The Sharks were the NHL’s best team through the first week of the regular season, but suffered a pair of resounding defeats in their last two road games. A few mailbag questions as they get set to open their first homestand on Thursday against the Kings…
Team depth is obviously failing the test. Will Doug Wilson go shopping for a forward or D, and how much longer does he wait? (Tony Martinico)
I think it’s a bit harsh to say they are “failing the test.” In fairness to the Sharks, it would be difficult for any team to overcome the loss of their second line center (or maybe even top line center, considering how Logan Couture, Patrick Marleau and Joel Ward looked in the first three games), and a top-four defenseman in Paul Martin. Factor in some other absences like Raffi Torres, Melker Karlsson and Joonas Donskoi, and it’s easy to see why the Sharks struggled to losses in their final two games of the road trip.
Further, this is still a team adjusting to an entirely new coaching staff. The Sharks’ first four games were laid out perfectly in that the team played one game, and then had two days to practice and make adjustments before the next one. They didn’t have that luxury against two very good teams in the Islanders and Rangers, and the injuries only further complicated matters.
I’m more concerned about the depth on defense than at forward, but the fact is when they were fully healthy the Sharks gave up just two goals in the first four games. It doesn’t get any better than that. As for what Wilson will do, there’s certainly no need to make a move this early at either position.
Would it be true to say that after the last two games Brent Burns is much better when he has a solid defensive presence alongside him? (Roman Lozano)
In a word, yes. It’s striking, honestly. One scout told me in Washington, before Paul Martin was hurt, that Burns looked like a different player than last year. So did NHL analyst E.J. Hradek when I appeared on the NHL Network before the Devils game.
The Sharks knew that the 34-year-old Martin has had some pretty significant injuries in the recent past, but took that chance anyway. When he’s healthy, it looks like the right move. When he’s not, the defense is exposed.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that Martin remaining on the ice may be the key to the entire defense for the positive effect he has on Burns, who can singlehandedly take games over when he’s playing a responsible two-way game. Conversely, if the Sharks get a repeat of Burns’ performance last year on the blue line, they’re in trouble.
On a related note…
Aside from Jones, who has been the most pleasant surprise so far? (David Li @casubieowner)
I’ll go with Matt Tennyson. Under Todd McLellan, it seemed the defenseman didn’t quite pick up some of the finer points of the system, and therefore couldn't stay in the lineup. Under DeBoer, Tennyson is able to utilize his skating and puck skills and hasn't been a liability at all. He and Brenden Dillon seem to have some good chemistry, which makes getting Martin back soon all the more important.
[Alex] Stalock once again looked unsure of himself in net, what are the chances of him being traded in-season? (Uncle Jesse @chuysancho)
I don’t see Stalock getting traded. If he ends up playing well the Sharks will keep him, and if he struggles he won’t have any trade value anyway.
In fairness to Stalock, playing against the Islanders was a pretty difficult situation to make his season debut. The Sharks were playing the second of a back-to-back, Couture and Martin were out, and the Islanders may be one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. He was also the victim of a hard-luck goal when the the buckles on his helmet came undone and he swiped it off of his head, hoping for a stoppage of play.
That said, he could have stopped some of the shots that came his way in that 6-3 loss. He’ll have to be better, or Troy Grosenick could supplant him as the backup at some point. Keep in mind that Stalock is a pending unrestricted free agent while Grosenick is signed to a one-way deal in 2016-17.