If the Sharks' Sunday matinee against Vancouver was their first real test of the season, think of tonight's tilt with the Anaheim Ducks as something of a pop quiz. Well, I guess that doesn't really work since they've been aware that this game is on their schedule for over two weeks now. Botched metaphors aside, although you might not consider the Ducks a great team (they aren't) or even likely to make the playoffs despite their 3-1 start (they won't), they did deliver San Jose a Chris Pronger elbow or five on the scoreboard last season.
The Sharks won just one of six games against their Southern California rival in 2011-12 and while a lot of that was courtesy more spectacular play from Jonas Hiller, who really doesn't get enough credit as one of this franchise's all-time nemeses, the Ducks played the Sharks surprisingly evenly last year, earning 77 even-strength scoring chances to San Jose's 79 over that season series. For whatever combination of reasons (Hiller, Getzlaf, Perry and Selanne being that combination of reasons), Anaheim has given the Sharks fits during the recent past. San Jose will need to change that if they want to remain undefeated.
|3-1-0, 6 points
||5-0-0, 10 points|
|5th in Western Conference||2nd in Western Conference|
Projected Sharks Lineup
Projected Ducks Lineup
Like the Sharks, the Ducks have largely rode the percentages to a hot start. In fact, amazingly, Anaheim's shooting percentage at both even-strength and the power play has actually been higher than San Jose's to begin the season. The Ducks have scored on 13.1% of their 5v5 shots and 37.5% of the ones they've taken 5v4, while the Sharks are shooting 9.6% and 25.0%, respectively, in those game states. I guess my analysis of this should probably extend beyond "something's gotta give" but, uh, something's gotta give.
That something is most likely Daniel Winnik. As someone who sung his praises last season and was disappointed Doug Wilson chose not to re-sign him, I definitely still wish he was a Shark. But that really has nothing to do with his torrid pace to start the season. This is a man who scored on just 5.9% of the first 622 shots he took in the NHL. Those are some stone hands of Gomezian proportions. Thanks to his 45.5% shooting percentage so far this year, Winnik has accounted for over one-third of the Ducks' entire offense through four games. Small-sample absurdity is what makes hockey enjoyable, but don't expect this to last.
Where Winnik does legitimately help the Ducks, and should continue to do so in the long run, is in improving their possession game and performance in the neutral zone. Winnik flanking Koivu finally gives the Ducks a line among their bottom six that Bruce Boudreau can trust to win the territorial battle in reasonably tough minutes. For the first time in nearly five years, Anaheim might actually have forward depth. Of course, they had to promote fourth-liner Nick Bonino to second line center in order to get there but, honestly, strap a pair of skates on me and I could center Teemu Selanne and Bobby Ryan.
The import of all that, as far as the Sharks are concerned, is that they're finally facing a team with three competent lines for the first time since introducing Scott Gomez into the lineup. It might finally be time to move him up to that third line at evens, which would likely allow Todd McLellan to roll his lines without having to worry about much in the way of a disadvantageous matchup. Of course, anytime you can get Marleau or Havlat on the ice to drive wide against Souray or Allen, you're in a good spot. Go Sharks.