The San Jose Sharks are set to open their 2022-23 NHL season tomorrow in Prague as they take on the Nashville Predators. After three seasons in a row of missing out on the playoff picture, the Sharks are looking to return to competing for a playoff spot in the Pacific Division. However, that is easier said than done, and if the Sharks wish to be playing meaningful hockey down the stretch of the regular season and into May, then there are a few things they have to do.
The first thing that the Sharks need to be competitive this season is strong goaltending. During the offseason, San Jose dealt goaltender Adin Hill to the Golden Knights, leaving them with the tandem of James Reimer and Kaapo Kähkönen. These two goalies both have the capacity to play well but the question is, will they be able to deliver sound goaltending on a nightly basis? Reimer was a brightspot in what was otherwise a bleak season for San Jose last year. He went 19-17-10 with a 2.90 goals-against average and .911 save percentage in 48 games. Kähkönen was also able to produce some decent numbers with the Sharks last season. Although his record was unimpressive at 2-6-1, he was able to boast a .916 save percentage and a 2.86 goals-against average. It is unclear who will become the clear-cut starter in the San Jose net, or if the two netminders will share the workload. What is clear is that if the Sharks do not wish to miss the playoffs for the fourth straight season, they will need strong and consistent goaltending from both Reimer and Kähkönen.
Secondly, the Sharks will need a full and productive season from Erik Karlsson. The offensive minded defenseman has dealt with injuries the past couple of seasons, keeping him from playing his best hockey. Last season Karlsson played only 50 games and the season before that only 52. If the Sharks wish for their playoff aspirations to become a reality, Karlsson must not only stay healthy but also have a strong season. With long-time Sharks defenseman Brent Burns being traded to Carolina, Erik Karlsson is now the focal point of the Sharks’ defense. It is up to him to be able to generate scoring from the blue line for this San Jose team.
Thirdly, the Sharks will need their “big fish” to come through for them. When I say “big fish” I am referring to guys like Timo Meier, Tomas Hertl, and Logan Couture. The only way that the Sharks will be able to compete for a spot in the playoffs is if all three of these players have a strong season. Meier is coming off of a particularly productive season, in which he contributed 35 goals and 41 assists for a total of 76 points in 77 games played. Meier is also in the final year of his contract, which adds some extra motivation to perform. If he can continue to produce offense at a high level for San Jose it can only help their chances of breaking into the playoff picture. Tomas Hertl is also coming off of a well-played season where he was able to tally 30 goals for the second time in his career. The offense that Hertl brings is vital to the success of this San Jose team. Captain Logan Couture tallied only 56 points in 77 games last season, which by his standards can be considered a down year. If he is able to bounce back and contribute at the level that he has proven he is capable of, it would be a huge boost to San Jose’s offense. The performance of these three players has huge ramifications as to whether or not the Sharks are playing important hockey games come the end of the season.