The Flames get a look at one of the conference finalists this evening as the Sharks make their first appearance of the season in Calgary. As with Detroit a few nights ago, it’s a team that spent its summer seeming to gain ground on the conference by running in place.
One other striking similarity with the Red Wings is that the Sharks lean on the top half of their roster pretty heavily, and with good reason, because the remainder of their team isn’t particularly imposing. Of course, the Sharks have the horses to do that on most nights.
The Sharks have two fine centers to make all of this work. Joe Thornton is very famous, pretty good, and last night’s trouncing of the Oilers saw him reunited with Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley to good effect on the PP. I mentioned my reservations about Thornton in last week’s roundup, though, and I did notice that his numbers last year were inflated by his work against two very poor teams. Against Anaheim and Edmonton, he tallied 22 points in 10 games while going +13. Against the rest of the league, Thornton managed 67 points in 69 games, which is still quite good, but he was only +4. He routinely plays the other team’s better players, so again, it isn’t like he’s a stiff, but if his opposition doesn’t stink, he gives up about as much as he makes at EV.
Having Joe Pavelski in the second slot should keep the Sharks in the argument for the next several years. He resigned this summer for 4M over 4 years, which is about right for a quality second banana, and Pavelski, Ryane Clowe and Devon Setoguchi provide Todd McLellan with a solid second group. I suspect that the Sharks might be hoping for a bounce back year from Setoguchi, but his PP opportunities took a drop off with the arrival of Dany Heatley last year, and that situation isn’t likely change.
The Sharks do have a pretty big fall-off after the top six. Torrey Mitchell and Logan Couture are solid enough, but after that, it’s a mishmash of guys like Scott Nichol and Jamal Mayers rounding out the line up. In the Cap era, it’s hard to have everything, and depth is the item that Doug Wilson has chosen to forsake in order to ensure his top players get signed. It seems sensible enough, though, since the only team that could consistently make their bottom six pay an unbearable price was Chicago, and they’ve had to thin the herd as well.
That approach has also meant that the Sharks have a pretty suspect looking D corps, at least to my eye. Dan Boyle and Marc-Eduoard Vlasic are very good, and Doug Murray is decent enough, but as with the forwards, the guys after those three are pretty uninspiring. If I were guessing what area of their team the Sharks would be willing to add to at the deadline, it would be on the back end in an attempt to add a top four defender.
One item that I feel Wilson got absolutely right was telling Evgeni Nabokov to take a walk when his salary demands reached the 6M mark. Nabokov had a nice enough year in 09/10, but the goalie market was saturated enough that San Jose could get a pair of decent guys for two-thirds the price. Whether Antti Niemi and Antero Niittymaki are the right two remains to be seen, but I have a hard time knocking Wilson for going this route given the state of the goaltending market this past off-season.
The Sharks, until last night at least, were sort of bumbling along, mostly due to the fact that they couldn’t throw it in the ocean at EV. Last year’s team was good at EV while riding an exemplary power play to the top of the conference, and I don’t expect this year’s edition to be any different. In other words, if you want to beat them, stay out of the box, and try, if possible, to make Joe Thornton a shooter by taking away his passing options. Making the Sharks play a game with 50 minutes at EV might expose that bottom six, and if the Flames are going to beat San Jose, sawing off the big guns while punishing the scrubs seems the best bet.