Sharks look to correct one glaring weakness

Thornton and Couture talk 'leadership by committee'

Sharks look to correct one glaring weakness
October 2, 2013, 2:15 pm
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The Sharks' 77 goals in five-on-five play ranked better than only three other teams in the league. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

SAN JOSE – Power play? The Sharks will continue to ice one of the top units in the NHL. Check.

Goaltending? Antti Niemi was a Vezina finalist last season, and there’s no reason to think he can’t repeat his 2013 performance. Check.

The penalty kill? After years of a mediocre-at-best unit, the Sharks finished last season sixth in the league while shorthanded. Check.

Veteran experience? Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dan Boyle, although a year older, are still very productive players that any number of teams would love to have. Check.

Youth? Tomas Hertl, a former first round pick, and Matt Nieto, a second round pick, impressed the Sharks’ coaching staff enough in training camp that both will begin their rookie seasons on a top scoring line. Check.

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Star power? Logan Couture could very well make the leap from star to superstar this season, and 40 goals could be within reach. While not flashy, Marc-Edouard Vlasic has developed into a top shut down defenseman. Check.

Finally, how about five-on-five play? Last season, San Jose finished with 77 goals when both teams skated at full strength, and only three NHL teams finished with fewer.

Which made that a priority in training camp.

“The only weakness we had last year was the five-on-five scoring,” Dan Boyle said.

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Todd McLellan said: “We’ve looked at areas of the game where we think five-on-five play can be improved on, and where maybe some other teams are scoring, and we addressed it in camp. There were some differences in our camp this year than what we would normally have.”

Without getting too specific, the Sharks’ head coach rattled off a number of aspects to the game which could lead to more even-strength scoring, including the role of the defensemen, faceoffs, and where and when to take shots on goal.

Above everything else, though, it’s bearing down on odd-man rushes. Against strong defensive teams, there are typically precious few of those chances, and if the Sharks are going to be among the NHL’s elite teams, they will have to take advantage of those rare opportunities on a regular basis.

And, it’s still a work in progress.

“The biggest thing for me is when you get your two-on-ones or three-on-twos, and those are pure scoring chances, we need to take advantage of them. We really do,” McLellan said. “We had a number of those throughout training camp and exhibition season where we didn’t take advantage of them. We got cute, we got fancy, and got nothing out of it.

“If we’re going to improve five-on-five scoring, those legitimate moments that arise, maybe only one or two times a night, we better be cashing in on them.”

Ironing out that part of their game could be the difference between a good team and a great one.

“As a group, we can all pick that up,” Boyle said.