San Jose Sharks: Top 5 Things to Focus on for 2013
The coolest of all NHL pregame celebrations resumes at HP Pavilion January 24.
Within a couple days of that date, they now know what pluses and minuses await them in the 2013 schedule. Aside from the travel, fatigue and strength of opposition considerations they entail, where does this leave San Jose?
There are no shortage of things this or any team must address in the week remaining before the season starts. But it is sound management strategy to focus on those things in their control, starting with the biggest problems.
Every obstacle is created or increased by the scheduling problems, and every solution will involve young talent stepping up. The Sharks can win the Stanley Cup if they can work out, through or around the following five issues...
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The San Jose Sharks have been consistently inconsistent between the two lockouts. They slumped and streaked their way to the playoffs, where they could never stay hot enough, long enough to win match the franchise best 2004 run of 10 wins. (Patrick Marleau is the lone player remaining from that team.)
A slump in a shortened and condensed season could be devastating in a competitive Pacific Division and Western Conference. Their month-long slump ending in early March of 2012 and nearly cost them a playoff berth in a full season.
This season must be more consistent than last, when the Sharks had 32 of their 43 wins during three 15-game stretches. With a six-game home stand following their first two road games, they should finish each month in the top half of the conference and stay within a few points of the Pacific Division leader for the entire season.
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The San Jose Sharks were one goal away from having the worst penalty kill percentage in the NHL last season. With a kill percentage that was merely below average, they could easily have entered last year's Stanley Cup playoffs as the No. 3 seed.
San Jose took the responsibility of that unit away from coach Jay Woodcroft and added two defensive coaches in Jim Johnson and former head coach Larry Robinson. They said goodbye to key players that ended last season on the PK: Dominic Moore, Daniel Winnik, Colin White, Torrey Mitchell...
Simple personnel changes often take time to develop when there is a training camp. Coaches and players getting used to each other and installing a new system usually takes longer, and what was once less than 10 percent of the season is now almost 17 percent of it.
The Sharks will need to spread minutes out more in the condensed season, so studs like Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture will not be leaned on as heavily. Young players besides Tommy Wingels and Justin Braun will have to show they are capable of killing penalties.
Injuries Taxing Depth
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The San Jose Sharks no longer have depth. That is why they struggled through injuries last season—a .500 team when either Douglas Murray or Martin Havlat was not on the ice, and they were out together for nearly a month.
Unless the Sharks can avoid the injuries that plagued them in seasons that were not as condensed, they will need to get help from outside of the usual suspects to endure roster hits. And while they added depth on the blue line but have not replaced what they lost at the forward position.
The blue line is banged up before the puck has even dropped: San Jose is almost certainly without Jason Demers, probably without Justin Braun and they may be without Brent Burns, as well. San Jose will likely need Matt Tennyson or Matt Irwin to play well enough in their first NHL game to get vital early victories.
Tommy Wingels is leading forward candidate to make the third line dangerous and fill in on a scoring line, but the Sharks need more than one to make the jump. Look for either Michal Handzus to have a bounce back season or for Adam Burish or Andrew Desjardins to stand out.
Fourth Line Questions
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In past years, the San Jose Sharks were a team that could roll four lines. They will need to be able to do that all the more with the condensed schedule. Unlike years past, there are not many known quantities among the role players.
What they have is many players they have reason to hope can step up.
Douglas Murray, Jason Demers and Justin Braun combine to form a stout third pair even if one defender is down. Between Tommy Wingels, Michal Handzus, Andrew Desjardins and Adam Burish, they are likely to have a good third line. But will that depth extends to the fourth line?
T.J. Galiardi and James Sheppard have both filled bigger roles than they currently project to. If they can play up to their potential, San Jose could have the best fourth line in the world. John McCarthy, Frazer McLaren and Bracken Kearns were also invited to camp, and at least one will need to be ready to play regularly.
Pace the Goalies
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No matter what his goalies tell him about a heavy workload being good for them, Todd McLellan must treat it as a myth.
He heard the story from Evgeni Nabokov, who had a significantly worse record on the second of back-to-back games under McLellan and was consistently worn out by the playoffs. Now he is hearing it from Antti Niemi, for whom Fear the Fin broke down the numbers to prove otherwise.
In 2013, it will be worse. There are seven weeks in which the Sharks play four games, and 18 of their 48 games (37.5 percent) are either the first or second night of back-to-backs.
Finding Nemo rest will be important for a deep playoff run. He should be in net no more than three times a week and never on consecutive nights, leaving at least 10 games for the inexperienced Thomas Greiss.