As I write this article, it is the afternoon of December 4th, just a few hours before the Sharks face off against the Washington Capitals for the first time this season. The Sharks have played 25 games thus far, and have a record of 14-9-2 (that’s wins, losses, and overtime losses, respectively) – and while that record may not look stellar, being just a hair over .500 PTS%, it’s still good enough for third place in the Pacific division standings.
That record is also somewhat deceptive. With the exception of perhaps three games this season – two against the Tampa Bay Lightning, who have outplayed the Sharks soundly through both of their meetings this season, and one against division rival the Los Angeles Kings – the Sharks have been playing some genuinely excellent hockey. They boast the strongest defense in the entire league, the second-best Penalty Kill record, and have an embarrassment of riches between the pipes. Both of their goaltenders, starter Martin Jones and backup Aaron Dell, have phenomenal numbers. Most of the time, when the Sharks do lose a game, it isn’t a problem with the goalie. It’s scoring where the boys have been struggling.
Most of the team’s losses this year have been in very close games, where a bounce here or a call from the refs there would have changed the complexion of the game. Just last month, in their first game against the Florida Panthers this season, they put the puck in the net twice – but both goals were disallowed, one on a very questionable call, and Florida won that game by a score of 2 to 0.
A bounce here. A call there.
This season is the first in nearly twenty years where the Sharks have been playing without Patrick Marleau contributing to the offense – after scoring 27 goals last year, he left San Jose for Toronto during the off-season, leaving a big hole in the Sharks scoring. It’s taken the team some time to adapt to this change, but little by little, they’ve gotten their feet moving and the goals have started to come. Joe Pavelski scored the 300th goal of his career just a few nights ago, after being stuck on 299 for eleven straight games. Joe Thornton is continuing to creep his way up the NHL’s all-time points list, currently sitting at a mind-boggling 1,407 points in 1,471 games played. To be that close to scoring a point-per-game in this league is bananas. Some of the younger guys are stepping up as well; Chris Tierney has been playing phenomenal this season, as have Logan Couture, Joonas Donskoi, and Timo Meier.
If you aren’t a hockey fan yet, San Jose is a great place to give it a try. The Sharks’ AHL affiliate team, the San Jose Barracuda, play in the same arena – SAP Center, a straight shot down the light rail’s Winchester line from Cogswell – for a fraction of the price. If you’ve got ten bucks, you can go check out a game, and see the players who are being called upon when guys on the Sharks are hurt and can’t go. Hockey is a fast, exciting game, and the organization in San Jose in particular is full of some genuinely nice people.
And if you need somebody with you to teach you the game, let me know. I’ll make the time.