Monday, December 19, 2011

5 New Year's Resolutions for the San Jose Sharks

For what it is worth, the San Jose Sharks 2011-12 season has not gone according to plan, to say the least. New players and lousy play in many aspects of the game have caused inconsistency in the win column for a team that was supposed to breeze through another regular season unscathed.

However, the missing pieces that seemed to fit the proverbial puzzle have not paid as many dividends as, say, the Minnesota Wild, who are currently one of the best teams in the Western Conference.

Laxidasical special teams play may be the biggest weakness of the Sharks this season, an aspect of their game that many teams have preyed on throughout thus far, yet San Jose's record of 17-10-3 seems just about right for how they have played. But still not up to par in comparison to the tradition of above average regular season play.

The Sharks have a lot of work to do and the new year should be just what they need in terms of advancing their game to the next level and preparing for the Western Conference playoffs.

Here are five New Year's resolutions for the San Jose Sharks.

5. Better Penalty Kill

We will knock out the easy one first and there is not much more to say than the Sharks' penalty kill is terrible. At times, it can be durable, but the majority of this season has been spent on figuring out what is and is not working when down a player. Most of the time, nothing has been working.

Puck awareness can be partly blamed for the NHL's 29th ranked penalty kill, although that is such a generic term to sum up awful efforts on the defensive end this season. The Sharks have stopped the opposing team's power play 73% of the time this season. Simply not good enough.

4. The Big Guns

Take a look at the Sharks' team leaders in each statistical category this season and you may not find Patrick Marleau atop any of them. Marleau has been simply average this season, something he is not and should not be.

What you will find is decent numbers from a list of decent players.

Joe Thornton's numbers are the only ones that may ignite awe from some people. 6 goals and 20 assists, while leading the team in points is a feat for Thornton, but not many come close after him.

The numbers are just mediocre from a team that is so much more and needs to prove that going forward.

3. More Consistent Power Play

Unfortunately for the Sharks, their awful penalty kill has not been saved by a historically good power play this season. The Sharks currently rank 13th in power play conversions at 17.9%.

The days of Thornton, Marleau and Heatley are over, and with it the thoughts of drawing a penalty leading to an automatic goal.

New players and little chemistry can take part of the blame for a team usually built around such a thing. Thornton, more than anyone, needs the chemistry and Marleau's play has simply not been there to satisfy that for him.

More time on the ice and more time together should solve that for a team with unlimited potential on the power play.

2. Team Chemistry.

Out with Setoguchi and Heatley and in with Burns and Havlat. However, the trade has seemed to work out substantially better for the Wild as of late.

Chemistry has been hit hard for San Jose as losing Heatley's attitude and Setoguchi's playfulness has seemed to take more of a toll on this team than we initially thought. Still, the team added Havlat to a finesse group of forwards and Burns to a talented group of defensemen.

What gives?

The pieces are there, it is just putting them together that is the problem. Havlat has been limited on the ice so far this season, which can take most of the blame for the team not being able to get used to this new playing style they unknowingly acquired in the offseason. I will chalk the chemistry issue up to just that, though.

1. Better Play From Martin Havlat

He has been on and off the injury list this season, just as the Sharks probably expected. But it turns out San Jose needs him a whole lot if they are to make a run in the Western Conference.

The loss of Heatley and Setoguchi hurt this team, but getting little to no production from Havlat for several reasons only hurts this team more in return. Havlat has just two goals and 13 assists in 26 games this season.

The production is not what is hurting this team, although it may directly affect them. The time with a consistent set of players is, though. The Sharks players getting used to Havlat and his habits, as well as Havlat getting used to theirs, is the biggest issue for this situation to get resolved. That is hard to acquire in itself, let alone when coach Todd McLellan is attempting to find a different group of players that work together nearly every night.

Havlat's play will come around, but only if given time. Right now, San Jose does not have that time, though. So we sit and wait and watch this team attempt to evolve into a Western Conference elite.

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