Top 7 takeaways from Sharks' first half
7) Ward, Martin proving worth
Where would the Sharks be without their two biggest summer free agent signings? Joel Ward has fit right in with 13 goals and 27 points and added some desperately needed secondary scoring. Paul Martin has 10 points while averaging more than 20 minutes a night on the blue line, and is one of the team’s most indispensable players. While both are advancing in age (Ward recently turned 35, while Martin will reach 35 on March 5), both have become key contributors.
6) Marleau’s future
Although the trade winds surrounding the Sharks all-time leading scorer Patrick Marleau have died down after it was revealed he wanted to explore his options, it’s still a question whether the 36-year-old would like to be a part of the team for the foreseeable future or if he’d rather try to win with a club that looks more like a legitimate contender. Dealing Marleau wouldn’t be easy as he still has another year remaining on his contract at $6.7 million, but this is a story that could gain steam again as the Feb. 29 trade deadline approaches.
5) Goaltending concerns
Through Thanksgiving, new starter Martin Jones looked like a borderline Vezina Trophy candidate, but since then he’s struggled to find his consistency as he navigates through his first season as a full-time starter. Backup Alex Stalock’s play has been subpar, too. Both netminders will have to be better in the second half for the Sharks to challenge for a playoff spot, and they must improve on the team’s .916 even-strength save percentage, which is just 26th in the NHL.
4) Burns piling up numbers, but defense still iffy
Offensively, there are few defensemen in the NHL as highly skilled as Brent Burns, who is second in the Sharks in goals (18) and points (40). He leads all NHL blueliners in goals and is second in scoring, behind only defending Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson (45). Conversely, Burns’ minus-10 rating is tied for the second worst mark on the team, as the Sharks are still giving up 56 percent of the five-on-five goals when the 30-year-old is on the ice. Simply put, Burns’ performance dictates whether the team will win or lose on many nights.
3) Pavelski leading
The Sharks made the right choice in tabbing Joe Pavelski as their new captain, as the 31-year-old continues to be one of the NHL’s most consistent goal scorers. The Wisconsin native leads the Sharks with 22 goals (sixth in the NHL), and tops the league with seven game-winners. More than half of his goals (12) have come in the third period, reflecting his ability to come through in the clutch. On and off the ice, Pavelski has embraced the role of team leader.
2) Young players not developing as hoped
Part of the reason the Sharks took a purposeful “step backwards” last season was to allow their young players to develop at the NHL level. Halfway though this season, that strategy looks misguided. Tomas Hertl hasn’t been able to effectively move to the center position full time; Matt Nieto has nine points; Chris Tierney has 12 points; and former first round pick Mirco Mueller is simply not ready for the NHL and has been struggling with the AHL Barracuda, to boot.
1) Thornton surging
At the beginning of December, 36-year-old Joe Thornton’s production was a concern, as the future Hall of Famer had just 15 points (3g, 12a) through his first 26 games. Lately, though, the former captain has resumed his place as the team’s top center, with at least one point in 11 of the last 12 games. Thornton is also tied for the team lead with a +12 rating, while his advanced stats suggest he’s still a beast in terms of possession. The Sharks need him to keep up his recent pace.