The San Jose Sharks are playing faster than they ever have under coach Todd McLellan, and it has given them a chance to have the puck more too. The combination of speed and possession has provided some staggering early-season results.
The Sharks lead the NHL with 21 points because they're also first in goals (3.92 per game) and shots on goal (37.8 per game). They are a League-best plus-160 in the shots on goal department (454-294) and are second to only the Colorado Avalanche in goals-against per game (1.58).
"That's all speed," NBC analyst Pierre McGuire told NHL.com. "Their general manager [Doug Wilson] realized something that some of us recognized a long time ago: His team was too slow so he started to jettison some slower players. Dany Heatley was moved. Ryane Clowe was moved. Douglas Murray was moved. They brought in younger legs, quicker legs. They put a huge emphasis on speed, and it's really paid off."
All of what McGuire mentioned is true, but Sharks coach Todd McLellan noted that the speed in his team's game didn't come solely because Wilson rejiggered his roster by trading Heatley after the 2010-11 season and then Clowe, Murray and Michal Handzus before the trade deadline last season.
The holdovers from the slower Sharks teams, most notably Joe Thornton, have had to adapt to playing faster as well.
"There is a group of players still here that didn't play fast and was stubborn enough not to," McLellan told NHL.com. "I hope we've changed that. We've got them believing, and it has to continue."
The Sharks' speed was evident in two goals they scored Sunday in a 5-2 win at the Ottawa Senators. The first came off the stick of Andrew Desjardins and gave San Jose a 2-0 lead.
The Sharks were in the midst of a line change, but Scott Hannon forced Erik Karlsson to give up the puck at the San Jose blue line. Desjardins, who had just come onto the ice, then undercut Karlsson to beat him to the loose puck on the half-wall. He quickly moved it across the ice to Brad Stuart, who carried the puck around Jean-Gabriel Pageau and up the right-wing boards.
Desjardins and John McCarthy went to the net. Stuart shot from the top of the right circle, the rebound came out to the high slot, and Desjardins used his backhand to whip it past Craig Anderson from the left hash marks.
"They're quick and then they have a fast transition," NHL Network analyst Craig Button told NHL.com. "They get the puck in the defensive zone and, bang, they're going the other way. They're aggressive on you with their speed so they don't give you a lot of time and space, and then they transition and get going up the ice quick. They hold the puck in the offensive zone for the same reason, for that same quickness and speed."
Joe Pavelski's goal Sunday capped the 5-2 win. Again, it was a transition goal created because of San Jose's speed after Senators defenseman Jared Cowen whiffed on a one-timer from the blue line.
Pavelski broke up the ice as Tommy Wingels got to the puck. Wingels moved it up to Pavelski in transition. Sharks defenseman Justin Braun joined the rush, beating Senators forward Cory Conacher up the ice. He got the puck on the right side and used his body to ward off Conacher so he could carry the puck through the circle before feeding it to the middle, where Pavelski was able to slam it in.
"It was a team that in the past you'd always say, 'They're good, but can you take them seriously?'" Button said. "I watch their team now and I think they're real, I think they're legitimate, and I'm talking Stanley Cup contenders. I'm not talking about let's wait and see, I really like this team, I like the way they play. I see them as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender."
Author: Dan Rosen | NHL.com Senior Writer