Between the team’s never-ending road trips, and having to monitor every other squad in the league as part of my duties to YardBarker, there haven’t been as many opportunities to sit down at my iPad and simply dig into the nitty gritty of how Team Teal is playing. Which is a shame, given all that has gone on for the Sharks in this latter stretch of their 2015-16 campaign.
They’ve continued to be a wrecking ball on the road, have found ways to bounce back late games to get wins, and from what we can see so far, have made positive additions at the trade deadline. (You all got those “San Jose Maple Leafs” jokes out of your systems by now, right?) I wrote a couple weeks back that San Jose is getting attention for the right reasons — like winning games and not for having locker-room friction or poor playoff performances — and that seems to be holding up quite nicely.
Then I saw this piece early in the week by Mark Purdy of the Mercury News, proclaiming that it’s still too early to give the Sharks a full endorsement, since they have a history of imploding. (He’s also the only person I’ve come across who refers to the Sharks as Los Tiberones. Which is neither here nor there, just an observation.) He makes a good point: the Sharks’ restructured roster still contains the same core group that fell to the Kings in the playoffs two seasons ago, and there’s really no way of knowing if the trade deadline acquisitions are worth their weight in gold until we get into April hockey. And yes, there are obviously many fans who agree with this from the looks of how many empty seats we still see at the Tank on game night (attendance is down by almost 2,000 fans per game, and that’s based on tickets sold).
However, I don’t completely agree with waiting six weeks to give the Sharks credit. Yes, there is history of this team tanking — no pun intended — but this really isn’t the exact same team we’ve seen in recent campaigns. There’s a different makeup with different possibilities. So while you don’t have to give your heart and soul back to the Sharks just yet, fans should at least be watching them through the March stretch the season because they’ve been playing really strong, consistent hockey.
This is the deepest Sharks team in recent memory. The defense is shaping up — Brenden Dillon and Roman Polak are finally starting to look like a comfortable pair — and I would even go so far as to say the offense is deeper than it was at the start of the 2013-14 season. And that was when the top line was comprised of Joe Thornton, Tomas Hertl and Brent Burns, and current captain Joe Pavelski was centering the third line. Heck, even San Jose’s fourth line has been good, with Chris Tierney contributing some very Thornton-like assists in recent games. Plus, from what we can deduct so far, newly-acquired Nick Spaling is fitting in quite nicely. All this allows more room for lines to be shuffled around if need be to create more offense, much like Peter DeBoer had to do in Thursday’s game up in Vancouver to rally the Sharks back from a 2-0 deficit to win 3-2 late in the game.
San Jose’s third period rallies have certainly made their games more entertaining. However, if there is one thing that this team needs to work on — and this is what makes some fans too nervous to go all in with this team — they’ve gotten off to really slow starts in their last two contests. This was a problem back at the start of the season, with the team starting off on their heels and not pushing back for a full 60 minutes. While it’s great that the Sharks are a dominant team in the third frame, starting off slower isn’t a good formula for teams outside of the Canucks (one of the league leaders in blown leads this season). Starting off slow probably won’t pay off, say, a week from now when the Washington Capitals visit. However, it sure does beat San Jose’s old habit of taking their foot off the gas after a fast start.
Make no mistake, there’s still a decent stretch of hockey left in the regular season. San Jose meets with some steep competition throughout March hockey, including some heavy hitters from the Eastern Conference. And it isn’t like the race in the Pacific Division is cooling off any time soon, with the Ducks suddenly remembering how to play hockey and the Kings doing everything in their power to stay atop the standings.
So maybe waiting another month or so before giving the Sharks your full devotion feels like the safe thing to do. Just don’t completely ignore these guys in the month of March. You might miss out on some of the best hockey this team has played in a while.