Five games is too early for fans to go into panic mode

The Mercury News - - Sports - By Paul Gackle pgackle@ba­yare­anews­group.com

NEW YORK >> Just five games into the sea­son, the team that many pun­dits crowned as the Western Con­fer­ence cham­pi­ons in the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math of the Erik Karls­son trade is spin­ning its tires at 2-2-1.

The Sharks’ early-sea­son strug­gles are rekin­dling the neu­ro­sis of a fan base that has yet to see a Stan­ley Cup hoisted in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia de­spite the team’s sta­tus as peren­nial con­tenders. Anx­i­ety pro­duces ques­tions, so let’s see if I can mol­lify some of your wor­ries.

Without any fur­ther ado, let’s open the mailbag: We’re only a few games in, but do you think the Sharks still need to add a for­ward? — @say­hi­to­barb

Let me trans­late Bar­bara’s ques­tion: are the Sharks be­ing haunted by the ghost of John Tavares?

You will re­call, the Sharks took an Aaron Judge-like swing (hey, we’re in New York) at land­ing the big­gest un­re­stricted free agent to hit the open mar­ket in more than two decades last sum­mer. Af­ter they fell short, they pulled off the trade of the decade by land­ing Karls­son.

Here’s the thing: the Sharks re­ally needed Tavares for all the puz­zle pieces to fall into place. The Sharks re­placed Pa­trick Mar­leau by ac­quir­ing Evan­der Kane last win­ter; Tavares would have been the per­fect longterm fill-in for Joe Thorn­ton.

With Karls­son, the Sharks re­ally didn’t fill a

glar­ing need. They al­ready had one of the most-of­fen­sively gifted de­fense­men in Brent Burns and the top shut­down blue liner in Marc-Edouard Vla­sic.

Re­gard­less, adding a dif­fer­ence maker such as Karls­son at any po­si­tion will only make a team bet­ter, so the trade was ul­ti­mately a home run. The ques­tion, and it’s even more pro­nounced with Thorn­ton side­lined by a knee in­fec­tion, is whether the Sharks have enough punch down the mid­dle to fi­nally win the cup.

I wouldn’t be too wor­ried about the 2-2-1 start. The Sharks are lead­ing the league in shot dif­fer­en­tial (plus-117) and they’re 23rd in shoot­ing per­cent­age (5.88 per­cent). Some might ar­gue that this is in­dica­tive of the lineup’s lack of fin­ish, but more likely, it’s just a sign of bad puck luck.

My take: the Sharks are among the top eight teams in the league without Tavares

or Thorn­ton. They don’t have the cap space to add an im­pact for­ward this win­ter, so they’re stuck with what they have. We aren’t go­ing to know if the Sharks are miss­ing that piece un­til they get into a seven-game se­ries with the likes of the Ve­gas Golden Knights, Win­nipeg Jets and Nashville.

My gut tells me they’ll fall just short again.

With Aaron Dell start­ing back to back games in Philadel­phia and New York, is there an early sea­son goalie con­tro­versy brew­ing in San Jose? — @jeff­madams

Head coach Pete DeBoer called Martin Jones the Sharks “undis­puted No. 1” goalie at the morn­ing skate Thurs­day. We have ev­ery rea­son to be­lieve he’s shoot­ing straight.

Is Dell the bet­ter goalie right now? Ab­so­lutely.

He stopped 31 of 33 shots in the Sharks’ win over the

Philadel­phia Fly­ers on Tues­day and then he went toeto-toe with Hen­rik Lundqvist to earn his team a point at Madi­son Square Gar­den on Thurs­day. Jones, mean­while, is strug­gling with an .859 save per­cent­age in three starts af­ter sur­ren­der­ing 13 goals on 80 shots in the pre­sea­son.

But let’s not for­get how rock solid Jones has been since he ar­rived in San Jose three years ago. We should also re­mem­ber that he has been spec­tac­u­lar in six of the seven play­off se­ries he has tended with the Sharks.

In short, Jones has earned the right to a lit­tle bit of job se­cu­rity even if he’s go­ing through a rough patch.

That said, the lux­ury of hav­ing two qual­ity goalies is that DeBoer can in­crease Dell’s work­load and ride the hot hand if Jones con­tin­ues to strug­gle. That doesn’t mean Jones is los­ing his job.

Now, if we get to mid-De­cem­ber and we’re still hav­ing this con­ver­sa­tion, we might have an Alex Smith / Colin Kaeper­nick sit­u­a­tion on our hands.

What are your thoughts on the penalty kill thus far? The large num­ber of short­handed chances mixed with the lack­lus­ter kill per­cent­age is a bit puz­zling. — @Mis­s3Tears

I took this ques­tion be­cause every­one’s freak­ing out about the power play while, sta­tis­ti­cally speak­ing, the penalty kill has been just as bad. Both spe­cial teams units are ranked 21st in the NHL.

The power play has scored only twice in 18 tries while the penalty kill has coughed up five goals in 20 kills. Where is the panic over the penalty kill?

The re­al­ity here is that the penalty kill just isn’t as sexy as the power play, es­pe­cially when the group in­cludes

Burns, Karls­son, Lo­gan Cou­ture and Joe Pavel­ski.

Still, the un­der­lin­ing anal­y­sis is the same: small sam­ple size.

We shouldn’t draw any con­clu­sions about spe­cial teams in a five-game sam­ple. At any point in the sea­son, the power play or penalty kill can be hot or cold for a five-game stretch.

The Sharks ranked sec­ond on the penalty kill last sea­son with the same group of guys and the same coaches draw­ing up the X’s and O’s. As the sea­son pro­gresses, the num­bers should bal­ance out.

In the mean­time, the Sharks can help the penalty kill by stay­ing out of the box. Nine of the team’s 21 mi­nor penal­ties have been stick in­frac­tions, which sug­gests that the guys aren’t mov­ing their feet when they lose pos­ses­sion of the puck.

This should be an easy prob­lem to clean up.

NHAT V. MEYER — STAFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

The ad­di­tion of Erik Karls­son with an off­seaon trade made the Sharks a Western Con­fer­ence con­tender.

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