Only two weeks had gone by in the 2013 season and fans in the Western Conference were excited by more than just the return of hockey. While the Chicago Blackhawks stole the bulk of the media attention on their way to making history, the Sharks launched one of their greatest starts in recent memory with a seven-game win streak. Snatching 14 points after outscoring their opponents by 17 goals, the Sharks look primed to add another banner or two to the rafters.
Soon after their seventh win against Edmonton, however, the Sharks matched the seven-game streak; this time with losses. With a new season and new expectations less than a month away, what will those win and lose streaks mean as the Sharks return to the ice?
One of the biggest factors to both of the streaks was goal scoring. During the win streak, the Sharks scored an incredible 29 goals to the other guys’ 12. Yet they barely mustered eight goals in their next seven games while their opponents lit the lamp 21 times. The warning signs cropped up in the last two games of the win streak, which required a pair of shootouts to capture the win. The trend continued as the season progressed. It wasn’t until the middle of March when the Sharks put up impressive numbers, with four goals and a win over L.A., although this was won by a one-goal differential.
This lack of production hurt them down the stretch when teams in the Western Conference were fighting for playoff spots. Save for two one-sided affairs (a six-to-one win against Minnesota and a four-goal shutout of Phoenix) all but one game in the month of April was decided – as a win or loss – by the difference of one goal.
What does this mean for the new season? General manager Doug Wilson believes he has addressed the goal-scoring issues with the off-season re-signing of Raffi Torres as well as by trading for now-former Pittsburgh Penguin Tyler Kennedy. While neither player broke double-digits in goals for the 2013 season, both of them have reached better numbers just the year before.
Then there’s Brent Burns, whose move from defense to forward on March 12 impacted the Sharks in a huge way. While he did not play during the win streak, his offensive numbers jumped from zero points in the month of February to 20 points by the end of the season, including eight goals.
The Sharks have the capabilities to match their successful start, mainly because the key players who contributed to the seven wins – with Logan Couture’s two goals in a 6-3 win over Edmonton; Antti Niemi standing tall against a barrage of Calgary shots in the season opener; or Patrick Marleau’s history-making night on January 26 with four consecutive multi-goal games – are all back this season.
Despite the struggles they went through during the lose streak, the Sharks’ stars found their strengths again during the post-season. The Sharks also excelled in other areas than finding the back of the net. They were one of the league leaders at the faceoff dots at 53.4% thanks in a huge part to Joe Pavelski. The Sharks also averaged 31.8 shots on goal, above average for the league as a whole.
Can these factors make a difference between another win or lose streak for the Sharks? The only way to know is when the puck drops.