San Jose's recent struggles left head coach Todd McLellan searching for a spark.
The 2013-14 San Jose Sharks may have overachieved on their way to a 10-1-1 record, but the five-game winless streak that followed certainly exposed San Jose's vulnerability. Identifying precisely where that vulnerability lies or what's missing from the team's hot start, however, isn't so simple.
San Jose's offense continues to clip along, leading the league in goals and shots per game. Their goals against ranks them in the top five, and both special teams currently sit in the top 10. Impressive, but still only good for sixth place in the West.
"It's the, I don't know if I can use a better word, it's the bonehead mistakes that we're making," McLellan said. "Some of them are just flat-out individuals that are erring at inopportune times, and it's costing everybody. But that's part of being a team."
So whose performances most caused the Sharks' screaming start to come to a screeching halt?
Here are San Jose's top five underachievers so far in 2013-14.
Marty Havlat possesses loads of talent, if he can just stay healthy.
Key stat: 6 GP, 1 G, 1 A
After suffering a groin injury late last season that required offseason surgery, Marty Havlat rejoined a San Jose lineup that stood atop the league at 10-1-1. Another dynamic offensive weapon for a team burning holes in oppositions’ nets—it just didn’t seem fair.
But since his return, Havlat simply has not produced offensively for San Jose in 2013-14. Through six games, the talented, yet injury-prone winger, has only managed two points (1 G, 1 A) and eight shots on goal, despite playing within one of the league’s most talented offenses.
What’s even more frustrating is Havlat’s offseason injury prevented San Jose from using one of their two compliance buyouts on the final two years of Havlat’s hefty contract (6 years, $30 million). CSN Bay Area’s Brodie Brazil originally reported in June.
Marty Havlat had surgery, no timetable on his recovery. Makes him ineligible for buyout. #sjsharks— Brodie Brazil (@brodiebrazilCSN) June 24, 2013
Havlat may deserve a bit of slack considering the severity of his most recent injury. But with his two seasons in San Jose offering a similarly disappointing stat line (85 GP, 16 G, 31 A), it might just be the unfortunate new standard for a player who once produced at nearly a point-per-game pace.
Brad Stuart represents San Jose's best physical presence on defense.
Key stat: 10 giveaways, 1 takeaway
Brad Stuart has had an eventful start to the season—but probably not in the way he wanted.
After an abbreviated training camp, Stuart missed the team’s first two games only to be handed a three-game suspension after his first game back. His suspension ended just in time to take Dan Boyle’s place in the lineup.
Despite logging only two assists in the seven-game span, Stuart seamlessly integrated into the Sharks’ scheme. Things only started to go south when Boyle returned to the Sharks’ lineup, giving the team seven strong defensemen.
Boyle’s early-season partner, Matt Irwin, has largely been the odd man out for San Jose, leaving McLellan to pair Stuart with Boyle. The pair struggled enough to lead McLellan to keep Stuart out as a healthy scratch against Winnipeg.
Stuart’s best statistical days are likely behind him, however, so it can be challenging to describe precisely why Stuart is underachieving beyond his subpar game play and lack of foot speed. His primary value to McLellan lies in his hard-nosed defensive play. He ranks fifth on the team in blocked shots and second in hits—a department the Sharks severely lack, ranking dead last in the league.
But his team-worst giveaways to takeaways ratio (10:1) will need to change to keep Stuart in the Sharks’ lineup.
Dan Boyle offers San Jose a lot offensively, but the Sharks would be better benefitted by increased dedication to defense.
Key stat: 5 points, minus-3 (post-injury)
Dan Boyle has to be frustrated. After watching San Jose go 4-1-2 in his absence, Boyle returned to the lineup for what turned out to be the second game of a five-game winless streak (0-2-3). His first pass resulted in a turnover that ended up in the Sharks' net just 36 seconds into the game.
A credit to his tenacity, Boyle managed to net one of his own later in the game to make up for the tough start, his first of three power-play goals since returning from injury.
However, particularly since his return, Boyle’s contributions have been disproportionately offensive.
After allowing three goals just three times in the first 13 games, San Jose’s once-stalwart defense has given up three or more goals in four of the five games since Boyle’s return. Despite his five points (3 G, 2 A) in that span, Boyle registered a minus-three, leaving him at minus-one overall for the season, the only Sharks defender with a minus.
A classic offensive defenseman, Boyle loves to join, or even lead, the rush. But the Sharks have plenty of offense. What they really need is for their defensive leader to tighten up on his defensive end.
Joe Thornton is a gifted passer, but the team could benefit from a few more shots on net by their captain.
Key stat: 28 shots on goal, 7.1 shooting percentage
Hard to believe that a team’s leading scorer can be an underachiever. One of the premier passers in the game, Joe Thornton does so much for San Jose—except shoot.
The captain’s 28 shots leave him 10th on the team—less than half the total of team co-leaders Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau (63)—and on pace for a measly 128.
Comparatively, Thornton took 213 shots in his first full season in San Jose, resulting in the only 100-point season in Sharks history. His shot totals have declined since that season, but 128 would serve as a career low for a player who reached the 20 plateau in 11 consecutive seasons dating back to his second year in the league.
But even more important than the potential goal implications, Thornton putting the puck on net is a good sign that the captain is engaged in the game and being assertive with his play. Despite not registering as a shot, it was Thornton’s shot attempt in overtime that ricocheted off Brad Stuart to snap the Sharks’ five-game winless streak in Calgary.
Justin Braun can really rip it for San Jose, a weapon the Sharks have yet to fully take advantage of.
Key stat: 18 GP, 2 G, 2 A
It’s hard to berate Justin Braun, who has leapt to the forefront on San Jose’s blue line. He leads the team in ice time and ranks among the league leaders in plus/minus. Braun has truly blossomed into a bona fide top-four defenseman in the NHL this season.
Which is why his point production leaves something to be desired.
It would be easy to be satisfied with Braun’s production given he’s already matched his career high in goals in a season (2). But with an expanded role and loads of firepower up front, Braun’s offensive numbers could, and should, be higher.
Prior to being split up in Calgary, Braun posted four points (2 G, 2 A) in 17 games alongside Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who posted 11 points (3 G, 8 A) over the same span. Braun also sees additional chances as the quarterback of San Jose’s second power-play unit, which, albeit has been relatively unproductive, particularly with the absence of Brent Burns.
But don’t expect Braun to start pressing offensively. After breaking an 85-game goal draught, Braun told David Pollak of the San Jose Mercury News, “I just [want] to play good defense and shut guys down. That's what I want to continue to do. If goals keep coming, they'll keep coming, but strong defense first."
Hard to complain about that.