All Sharks fans remember what happened the last time San Jose was in the playoffs, but this team has a different feel to them.
With the playoffs right around the corner, why should San Jose Sharks fans be more optimistic about their team’s playoff chances this year versus the 2014 Sharks team, who infamously blew a 3-0 lead to the Los Angeles Kings?
Despite being a solid goalie for years in San Jose, Antti Niemi’s inconsistency shined bright come playoff time. His 2012-13 postseason was phenomenal, posting a 1.87 GAA and .930 save percentage in 11 games, but he struggled his other three years in the playoffs.
That includes his atrocious 2013-14 postseason, when his .884 save percentage and 3.74 GAA was a main factor in the disastrous collapse. Although his 2013-14 regular season was respectable, it was his worst season statistically as a Shark as well, posting a mediocre .913 save percentage. Niemi has an impressive 35 postseason wins, but 16 of them came with the Blackhawks in 2010, and his inconsistencies come April have been on display since.
Now, the Sharks have two goalies who have almost no playoff experience in Martin Jones and James Reimer. Jones has been between the pipes for a total of 56 minutes in the postseason, while Reimer has not made a postseason appearance since the 2012-13 season.
Is this a bad thing? Maybe, or maybe not, but every goalie’s Stanley Cup success has to start somewhere, right?
Acquiring Jones from the Bruins is looking like a great move by Sharks GM Doug Wilson. His 2.25 GAA and .919 save percentage are brilliant numbers for a first-year full time starter. Additionally, Reimer has performed at the highest level of his career in teal, albeit in only six starts, with a .926 save percentage and 1.85 GAA, which includes two shutouts. The big question now is who head coach Peter DeBoer will tab to be the playoff starter, but having to chose between two red-hot goalies is not a bad dilemma to have.
Better Mix of Veterans and Young Talent
While up in age, the core of the 2013-14 Sharks is generally still intact. Joe Pavelski, Brent Burns, Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture and Marc-Edouard Vlasic remain the Sharks’ key contributors. Add Joel Ward to the mix, known around the league as a clutch playoff performer, and San Jose has one of the best leadership groups among all playoff teams. Ward is a career 0.44 point per game player, but that number skyrockets to 0.66 in the playoffs, including a game seven overtime series clincher in 2012 against Boston. Dan Boyle and Jason Demers are no longer in San Jose, but team teal has replaced their departures, and a couple others, with a few important youngsters on this year’s squad.
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The 2013-14 San Jose team had no players under the age of 25 record more than 25 points during the regular season campaign. This year, 22 year-old Tomas Hertl has tallied 43 points on the season and 23 year-old Joonas Donskoi has totaled 34 points. 21 year-old Chris Tierney has 20 points in his first full NHL season, and 25-year-old Melker Karlsson has shown signs of promise as well in his second season. This doesn’t include Matt Nieto who is still out with a hand injury.
It’s important to have several key veteran contributors on the roster like San Jose has had for years, but having young guys who mix up the pace and can make a name for themselves is equally important. Hertl had six points in the playoffs two seasons ago, but he is a much improved skater, and Donskoi’s playmaking ability is a new component. Couture and Vlasic are both much better players than two years ago, especially Vlasic, who is having a career year. Now, they just need to get him healthy and ready to go.
Brent Burns Evolving Into an Elite Defenseman
Recently, Thornton said of Burns: “He has to be up for the Norris. The guy’s unbelievable. He plays in all situations. When he’s out there, you feel like something can happen every shift. What a year he’s having. Right now, he’s playing great hockey.”
Thornton’s right. Burns is second among all defensemen in scoring with 71 points and leads all blue liners with 27 goals. Drew Doughty or Erik Karlsson may finish top two in Norris Trophy voting, but one could make the argument for Burns, who is the best offensive defenseman among all teams remaining in playoff contention. “Burnzie” has always been an All-Star caliber player, but he’s maintaining his best season of his career, and one of the best seasons for a defenseman, statistically, in the history of the NHL. Burns is the second blue liner in the past 22 years with 27-plus goals (Mike Green, 08-09).
Joe Thornton Playing Like Late 2000’s Joe Thornton
The future hall of famer has always remained consistent throughout his career despite being 36 years-old, but Thornton is taking it to a new level this season. With an 18-57-75 line, Thornton is on track to finish with his highest point total since the 2009-10 season. His plus-27 rating would be his best since 2005-06, and with a fantastic 15.7 shooting percentage – his highest number since 2008-09 – Thornton, who has made his name in the assist department (14th all-time), is back scoring goals at a modest pace.
Despite all three being over 30 years-old, the trio of Pavelski, Thornton and Burns is arguably the best in hockey. All three are top 10 in points, and the last time three teammates finished top 10 in scoring in the same season was 2004, (TB – St. Louis, Richards, Stillman).
Thornton has 59 points in his last 51 contests, and his consistency is shown by his 15-plus points in the months of January, February and March. With Patrick Kane‘s recent regression, Thornton is a bona fide Hart Trophy candidate.