Three Sharks who need to step up, three who will cool down

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Boughner: Power plays wore Sharks down in loss to Blues

Three Sharks who need to step up, three who will cool down originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

Who has been the Sharks' team MVP so far this season?

There are three clear candidates in my mind: Timo Meier, Brent Burns, or James Reimer.

The bad news: At least two of these three Sharks are probably headed for a slump.

The good news -- maybe -- is that San Jose has candidates who can reasonably be expected to pick up the slack.

So who's going to go cold for the Sharks -- and who has to get hot?

Timo Meier

Meier currently is sixth in the NHL with a 1.36 points per game average. If he stays healthy, that's a 105-point pace for the season.

Meier's career high for a season is 66 points in 2018-19.

It's not a knock against Meier, who legitimately looks like a brand-new player this year, but it's hard to see him cracking the 100-point barrier. In the last decade, just nine skaters have put up that many points in a season: Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby, Leon Draisaitl, Nikita Kucherov, Patrick Kane, Evgeni Malkin, Brad Marchand, Daniel Sedin, and Claude Giroux.

So expect a slowdown from the Swiss winger. Regardless, the gains that Meier has made this season have been impressive.

“He’s been one of our best, if not our best player all year,” Sharks coach Bob Boughner said recently.

James Reimer

Reimer is sixth in the NHL with a .938 save percentage.

Since 1967-68, just three goalies, Jacques Plante (.944 in 1970-71 and .940 in 1967-68), Brian Elliott (.940 in 2011-12), and Tim Thomas (.938 in 2010-11) have sustained that high a save percentage over an entire season (30+ games played).

To boot, Reimer's career season-high save percentage is 2012-13’s .924.

So don't count on Reimer to make history. 

But credit where credit is due: Per Hockey Reference, through 16 games, Reimer's .938 is the best start for a Sharks goalie since 2012-13, when Antti Niemi went 7-3-1 with a .933 save percentage. Niemi was nominated for a Vezina Trophy in that lockout-shortened campaign.

Penalty-Killing

The Blues punched a hole in the Sharks' sparkling penalty kill with a seam-busting goal on Thursday.

That goal dropped the Sharks penalty kill below a 90 percent success rate. They still lead the NHL with an 88.9 PK percentage. 

Anyway, the Sharks weren't going to stay above a 90.0 penalty-kill percentage. The NHL has tracked the stat since 1977-78 and no team has ever killed nine out of every 10 power plays in a year. The 2011-12 New Jersey Devils, helmed by ex-Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer, got closest, sporting an 89.6 percent.

Even finishing above an 88.0 penalty-kill percentage is impressive: Since 1977-78, just 10 teams have snuffed out power plays better than that: The 2011-12 Devils (89.6), 1999-00 Dallas Stars (89.3), 1997-98 Washington Capitals (89.2), 1998-99 Boston Bruins (89.2), 2011-12 Montreal Canadiens (88.6), 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings (88.3), 1996-97 Devils (88.1), 1997-98 Stars (88.0), 2000-01 Buffalo Sabres (88.0), and the 2012-13 Ottawa Senators (88.0).

For what it's worth, of this group, only the 2011-12 Canadiens missed the playoffs.

So the Sharks can conceivably ride their PK into the postseason.

By the way, San Jose's season-best penalty-kill percentage is 86.2, set in 2000-01.

So if -- or when -- Meier, Reimer, and the penalty kill slow down, who's going to help the Sharks win games?

Nick Bonino

I know, I know.

Bonino has zero points through 16 games. We've been talking about his slump since he unloaded about it last week.

"When I shoot, it doesn't go in. When I pass to someone, it doesn't go in," Bonino said. "No bounces, nothing."

How ugly has this slump been? According to Evolving Hockey, only two forwards, Bonino and Jay Beagle, have played over 250 minutes this season without a point. That's out of 142 qualified forwards.

If you need a visual representation of this slump, here's Andrew Cogliano (11) passing up an empty net goal in Minnesota to try to get Bonino off the schneid.

It's a fantastic team move by Cogliano -- and something, appreciative as he is, that Bonino wishes didn't have to happen.

If you're looking for a bright side to this actually not career-worst slump for Bonino, it's his track record. 

From 2012, when he first became an NHL regular, to last year, he's been a reliable source for secondary scoring, topping 30 points in a season five times and averaging 0.48 points per game. Last year with the Minnesota Wild, Bonino was right there with 0.47 points per game. 

There are 66 games left this season, and the Sharks could sure use 30 or so points from their presumptive third-line center.

That could meet the expectations for a Stanley Cup-caliber third-line center, by the way. On the San Jose Hockey Now Podcast on Thursday, I broke down the production of the last 12 Stanley Cup finalist third-line centers, from Yanni Gourde last year to ex-Shark Chris Tierney and then-Pittsburgh Penguins pivot Bonino in 2016. 

These 12 centermen collectively averaged 0.42 points per game, or 34 points over an 82-game regular season.

While 30 points might seem like a mountain right now for Bonino, it's well within his reach.

Kevin Labanc

Labanc will have to wait another day to shake his slump: He was suspended for one game for his slew foot on Tyler Bozak on Thursday.

Like Bonino, the Sharks were looking for Labanc to provide secondary scoring coming into this season -- and like Bonino, Labanc has a history of providing it.

From 2017, when he established himself as a full-time NHL player, to last season, Labanc has averaged 0.53 points per game.

So it wasn't a stretch for the Sharks to put Bonino and Labanc together this fall. Bonino has been Labanc's most frequent linemate at 5-on-5 this season, in the hope that they could form a dangerous third-line duo.

That hasn't happened, of course: Bonino's slump is well-documented and Labanc's production has been entirely on the power play. The winger has zero even strength points this year.

Maybe it's a good problem to have? At least the Sharks have proven talent in their bottom-six this season, as opposed to last year. 

Bonino and Labanc's track records suggest they should be contributing on the scoresheet with consistency soon.

Adin Hill

With just 49 NHL games under his belt before this year, Hill doesn't possess the track record of a Bonino or a Labanc.

But he's every bit as important to the potential success of the Sharks as the forwards.

As I outlined earlier, Reimer, through no fault of his own, can't be expected to keep stopping shots at a .938 save percentage clip.

That's where Hill, who's wallowing at an .894 right now, needs to step up.

But this side of Philipp Grubauer, Hill has been arguably the league's worst goalie at even strength. His .898 save percentage at 5-on-5 is third-worst in the NHL (250-plus minutes).

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The Sharks certainly expected more, considering the second-round draft pick they sent to the Arizona Coyotes for Hill this summer.

It’s still early in the season though.

And the nice thing about goaltending is that unlike every other position in hockey, you literally need just one netminder running hot to win games. It's been Reimer for the bulk of this season, and it can just as well be Hill at some point later this year.

The Sharks, obviously, are hoping for Hill’s emergence sooner than later. 

Reimer hasn't been a full-time starter since 2012-13, so midnight is probably about to strike on this Cinderella.