San Jose Sharks Off to Another Fast 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