Two games into the season and the San Jose Sharks are rolling. They have dominated Pacific
Division opponents, beating the Vancouver Canucks and Phoenix Coyotes each by a score of four to one, and have only trailed once. The positives do not stop there; of the 19 players to step on the ice for the Sharks, 11 have at least one point through the first two games. That is a great sign for a Sharks team that has continually relied on the top two lines for production. Clearly the first two games
may have been great, but what can we expect from team teal the rest of the season?
Tomas Hertl will be the next Jonathan Cheechoo
Tomas Hertl is young, fast and extremely skilled. Not only did he show potential during the pre
season, but he has so far backed that up during the regular season. He has two goals and an assist in two games and has not showed any signs of nerves or rookie jitters. The kid also has a great shot and knows how to find open space in the offensive zone. These traits will help any forward score goals, especially one who is playing with Joe Thornton. In 2005 we saw Jonathan Cheechoo score 56 goals, 49 of which were scored in the 57 games after Joe Thornton joined the Sharks.
The difference between Cheechoo and Hertl however, is that Hertl is a fast and skilled skater. This will only increase the number of chances he receives, and although he will not maintain a
goal a game pace, I expect him to take advantage of time with Thornton and net 45 to 50 goals this season.
Tommy Wingels will score 20 goals
It may sound crazy to predict that a guy who scored five goals last season will score 20 this year, but I did say these predictions were bold. Wingels played 42 games last year, which means that if he played around 80 he could have reasonably scored 10. Therefore Wingels needs to double his 82 game projected goal output from last year to put 20 in the net. What’s even more important to consider, are
the line mates that he will be skating with this year. He will receive far more scoring opportunities playing with Joe Pavelski than he would playing with a fourth line center. Although Pavelski is
technically a third liner, he is good enough to center their first or second lines, and has done so throughout his career. Simply put, Wingels’ skills will be much better utilized playing with
Pavelski, and his five on five scoring output should increase. I also expect him to start taking shifts on
the second power play unit in place of James Sheppard, who despite his great work ethic, does not have the scoring abilities of Wingels.
Logan Couture will lead the team in plus-minus
This may not be a bold prediction, but it’s one that will probably go unnoticed even if it happens.
If a forward scores 50 goals but is on the ice for 50 goals against, he really hasn’t helped his team. Playing on both the second line, and on the first power play unit, Couture should have
no problem scoring around 35 goals if he stays healthy. Although he lacks speed, he is still an elite
forward when it comes to defense. His defensive stick work rivals that of Pavel Datsyuk, and he never gives up on the play regardless of how frustrated he is offensively. He is also a tough guy and despite the fears of many Sharks fans, risks injury by routinely blocking shots. The point of the game is to score more goals than your opponent, and Couture is one of the best players on the Sharks at
making that happen. Scoring lots of goals, playing great defense, and having a relentless work ethic, will all result in a great plus-minus for Couture this year.
Sharks will finish top two in the Pacific Division
The NHL realignment has resulted in some new faces in the Pacific Division. While four of the five teams still remain, the Dallas Stars have exited, and the Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, and Vancouver Canucks have all joined the division. The Sharks have played the Canadian teams very well over the past year, and for the most part have enjoyed success against the rest of the old Pacific Division—the only exception being the Los Angeles Kings. The Kings defense stymies most teams, but it really gets to the Sharks. Jonathan Quick seems to make every save when it counts, and that’s something the Sharks will have to overcome if they want to capture the Pacific Division crown.
The reality is that whether they finish first or second, or even third, may not ultimately matter. What matters is that the Sharks qualify for the playoffs, stay healthy, and get hot at the
right time. If that happens, then this team has a good shot at pulling off something special come playoff time.