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San Jose Sharks Off to Another Fast Start

Thursday, 10.17.2013 / 7:17 PM / News
By Adam Kimelman  - NHL.com Staff Writer
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San Jose Sharks Off to Another Fast Start
It was nine months ago that the San Jose Sharks burst out of the gates with a 7-0-0 start. When they take the ice against the Dallas Stars on Thursday, they have a chance to match that perfect start.



SAN JOSE, California - There's a feeling of déjà vu surrounding the San Jose Sharks.

It was nine months ago that the team burst out of the gates with a 7-0-0 start. When they take the ice against the Dallas Stars on Thursday, they have a chance to match that perfect start.

However, there's a lot of differences between this season's Sharks team and last season's.

The biggest is their forward depth. A season ago the Sharks' top line featured Joe Thornton centering Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski, with a second line of Logan Couture between Ryane Clowe and Marty Havlat.

This season, though, two significant moves -- one last season, one this summer -- are paying off with increased skill, speed and depth up front.

Thornton remains as the top center, but his linemates now are defenseman-turned-right wing Brent Burns and rookie Tomas Hertl at left wing. That trio has combined for 11 of the Sharks' 30 goals in their first six games, including a League-best seven from Hertl. The 17th pick of the 2012 NHL Draft, Hertl is playing his first season in North America after spending last season playing in his native Czech Republic.

"How he sees and plays the game is much like Couture and Pavelski," Sharks general manager Doug Wilson told USA Today regarding Hertl. "He just thinks the game at a higher level. He’s a pretty well-rounded player. He plays in all three zones. He’s defensively aware. He’s got the sense to play with some high-end players."

Included in Hertl's early-season outburst was a four-goal game Oct. 8 against the New York Rangers in which the rookie tied the single-game franchise record and became the fourth-youngest player in NHL history to score four times in a game.

The addition of Hertl and the permanent shift of Burns to forward allowed coach Todd McLellan to create a speedier second line with Couture flanked by Patrick Marleau on the left side and Tyler Kennedy, acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins in a June trade, on the right.

Marleau is off to as hot a start -- again -- as the rest of the team. He isn't scoring goals like he did at the beginning of 2012-13, when he had four-straight two-goal games to open the season and at least a point in his first six. But he does have points in the Sharks' first six games this season, with five goals and three assists.

With all that talent on the top two lines, McLellan has the luxury of using Pavelski at center, his natural position. The response has been seven points and a plus-3 rating in six games. And a third-line pairing of Pavelski and Tommy Wingels has made the Sharks' third line as effective as many teams' top two. Wingels had five goals in 42 games last season, but already has two in his first six in 2013-14.

All that offensive firepower has steamrolled the opposition at the start. Unlike last season, where the Sharks needed a pair of shootouts to extend their season-opening streak, this season's group has played in only a single one-goal game to go with a trio of three-goal wins and two victories by at least four goals.

The Sharks have outscored their opponents 30-9 and are averaging a remarkable 41.8 shots per game.

All that time on offense has left San Jose's opposition with limited opportunities of their own; the Sharks are allowing 23.5 shots per game, second-fewest in the League.

And the shift of Burns from defense to offense hasn't seemed to hurt the blue-line group. With a full training camp of tutelage from associate coach/Hall of Fame defenseman Larry Robinson, the seven players to skate at least one game are a combined plus-32, with the "worst" being a plus-1 for Brad Stuart, who played in just one game due to a suspension. Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun are tied for the League lead among defensemen at plus-8.

Stuart will return to the lineup in place of the injured Dan Boyle on Thursday against the Stars.

About the only constant for the Sharks from last season to this season has been the strong play of goalie Antti Niemi. Last season, Niemi was in goal for six of the Sharks' seven wins to start the year, posting a 1.97 goals-against average and .932 save percentage.

This season, Niemi has been in goal for every second of the Sharks' streak, posting a 1.50 GAA and .936 save percentage.

Strong play in goal is about the only thing the Sharks want in common with last season's team. After their strong start, the Sharks went 0-4-3 and struggled to get into the Stanley Cup Playoffs as the sixth seed in the West.

2012-13 vs 2013-14

Starts: 7-0-0 / 6-0-0

Goals-for: 27 / 30

Goals-against: 12 / 9

Shots/game: 36.8 / 41.8

Shots-against/game: 33.7 / 23.5

One-goal wins: 2 / 1

Three-goal wins: 4 / 5

Patrick Marleau: 9 G, 5 A / 5 G, 3 A

SCHEDULE

HOME
AWAY
PROMOTIONAL

STANDINGS

WESTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 z - ANA 82 54 20 8 266 209 116
2 y - COL 82 52 22 8 250 220 112
3 x - STL 82 52 23 7 248 191 111
4 x - SJS 82 51 22 9 249 200 111
5 x - CHI 82 46 21 15 267 220 107
6 x - LAK 82 46 28 8 206 174 100
7 x - MIN 82 43 27 12 207 206 98
8 x - DAL 82 40 31 11 235 228 91
9 PHX 82 37 30 15 216 231 89
10 NSH 82 38 32 12 216 242 88
11 WPG 82 37 35 10 227 237 84
12 VAN 82 36 35 11 196 223 83
13 CGY 82 35 40 7 209 241 77
14 EDM 82 29 44 9 203 270 67

STATS

2013-2014 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
J. Pavelski 82 41 38 23 79
J. Thornton 82 11 65 20 76
P. Marleau 82 33 37 0 70
L. Couture 65 23 31 21 54
B. Burns 69 22 26 26 48
T. Wingels 77 16 22 11 38
D. Boyle 75 12 24 -8 36
J. Demers 75 5 29 14 34
T. Hertl 37 15 10 11 25
M. Nieto 66 10 14 -4 24
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
A. Stalock 12 5 2 .932 1.87
A. Niemi 39 17 7 .913 2.39
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