- Editor's note: Sheng Peng will be a regular contributor to NBC Sports California's Sharks coverage for the 2021-22 season. You can read more of his coverage on San Jose Hockey Now, listen to him on the San Jose Hockey Now Podcast, and follow him on Twitter at Sheng_Peng.
The surprising Sharks are leading the NHL in a number of key categories.
Not surprising? It's breakout star Timo Meier leading the scrappy Sharks into the thick of the Western Conference playoff hunt.
But it's not just Meier: It's also lesser-known lights like James Reimer, Mario Ferraro, and Nick Bonino who are also guiding the way.
Let's spotlight where the Sharks are the NHL's best.
As of Dec. 12, Timo Meier paces the Sharks in most offensive categories, both obvious (assists, points, shots) and underlying (slot shots, cycle chances, forecheck chances). This, despite missing five games because of being in COVID protocol.
League-wide, according to Evolving Hockey, Meier is leading all NHL forwards with 14.73 Shots Per 60 minutes.
Now, it's not unusual for Meier to shoot a lot, that's his game -- from 2018-21, he was 15th among all forwards at 10.66 Shots Per 60 -- but he's at another level this year.
Simply put, the 25-year-old shot machine appears to be more locked in this season.
That's what ex-teammate Joe Pavelski suggested when the Dallas Stars came through SAP Center on Saturday: "I think the biggest thing is he’s competing right now. He’s always been able to skate, shoot the puck. He’s found his game. He’s got some confidence."
Mario Ferraro has garnered a lot of (deserved) attention for leading the league in Blocked Shots:
But guess who leads all forwards in this category?
Nick Bonino has blocked 38 shots this season, just a shade ahead of Christian Dvorak's 36.
Bonino was complimenting Ferraro here, but he may as well have been talking about himself: "It's fearless. It's fun to see. Obviously, you don't want him to get hurt, but you always like the guy who's gonna sacrifice for the team," Bonino said.
That, by the way, is what Bonino has been doing his entire career. From 2013-21, no forward has blocked more shots than the gritty centerman: In fact, in that time period, he's the only forward to have blocked more than 600 shots. Just behind Bonino's 605 Blocked Shots is ex-Anaheim Ducks teammate Ryan Getzlaf's 577.
"I enjoy blocking shots. I love playing goalie," Bonino said, before quipping, "If I scored 50 goals a year, I probably wouldn't enjoy it much. But it's something I'm good at. If it helps the team, you gotta do it.
And now, let's talk about Ferraro's propensity for pain.
His 84 blocked shots is 21 -- count them -- 21 more than current runner-up Alex Pietrangelo's 63.
Ferraro is also on pace to shatter Marc-Edouard Vlasic's team record in this category: Ferraro is on pace for 246 blocked shots, and Vlasic's career-high was 174 in 2017-18.
This stat, by the way, has only been tracked since 2005-06.
"The one good thing about our team, it's contagious," Sharks head coach Bob Boughner offered. "I don't think they get any tougher than Mario. This guy, he just keeps coming back for more. Thank God he's on our team."
That's one contagion that James Reimer is happy has spread among the Sharks: They've blocked more shots than any other team in the NHL.
"Just so impressed with our urgency and our compete level," the goaltender shared after Saturday's 2-1 victory over Dallas. The Sharks blocked 29 shots to the Stars' 11 that night.
That compete level in front of Reimer is one of the reasons why he's tied with Igor Shesterkin for the NHL-lead with a .937 save percentage.
But let's give Reimer his due, too: At .937, he has the highest save percentage for a Sharks starting goalie through 28 games in a season, ahead of Evgeni Nabokov's .932 in 2000-01. So Reimer is literally off to the best start in a season ever for a Sharks netminder.
Timo Time, tighter team defense, and terrific goaltending have all made for a much-improved Sharks product.
Here's but another example: Last season, leading after two periods, the Sharks were 29th in the NHL with a .688 Win %. They went 11-1-4, meaning they lost five of 16 games that they led going into the final frame.
"Last year, we would play on our heels with the lead. If a bad break happened, it was kind of a meltdown all over the ice," Matt Nieto admitted.
This season? The Sharks, at 10-0-0, have a perfect record leading after two periods. At the moment, they're tied with eight other teams in this category. Well, maybe seven other teams -- the cellar-dwelling Arizona Coyotes have an impressive-in-its-own-way 1-0-0 record leading after two periods this year.
"We feel confident in the way that we’re defending this year," Erik Karlsson pointed out on Saturday.
"We're staying a lot more composed when we have leads this year. Guys are stepping up and blocking shots and pretty much doing whatever it takes to get the win," Nieto said. "Everybody knows if a mistake is made, their teammates are gonna cover for them. That goes a long way, especially when you're playing with a lead."
Boughner agreed: "One of the great things we did this summer is get guys. We brought [Nieto] back and we got [Andrew Cogliano and Bonino].
"That wasn't necessarily our personnel last year, we'd have to overplay [Logan Couture]. We'd have to overplay [Tomas] Hertl. We'd have to have the same guys on the ice in every situation. Now that [gives] a little bit of relief to some of the big guys."