The San Jose Sharks failed to make a good road trip great, losing the finale of their five-game trip 3-1 to the Nashville Predators.
Instead, the Sharks settled for taking three of five on the road.
Here are some encouraging – and not so encouraging – elements from the Sharks’ surprising 4-2-0 start.
The San Jose Sharks have enjoyed a .917 Save % so far this season, a far cry from the sub-.900 that the organization has grown accustomed to in each of the last three years. It’s obviously a small sample size, but they’re 10th in the NHL in Save % right now.
Except for Adin Hill getting pulled in Boston, Hill and James Reimer have provided solid and timely netminding for the San Jose Sharks. Reimer stopped 23 of 25 Nashville shots tonight.
“That’s real encouraging for this team that we have reliable goaltending,” Boughner acknowledged.
His captain Logan Couture agreed: “They’ve been excellent, given us a chance in every game. And really that’s all you can ask for.”
The last time, by the way, that the Sharks finished in the top-10 in Save % was 2013-14 when Antti Niemi led San Jose to a .915, good for seventh in the league.
A New Top-Six Forward?
Going into the season, the San Jose Sharks were hoping that two rookies, William Eklund and Jonathan Dahlen, would emerge as top-six forwards.
That’s a big job for two rookies – and to their credit, both Eklund and Dahlen have shown significant promise.
It might be a surprise, considering the preseason hype, that Dahlen has moved ahead of Eklund, at least in terms of solidifying his spot in the line-up. Eklund was scratched against Boston and yo-yoed up and down lines tonight, while Dahlen has maintained his place next to Couture and Timo Meier on San Jose’s top line.
Dahlen led the Sharks in shots (5) and shot attempts (9) in Nashville, and he’s been a consistent source of offense, and a good fit with Couture and Meier throughout this road trip.
“I don’t want to pat myself on the back,” Couture said, smiling. “But when I saw [Dahlen] in Captain’s Ice before camp, I told Doug this kid’s gonna be a player. He’s so smart with the puck, the way he can see the ice and move his feet.
“I said, ‘Give me a chance with him, I want to play with this guy.’ “
There’s no doubt that Dahlen has benefited from skating with the reliable Couture and the dominant Meier, the two-best Sharks forwards so far this young season, but credit to the 23-year-old for taking advantage and piling up the chances.
If San Jose has indeed unearthed a competent top-six forward out of nowhere in Dahlen, that will go a long way toward their playoff drive.
Who Will Help Hertl?
On the flipside, however, nobody is keeping pace with the Couture line: They’ve accounted for eight of Sharks forwards’ 10 goals at 5-on-5. Tomas Hertl and Rudolfs Balcers have the other two goals.
It’s not just about 5-on-5 goals: Per Natural Stat Trick, the Couture line has produced 39 of Sharks forwards’ 74 Scoring Chances and 25 of their 41 High-Danger Chances.
Right now, the San Jose Sharks are a one-line team: The other lines aren’t scoring or creating consistent offense.
This isn’t a winning formula and Boughner called that out tonight: “I was getting good offensive shifts from Cooch’s line and Tommy Hertl’s line, but other than that, we didn’t get much from the bottom part of the lineup tonight.”
Hertl was strong tonight, but the second-line center still needs to be more consistently dangerous, as do his wingers – that includes Eklund, Balcers, Alexander Barabanov, and Kevin Labanc so far this year.
Nick Bonino, presumptive third-line center, has also spearheaded very little 5-on-5 offense this season.
There’s talent here, and you feel pretty good that Hertl will get going, but who’s going to be by his side when the Couture line comes back down to earth?
If nobody steps up, there’s no doubt this surprising San Jose Sharks start will be nothing but a distant memory soon.
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