Hopefully, the five-day break helped the San Jose Sharks forwards to find scoring. Thus far, they do not grade as well as the back end…
As their rare five-day break draws to a close, the San Jose Sharks forwards can reflect on the first two months of the 2016-17 NHL season. Unfortunately, they grade substantially lower than the back end did Monday, Dec. 5.
The main culprit remains a lack of goals. Obviously a forward’s job goes beyond scoring and their collective defensive game is great everywhere but the faceoff circle. However, standard-bearer forwards are great in all three zones.
The Sharks have started getting on track offensively, scoring at least two goals in nine straight games. Still, they have only 21 goals over that period including an empty-net and overtime score.
San Jose has the 10th-worst scoring average (2.40 per game) on the 2016-17 NHL season. The power play has recently crept into the top half of the league but no longer carries the attack.
So which Sharks need to pick it up? Here are the grades and stats of the 14 forwards used at least a dozen games each from best to worst, based on a Gordie Howe standard for 25 games…
Joe Pavelski: A
San Jose’s captain has been its best forward on both ends by far. Joe Pavelski leads the team in assists (15), points (23) and game-winning goals (three). He also leads in hits (55) and is the team’s top shot-blocking forward (27). He is third on the unit in takeaways (13), though he also leads it in giveaways (28). No one has taken more draws than his 278 and he wins 51.8 percent.
Joe Thornton: B+
Surprisingly, Joe Thornton neither leads the Sharks in assists (13) nor giveaways (25). Naturally, one of the two goals he has scored was into an empty net. That is not enough scoring even with defensive excellence: 22 hits and nine blocks but a team-high 19 takeaways, 57.8 faceoff percentage and 144 wins (tied with Pavelski).
Logan Couture: B
Statistically, Logan Couture looks better than Thornton with nine goals (tops among San Jose Sharks forwards) and seven assists. His 15 additional blocks more than offset the 10 fewer hits. However, the possession differential is clear even in the real-time stats—two more giveaways, eight fewer takeaways and an atrocious 37.1 percent in the circle.
Patrick Marleau: C+
San Jose is used to seeing better out of Patrick Marleau, especially on the offensive side. He has just six goals and two assists. Even one of his game-winning goals was into an empty net. However, his role is transitioning to a defensive one. He has 28 hits, 12 takeaways and only eight giveaways but also just eight blocks. He is winning just 41.7 percent of draws but is not getting work there (36 faceoffs taken) anyway.
Tomas Hertl: C
The Sharks lost Tomas Hertl weeks ago and he has missed eight games already this 2016-17 NHL season. Still, he grades fifth on the unit based on a full 25 games. In addition to four goals and five assists, he has 26 hits, 12 takeaways and only eight giveaways. He has blocked only five shots but was winning 56.1 percent of faceoffs.
Joel Ward: C
Another veteran struggling to score but defending well is Joel Ward. He has just two goals and five assists but 23 hits, 20 blocks and 11 takeaways. He does have 18 giveaways and is winning just 47.8 percent of his faceoffs but averages fewer than six draws per game.
Joonas Donskoi: C
San Jose’s rookie of the year for the 2015-16 NHL season has struggled some with a sophomore setback. Joonas Donskoi has just two goals, six assists, 11 hits and 10 blocks. However, he has 15 takeaways and only 14 giveaways despite how often he handles the puck and has won four of six faceoffs.
Chris Tierney: C
We can now see that Chris Tierney did not just get hot at the end of the 2015-16 NHL season, but took another step. He currently has two goals (one game winner) and six assists to go with 15 hits, 15 blocks and 10 takeaways. However, he does have 16 giveaways and is winning just 46.8 percent of his faceoffs.
Tommy Wingels: C-
The Sharks got a chance to see how important Tommy Wingels was when he missed four games. He still has four goals (including consecutive game winners) and an assist. He also has 36 hits and 10 blocks, but no takeaways, six giveaways and just a 46.3-percent faceoff rate.
Melker Karlsson: D+
San Jose’s depth shows when its 10th-best forward is Melker Karlsson. He has played in just 18 games, scoring two goals and two assists but collecting 14 hits, 13 blocks, five takeaways and four giveaways while losing both his faceoffs.
Kevin Labanc: D
Rookie Kevin Labanc has been better than his statistics over 12 games this 2016-17 NHL season would indicate. He has two goals, two assists, five hits, two blocks and one takeaway with five giveaways.
Mikkel Boedker: D
The biggest free agent the Sharks signed has been a grand disappointment so far. Mikkel Boedker finally has two goals, two assists but just 17 hits, seven blocks and eight takeaways. He also has 17 giveaways and has won just two of 10 faceoffs.
Micheal Haley: F
Enforcer Micheal Haley is not a skilled player but has been pressed into action by Hertl’s injury. He has just two assists but 32 penalty minutes in 15 games. However, he can defend: 47 hits, six blocks and six takeaways against seven giveaways while losing three of five faceoffs.
Matt Nieto: F
Skating ability has given Matt Nieto chances, but he simply cannot score (just two assists in 13 games). Unfortunately, he brings almost nothing else to the table: 20 hits but just six blocks and takeaways with three giveaways and losses in both faceoffs.