The San Jose Sharks opened the regular season this past weekend with two games at the Ericsson Globe Arena in Stockholm, Sweden. The Sharks took three of a possible four points from the two games with the Columbus Blue Jackets, both of which ended in 3-2 final scores.
After the games were completed, the Sharks returned to North America and jettisoned two more players as they prepare to enter Saturday’s home opener against the Atlanta Thrashers with the league maximum 23 players on their roster. Rookie forward Tommy Wingels was sent back to Worcester of the AHL and despite heavy speculation that other teams were interested in backup goaltender Thomas Greiss, the German-born now third-stringer cleared waivers on Tuesday and will be returning to the AHL after a stint as the No. 2 man behind the now-departed Evgeni Nabokov in 2009-2010.
The moves leave the Sharks with 22 players on the active roster according to the team’s official website, but according to ESPN.com, defenseman Derek Joslin will fill out the 23rd spot. If that proves true, what does it mean for the Sharks moving forward?
With Joslin in tote, the Sharks would be relying on a very young and fairly inexperienced defensive group, with four of eight defensive skaters being 25 years or younger. Furthermore, despite their age, at least two of the remaining defenseman have proven to be liabilities for the team over the last year: namely Kent Huskins and Niclas Wallin.
The defense played serviceably in Sweden, but not good enough to consistently win against top-caliber opposition. The Sharks defense allowed 57 shots against the Blue Jackets over six plus periods, close to what the team averaged last season, but the Blue Jackets ranked 26th in the league in shots on goal. Furthermore, the nature of the shots that were allowed does not bode well for the Sharks, as they failed to protect the puck in their own zone on several key occasions, leading to quick chances on net and shots their goaltenders could not stop.
Anytime you allow a 2-0 first-period lead evaporate in the span of 15 seconds, play needs to improve. When it happens against the 20th ranked offense in the league, well...
Unlike in years past, the Sharks cannot necessarily rely on the man between the pipes to bail them out when the defense lapses. Niemi put together a solid performance in game No. 1, making 30 saves on 32 shots, but Niittymaki allowed three goals despite facing just 25 shots in nearly 62 minutes of hockey. With Greiss back in the AHL, the fortunes of the Sharks will rest largely on Niittymaki and Niemi for the foreseeable future, so the defense needs to find ways to limit the extent to which the team must rely on them.
The Sharks have decided to go with a young, home-grown defensive group rather than supplementing fewer organizational products with veterans like Andreas Lilja. With the caliber of goaltending on the roster, this is a significant risk. Many have long speculated a trade for a formidable veteran defenseman could be in the works, but that is looking less and less likely with each passing day.
All the most likely trade bargaining chips seem to be off the table. Greiss managed to clear waivers on his way back to Worcester (implying there is not as much interest in him as previously thought), and Ryane Clowe has been tabbed as an alternate captain (implying the Sharks intend to keep him around). The Sharks seem intent on moving forward with their current stable of players.
Fans can only hope it does not come back to bite them.
Keep the Faith!