The next week should be very interesting for the San Jose Sharks.
Aside from the fact that they are set to wrap up a stretch of five games in four different countries and across two continents in less than two weeks, the state of the San Jose Sharks after completion of the NHL docket of preseason games is still very much in question.
The Sharks took part in home-and-home series against the Anaheim Ducks, Phoenix Coyotes, and Vancouver Canucks in preparation for their trip to Mannheim, Germany to face Alder of the DEL before travelling to Stockholm, Sweden to open the regular season with a very unconventional home-and-home series against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The Sharks posted a 2-4 record in their NHL preseason games. But perhaps more alarmingly, they failed to answer many critical questions leading into the regular season.
The biggest questions entering training camp were goal-tending and defense. The Sharks had tried to address each of these, signing Antti Niemi and inviting Adreas Lilja to camp as a tryout. However, results after the first six preseason games have been mixed.
Lilja has been much the veteran presence the Sharks thought they would get, adding depth and experience to a defense that was suspect at times last season, and helping limit opposing shots and scoring chances. The Sharks defense actually played fairly well in the preseason, holding opponents under 30 shots on net in each game and contributing offensively in certain instances.
Lilja should be a lock to make the final roster, as unless the Sharks can orchestrate a trade for a bigger-name defenseman, they will need his services moving forward. But while the defense was limiting opposing chances and giving their goaltenders a chance to keep games close, the play of said goaltenders was far from optimal.
Both Niemi and Antero Niittymaki struggled significantly in net, letting in soft goals and often failing to post even a pedestrian .900 save percentage. In fact, though he got just one opportunity to start, Thomas Greiss may have had the best performance of the preseason, stopping 22 of 24 shots against Phoenix in a losing effort.
This raises some interesting questions.
With the bargain addition of Andreas Lilja to fortify the defense, many assumed the Sharks were poised to keep Niemi and Niittymaki and move Greiss. However, does the disparate play in the preseason alter that plan? Supposedly several teams are interested in Greiss's services as a backup goaltender, so the Sharks will have to assess the trade value of each potential goaltender and weigh that against what each brings to the table should the team retain him.
The Sharks will not carry three goaltenders into the regular season, but suddenly the identity of the odd man out—heretofore assumed to be Greiss—may be in question.
Other questions loom as well. The Sharks enter the Alder game nine players over the league maximum of 23. Several promising rookies like defenseman Mike Moore and forwards Tommy Wingels and John McCarthy have survived roster reductions to date. Can any of them hold on through the last round of cuts and make the final squad when the Sharks open in Sweden?
The 6-2 drubbing of Vancouver on Wednesday night showed that the Sharks have the ability to flip the switch and play determined hockey when they want to, but one must also question how much of the final result was due to the Sharks' improved play, and how much was due to the Canucks' depleted roster, resting the Sedin Twins, Roberto Luongo, Michael Samuelsson, and other key players.
All these questions must be answered by logic or necessity before the Sharks take the ice against the Blue Jackets, it should be a very interesting week in Europe.
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