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A Quick Fix in San Jose
Speed things up already
12/10/14 - By Ryan Hall -

The San Jose Sharks are not a good team right now. The dramatic win versus Philadelphia, while good for a frustrated fan base, can't hide that fact that for most of that 60 minute contest these two teams were locked into a colossal stare down. Now, tight checking games between two quality opponents is one thing, but the Flyers aren't exactly tearing up the Metropolitan Division these days. It's exactly that reality that made last night so hard to watch as the Sharks should be able to handle teams like that with more ease then they showed.

What struck me the most about the contest was the parity in speed between these two clubs; and I don't mean that in a good way. The Flyers are widely held to be one of the slowest skating clubs in the Eastern Conference, a fact that has seen them hemmed in and beated by a host of younger, faster squads such as the Islanders, Rangers, Penguins, and Capitals. Yet the Sharks were unable to take advantage of that, and the result was a close contest.

All of this bears the question: Is the real problem with San Jose simply that they aren't fast enough?

If you think about it, the case become rather compelling.

To start with, you can't deny that Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau and good hockey players. The stats simply prove that they have been dominant offensive players for over a decade. With that being said, Thornton has never been confused for a fast skater, and lately that lack of get-up-and-go has started to become more pronounced. Similarly, Marleau seems to have lost a quarter step, and in the NHL that makes all the difference between getting past you man or being angled out of the play. For both of these stalwarts, the ravages of a long career and age might be starting to bite into them; and that isn't something that they can be blamed for.

But so what, you might be thinking, that doesn't explain the rest of the team!!

However, it really does as the speed of any particular line can only be measured by its two fastest skaters. That's right, it's TWO. I think we can all agree that going one-on-the-world usually doesn't work, so any effective attack needs at minimum two players; which means the threat value of an attack is directly tied to how quickly that second player can get into a dangerous position. When a team lacks the speed to press home those moments of opportunity, then their offensive attack fails - or they are forced to play on the outside where they can rack up shots but not scoring chances. Does any of that sound familiar?

In reality, a truly good offensive push requires having that third man jump into the attack, creating problems for defenders and forcing back-checkers to work harder. When that third attacker is slow getting into the mix, the defenders can regroup and once again the puck is forced to remain on the outside because any move into the middle of the ice will result in a turnover. Now, if the second AND third attackers are slow arriving, then you have can't generate any real offensive threat at all; and that is where the Sharks find themselves.

If you've watched the Sharks play these past 5 years you'll know that they are a puck possession team, which means that unless there is a play to be made they believe it is better to keep control of the puck on the outside, cycle it around, and wait for an opening. Love him or hate him, but Todd McClellan has preached limiting turnovers on forced plays into the middle of the ice, and it's a message the team has embraced whole heartedly.

It's a good theory, and one that successful teams (the Sharks included) have used to great effect. Unfortunately, holding the puck doesn't mean anything when you aren't fast enough to create openings and breakdowns in the defense coverage you are facing.

What does all of this mean?

Well, the answer looks to be simple: the Sharks need to get faster. There is some speed on the team in Nieto and Hertl, but after that can you really say that San Jose is a quick team? Couture is youthful, Pavelski has heart, but neither is known for their foot speed. Braun, Burns, and Vlasic are slightly above average, but what about the rest of the team? You'd be hard pressed to find anyone who could really be classified as fast, and that needs to change.

More than anything else the future of the Sharks depends on this one change. That doesn't have to be mean they need to get younger, but that is the easiest path towards injecting speed into your line-up. For my money that falls not on the coach, but on management to see that the current roster doesn't have the acceleration to take advantage of the opportunities presented by their offensive philosophy. After all, it's hard to critique puck possession and limiting turnovers - but that only works when you have the players to execute the final step: creating scoring chances. For years that was the bread and butter of the Sharks, and I truly believe it's the pathway to future success as well. But until there is a quick fix applied to this roster, that potential will remain unrealized.

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