NHL: San Jose Sharks players and coaches are optimistic they can improve on last season’s record.
SAN JOSE – The San Jose Sharks were in the early stages of practice, working on an up-tempo drill, when a sloppy entry across the blue line by one forward resulted in an easy turnover for the opposing defenseman.
The drill was immediately halted by Sharks coach David Quinn. Quinn raised his voice and reminded his teammates that poor puck management was one of the Sharks’ biggest issues last season.
“It’s not going to happen this year,” Quinn said Tuesday to his team. “We have to work with a purpose.”
Correcting such errors will be critical for the Sharks if they are to improve on their 22-44-16 record from last season. This isn’t a team that’s going to light up the scoreboard now that Erik Karlsson and Timo Meier aren’t wearing teal, so they’ll have to play smart, detailed hockey to stay competitive on a nightly basis.
“Will we win 6-5 games?” “I doubt it,” Sharks winger Mike Hoffman said. “However, there are players in here who can put the puck in the net and make plays.” We have a chance to prove some people wrong.”
Here are five ways the Sharks can outperform expectations.
PERCENTAGE OF TEAM SAVINGS
The most obvious way for the Sharks to improve their record this season is to stop the puck more often. San Jose had the lowest save percentage in the NHL in 2022-23, with James Reimer, Kaapo Kahkonen, Aaron Dell, and Eetu Makiniemi combining for an unappealing.881 mark, down from.900 the previous season.
According to moneypuck.com, Reimer and Kahkonen ranked 45th and 50th in goals saved above expected per 60 minutes among the 52 goalies who appeared in at least 25 games last season.
“I always judge a bad goal by the reaction on the bench, and we can all feel it,” Quinn recently said. “There are some you believe (the goalie) could have had, and you can live with those.” It’s the ones where you think to yourself, ‘He should have had that.’ It can be demoralizing when everyone on the bench feels it, and it happens to every team.”
Quinn was impressed by Kahkonen and Mackenzie Blackwood during training camp. Increasing the Sharks’ save percentage from.881 to.900 will not solve all of their problems. However, it would keep them in more games and bring them closer to league average. Last season, 12 of the top 16 teams in save percentage made the playoffs.
GOALS AGAINST 5 ON 5
Goaltending is important, but so are puck management and staying above the puck. Last season, the Sharks allowed 220 5-on-5 goals, which ranked third in the NHL behind only Columbus (231) and Anaheim (225).
Limiting turnovers can help to reduce this number, allowing the Sharks to play in a proper defensive zone structure more often. In close games, proper game management and making smart, simple puck plays can make a difference.
The Sharks coaching staff hammered home that point throughout training camp. Will the participants buy in?
“Every team in the league is so close. “They aren’t going to give you free goals,” said Sharks defenseman Matt Benning. “So, if we can limit those unnecessary turnovers that lead to sustained time in our zone, which could lead to an icing, which could lead to a goal against, those are the kinds of things that (build) momentum.”
“If we can be on the other side of those and manage the puck really well and force turnovers from other teams, that gives us momentum.”
ADDING MORE STRENGTH PLAYS
For the time being, the Sharks’ first power play unit will consist of five forwards. It’s entertaining at times, but how often will fans get to see it?
Last season, the Sharks ranked 25th in the league with a power-play percentage of 18.4. Almost as concerning was the fact that they only had 223 power play opportunities, the third-fewest in the NHL. Last season, the Sharks only had one power play in 15 games.
“I think moving your feet, getting to the net, and not standing around,” said Sharks winger Luke Kunin when asked how the team could draw more penalties. “When you move your feet, there are more opportunities for (defenders) to hook you, pull you down, and get interference calls.”
“When you’re drawing penalties, it’s usually guys moving their feet, working hard, getting off the walls, and getting in the middle of the ice.”
EVEN MORE PUSHBACK
The Sharks may not score a lot of points this season, but they can make opponents feel like they were in a tough game.
Quinn and general manager Mike Grier want a more aggressive team, especially at home, where they were a dismal 8-21-11 last season. Scrums appeared to be as rare as home victories.
Grier was a tough-minded player during his 14-year career, and he wants his team to demonstrate that it will not back down from a fight.
“You need a little pushback, a little jam, and a little bit of an in-your-face kind of attitude,” Sharks defenseman Kyle Burroughs said. “Guys who enjoy playing like that have been brought in, and I believe we can push the envelope a little bit more and be a difficult team to play against.”
“When teams come in here or when we go on the road, we want them to know that we’re tough to play against and that they might end up with a few ice bags on their bodies as a result.” That’s something we can be proud of, and it will help us win games in the future.”
Last season, the Sharks scored 234 goals, with four players accounting for roughly 45 percent of that total: Karlsson, Meier, Logan Couture, and Tomas Hertl.
The Sharks have a deeper and more offensively talented forward group than last year, and that depth must be utilized if the Sharks are to remain competitive in the majority of games.
“We feel really good about all three of our positions, from the goal to the d-corps to our forwards,” he said. “The question is how quickly we can all gel and work together as a team.” In the first three weeks, we’ve made some significant progress.”