(Originally published at Sports Radio Service)
Joe Thornton scored his 1,200th point into an empty net against the New Jersey Devils Saturday. It was a hope killer for the Devils, putting the game just out of reach with just over a minute remaining. The win improved the Sharks’ record against teams on opening night 2014-15, to 2-1. They don’t have any more opening nights to spoil this season, and they saved their own with a win. All in all, the young season is going pretty well for the Sharks, with just one loss in five games.
Their wins lack consistency, but this is to be expected in the first ten games or so. What has been consistent is the goalie rotation, and the performance of those goalies. I did not expect Antti Niemi to respond well to a great big question mark being stuck to his back, in the form of an every other game rotation with Al Stalock. I think was wrong. I think he has responded just fine. Stalock’s good play is more predictable since he is the young challenger. This is not to say either has been perfect, but they have certainly not performed less well for the schedule. Neither has played a game that made me think he should not play the next.
This raises a question I have wondered about. Goalies like to play more than less, it is said that they all play better if they play more, until they get worn out from all that playing. Why not quit while you are ahead? Why not play every other game instead of six or ten in a row until you have a few bad ones and then get replaced to mull over your mistakes? I suppose it seems risky to give a hot goalie three or four days off instead of one or two, but is it any more risky than playing them until they fail from fatigue? I suppose if goalies are motivated by the promise of getting more games than the other guy, it would be counter productive to tell them they can not hope for that privilege.
Yet if everyone on the team were truly committed to the idea of group success and finding the most efficient use of all assets, maybe both goalies would be fine with such an arrangement. They all claim to be, they recognize that it is sensible to want everyone to play as well for as long as they can. But the mindset of a competitor might be more competitive than sensible.
All players have off games, and some of the Sharks’ top guys have had conspicuously poor games so far, but just one each. It is kind of peculiar, the way Thornton (v WPG), Marleau (v WSH) and even Vlasic (v NJD) have had a game where they made uncharacteristic mistakes, more than once. Luckily, they never had the same bad games, so the team carried on. Really, it is a very efficient way to have bad games, one guy at a time. If only they could stick to that system, this would be a very fine season indeed.
The power play that was so freakishly bad on opening night, going 0-8 against Winnipeg, is creeping back to life. On this road trip, they have scored four power play goals in eight opportunities. That is a very hopeful sign, even with such a small sample size.
James Sheppard was sent to Worcester on Thursday, for a conditioning stint. He had an assists on Petter Emanuelsson’s goal in the Sharks’ win over Providence Friday. He should be back with San Jose quite soon. Eriah Hayes was called up Friday and played Saturday on a line with Andrew Desjardins and Adam Burish.