The Sharks overall record of 5-4-1 after 10 games may not be ideal, but San Jose is definitely finding their groove, having gone 4-2-0 in their last six contests. San Jose has played a commanding style in five of the last six games, including outshooting Minnesota last night, 36-16, but losing 1-0.
Wins and points are the names of the game though and if the play continues in the current direction, those totals will improve.
“When you look at the overall picture, we have to put some wins in the bank and we feel we could have a stronger record,” Head Coach Todd McLellan said, “but our play has improved from the first five to the last five.”
Leading the offensive charge for San Jose lately has been the Olympic line of Joe Thornton
, Patrick Marleau
and Dany Heatley. Once they were recently reunited, the trio has been on a tear.
“We’re starting to see some production from the big boys,” McLellan said. “The secondary production is still a concern of mine. I think Seto (Devin Setoguchi), (Torrey) Mitchell and (Jamie) McGinn have to find the net. What I don’t them to do is think about scoring as their only means of contribution, but that has to come at some point.”
The power play has been the most prominent stat for the Sharks they lead the NHL with a 28.6 percent success rate. The man advantage value that can’t be denied with the Olympic trio are joined by fellow Olympians Dan Boyle
and Joe Pavelski
. There has also been additional input from the unit of Setoguchi, Logan Couture
and Ryane Clowe
“The power play has been quite strong and has given us a chance to be in some of the games when our 5-on-5 play hasn’t been there,” McLellan said. “Overall, I’d say we’re pleased. Like the rest of our game, there are areas for improvement.”
On the other end of the ice, like their offense, the team defense is making a statement about how good the Sharks will be moving forward. In five of the Sharks past six games, Team Teal has allowed two goals or less. There are a lot of games to be won with more performances like that.
“Our defensive game has gotten better,” McLellan said. “I think the two games with Atlanta and Carolina were a wake up call for all of us. We can’t play loose. We won’t score enough goals to win games 6-5 on a nightly basis. The defensive play has been much better the last five or six games. Five-on-five, we’re happy and pleased.”
The penalty killing currently sits 19th in the League at 81.6 percent, but it’s also improving.
“On the penalty kill situations, there’s room for improvement,” McLellan said. “It’s starting to come around. I’m not as pleased with it as maybe the power play. I don’t feel we’re reacting quick enough or playing as a strong unit of four against. It’s getting better and last night’s game is a prime example. We spent a lot of time on it, way too much, but it was pretty effective.”
(On Tuesday, San Jose stopped all seven 5-on-4 shorthanded situations against the Wild and Minnesota only scored with a two-man advantage.)
When it comes to team defense, the goaltenders are the last men standing and they deserve a lot of credit, especially lately with Antero Niittymaki who’s fifth in the NHL with a 1.75 goals-against-average.
“The goaltenders are settling into the new environment,” McLellan said.
The play is getting better, but McLellan’s task is far from being done.
“We have to keep moving forward. We have a lot of growing to do,” McLellan said. “If we’re not growing, we’re not getting better, we’re getting worse. There’s no in between. People will pass you. We have to keep reminding our players every day. We need growth individually and more so collectively and we’ll push them toward that.”
Make no mistake, where the Sharks sit after 10 games isn’t where they plan to finish and remember that the Sharks still have 72 games left in the regular season.
“I think we need more time and an opportunity to play more games to really get a true feel of where we are at,” McLellan said. “A 10-game marker isn’t a true indicator of where any teams really are in the League. Twenty or 25 games in, you get a better feel.”
San Jose will visit St. Louis on Thursday at 5 p.m. and the game will be on CSN California, 98.5 KFOX and www.sjsharks.com.