2011-12 San Jose Sharks Struggle to Find Chemistry Early

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2011-12 San Jose Sharks Struggle to Find Chemistry Early
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
The Sharks need to build team chemistry in order to perform like a well-oiled machine

The San Jose Sharks looked potent in their season-opening victory over the Phoenix Coyotes. They attempted 91 shots and got 52 on net (20 were blocked and the others missed), with six getting by Mike Smith.

That victory was followed by five days off, and the Sharks looked rusty in Anaheim. Their shot attempts dropped by 30 percent and the number they got on net from 57.1 to 48.4 percent. None of them got by Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller.

In hosting St. Louis the next day, the Sharks had no problems with rust. They once again got over 55 percent of their shots to reach the net, but still managed only 65 attempts and only two of their 36 shots got by Blues goalie Brian Elliot.

Perhaps their struggles in that game were related to it being the second of back-to-back games. That, or it had more to do with the competition level. Anaheim is a contender in the Western Conference and St. Louis a likely playoff team, while Phoenix is more likely to earn a lottery pick next season.

If that is the case, the Sharks have to right the ship quickly to contend in the toughest division in hockey.

True, San Jose is missing some key pieces in second-line winger Martin Havlat and starting goalie Antti Niemi. But it does not bode well for a team's Stanley Cup chances if they cannot beat good teams unless they are healthy.

The good news is the problem is totally correctable. In fact, it should correct itself.

The Sharks have had a lot of changes. That is what happens when about one-third of the team is different than the previous season.

What has been the Sharks primary struggle so far this season?

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Joe Pavelski has moved onto the top line, where he is familiar with linemates Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. While that is primarily on the power play that is played significantly different than five-on-five, this adjustment should be relatively easy and completed before month's end.

Similarly, Marc-Edouard Vlasic is now paired with Brent Burns. Vlasic, has shown the capacity to adjust quickly and be an easy defence partner for different players. In 2008-09 and 2009-10 he was a perfect pair to Rob Blake, a similar two-way defenceman with more experience but less speed than Burns.

Last season, he was paired with Ian White, Jason Demers and Niclas Wallin at different times of the season, and was solid with all. Playing with perhaps the most elite defenceman he has ever been paired with is comparatively easy, and Burns will find it comforting to know that when he jumps into the play, a good skater who is defensively responsible has his back.

But the Sharks are using Havlat's spot as a revolving tryout to see if any fourth line players have the potential to play on a scoring line. Torrey Mitchell has the speed to but lacks the ability to finish plays in the offensive end, and Tommy Wingels has both but has the inexperience and inconsistency of youth.

Once Havlat returns, he will have what that line needs but will still need to build chemistry with Logan Couture and Ryane Clowe. From there, every line and pair has at least one person new to the team and another new to the line.

How long will it take this team to gel?

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In other words, no one knows the teammates they need to rely on as well as they should in order to maximize performance. Most of them will not be on the ice together enough to develop that chemistry quickly.

 

This leads to problems like turnovers. The Sharks have generally finished in the red in giveaway-takeaway differential partially because they control the puck more, but they are a disturbing minus-20 through three games and were minus-nine in two of them. 

Sometimes what ails the team does not show up in the stat sheet. The timing and nature of turnovers have led to several great scoring chances and at least two goals. The Sharks are also ever-so-close to scoring opportunities that never materialize.

Advancing the puck into the offensive zone has not gone smoothly and prime scoring opportunities have been missed. Passes in front of the net are missing targets, shots are coming after the defence adjusts or before teammates are in position for screens or rebounds.

Once the players all settle into their roles, they can learn what to expect of their teammates. Then these adjustments will come naturally and the team's play will sharpen on its own.

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