Being a fan of a perennial contender/playoff team often means the regular season becomes overlooked. It is merely a vehicle for getting the chance at Lord Stanley’s Mug. Yes, there are marquee matchups and long winning streaks to get us excited, but really we are all chomping at the bit for the playoffs to start.
With the Sharks taking care of business, so far, in the Pacific, let’s train our eyes to the future. Looking around at the division and the Sharks performance, it’s not too early to talk playoffs. If they fall to a position of scrapping for a wild card spot, then there are bigger issues afoot. This is a team built for a long playoff run and these are the five players that are integral to achieving postseason success.
Martin Jones: Need there be anything said? Without Jones, the Sharks will be hard pressed to salvage anything of a playoff run, let alone continuing to sit atop the Pacific. The ’16 playoffs were Jones coming out party, putting up a sparkling .923 save percentage and 2.16 GAA. Just tuning into a playoff game and watching, it was apparent Jones was putting together a Conn Smythe worthy performance.
This season he got off to a shaky start but has turned that around and morphed back into the goalie Sharks fans want and expect. A 2.04 GAA and .920 save percentage have helped San Jose look like the Cup contender they are. If the ’16 playoffs were his coming out party, let’s hope 2017 is his coronation. A hot goalie can win you the title, just ask LA.
Pickles: If you don’t get a scorching hot vintage Patrick Roy performance in June, you’re going to need everyone else to play better. A shutdown d-man who can go up night in and night out against the other team’s top line is a valuable asset and one not many teams have. MEV is every bit as good as the flashier household names you hear about. Vlasic has proven he is the cornerstone of the Sharks D corps and makes every other player better and more comfortable in their game. No one has to cover for Vlasic and by extension, Braun, freeing up the Sharks to play their game. Everyone remembers when Vlasic went down a few years ago against the Kings; it didn’t turn out well.
Brent Burns: If Vlasic is the foundation and cornerstone of the Sharks D, Burns is every bit the engine. The stats are sizzling - 11 goals, 23 points, leading the league in shots, 23 plus TOI/g, the list goes on and on. A sure fire Norris contender this year and all around beast on the ice, Burns is a downright machine. His defense has vastly improved since being moved back to the blue line as well. Paul Martin is the perfect partner, as he allows Burns to play is style of game and not worry. There’s this. And this, and that’s not even cracking the surface of Burns’ highlights. *Wookie Noise*
Joe Thornton: The best player to ever lace up skates for San Jose has to be the best player one more time. Thornton is long in the tooth now, but has only taken a small step back. If he can continue to stave off a steep drop in production, Jumbo will continue to be immensely valuable. He is the genius of the top line and the PP and drives play by dominating possession and utilizing his legendary vision. If Thornton were to falter this season, the Sharks will be hard pressed to form a contingency plan due to his salary and top line presence that isn’t easily replaced.
Tomas Hertl: The Sharks need him back, and back in top form. Losing Hertl hinders the depth and flexibility not only at the centre position, but also up and down the forwards. San Jose, without Tomas, reverts somewhat to a top six/bottom six rather than a top nine with a speedy fourth checking line. DeBoer can also break the emergency glass and put Hertl back on the Joe’s wing and inject some instant offense back into the lineup. Without Hertl, it is a much trickier game with much less options available in the game plan.
The Captain Line has been excellent but it is probably unreasonable to expect this level of play all the way through June. Labanc, Carpenter and the other call ups have been doing a bang up job as well in the absence of the Czech forward, but again, we don’t know how they will fare come game 50, 60, 82 and beyond. Hertl is a proven force that needs to be in the lineup for the Sharks to have their best chance.
Now, to say these are the only players that matter would be foolish. They are just incredibly important to a deep run. Couture, Pavelski, Donskoi etc will have to play well in conjunction with them, but these five are the guys that need to be playmakers night in and night out just to get to the dance and eventually bringing Stanley to the Bay Area.