Each Wednesday throughout the regular season Kevin Weekes will be offering his pluses and minuses for the teams competing in the NBCSN Wednesday Night Rivalry game in his Weekes on the Web blog. Weekes will also be assisting fans with three must-watch elements of the game.
This quote from San Jose Sharks coach Todd McLellan courtesy of the San Jose Mercury News is telling.
"I'm concerned about our drive right now, the life that we bring to the rink and to the games," McLellan said. "I don't know if you want to call it passion, but just that internal drive per person isn't where it needs to be right now. And these are important games."
A coach questioning his team's drive should be enough to light a fire under the players. The Sharks will need that fire to ignite them Wednesday night, when they play the Los Angeles Kings at SAP Center (10:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).
This rivalry is intense right now. I love it when these two teams get together. They play fierce hockey. They play for keeps hockey. Logan Couture said as much in the following quote, also courtesy of the San Jose Mercury News.
"There's going to be a great environment in the building, and Metallica night is probably just going to add to it," Couture said. "So if we can't get up for that game, then we've got some major issues."
Metallica night? I'll stick to my analysis of the Kings and Sharks instead.
Pluses: I think the main thing for them that's a plus is that they're relatively healthy. I know that Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson are still out, but they have all of their big guns in place, and by that I mean Jonathan Quick, Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, and Marian Gaborik.
We know the Kings aren't getting the results right now, but I liked their game Monday. They dominated Calgary. They didn't win, but they dominated that game. That's a plus for them, at least it should be going forward.
A second biggest plus is they didn't lose any key pieces from last season's team other than Willie Mitchell. Now the loss of Mitchell is underrated, and the loss of Slava Voynov because of his situation hurts, but all things being equal their team is built to win even without those guys.
They haven't been winning, but they have the potential to come out of it and go on a run. I bet that they will. I know that they can.
As I mentioned in my Friday Four blog last week, there are guys there telling me they're not playing their game well enough, so they're self-diagnosing. That's good. That's a start. They now need take the steps to being who they are and what they are.
If I'm a betting man I certainly would bet on them coming out of it.
Minuses: I know Darryl Sutter said Jonathan Quick has to play better, but he's proven himself time and time again, right from when he was in the minors, getting sent to the ECHL, earning the spot, winning the Cups, turning his game up each time. He certainly knows that he's not playing at his best overall, but I'm not really worried about him because I think he's the best money goalie we have in the world right now.
A bigger minus for them is knowing what they can do better and not doing it better. I mean, come on, you're the kings of the jungle, the Los Angeles Kings, the Stanley Cup champs, so you better be the king of the NHL.
If you're a lion, be a lion. A lion is not going to just become a scavenger, he's the king of the jungle and he is always the king of the jungle. The Kings need to get back to being the kings of the NHL jungle.
The players as a whole are accountable, but they also know when they play their game no one else can play that game at the level they play it at. I know it's a hard brand of hockey to play, that it's taxing and takes a lot out of them, but at the same time we've seen the fruits of that labor, of them playing that way. Just look up at the banners in Staples Center.
I was fortunate to play on different teams because it gave me a chance to play with different players. I played with Brendan Shanahan, Dino Ciccarelli and Dave Andreychuk. I'm mentioning that because I know a player such as Dustin Brown is hungry to be around the net and yet struggling to score. He has only seven goals this season. That's frustrating.
Well, I remember being a goalie and guys like Andreychuk, Ciccarelli and Shanahan to a degree were always around the net, always scoring from there. If you're Dustin Brown and you're struggling to score and you're frustrated that you're not scoring, get to the net.
All Brown has to do is pay the price to get down there. You have success by doing that so do that. He knows it. Get to the front of the net. You're going to get screens, rebounds, pucks that go off of you. Get there. You're going to get your goals.
Pluses: Melker Karlsson has been impressive. There's a lot to take away from the way that young man has played.
I like his hockey IQ and his ability to make plays in traffic. He is good at creating separation. He rolls off guys, creates a gap, and finds quiet ice for himself. Some skill guys just wait and say, 'I'm here, do you see me?' Karlsson works really hard to get to spots so he can be a threat. He doesn't seem like he expects the puck; he works to get the puck.
You can tell a real intelligent player by what he does without the puck, his timing, rotations, rolling off a defender, finding quiet ice to get the puck. Karlsson does all of that.
Brent Burns has been good, and to become an all-star after switching positions again is impressive. You try switching positions; it's almost an impossibility. For him to be in the All-Star Game says a lot. Guys like him and Dustin Byfuglien are unique. You have to give them credit.
And, Joe Pavelski, man, I still don't think he gets enough credit for being a world-class player without question.
Minuses: The Sharks need stronger depth forwards. They can't win a playoff series without them.
Obviously Raffi Torres is not healthy and that hurts, but they just don't have enough depth up front, and it's going to get tested even more now that Tommy Wingels is going to be out for a while. I really like Wingels' game too.
The Sharks need better depth players to insulate their stars.
Todd McLellan needs to have the option to throw Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture or Joe Thornton out on a third or fourth line on occasion to get away from some matchups. He needs the ability to put a star or two stars on a line with a third-line guy who can create space for them. I'm thinking of someone like Tom Wilson of the Capitals. He opens space for Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.
Center - SJS
GOALS: 10 | ASST: 26 | PTS: 36
SOG: 78 | +/-: 0
But the Sharks don't have these guys, at least not fully.
Look at the New York Islanders fourth line. Cal Clutterbuck, Matt Martin and Casey Cizikas just pound on you. Did you see that game on Monday? The Philadelphia Flyers' defense didn't want the puck. Those guys were hunting them down and it made Philadelphia's 'D' tentative and slower. It made for a long afternoon.
Clutterbuck, Martin, and Cizikas create energy, set a pace, and they can make plays.
That's what I want to see more of from the Sharks, but they don't have enough of those guys. They have had the opportunity to improve their depth and haven't done it. Until they do, how are they going to win a seven-game series?
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
1. I'm watching to see if the Kings pound on the Sharks to set a physical tone early in the game. Can the Sharks handle that if the Kings do it?
2. I want to see what the Sharks young, talented players like Hertl and Karlsson, what they can do in this type of matchup because I don't think there will be a lot of space to make plays if the Kings play their game.
3. I'm interested to see who starts in net for the Sharks. Will it be Antti Niemi or Alex Stalock? The Sharks don't seem to have that defined No. 1 right now. If the playoffs were to start tomorrow, who would they start and would that guy have a long leash? I don't know.