Going into the shortened 2013 NHL season, I predicted that the San Jose Sharks would finish 6th in the Western Conference, but I barely believed it. For some reason I felt like I might have been giving them too much credit.
Their two biggest stars, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau aren’t old, but they both have a ton of NHL mileage on them, currently having combined for 2,204 NHL games played. I tend to think of the game as faster now than it ever was, and while they can both get around at a good clip, I’ve never considered either to be among the fastest in the league (though some have). I thought their production would start slowing down this year, and as they go, their team goes.
Combine that with the fact that I think Antti Niemi is fine but not great, they have a good d-corps and a couple other name forwards and yeah – playoff team, early elimination, nothing more.
Well, you won’t believe this, but my prediction may not have been perfect. They’re on a tear, and clearly more legit than I recognized during the lockout.
The San Jose Sharks are leading the Pacific Division with a perfect 5-0-0 record, and only trail the also-undefeated Chicago Blackhawks by two points in the Western Conference. Those “two big stars” are 1-2 in NHL scoring, both having 13 points after only five games. Patrick Marleau is first in goals by four, leading names like Gaborik, Hossa and Parise by putting up nine. He’s only the second player in history to start an NHL season with four straight multi-goal games, along with Cy Denneny who accomplished the feat in 1917-18. Thornton’s ten assists lead the league as well, and their liney Joe Pavelski is T-4 in the league with 10 points. Logan Couture (8 points in 5 games), Dan Boyle (6 points in 5 games), and Martin Havlat (4 points in 5 games) are off to decent starts too.
The team has obviously been killer at producing, as evidenced by the fact that they’re second in goals-per-game with a whopping 4.60 (to Tampa Bay, who is putting up 4.80), but it hasn’t just been quality at the one end of the ice.
The Sharks are currently allowing the lowest goals-against-per-game in the NHL, allowing only 1.6 goals per contest. That leaves them with the league’s biggest goal differential (+15), four better than the second closest teams, Chicago and Tampa Bay. Whether you want to credit Niemi or team defense, their starting goalie has posted great numbers early on, sporting a record of 4-0-0 with a .933 save percentage and 2.01 goals-against.
They’ve simply owned in every area of the game so far including even strength, where they have the league’s best goals for/against ratio. And on special teams (while it can’t stay this good), they’re first in the NHL with a 37.5% conversion rate on the powerplay. Hell, they’ve scored 11 first period goals in five games (most in the league) – 13 NHL clubs don’t have more than that on the season so far.
I’m still of the mind that the San Jose Sharks window is closing, but after an early glance this year, it appears way, way more open then I thought – we may just wanna keep them in the Cup conversation for a couple more years. It seems like the d-corp of Boyle, Burns, Murray, Stuart and Vlasic might have just propped that window open, and Thornton and Marleau seem intent on dragging the rest of the Sharks through.