for him to push for a top 6 role and provide some much needed speed and secondary scoring.
What should we expect this season?
San Jose began a slight change in identity this past season.
They have been known as a puck possession juggernaut over the years, foregoing speed in the process.
With budding superstar Logan Couture emerging as the focal point of the team’s offense, they are starting to mold the team more around his greatest asset: skating.
This could be the final year that the Sharks, as presently constructed, have a chance to win a Cup before the team drastically changes direction.
46-30-6, 98 points, 4th in the Pacific Division, 6th in the Western Conference
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