Are the Minnesota Wild, in some ways, what the San Jose Sharks want to be?
It’s not a — wild — thought. Minnesota, like San Jose, is a forecheck-first team that’s also defense-first.
Per SPORTLOGiQ, Minnesota is third in the NHL in Forecheck Chances (San Jose is 13th) and they’re second in the league in Rebound Chances (San Jose is 10th). This is how the Wild and the Sharks create most of their 5-on-5 offense.
Meanwhile, Minnesota is 12th in the NHL in Quality Chances Against (San Jose is seventh).
But as we saw in the 14-12-1 San Jose Sharks’ 5-2 loss to the visitors on Thursday…maybe the 19-6-1 Wild do it just a little better.
Here’s an example of the Wild forecheck making it very hard on the Sharks to break out:
San Jose manages, but it isn’t easy.
Jonathan Dahlen might not concede to Minnesota’s superiority, but he did recognize his side’s similarities with the Twin Cities team: “Yeah, we want to be good on the forecheck and play tight. That’s what has been successful for us so far. And Minnesota is good, they got bigger bodies, but we work really hard and we got good sticks. I think that’s a good comparison.”
Dahlen, by the way, had himself a game: Per Natural Stat Trick, he enjoyed 11 shot attempts last night, an easy personal high. His previous game-high was eight against Nashville on Oct. 26.
“He’s got a great stick and the puck follows him a little bit,” Bob Boughner noted.
An NHL scout I spoke with raved about Dahlen’s gift for being in the right place at the right time — that’s no accident, by the way. That’s hockey sense, finding the soft areas on the ice.
“It felt like I got the puck a lot today,” Dahlen said.
It’s not always pretty, but look how Dahlen (76) contorts his body in a tight space to get a powerful shot away off a good-but-not-great Erik Karlsson (65) pass.
Speaking of another Karlsson to Dahlen connection:
Jonathan Dahlen has been credited for the goal https://t.co/WcmCvFB2GG
— Sharks on NBCS (@NBCSSharks) December 10, 2021
It was Dahlen’s first goal since Nov. 18 — though the rookie did miss a handful of games because of an upper-body injury in late November.
The good news for the San Jose Sharks? Maybe the rookie’s game is taking off again.
“It was tough missing those games there. You really feel what league you’re playing in when you miss a couple games and then you come back,” he acknowledged. “It’s tough, but it’s gotten better and better.”
Someone else whose game might be trending upward?
“I thought that was his best game of the year,” Boughner said of the much-maligned Kevin Labanc. Labanc was coming off his first healthy scratch on Tuesday.
“I thought that he played with urgency. He worked. He won his battles,” the bench boss added. “That’s what we’re looking for out of him. He was working just as hard without the puck as he was with.”
Labanc (62) followed his gameplan tonight:
“Try and create a little bit of puck possession in the defensive zone. So once you get into the neutral zone, you got a little bit of control and possession,” Labanc said this morning. “And then maybe you can break into the offensive zone with entry and possession.”
I liked the winger’s patience here — his first pass up didn’t work, he took what Minnesota gave him and put the Wild on their heels on entry. Four defenders on him, he found the open man.
Speaking of finding the open man:
Labanc enters the zone with possession once again and with three Wild converging on him, he fires a hard, accurate pass to an open Nicolas Meloche (53) on the weak side. This is high-skill work that leads to a San Jose Sharks power play.
“You saw, as the game went on, we moved him up lines because I thought the puck was following him. I thought he was working hard,” Boughner said.
Finally, something that seems to have followed the San Jose Sharks around this season is the so-called Stealth jersey curse. The Sharks are 0-4-0 this year wearing these almost all-black jerseys.
However, according to Kyle Stuetzel of San Jose Sharks PR, there’s no such thing as a Stealth curse.
He’s manually tracked San Jose’s record since the Stealths debuted in 2018-19 — they were 8-6-0 in 2018-19 and 5-4-1 in 2019-20.
2019-20 is of particular note, because the Sharks went just 17-17-2 at home that year — so by a slim margin, they were actually better in all black that shortened season.
Also interesting: The Sharks are terrific on special teams donning Stealth jerseys. Per Stuetzel, their power play is clocking at a 25.58 % success rate, while their penalty kill is running at 88.16 % efficiency.
Right now, the San Jose Sharks’ overall Stealth record is 13-14-1 — not great, but they have seven more games to get those results into the black this season.
Our full slate of #StealthMode 👀
— San Jose Sharks (@SanJoseSharks) October 27, 2021
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