San Jose Sharks: Top Three Focuses of the Off-Week
In a previous article, this reporter broke down San Jose's first month into three stages; opening night, then three games in four nights, and then the lengthy East Coast road trip to end the month.
While game one was a clear victory and there are a couple of fantastic articles on this very site which illustrate that, there were also clear signs, both on and off the ice, that the Sharks will be working on while no games are scheduled.
#1: Penalty Kill
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Shane Doan torched the Sharks with two power-play goals and the Coyotes added a third one with the man advantage, which accounted for all of Phoenix's scoring.
The Sharks biggest weakness from last season is the early weakness this season as well.
While the forwards have stopped criss-crossing on the penalty kill like they did last year, which will be part of the ultimate solution, it will take some work in finding ways to square up and get into the shooting lanes and for the players to find chemistry.
With this as a primary focus early in the season, the Sharks have the talent to grow into a top penalty killing unit by the new year.
It will take a lot of work, however. Allowing three power play goals a game will lead to a lot of losses if it's not corrected, and this will be the primary focus until this weakness becomes a strength.
#2: Game Planning Against the Ducks' Top Line
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While facing one of the deadliest power play snipers in Teemu Selanne is a huge challenge for our penalty kill unit in two out of the next three games, Anaheim's top line of Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan has always been a thorn in the Sharks side.
Will the Sharks counter them with their top line of Thornton, Marleau and Pavelski?
Will you see Michael Handzus's third line in a shut-down role?
Will it be a mixture or will McLellan just throw out whomever and not even match lines at all?
The focus for these two lines in practice this week, however, will be defensive in nature.
Suspect they'll focus on neutral zone play and keeping the Ducks speed down upon entering the sharks defensive zone.
If the sharks can keep the ducks from flying in on the fore-check, they'll save themselves a lot of time, grinding away against the big bodies on the Ducks' top line.
#3: Rehabbing Core Players
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While the early energy of the Sharks and the solid yet unspectacular play of Thomas Greiss led to a convincing victory in game one, the Sharks will be well served by getting a couple players back.
With such a long lay off between games one and two, the Sharks were right to hold back G Antti Niemi and W Martin Havlat from the opening game.
Antti Niemi is coming off a minor surgery to remove a cyst from an undisclosed location on his body.
Expect to see him make the final stages of recovery and at least be in net for the Sharks second game of a back to back set at home against St. Louis.
Martin Havlat's situation is a more sensitive and carries greater risk of re-injury.
He had major surgery on his shoulder last May.
While the surgery has proven successful, the strength isn't there yet and this reporter would keep him out of the two rivalry games against Anaheim where the pushing, shoving and hitting will be more fierce than in the St. Louis game.
Havlat was replaced by Tommy Wingels on the second line at the beginning of game one, and while Wingels has the talent, he simply doesn't know the game well enough and isn't making the best decisions with the puck on a line where that is demanded.
Havlat's return to the second line will have ripple effects on this team, although there's no reason to rush Havlat to ensure those ripples last throughout a very long season uninterrupted.
Setting a Foundation for the Season
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The Sharks truly dominated the Coyotes with the Sharks' B team.
The Thornton line with the Pavelski addition had instant chemistry.
The new-look defense didn't even come close to allowing an even strength goal.
Now the Sharks can build upon these pluses, first with dedicated improvement on the penalty kill.
It's turning these early weaknesses into strengths that will form a foundation to allow the Sharks to reach new levels in their play.
Also, patiently rehabbing their core players with an emphasis on full recoveries will be a key to allowing smooth sailing through the regular season.
It's going to be a long season, and, at this early stage, it will be the management of non-game activities that will set the tone for the months ahead.