Programming note: Sharks-Lightning coverage starts today at 4 p.m. with Sharks Pregame Live on Comcast SportsNet California
It’s been a so-so season for the Sharks out of the gate. They look like world-beaters one day, such as when they beat Anaheim 4-1 on Oct. 26, but then show up like they aren’t mentally or physically prepared in losses to bad teams like Buffalo and Florida.
Here’s our latest edition of 10 thoughts and observations…
1) The Sharks want to become a younger team. During a strange offseason, that’s the one message that has been consistent since shortly after last season’s playoff collapse.
It makes coach Todd McLellan’s job a bit trickier, considering so many of the team's veterans are still on the team and are now healthy, including Tyler Kennedy and James Sheppard. A little more than a week ago on Nov. 5, McLellan addressed the challenge of trying to integrate returning veterans while sticking to the plan of becoming a younger team.
“We’ve been able to play six or seven players with under 70 games of experience. I look at [Tomas] Hertl, [Matt] Nieto, [Chris] Tierney, [Barclay] Goodrow, [Mirco] Mueller, [Tye] McGinn, [Alex] Stalock. None of them have played a full 70 games heading into the season. They’re all really important players to our team, to our organization, not only now, but in the future. Everybody in that group, they’re at a different stage. Some are excelling, some are trying to find their game, some are just getting used to the league. We’ve tried to integrate them and have success at the same time, and they’ve been a big part of our wins.”
“With Tyler [Kennedy] and James Sheppard, who come to training camp and get injured, I don’t think an individual should lose his job over an injury at training camp. I think they should get the opportunity to play and show the group, the organization, that they are competing for their jobs.”
2) While it’s true that the Sharks have some young players in key roles, they are far from the youngest team in the league. In fact, after reassigning Tierney to Worcester last week, the Sharks are now the tenth oldest team at 27.9 years, according to stats.nhl.com.
3) Speaking of Tierney, he’s gotten off to a strong start in Worcester. The 20-year-old has one goal and four assists in his first two games in the AHL, so he clearly isn’t sulking after he was squeezed off of the NHL roster for the time being. I would imagine he’ll be back here at some point this season.
4) Mirco Mueller remains the youngest player on the team at 19, and the reviews on his performance have been mixed based on a couple scouts I’ve talked to in recent weeks. One told me they thought Mueller “looks good," while another said that Mueller probably would have been better off remaining in junior for another season.
5) Adam Burish was set to be pulled from the lineup for the first time this season on Thursday in Tampa Bay, and I have to think one of the reasons is his tendency to take some bad penalties. The 31-year-old has been whistled for eight minors this season while averaging just 11:22 of ice time per game, and only Brent Burns (nine) has more. When you're playing on the fourth line, you simply can't put your team in those kinds of situations.
6) Now that Alex Stalock is out for 2-4 weeks, according to a report in the San Jose Mercury News, you have to wonder if rookie Troy Grosenick will get into a game. The 25-year-old played well in his one preseason appearance, although he faced just 12 Vancouver shots on Sep. 23, allowing two goals.
Antti Niemi’s season has been reflective of the team as a whole –- good at times, not so good in others. If he doesn’t find his consistency with Stalock on the shelf, why not give Grosenick a shot? Perhaps if they put him in against a weaker opponent –- and the Sharks’ schedule isn’t overly difficult in the next couple weeks –- maybe it could help them focus after they've struggled against some of those bad teams.
7) I get the impression McLellan really likes Barclay Goodrow, even though the 21-year-old has been in and out of the lineup since recovering from that preseason hand injury. McLellan has had nothing but good things to say about Goodrow since training camp, and the fact that he took some shifts with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski in Minnesota in his NHL debut on Oct. 30 is a pretty good indication that McLellan is hopeful that Goodrow will eventually work his way up the lineup once he gets a little more acclimated to the NHL speed.
8) I know plus-minus is a much maligned stat, but Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s +9 really stands out. His partner Justin Braun is second with a +5, while no one else is more than a +2 (Joe Pavelski, Tomas Hertl). On the flip side, Matt Irwin (-8) has the worst mark on the team, while Burish and Andrew Desjardins, each a -6, is reflective of how the Sharks’ fourth line has been hurting them more than helping.
9) Brent Burns’ shoot-first mentality is one of his strengths in the offensive end, and probably the biggest reason he’s found the scoresheet so often this season. His 54 shots places him fourth on the team, but according to CSN stat-man Darin Stephens, Burns has another 30 missed shots -– the second highest total in the NHL. Only Alex Ovechkin (33 missed shots) has more.
As a team, the Sharks have 206 missed shots, tied for fourth most in the NHL.
10) Jason Demers was arguably the Sharks’ second-best defenseman last season down the stretch, with 34 points (4g, 29a) in 75 games. After signing a two-year, $6.8 million deal in the offseason, he hasn’t been able to duplicate that success. Demers has just three assists in 15 games, but perhaps more concerning is the 26-year-old has just 10 shots on goal while averaging 18:36 of ice time per night – including 1:38 on the power play.
10+1) It’s a tough read, but if you haven’t gotten to the story about Nathan Horton in the Columbus Dispatch, it’s worth a click. Horton is battling a career-threatening back injury.
“I can’t stand up like a normal person; I can’t bend over,” Horton said. “I can’t run. I can’t play with my kids. To get in and out of the car, I’m like a 75-year-old man … so slow and stiff. I can’t sleep at night. I try to lay down and my back seizes up and I can’t move, so sleeping is out. I’m like a zombie in the daytime.”
The Blue Jackets could sure use Horton, as they’ve now lost nine straight games. Their last win, by the way, came when they scored two late goals in the third period in beating the Sharks at SAP Center on Oct. 23, 5-4.