The San Jose Sharks have been leading the Pacific Division for the entirety of the past few weeks. While they have dropped their past two games in regulation, the Sharks are still likely to win the division. San Jose holds a four-point lead on second-place Anaheim with a game in hand even after losing to the Ducks in regulation on Saturday.
Technically speaking, Team Teal hasn’t clinched a playoff spot, but even if the ninth-place Los Angeles Kings picked up 20-out-of-a-possible-24 points remaining on their schedule, the Sharks would only need five-out-of-a-possible-22 points remaining to finish ahead of LA. San Jose making the playoffs is all but a certainty and for the most part they have been playing terrific hockey since the middle of January. However, as the regular season draws near, yours truly has three mild concerns with the playoffs lurking.
The Power Play
It is baffling to me why Head Coach Peter DeBoer won’t try swapping guys like Tomas Hertl and/or Joonas Donskoi onto the top unit in place of Joe Thornton and/or Patrick Marleau. Other successful teams like the Chicago Blackhawks often balance out their top two units rather than overload the No. 1 group with their five best players. Marian Hossa and Brent Seabrook have often anchored Chicago's second unit in the past while Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Patrick Sharp were on the first unit.
For years San Jose’s top power play unit of Thornton, Marleau, Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski and Brent Burns/Dan Boyle was absolutely deadly. However, that top group has been cold for the majority of this season and the one struggling the most has been Joe Thornton. The Sharks power play is currently ranked near the bottom of the league at 24th overall. Thornton has been forcing passes this year that aren't there and has been holding onto the puck for far too long while standing still at the half wall. Over the years he has dominated from that spot on the power play, but this year he's slowed it down too much and become too predictable.
Now we have seen stingy defensive teams win the Stanley Cup without a good power play (see the 2011 Boston Bruins), so it’s not as concerning as having a bad penalty kill (and the Sharks PK isn’t bad, 13th in the league). The power play though is still a mild concern.
Mikkel Boedker & Micheal Haley
Boedker and Haley are regulars in the Sharks lineup, but these two forwards are bringing next to nothing of value. This writer defended Boedker for weeks when he had a good two-month stretch with Couture and Marleau. Unfortunately, when Boedker is not on that line, he actively hurts the Sharks with gray area (primarily just inside the offensive blue line) turnovers and soft play.
Haley likewise can only play effectively on one line, the fourth. The problem is he literally offers zero value when it comes to special teams and can’t finish to save his life. There are far better options than these two forwards. When everyone is healthy, Marcus Sorensen, Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc are all by far better options than Boedker and Haley. (Not to mention Barracuda’s leading scorer all season in Danny O’Regan). For some bizarre reason the organization over values Haley and DeBoer isn't willing to scratch Boedker like he did earlier in the season.
David Schlemko's Health
The Sharks need more stability on the blue line. Dylan Demelo played great as a rookie last year and should never have been replaced in the lineup by an absolutely terrible defenseman in Roman Polak. However, Demelo has missed far too much time this year. He sat out over six weeks with a broken wrist and just hasn’t looked comfortable in Schlemko’s absence. The veteran Schlemko is incredibly underrated and is actually San Jose’s second-best left-handed defenseman behind Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Schlemko is the primary reason Brenden Dillon’s puck possession numbers have been so good this year. He is far better with the puck on his stick in all three zones than Dillon and Paul Martin.
The Sharks can survive without Schlemko, but he certainly makes them better. While both Tim Heed and Joakim Ryan are solid as the top defensive pair with the Barracuda, neither has had nearly enough NHL experience to be relied upon if more than one Sharks defenseman goes down with an injury in the playoffs.
"Honorable" Mention Concerns:
Jannik Hansen’s Health
Hansen left last night’s Ducks game after taking a high stick to the face late in the game. Generally speaking, high stick injuries aren’t the worst in terms of missing time, but the Sharks have recalled up two forwards from the Barracuda heading into this four-game road trip.
Melker Karlsson’s Health
Karlsson is an extremely underrated fourth-line forward. He kills penalties, can jump up onto any of the scoring lines with his forechecking ability and Hockey IQ. That said, he isn’t a major difference maker and it sounds as if his injury isn’t serious, so not a big concern at the moment.