Don’t look now, but the San Jose Barracuda just might be the best team in the American Hockey League. Yes, the team sitting in fourth place in the Pacific Division has the makings of a championship squad. Skeptical? That’s fair.
The Barracuda snuck into the playoffs last season where they were thoroughly handled by the Ontario Reign in the first round of the postseason. This team doesn’t much resemble the ‘Cuda squad from a season ago.
After years of finger pointing at head coach Roy Sommer for the AHL team’s mediocrity, the veteran coach was finally given a talented roster to work with. The results are showing. This isn’t a referendum on who he is as a coach; I frankly have no idea if he’s a good coach or not. But it seems much of the criticism about the on-ice results in the past was unfair.
Regardless, players like Timo Meier, Tim Heed and Daniel O’Regan have helped the Barracuda to eight wins in their first 16 games. Three of San Jose’s eight losses came in the shootout and the Cuda’s .594 point percentage (that’s what’s actually used to determine division standings) is just behind San Diego.
Beyond the eye test, which treats the Barracuda very nicely, we’ve got some pretty sexy numbers to back up my loft praise of this team. The folks over at prospect-stats.com, a very nice website, put together a list of AHL teams that includes score-close fenwick (shots that don’t get blocked). San Jose ranks No. 1 in that category.
Not good enough for you? Let’s make it simpler. The Barracuda are the fourth-best team in shots-for percentage; meaning they control more shots than all but three teams in the AHL. That is very, very good. The wins have come with only so-so goaltending, too. Mantas Armalis has been shaky at best and the Barracuda are currently rocking a .909 team save percentage. That’s not great.
It’s also not sinking the Barracuda, necessarily. That save percentage is 12th in the AHL, which gives you an idea of how poor most AHL goaltending is. The Barracuda are also 12th in shooting percentage; that’s less surprising given the quality of shooters at San Jose’s disposal.
What makes the ‘Cuda so good is their depth. O’Regan leads all rookies in points, Meier is now scoring at a point-per-game pace, Marcus Sorensen has been good and Heed looks great. Rourke Chartier has been A Guy, Kevin Labanc, when with the team, has been a revelation and Nikolay Goldobin has been nothing short of incredible.
This is a very good team, which bodes well for the Sharks’ future. It also means great things for any Sharks fans local to an AHL team. As someone who saw his first Barracuda game in person a couple weeks ago, I can’t recommend the experience enough. The tickets are cheap, the seats are great and the hockey is very, very good. It’s fun! The team is good! So what are you waiting for?