Today's Three Questions go out to the managing editor of Fear the Fin, who calls himself (herself?) The Neutral. Without further ado...
1. Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton are off to tremendous starts. How "open" is the Sharks' championship window with the Thornton--Marleau core, considering they're both 33 now? How many more years do they realistically have to break through as the main cogs of this Sharks team?
This summer should be something of a crossroads for the organization. Thornton, Marleau, Dan Boyle and Joe Pavelski will all have just one year remaining on their respective contracts before turning unrestricted and there will likely be a temptation to take a meat cleaver to the roster rather than maneuver around the edges in order to become $64.3 million-cap compliant. That process becomes much more complicated (in a good way!) if the team can finally break through to the Cup Final this spring. I think Thornton and Marleau can continue to be first line caliber forwards through the end of next season.
2. The Sharks are getting tremendous goaltending from Antti Niemi and Thomas Greiss. How much is the goaltenders, and how much is defensive play? Have the goalies been a pleasant surprise?
I've been something of an ardent defender of Antti Niemi against his detractors in the past. He plays an aesthetically unimpressive style in net, with poor lateral mobility and unusually slouched positioning, which I think is the reason people tend to underrate him. In reality, he's an extremely efficient netminder and has been borderline elite at even-strength since arriving in San Jose, posting the eighth-best even-strength SV% among goaltenders from 2010 through 2012. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't surprised by his exceedingly hot start, particularly considering his exceptional work on the penalty kill where he's historically been awful, and I don't think he'll be able to keep playing at quite this level. That said, I hope he finally receives recognition for being more than a guy who fluked his way to a Cup ring behind a stacked team.
3. What is the Sharks' biggest weakness or question mark right now?
Forward depth. Michal Handzus' line has put two solid games together but before that were a boat anchor on the team's overall possession game. The Sharks were dominated with Handzus on the ice while Scott Gomez, a decidedly superior territorial player, was left to rot on an ineffective fourth line alongside Andrew Desjardins and Adam Burish. I think the pieces are there for the Sharks to construct two solid lines in their bottom six, it's really more about finding an optimal fit at this point.
Our thanks to The Neutral, and be sure to check out FTF's Game Day content!