For the second straight season, the San Jose Sharks started the NHL season without a loss in regulation through eight games. On Monday, San Jose defeated the Detroit Red Wings in a shootout to take the streak to nine games, but a last-second loss Thursday to the Boston Bruins lands the Sharks at 8-1-1.
What do we make of this hot start, though?
The 2013 Sharks’ hot start to the lockout-shortened season resulted in a sixth seed in the Western Conference playoff picture and an eventual loss to the Los Angeles Kings in the Conference Semifinals.
While the same result is clearly still in the cards for the 2013-14 Sharks, judging by the team’s rich history in not meeting expectations come playoff time, this year’s squad has a different offensive mentality and strategy on the ice. It is evident by the 38.8 shots per game and 4.33 goals per game—both NHL-leading.
There will always be doubters of the Sharks, and rightfully so, but San Jose has been far and away the best team on the ice in the early NHL season. They have done it without contributions from the injured Dan Boyle and Raffi Torres, as well as starting a 19-year-old on the first line and a 20-year-old without significant AHL experience.
The long 82-game season will clearly be a test, but the Sharks’ relentless offense and stubborn defense, all without the help of several key players, hints at this hot start becoming quite sustainable.
For the second straight season, Patrick Marleau is off to a hot start with eight goals in 10 games. But arguably the biggest surprise of the early season has been the arrival of 19-year-old Tomas Hertl, who has seven goals through 10 games (four goals on Oct. 8).
However, neither of these hot starts will be sustainable.
Marleau’s 2013 hot start of nine goals through the first five games led to a season total of 17 goals during the 48-game season, and his success always seems to taper off as the season goes on. Despite being placed on a line with the playmaking Logan Couture this season, it is likely Marleau’s impressive numbers will not be sustained.
Hertl, on the other hand, has all the potential of sustaining those numbers on the Joe Thornton-Brent Burns line. However, we have already seen Hertl’s inexperience on the ice, as players have made him an obvious target in their defensive game plan. Several big hits have already led to tentativeness around the net, and he has scored just once since his four-goal performance.
The Sharks’ speed is a clear change in the offensive strategy of the team this season, as not one of their opponents has been able to significantly put a damper on the up-tempo pace.
The speed is a not going to change, either. General manager Doug Wilson and head coach Todd McLellan spent the offseason fostering a team built on speed and getting shots to the net, with the acquisition of Tyler Kennedy and additions of the youngsters Hertl and Matt Nieto.
Possibly adding a healthy Martin Havlat to that mix sometime this season, as well as the return of Torres will only make that aspect of the Sharks’ success stronger.
The Sharks have allowed the third-fewest goals in the NHL, as well as the second-fewest shots on net through nine games this season—an area the team has made a point to clean up early.
It also helps when the Sharks have the ultra-durable Antti Niemi between the pipes. He leads the NHL with eight wins so far this year.
The loss of Dan Boyle will have an effect on the success of the defense, but when fully healthy, the Marc-Edouard Vlasic-led San Jose defense is one of the best the NHL has to offer.
The Sharks’ special teams has been the wild card of the team for the past few seasons, and it seems to be headed in that direction once again this season.
San Jose sits comfortably in the top 10 in both power-play percentage (seventh in the NHL) and penalty-kill percentage (sixth in the NHL). But while the penalty kill will see its ups and downs during the long season, the power play without Dan Boyle has seemed rather lackluster. Boyle’s injury will presumably not keep him out for long, but his impact on the ice when San Jose is up a man should not go unnoticed.
The Sharks will find success with the power-play line of Couture-Thornton-Marleau, regardless, but that line becomes a whole lot more lethal with the entire squad healthy.
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