Programming note: Kings-Sharks coverage begins tonight at 5:30 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet California Plus (Territory restrictions apply) Channel locations
Didn’t pay quite as much attention to the Sharks’ regular season as you would have liked?
We’ve got you covered.
Below are 10 bullet points on what went on with the San Jose Sharks over the past seven months, in no particular order, as the club prepares to begin its 10th straight postseason appearance on Thursday against the rival Kings.
The Sharks finished second in the newly realigned Pacific Division, with a 51-22-9 record.
The NHL made changes to its divisions in the offseason, putting the Sharks, Kings, Ducks, Canucks, Coyotes, Flames and Oilers in a new Pacific Division. San Jose’s hot start saw it leading the division early, but the Ducks went on an epic run of 19 wins in 20 games beginning in December. The Sharks came back to take the division lead again late in the year, but an Anaheim win over San Jose on April 9 meant the Sharks would finish second, thereby clinching a first round playoff matchup with the third place Kings. Still, San Jose’s 111 points is its third highest total in franchise history.
The Sharks played well against the top teams, but struggled against some bad ones.
San Jose might have been able to capture the division had it found success against teams that, quite frankly, it should have easily handled. That’s especially true in the post-Olympic break portion of their schedule, as the Sharks went 8-2-0 against teams that made it to the playoffs, but were just 6-4-3 vs. non-playoff teams, including regulation losses to lowly Buffalo and Florida – the two worst teams in the league.
Joe Pavelski had a career year.
“Little Joe” was one of just three 40-goal scorers in the NHL, finishing with a career-high 41. Pavelski started the season on a productive third line with fellow Americans Tommy Wingels and Matt Nieto. Injuries forced him to move up to Joe Thornton’s wing, and that’s really when the goals started pouring in for the 29-year-old. It’s uncertain what role he’ll be in when things get going Thursday.
The Sharks had a really good rookie. Then they didn’t. Now they do again.
The 17th overall pick in the 2012 draft, Tomas Hertl burst onto the scene with 15 goals in his first 35 NHL games, announcing his arrival with a four-goal effort against the Rangers in October that included a between-the-legs breakaway marker. Unfortunately, his season was interrupted courtesy of Dustin Brown’s knee on Dec. 19. Hertl underwent right knee surgery on Dec. 31, and made a surprisingly early return with two games to go in the regular season. He is expected to play in Game 1 on Thursday.
Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau will be here a little while longer.
Still the two most recognizable faces of the franchise, and pending unrestricted free agents at the start of the season, Thornton and Marleau each signed three-year contract extensions in January. Both had outstanding seasons, too, as Thornton finished second in the league with 65 assists and Marleau was second on the Sharks with 33 goals. While the Sharks have fully integrated some younger, still improving stars into their lineup like Logan Couture and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, 34-year-olds Thornton and Marleau are still seemingly at the top of their games.
Dan Boyle might be playing out his last season with the Sharks.
While Thornton and Marleau were locked up, defenseman Boyle wasn’t. The 37-year-old hasn’t looked quite the same since a head injury in October, and it’s believed that he is still seeking a multi-year deal while the Sharks would rather offer him a one-year contract for 2014-15. There’s a good chance Boyle, a pending unrestricted free agent, will sign with another team in the offseason. Jason Demers’ improvement and 2013 first round pick Mirco Mueller a possibility to make the team next season could lessen the blow of the veteran leader departing.
Although streaky, Brent Burns thrived as a forward.
After finding success up front late last season, the former defenseman-turned-forward played all year on the wing of Thornton. In 69 games, Burns netted 23 goals and added 26 assists for 48 points, finishing fifth on the team in scoring. He and Thornton have chemistry both on and off the ice, and Burns has shown an ability to take over games when he plays with a physical edge and finds open ice to utilize his powerful shot.
Antti Niemi is question mark.
Goaltender Antti Niemi was as big a reason as any the Sharks got off to a 10-1-1 start. Since then, though, it’s been a roller coaster ride for the 2013 Vezina Trophy finalist. Niemi has been recently letting in soft goals that he wasn’t allowing last season, while backup Alex Stalock has been the better goaltender in the second half. Niemi will likely be the playoff starter – Todd McLellan hasn’t officially named one yet – but the 30-year-old Finn will be on a short leash if he falters.
Raffi Torres has hardly played.
No one embodied the Sharks’ identity shift late last season than Torres, who was acquired cheaply from Phoenix. Torres’ mean-spirited style of play has been missing most of the season, though, after he tore his right ACL in the preseason. The 32-year-old came back after the Olympic break, playing in just five games, but showing the team what it missed in that brief stretch. His status for the playoffs is uncertain.
The penalty kill was great. The power play, not so much.
Not only did the Sharks finish with the league’s sixth-ranked penalty kill (84.9 percent), they were shorthanded just 219 times – a league low. San Jose was on the power play 112 minutes more than the penalty kill, also a league-best. The power play, though, wasn’t very productive. It started to have success on a more regular basis late in the season, but at one point suffered through a 5-for-73 stretch over 23 games (6.8 percent) from early February through late March. It finished 20th in the NHL (17.2 percent).