It’s only 11 games into the young NHL season but this veteran Sharks fan can already see signs Doug Wilson’s forward swap this summer is paying off. As with any blockbuster, fans and media alike questioned how the team would perform with additions to the locker room. Would Havlat make up for the scoring lost in Setoguchi and Heatley? Would Burns be the missing piece in the leaky blueline? How would the scoring depth pan out?
While it will take a larger sample size than 11 games to answer these questions well, one has only to look at the Sharks’ recent 7-game stretch to get a sense that at least a few things are clicking for the new-look Sharks.
It’s difficult to look at the stats through the forwards’ first 7 games (Havlat missed the opening four this season while recovering from shoulder surgery) and find a tangible difference. At this point last season, Heatley had 6 points. Havlat currently has 7. You could point to their average ice time and say that Havlat is getting a minute and a half less per game than Heatley was (which is anywhere from 1-3 shifts a night, on average) and say that he’s putting up numbers with more efficiency. But, like McClellan said about winning close games and little things that happen here and there, stats like that tend to even out over the course of a season.
So what is it that’s got Sharks Nation licking their collective chops every time #9 steps onto the ice? It’s everything team teal hoped for when the 1-for-1 swap was made official.
There have already been a few games during which Randy and Drew mentioned Marty was the best player on the ice. When you watch the Sharks play and 9 is on the ice he is, at times, everywhere. Backchecking, forechecking, cycling, going after pucks along the boards. Skating his tail off. This is not to say Heatley never did any of that. But his goose eggs on the score sheet came with more baggage than Havlat’s have so far. No one scores in every game. But there were times last year when the big sniper (Heatley) would simply disappear. Other times you could see him coasting into the zone, trying to do everything with toe-drags and dangles.
Havlat’s got his own set of moves, for sure, but I think more often than Heatley did Havlat makes the smart play. He dangles, yeah, but he keeps his feet moving, too. Last year it seemed Clowe and Couture were doing a lot of the dirty work for the second line. This year you can tell it is more of a 3-man effort. Which, for all I had to say about how little the stats mean at this point, is evident in the fact all 7 of Havlat’s points to date are assists. Where Heatley sometimes needed the offense to go through him, and seemed content to sit in front of the crease and wait for rebounds, Havlat is taking more of the pressure off Clowe and Couture to make plays.
Where the stats really do show you something about Havlat’s performance so far is in his linemates’ numbers. Clowe and Couture each have 6 points in the 7 games Havlat’s been on the ice. Not that Clowe was doing so badly before (3 points in 4 games) but Couture had notched only one assist before the debut of San Jose’s newest speedster. The point? Even when Havlat fails to register on the scoreboard, you can feel his presence out there. From your couch, from way up in section 209; clearly from the press box as Randy and Drew have noted time and time again.
McClellan will put the forward lines through the meat grinder more than once this season, but you can be assured the “9 line” (9-39-29) will be together for the majority of the season.
Of course, for Sharks fans and hockey pundits alike, many will only be happy if Team Teal is playing well into June this year. But for my money, I’ll take what I’m seeing so far out of the trade. Let’s just hope this trend continues.