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Controlling the controllables and the San Jose Sharks

How I learned to stop worrying and love bad luck

NHL: Ottawa Senators at San Jose Sharks John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

Sports are deeply personal, opinions on teams and players don’t have to be. It’s personal when I say I want the Sharks to win hockey games. It’s not personal when I say I want to see Matt Nieto in the Sharks lineup over Micheal Haley. I can be wrong, of course, and certainly Sharks head coach Pete DeBoer thinks I am, but I’m very careful to not allow these opinions to reach a personal level.

Now that I’ve made that clear, let’s make something else abundantly clear: Mikkel Boedker is not a problem. Joel Ward is not a problem. Joonas Donskoi is not a problem. Whoever DeBoer benches next for not scoring a goal in a “reasonable” amount of time is also, probably, not a problem.

Let me drop in a disclaimer, first. When I say not a problem, I mean specifically in an on-ice capacity. I don’t know what’s going on in the locker room or at practices or on the bench. If DeBoer feels the need to discipline a player by benching them, fair enough. So when I make a comment on a lineup decision I’m making the assumption the decision is based purely on on-ice performance — just so we’re on the same page.

Here are the Sharks forwards currently on the roster, sorted by goals.

Yup, Donskoi, Ward and Boedker are all stuck down there at two goals. Yes, Nieto and Haley have yet to score in 35 combined games this season and that’s (at least partially) why they’ve found themselves scratched more than anyone else on the roster. Here’s the thing, and this isn’t an opinion, it’s a well-researched fact: goals scored isn’t the best indicator of goals to be scored.

I feel like I’ve written that on this website about 1,000 times and yet we’re here again. If the Sharks continue to put pucks towards the net those shot attempts will eventually turn into goals. Boedker is generating shot attempts at the highest rate of his career, Donskoi is creating scoring chances better than last year and Ward is rolling steady right now (if unspectacular).

Frankly, that’s not much of a problem. San Jose’s struggle to score on the power play, another matter of poor luck more than poor execution, has hurt their offensive numbers as much as anything else. That, combined with the absence of Tomas Hertl, has understandably done a number on the Sharks’ offensive totals.

Every team has something to criticize, but what I’ve found is many Sharks fans are criticizing the wrong things about this team. San Jose doesn’t lack grit or energy or urgency — this team has all of those things in spades. Joe Thornton gives his blood and guts to this team every night out there more than a man his age should be even capable of doing. Kevin Labanc lays out to block shots. Brent Burns looks like a man possessed on every shift (in a good way).

This team is doing everything it can to win hockey games and if the Sharks have a problem, it’s that the coaching staff isn’t maximizing the talent available. Some blame can be hung on general manager Doug Wilson, too, I’m sure. I’m of the belief, and I know I’m in the minority here, that there’s a spot for Nikolay Goldobin on this roster. The Sharks could use his offensive ability and I think he has proven himself at the AHL level.

Playing Haley makes the Sharks a worse hockey team. He’s not a terrible hockey player by any means and he’s the best “grinder” the Sharks have had in years. But for the Sharks to ice the best possible lineup, he needs to be out of it. The same goes for Tommy Wingels. Yes, he has four goals this year, but I’m of the believe that swapping out Haley for Nieto and Wingels for Ward makes this a better hockey team.

Patrick Marleau — Joe Thornton — Joe Pavelski

Mikkel Boedker — Logan Couture — Kevin Labanc

Joonas Donskoi — Chris Tierney — Timo Meier

Matt Nieto — Melker Karlsson — Joel Ward

If the Sharks go with this lineup until Hertl gets back, I like the look of this roster a lot more. That’s controlling the controllables and that, in my opinion, is what’s worth talking about. That’s why I spend time on Twitter talking about Haley and not Boedker. Because moving Haley out of the lineup is something the Sharks can control — they can’t change Boedker’s luck. I don’t think. Buy the dude a rabbit’s foot though, just in case.