Five games is too early for fans to go into panic mode
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.
The addition of Erik Karlsson with an offseaon trade made the Sharks a Western Conference contender.