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Glass half full
Five positives in a sea of turmoil
10/26/2022 - By Mike Lee

It's been easy to pile on the Sharks this season. Well, the past three seasons for that matter. After a 2-7 start to the 2022-23 campaign, this is clearly a team in need of fixing. First year General Manager Mike Grier and head coach David Quinn knew this was a reclamation project when they took their respective jobs, but it would be interesting to know if they thought the Sharks were 2-7 bad. The Sharks are easy targets for the jabs and criticisms right now, so let's turn the tables and focus on the positives through the team's first nine games.

Nico Sturm

The German forward has been the most consistent player in a teal sweater this season, which has translated into one of the few players generating any offense. Rooted on the Sharks 4th line for most of the season, Sturm actually leads the team in goal scoring with 4 tallies this season. After winning the Stanley Cup last season, the Sharks signed him to bring some experience to their roster.

That experience brings a voice to the locker room, which has been one of the most prominent this season. Sturm has been critical of his teammates play at times, but more importantly, he's calling out the obvious. When the energy levels have been questioned, Sturm has made it a point that he and his teammates are paid professionals who shouldn't need a head coach or general manager to inspire them.

Sturm has been the voice that has been absent from those who wear letters on their sweaters. It wouldn't be a stretch if Quinn was using Sturm as a sounding board. He's a new figure in the locker room, but his Stanley Cup credentials carry a lot of weight. There's a ton of youth in San Jose, so a new guy that's won is a great tool for Quinn to leverage.

The Penalty Kill

When you look at statistics, it's easy to see why the Sharks have struggled this season. Penalty killing isn't one of them. The Sharks finished 2nd in the NHL in that specialty last season and they sit 3rd best in the league through the first two weeks of the season.

What's even more remarkable is the fact that the Sharks are doing it while taking a high volume of penalties. They rank 10th in penalties allowed, which isn't a surprise given that they have played more games than any other team in the league, but when you average out goals allowed per game, they rank 3rd (0.11 power play goals allowed per game).

With the turnover in the roster this season, it's tough to pin the success on one or two players. Matt Benning, Luke Kunin and Sturm rank 5th, 6th and 9th respectively in short-handed ice time. Steven Lorentz has also seen time on the penalty kill. Those numbers may increase as the Sharks wait for Nick Bonino to return from his injury. He and Matt Nieto are the primary penalty killing forwards. Mario Ferraro and Marc-Edouard Vlasic lead the Sharks in ice time while on the penalty kill.

1st Period Defense

Oh if hockey games were only 20 minutes long. If that were the case, the Sharks might just be early odds on favorites for a Stanley Cup. OK, that's a bit far fetched, but believe it or not, the Sharks have the best goals against average in the 1st period. They have allowed a total of 2 goals in the opening frame in 9 games, averaging .222 goals per 1st period. In contrast, the Minnesota Wild average 2.16 goals per 1st period.

Let's skip past the Sharks 2nd period performance, because this is a feel good piece. Let's just say that it's a bit higher. The 3rd period isn't much better, but who's to say what's driving the outstanding opening period performance.

So all the Sharks need to do to right the ship is to bottle whatever it is that they're doing in the 1st period and apply that to the trailing 40 minutes. Of course it's not that simple, but there's something to be said about maintaining momentum. The Sharks seem to be waking up the opposition later in games, and by allowing it to happen, they're failing more than not.

So if they can figure out how to score, things could shift considerably for this team. That's not easily correctable, but the numbers say they will have success simply by improving the scoring, while maintaining their defensive play.

James Reimer

Not this should surprise anyone, but James Reimer is a good goaltender. While his record may not show it, his play has kept the Sharks close in most of those games. The failure to counter with their own scoring has been the issue for San Jose. Reimer's statistics don't tell the whole story. He has played the 2nd most minutes in the NHL even though the Sharks have platooned him with Kaapo Khakonen.

Not surprisingly, he's faced more shots that any other goaltender in the league, but the Sharks had opportunities to win the 4 losses that have been credited to him so far. As has been the case for the better part of the last 4 years, the Sharks make goaltenders look bad because they don't afford them with enough defensive protection out in front.

Reimer leads the league in saves, which isn't fueled by games played. The rest of the top performers in the league have played in an equivalent number of games, or within one start. If the Sharks can get their defense in order, they have the pieces in net to win. That is a tall order, but one Grier and Quinn should be focused on.

David Quinn's Temper

The jury's still out on David Quinn's ability to lead a hockey team at the NHL level, but there's no doubt that he's a little more fiery than the last five head coaches in San Jose. Losing tends to light a fire, but Peter DeBoer and Bob Boughner both went through tough stretches and never seemed to react publicly.

Professional athletes are strange animals, and a rough edge from the coaching staff can be disastrous if not tempered for each personality in the locker room. What is clear through the first 9 games is that the losing is starting to irritate Quinn and he's not masking it in post game media scrums.

Words that sting may just be what this team requires. They've been handled with kid gloves the last three seasons and it's netted them nothing. Seeing things like positional mistakes off faceoffs is a bad sign, because it means the fundamentals are starting to slack off. If behaviors like that become the norm, this franchise will go through a full fledged implosion and Connor Bedard is as sure as theirs.

It's refreshing to see some fire from the coaching staff. As Sturm said, "losing sucks." So having a coach that wears his heart on his sleeve is something that might actually inspire the effort to avoid all this losing.


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