Everything about the San Jose Sharks’ season so far has been unusual. Holding a training camp 700 miles from home will likely never be repeated, nor is playing every game as the road team through the first three-plus weeks likely to happen again.
All things considered, perhaps the Sharks’ 4-5-1 record after 10 games — the same mark they had at the start of the 2019-2020 season — isn’t all that bad.
The Sharks will play their 11th and 12th straight road games on Tuesday and Thursday, respectively, when they face the Los Angeles Kings for a two-game series. Their first game at SAP Center this season will be against the Vegas Golden Knights on Saturday.
Through 10 games, the Sharks have already seen four players make their NHL debuts and have earned splits in four of their five two-game series, staying competitive with Arizona, Anaheim, Minnesota and St. Louis.
On the flipside, they’ve run through multiple forward line combinations and different defense pairs and yet to see a handful of their best players really hit their stride.
“Our game has not been where we want it to be,” Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson said. “But at the same time, we have to take step back and realize that we’re still in a position where we’re trying to be not better for the short, but for the long term, and that’s going to have some growing pains.
“We still have a lot of people who are trying to figure out where they stand and what they need to do to be successful on a daily basis, and that’s a process. Everybody has to go through it. I’ve gone through it in my career, and I’m still going through it.”
Here’s 10 observations about the Sharks through 10 games.
MORE KARLSSON NEEDED: Erik Karlsson is the highest-paid defenseman in the NHL but his production so far has been inconsistent at best. He has just three points, all assists, and the Sharks’ power play has been abysmal of late with just one goal in seven games.
“You can create those chances and they’ll come to you, but you have to hit some singles before you hit home runs every shift,” Sharks coach Boughner said of Karlsson. “It’s a build up and it’s making simple plays and the plays that are available, instead of trying to over-complicate things and put pucks through people, and then that’s when things open up, that’s when you can come in on that second wave.”
Our feeling: It’ll come for Karlsson, and that the slow start he’s having right now from a numbers standpoint will correct itself once the Sharks get some home games and Boughner can put him in some more ideal situations. The power play, too, won’t be this bad all year.
THE GOALIE ISSUE: If there’s one takeaway about Devan Dubnyk in his short time with the Sharks so far, it’s that he competes like crazy. He’s rarely allowed a soft goal and despite an 0-3-1 record, he’s given the Sharks a chance to win or at least get points out of every game he’s played. In his last four games, including three starts, Dubnyk has a .934 save percentage, sixth best among all NHL goalies who have played at least four games in that time.
So is a number one goalie starting to emerge? Maybe not quite yet. It’s possible both Dubnyk and Martin Jones will split the series with the Kings, and then perhaps do the same when the Sharks return home to play the Golden Knights and Anaheim Ducks. But Dubnyk is on track to get there if he keeps playing this well.
GAMBRELL’S EMERGENCE: Dylan Gambrell has been one the Sharks’ most pleasant surprises. Although he has just one assist in seven games, he’s become both a reliable two-way forward, playing over 19 minutes the last two games, and is one of the Sharks’ top guys in the faceoff circle. The key for Gambrell will be generating more offense against the opposing team’s first or second line without giving up too much on the defensive end.
THE COVID ISSUE: While several NHL teams have had COVID issues, the Sharks’ problems so far have been minimal. That’s no small thing considering how much they’ve had to travel so far this season.
BURNS’ RETURN TO FORM: Brent Burns looks comfortable on both sides of the puck. His game-winning goal against Minnesota on Jan. 24 was one for the ages, and he’s had positive possession numbers regardless or who his partner has been this season. Some of that can probably be attributed to being fully healthy again after a 10-month layoff, but it’s been a strong start for San Jose’s ice time leader.
POWER PLAY FUTILITY: We knew the Sharks’ power play would be work in progress, but we didn’t think it would struggle this mightily. San Jose is 1-for-27 with the man-advantage over its last seven games and entered Monday ranked 20th in the NHL at 15.8 percent. The issues over the last seven games have been numerous: poor faceoffs, inefficient zone entries and perhaps a lack of cohesion considering the ever-changing personnel.
It says here that it would be worth it, just for a game or two, to split up Burns and Karlsson from the top unit so they can both quarterback their own units.
DEFENSE SHUFFLE: Mario Ferraro emerged as one of Boughner’s go-to defenseman in crunch time the last two games, playing around nine minutes of both third periods against the Ducks. That role used to belong to Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who played less than 16 minutes Saturday as he was mainly on the third pair with Nikolai Knyzhov.
Vlasic was better Saturday than he was Friday, in our opinion. But with Ferraro playing so well and Radim Simek getting healthier, Vlasic is going to have to earn his way back to being a 20-minute a night defenseman. Right now, maybe less is more.
THE FIRST-YEAR SHARKS: John Leonard had a great training camp and deserved to be on the NHL roster at the start of the season, but he’ll benefit from playing big minutes with the Barracuda. He scored his goal as a professional in his first AHL game on Sunday and will probably be back with the Sharks at some point. As for Fredrik Handemark? We’re guessing he’ll need more time in the AHL.
NO-NONSENSE STYLE: Boughner has not been afraid to hold players accountable since he took over as the Sharks’ head coach in Dec. 2019. Players like Timo Meier, Kevin Labanc and Evander Kane all got that message at various times last season, and Vlasic and Tomas Hertl have felt that as well this season. Considering the Sharks finished in last place in the Western Conference season, it’s hard to argue with the tough-love approach.