A lot can change for a team from one season to the next. The Sharks know that quite well. But San Jose isn’t the only team that had changes to its roster over the offseason — their opponents in the Western Conference have seen their fair share of personnel changes as well.
It has to be asked: Are the Sharks still a threat in the West?
In all honesty, preseason predictions don’t always hold much water. (Heck, nobody would’ve guessed the St. Louis Blues would do a 180-degree turn last January and end up winning a Stanley Cup.) That being said, the Sharks still have the capacity to be a force to be reckoned with in the Western Conference. That is, if they can adapt their game to halt the evolving offenses they’re set to face.
Let’s first examine the competition. In the Pacific Division, San Jose’s biggest rival is still the Vegas Golden Knights — and not just because these two teams want to kick the snot out of each other every time they face off. While teams like LA and Anaheim are in transition, Vegas can still roll out four lines and split an opposing defense without little effort.
However, the Golden Knights aren’t the only team to keep an eye on in the Pacific. Despite getting booted from the playoffs in the first round last season, the Flames could put up a big fight against the Sharks yet again. Last year’s games between these two teams became awfully contentious, and it very well could again this season. Furthermore, although the Canucks haven’t posed a threat to the Sharks for a handful of seasons now, the team appears to be on an upswing and could be a surprise team in the division this season with Brock Boeser and Elias Pettersson at the forefront of the growing squad.
It gets even more interesting when you look at how the Sharks might fair against Central Division teams. The Avalanche put up a tough fight against San Jose in last season’s playoffs with an offense that boasts speed and skill, and added some aggression to their forward attack in the offseason with Nazem Kadri and Andre Burakovsky. There’s also the Stars, whose offense got a boost with the addition of former Sharks’ captain Joe Pavelski. The Predators are always dangerous as well, who lost P.K. Subban from their blue line but added Matt Duchene to their offensive arsenal.
Yes. Even with those odds, the Sharks will still be a competitive force. But they’ll have to adapt their game.
With the loss of personnel from last year’s offense and with other teams adding bodies up front, Team Teal will have to play a much tougher defensive game than they did last season. They must make it tougher for the opposition to play in their end and they must be able to control the puck no matter where it is on the ice. The Sharks had trouble with defensive breakdowns early last season, which put added pressure on both of their goaltenders and was a key factor in a string of losses back in November. While getting consistent goal-scoring in important, cutting down on goals allowed is going to be a big piece of San Jose’s success.
A tighter defensive game will be key in halting Vegas, who upended San Jose in their preseason finale 5-1 and will be looking to get revenge for last season’s playoff exit when the teams face each other in the season opener on Oct 2. If there’s a good time for the Sharks to show they’re still a threat in the West, it’s at the start of the season.