About a quarter of the way through the season, the NHL has undergone a bit of a hierarchical shakeup. Teams previously classified as “underdogs” have burned through the standings to reach the top of the power rankings, making new names for themselves. The San Jose Sharks, on the other hand, had a strong preseason start, only to find themselves pulled into a riptide of injuries and losses only 25 games into the season.
Currently, the Sharks sit at #14 in the NHL’s overall rankings, a list created by measuring the goal differential of each team. Looking at the league as a whole, ahead of the Sharks are unsurprising regulars such as three-time defending Stanley Cup Champions the Pittsburgh Penguins (#9) and the Nashville Predators (#4). However, a few underdog teams have made their way into the current Top 10, including the New Jersey Devils (#8), the Toronto Maple Leafs (#7) and the Tampa Bay Lightning, who currently hold the #1 spot. While a lot can shift throughout the season, the teams who have reached the current highest rankings have only done so through consistency of play. This is one of the keys to having a strong, Cup-contending season.
On an internal level, the Sharks currently stand at an average of 2.6 goals-per-game — the third-lowest average among the NHL. However, they do hold the runner-up position in penalty kill points — a sign that the Sharks are capable of having fire under their skates, even if only when under pressure.
The Sharks have also had a rough time with injuries so far this season. With less than 30 games under their belt, they’ve already suffered the blow of a concussion acquired by defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic. His touch-and-go return to the ice has given fans some doubt as to whether or not he will be able to play consistently throughout the season. Most recently, second-leading goal-scorer Joonas Donski suffered a mid-to-lower body injury on Dec. 1 against the Philadelphia Flyers. The injury has been classified as “day-to-day,” but should the tables turn, losing Donski for any significant stretch would surely set the Sharks on a precarious ledge. Their offense is already not making much headway in terms of goal-scoring this season so far, and another hit to their offensive power would be bad news.
On the upside, the Sharks’ youth movement has been given time to shine under the influx of injuries acquired as of late. However, the Sharks seem to have exhausted their supply of young, healthy players from their affiliate team, the San Jose Barracudas. Most of the leading scorers from the Barracudas have already been called up or are on their own injury leave. It seems that San Jose simply can’t escape injury, whether on an NHL or AHL level.
To add insult to injury on a personal level, alternate captain Joe Thornton was fined $5,000 for slashing Tampa Bay’s Tyler Johnson during their Dec. 2 match. The fine is the highest allowed in the NHL, and the punishment was issued by the player safety department, with the money going to the emergency assistance fund for the players.
Before 2017 comes to a close, the Sharks will be facing two division rivals. They’ll meet the Vancouver Canucks twice: once on Dec. 15 across the northern border, and again at home on the Dec. 21. Next, they’ll be pit against the L.A. Kings — who have made contenders out of themselves as of late — for a Dec. 23 faceoff in San Jose. In the new year, the Sharks will head off on a Canadian road trip to hit the ice in Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa and Winnipeg in six days.
With ample opportunity in place to regain ground and reclaim their victorious past, the Sharks just have to capitalize on the talent they already have and ensure that the players keep themselves in one piece before the season hits its halfway point.