Best of the West
Through much doubt, early difficulties, and a large change in the locker-room (over the last 12 months), the Sharks have turned themselves around this year to proove that last season was mearly a fluke.There are several key reasons that this U-turn has been so abrupt:
1) The players are buying into coach Ron Wilson’s system of a hard forecheck and using the teams abbundance of speed to their advantage. This system allows the opposing teams little time to make plays and get set up, which is resulting in many turnovers and scoring chances. Marleau, Strurm, Korolyuk, and Primeau are some of the fastest players in the game right now, and are using their speed to create opportunities, not only for themselves, but for their linemates as well.
2) The emergence of Pat Marleau as a true force in the NHL. He is playing smart hockey, taking advantage of slower opposing players, and is throwing his weight around. But the main reason for his stellar play is it seems like he is playing every shift as though it was his last. Being named captain for 10 games is only going to boost his confidence.
3) GOALTENDING!!! The Sharks would be duking it out with Chicago in the standings if it were not for the re-emergence of Nabokov as a top tier goalie, and for the outstanding play of “backup” Vesa Toskala. There isn’t a team in the league that has recieve such reliable netminding from BOTH of their goalies this season.
There have been a few negatives however. The play of Brad Stuart of late has been dismal. He made 3 or 4 mistakes again the Red Wings on Monday that resulted in several quality scoring chances, and a goal. I wish this was just an off night for him, but it has been happening quite a bit since his return to the Shark Tank (after last season injuries, which limited him to 30+ games). Rathje… why won’t he skate? he glides up and down the rink with as much vigor as my grandmother walking up and down the stairs. And to top that off he doesn’t use his size to his advantage.
We now find ourselves in mid-January, and the Sharks find themselves just 4 points back of Detroit for the lead in not only the west, but the entire league. With 3 victories in their last 3 games against top raking clubs (Van, Col, and Det), San Jose has sent a message to the rest of the league. Opposing teams take note- the Sharks are back.