10 Observations: Third D Pair Impressive, Older Sharks Struggling

Cleaning out the notebook as the Sharks close out the month of October…

1 – I know it’s early and things can drastically change between now and the end of the year, but I wonder if David Schlemko will end up being the third defenseman the Sharks end up protecting for the expansion draft rather than Justin Braun (assuming that Brent Burns gets signed, and the Sharks protect both him and Marc-Edouard Vlasic). 

Schlemko has added some punch to the second power play unit, has 21 shots (second among defensemen and fifth overall), can play either side, and has a much more team-friendly contract than Braun ($2.1 million through 2019-20, while Braun is at $3.8 million, also through 2019-20). Something to keep in mind as the season progresses.

2 – Just how much better is the Sharks’ third defense pair this season? Brenden Dillon and Schlemko are eighth and ninth, respectively, in five-on-five shot attempt differential in the entire NHL. Dillon is a plus-47 while Schlemko is plus-46.

Last season, Dillon was a minus-25 in that department, while partner Roman Polak was a minus-5 in 24 games for San Jose after he was acquired at the trade deadline. In the playoffs, though, Dillon was a minus-85 in shot attempts in 24 playoff games, while Polak was minus-73.

As much as Schlemko has shown to be a mobile guy, Dillon looks faster this season, too. That could partially be a function of not skating with Polak, but I think he’s simply added a bit more speed to his game.

3 – A bit surprising that Matt Nieto didn’t dress against the Predators. I know the Sharks had won two straight with Micheal Haley in the lineup going into that game, but Nashville is a fast team, and Nieto is still among San Jose’s fastest skaters. Have to wonder what his future is here. I wrote before the season that I think he needs a change of scenery, and nothing has happened yet to make me think otherwise.

If Nieto is not going to play, the Sharks should do him a favor and move the pending restricted free agent to a team that will put him in. There are enough players in the Sharks’ system that could fill the void he left.

4 – One of those players, potentially, is Kevin Labanc. The forward was the biggest pleasant surprise in training camp, although perhaps it wasn’t all that surprising since he led the OHL in scoring last season with 127 points in 65 games. Labanc is off to a solid start with the AHL Barracuda; in four games he has three goals and four assists for seven points.

5 – Seems to me like the short summer may be adversely affecting some of the older Sharks. Joe Thornton, 37, has looked a bit off and a half-step behind since the season started, although he’s still managed to contribute one goal and seven assists through nine games. Patrick Marleau, 37, has just two goals and one assist in nine games despite an ample amount scoring chances, while 35-year-olds Paul Martin (two assists) and Joel Ward (one goal, minus-5) have had a rough go of it, too.

Other than Thornton, it’s fair to wonder if any of those aforementioned players will need a night off at some point. Dylan DeMelo is still waiting to make his season debut, and if some of the younger players on the Barracuda like Labanc and Timo Meier progress, it could give coach Pete DeBoer some real roster flexibility.

6 – Here is where the Sharks have finished in overall faceoff percentage in the league from 2008-09 through last season: 2nd, 1st, 2nd, 2nd, 2nd, 2nd, 6th, 7th.

That’s why it’s so surprising that on November 1, the Sharks are dead last in the NHL in faceoff percentage (44.4 percent). No one has struggled more than Logan Couture, who has won 39 faceoffs while losing 74 for just a 34.5 percent success rate. Chris Tierney (26-for-66, 39.4 percent) has also had a tough time in the circle.

7 – The biggest offseason trade involved Nashville sending captain Shea Weber to Montreal for P.K. Subban. Couture offered a pretty blunt assessment of playing against the altered Predators defense.

“You realize they’re missing a big piece, a big guy on their back end, a guy that plays tough,” said Couture, who played with Weber on the Canadian World Cup team. “Subban adds another dimension, a puck movement guy, a guy that likes to handle the puck. It is a little different between those two. You go to the front of the net, you’re going to pay a price with [Weber]. [Subban] likes to carry the puck. I guess [it’s] a little different.”

You can read between the lines on that one.

8 – Speaking of Subban, he is often compared to Burns for his ability to generate offense from the back end. The 27-year-old defenseman said he knows Burns a bit from some various league events, but he doesn’t really consider them all that similar.

“I’ve never really thought about that. I think that we play the game differently,” Subban said. “As defensemen, we probably have similarities, but I wouldn’t say that we’re exactly the same player. He has strengths in his game, and I have strengths in mine, but I’d probably say we’re a little bit different players.”

9 – One of the early league-wide storylines is the number of goalies that have been hurt already. Among those that have missed time or are still out are Jonathan Bernier (Ducks), Jonathan Quick (Kings), Jeff Zatkoff (Kings), Mike Smith (Coyotes), Anton Khudobin (Bruins), Tuukka Rask (Bruins) and Andrew Hammond (Senators).

“It’s strange. I haven’t seen that, even going back to [Carey] Price last year, the high profile guys missing extended periods of time,” DeBoer said. “That’s rare. I don’t know the answer. The injuries don’t seem to be contact related. I think they’ve taken away the goalie contact stuff with some of the rules, it’s more overextending. They are so athletic now, the play moves so quickly. I don’t know the answer, whether it’s early in the season and you’re just not where you need to be flexibility wise – I don’t know. I’m just thankful that our guy is healthy.”

10 – Sharks play-by-play man/local legend Randy Hahn pointed out the other day that the Sharks have seven undrafted players on their roster, more than any other NHL team. They include: Schlemko, Dillon, Haley, Ward, Melker Karlsson, Martin Jones and Aaron Dell.

“I think that’s part of the fabric and identity of this team,” DeBoer said. “We’re a hard-working, honest group that loves to play. When you talk about guys who have persevered who haven’t been drafted, who have been told they’re not good enough at different points, you have to love the game in order to continue on and fight through that stuff. That’s what makes our team, our team. 

“We’re also fortunate to have some great [first round picks] that also love the game and bring that energy to the rink. It’s a nice combination. I think it definitely is part of the character of our team.”

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