Don’t panic, Western Conference fans. And please don’t call NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.
While it seemed like each of the San Jose Sharks’ 14 rostered forwards was on the ice every time they crossed into the offensive zone during Tuesday’s nationally televised demolition of the St. Louis Blues, rest assured that Todd McLellan's team was indeed following NHL personnel protocols.
Make no mistake, though. Through six games of the regular season, San Jose's guys are much better than yours.
At Scottrade Center against the Blues, the Sharks picked up precisely where they’d left off after five previous wins to kick off 2013-14, overwhelming their unbeaten hosts with a signature barrage of shots from myriad line combinations.
It was the latest in a series of comprehensively dominant performances.
In fact, only one team this year—the Ottawa Senators—has remained within a goal of the Sharks, who have now outscored their foes 30-9.
“It’s the best team I remember seeing out of San Jose, maybe ever,” said NBC Sports Network studio analyst Jeremy Roenick, who was a Shark for his final two NHL seasons in 2007-08 and 2008-09. “It’s not only offense, it’s structured offense. Very impressive.”
Of course, the idea that San Jose has prolific talent is nothing new.
The Sharks have won between 43 and 58 times in each of their last four 82-game seasons and went 25-16-7 in the league’s abbreviated 48-game slate in 2013.
Nonetheless, the franchise’s primary identifier since initially reaching relevance has been a recurring failure to translate winter success into springtime survival.
Lest anyone forget, last year’s 7-0 January start quickly fizzled into a below-.500 February. This fall’s quick start seems different, however, because it’s come thanks to weapons other than those who have consistently dominated headlines in the past.
Oh, sure, San Jose got a goal Tuesday night from burly team captain Joe Thornton, but the most noticeable change from previous years is that the balance of scoring has been spread beyond guys like Thornton and veteran wingman Patrick Marleau.
And the scoreboard punishment they've doled out has been varied in its methods as well.
For every individual YouTube highlight from dazzling teenager Tomas Hertl, there have been a handful more goals scored thanks to dizzying puck movement that's often meant each forward and defenseman touches the puck before it finds its home.
San Jose's first two tallies against the Blues—within 48 seconds of each other in the first period—came from second- and third-line centers Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski on separate power plays. They were the Sharks’ sixth and seventh man-advantage goals of the year.
Third-line winger Tommy Wingels and third-pairing defenseman Scott Hannan scored in the second period, with Wingels’ goal coming on an all-out hustle play that saw the 25-year-old do a complete circuit of the St. Louis net in pursuit of a loose puck before wrapping it behind Jaroslav Halak.
Prior to the meeting with the Sharks, Halak had allowed seven goals on 99 shots in his first four starts.
Against them, he was beaten four times on 26 shots before spending the final 20 minutes on the bench alongside coach Ken Hitchcock.
Six Sharks players—Thornton, Marleau, Couture, Pavelski, veteran Brent Burns and rookie Hertl—are averaging more than a point per game thus far. Thirteen individuals have scored at least one goal, with 18 chipping in at least a single point.
“What I saw from San Jose was an impressive top three lines that were working the puck down low,” said Mike Milbury, Roenick’s partner in the NBC studio. “It looks to be a big upgrade from San Jose teams of the past.”
Mr. Clutch, Patrick Marleau, puts nail in coffin. As if it wasn’t over already. #NHLonNBC— Chase Proctor (@ChaseProctorXLI) October 16, 2013
Thornton and Marleau added cosmetic goals in the final period, with Thornton’s coming on a wicked snap shot that whizzed over the glove of backup goalie Brian Elliott. Marleau’s power-play marker was the club's third of the night and came with 2:54 left in regulation.
Now 34 years old, Marleau has five goals and three assists in six games. Meanwhile, Thornton—a former NHL scoring leader and MVP—has a goal and eight assists.
“We’re finding holes, and right now just everything seems to go in for us,” Thornton said to NBC's Brian Engblom. “We felt really good at the end of last year and it’s carried over. We’re working really hard for each other and good things are happening.”