The Flames finish their road trip with an appointment in San Jose. Last night’s game reinforced entirely too many of the suspicions I had about the good guys, and tonight’s affair makes me a bit nervous, because just as with the Washington game a couple of Saturdays ago, the Flames are meeting a team due for a bit of a breakout.
The Sharks, unlike our local heroes, have a top heavy roster whose best players can handle most teams on most nights. As one might expect, their top two sets of forwards have some pretty nice possession numbers. Joe Pavelski and Ryan Clowe have been particularly excellent by that metric, and in the last year and a half, they’ve been as much a part of San Jose’s success as Thornton and Marleau, giving Todd McLellan options against good comp.
What hasn’t occurred, at least over the first month of this season, is the puck going in at EV for the Sharks. San Jose has the second worst 5v5 SH% in the league and while they haven’t always been a high SH% club historically, they’re better than 5.8%. The team has shot 1.83% when Joe Pavelski has been on-ice, which isn’t going to last unless Little Joe’s arms fall off, but it does show that even a solid player can play well and have absolutely nothing happen on the score sheet for lengthy stretches.
San Jose, like many teams in the cap era, have some pretty iffy forward and defense depth, and after Boyle and Vlasic, the Sharks’ blue is where they most likely need to add a player if they’re going to make another run through the post season. Huskins and Demers are doing well against soft comp, but Murray and Wallin are just so-so as top 4 guys at EV.
The Sharks decided to sign two goalies for equivalent money this summer, with unequal results. Antero Niittymaki has been excellent, sporting a .951 EVSV% while his Finnish confrere Antti Niemi has been trundling along at .879. I watched the Sharks play Carolina earlier this year, and Tripp Tracy, the ‘Canes analyst, repeatedly discussed Niemi’s poor posture in the net. Tracy’s belief is that Niemi slouches when he butterflies, leaning his shoulders forward and down, with the effect of exposing the top half of the net more than you might expect from a man 6’2”. Sadly, I suspect the Sharks are also aware that their Stanley Cup Winning Goalie™ might have a few holes in his game, since Niitty’s played the majority of the season and will likely get the nod tonight.
Game wise, the Flames need to hope that the Pavelski line stays in its shooting slump, and that a few gentlemen on their own side have a flashback to better days. I think that if the Flames manage to keep San Jose’s top guys under control, the bottom of the Sharks’ roster is there for the taking, but that’s easy to write and not so easy to accomplish.