Coach Todd McLellan must figure out how to get more out of the team right now
There is not a lot you can know definitively about a team four games into the season. Because the San Jose Sharks turned over a third of the roster since last season, there is even less with this team.
Yet, a few things stand out even this early. Some are good, but as one would expect of a 1-3 team, many are not. Some will work themselves out and some will have to be worked on. (They are given in thematic order, not in order of their noteworthiness.)
The Sharks have looked dumbstruck in the third period
So far this season, the Sharks have not won a third period and it has led to three losses.
In the opener, they gave up two third period goals and did not score one. They just had built enough of a lead to win anyway.
Still, that adds up to a 5-1 deficit in the third and a 0-2-2 record in the period. Not knowing how to close games has been a problem starting with Game 5 of the Detroit series last year, and there are real consequences: San Jose is 3-10 since.
Once players get used to one another, they will exceed the sum of their parts
The Sharks are struggling with chemistry issues, having trouble connecting on passes and shots. This has led to missed scoring chances and bad turnovers that are even more of a concern than in the past.
The good news is the more the team practices and plays together, the less this will be an issue. Once players have a better feel for one another, they will perform better in all three zones and more resemble the team they are on paper, allowing Todd McLellan to get more out of the same talent.
Joe Thornton needed four games to get his first point
It is very early, but your top players need to be consistent scorers for teams to be successful. The Sharks have five forwards healthy right now that they must be able to rely on, and only Ryane Clowe (goal, two assists) is living up to expectations.
If Joe Thornton and Logan Couture (one assist each) are not regularly producing before the end of this road trip, they will officially be struggling. Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski connected on a couple goals, but that is nothing special between them over four games.
Handzus has been more than a penalty-killer for the Sharks
When Michal Handzus was signed to a two-year, $5 million contract, it was to be a checking line forward for the Sharks.
Handzus would win faceoffs and kill penalties. Every once in a while, he would score. As long as it was more often than Torrey Mitchell (a point per three to five games throughout his career), that line's defence would make the meager scoring okay.
So far with Martin Havlat's injury, he has filled in on the power play and scored two goals either on them or in the seconds following. That injury has also put Torrey Mitchell on the second line five-on-five, and he has three assists so far this season (two with the second line).
With two players who look like they can score on the checking line, it should not be a liability offensively.
The San Jose Sharks traded away Devin Setoguchi and Dany Heatley, and were supposed to get Martin Havlat in return. So far, he has not played a shift this season.
Without him, it is painfully clear the Sharks lack the depth of forwards they need to be considered an elite unit. While his role has been adequately filled in by the combination of Torrey Mitchell and Michal Handzus, this reliance has a ripple effect on other lines.
They are third-line players with five points between them, but there has been only one goal scored by the third line. The fact that defenders are able to focus that much more on the first line may be a large reason they have only five points combined.
Therefore, the top three lines have only scored five goals in total through four games. It is possible that Havlat may provide the one forward needed even though he is no sniper and the Sharks have needed players who could find the back of the net. Havlat is expected back for Friday's game.
Doug Wilson has the cap room to improve this team
The need for another forward may be satisfied with Martin Havlat's return. But his absence has shown how vulnerable the Sharks are if even one top-six forward goes down.
The Sharks could spend about $4 million to add more talent without losing a dressed player. Given that room and the need, the Sharks have an obligation to do whatever they can to earn the franchise's first Stanley Cup Finals berth.
That cap space was the reason for my prediction that San Jose will win the Western Conference. Without making a move they have to hope they can stay healthy, and they still will not be more talented than the Vancouver Canucks.
There are players being shopped around who might be cheaper for San Jose to sign if they know they have a chance to get a Stanley Cup. The Sharks do not have a lot of prospects or picks to offer, but they could work something out to ensure they are the team to beat in the division if not the conference.
Dan Boyle is not showing signs of age yet
The fact that the team is not making moves means there is no panic in the franchise. Even if one is of the belief that a move needs to be made, panic is never good.
Dan Boyle is still looking good carrying a heavy load and the play of the rest of the blue line has been solid. The penalty kill looks stronger despite a couple five-on-threes hurting its percentage, and young players are contributing.
Moreover, they are not getting bent out of joint about the giveaways and difficulty connecting on passes. That shows faith in the talent and system and provides a little order.
In each of the last two seasons, the Sharks have lost one of their two best players on the draw. Controlling the puck is essential to playing the Sharks style, and that has not failed them
Ironically, the only game they did not have an edge in the faceoff circle was their one win. Overall for this season, the team is winning about four draws to their opponents' three, and those extra 32 possessions are more than double the ones lost through the giveaway/takeaway differential.
Moreover, the Sharks are doing more with their possessions. They have attempted almost two shots to every one from their foes, and in total have 68 more shots that reached goal.
When one team attempts almost twice the shots of its opponent, they have only half as many to block. Yet opponents are getting only about half-again as many blocked shots as San Jose.
Likewise, you cannot land hits unless the other team has the puck, so the Sharks are almost always out-hit. But so far in 2011-12, that has only been the case in two of the four games and the average deficit per game is only four.
Both of these things trending in the right direction compared to last season shows that the Sharks are playing a more physical brand of hockey. Physical play wins in the playoffs, and that has been what was missing in previous postseasons.
Thoams Greiss has looked good while the team awaited Antti Niemi's return
Thomas Greiss was third on the Sharks depth chart during the summer. By the start of camp, he was the starter.
Antti Niemi could not play because he had had a cyst removed. Antero Niittymaki required surgery to recover from an injury that plagued him in the second half of last season.
The young German goalie had fewer than 20 games of NHL experience and was an unknown. But he stepped in and looked solid, saving more than nine in every 10 shots despite some high-quality chances.
The Sharks may still be in trouble if they need Greiss to hold down the fort for long stretches, but they have learned that he can handle short ones as well as the occasional start to rest Nemo. This also gives the team more flexibility and trade bait once the higher-paid Niittymaki returns.