I'll be the first to admit that I haven't been paying much attention to the Sharks. It's easier to watch first half regular season hockey when your favorite football team isn't exactly lighting up the world. The 49ers were, and now that that's over, we can all turn our attention to the team in teal, because let's face it, the Warriors aren't giving us much to cheer about.
I picked a good time to start watching. The Sharks came out of the All Star break hot, stomping the Columbus Blue Jackets 6-0. Joe Pavelski, Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton each netted goals (jumbo got two), making it a good night for San Jose's top line. Antti Niemi pitched his second consecutive shutout as well. The Sharks are 28-14-6 coming out of the all star break, compared to a record of 25-19-6 record this time last year (note: this year’s recording includes one more game played). Looks like pretty much the same team, right?
If you're going on record alone, sure it is. But any Sharks fan worth their salt will tell you that the regular season means nothing. In fact, most Sharks fans are wary of regular season dominance, thinking back to their 2008 Presidents Trophy year. The Sharks boasted a ridiculous 53-16-11 record and then got embarrassed by the Anaheim Ducks in the first round. In San Jose, regular season dominance and playoff appearances are expected. After 21 long years though, Sharks fans are yearning for Stanley Cup Championships.
This year’s team is built differently. The Sharks have been a high flying offense for the better part of a decade while their deficiencies have fallen on the most important part of the ice during the playoffs - the blue line. 2011-2012 sings a different tune. The Sharks traded away hometown favorite Devin Setoguchi to the Minnesota Wild for all-pro defenseman Brent Burns. They further bolstered their defensive prowess by signing Colin White, while returning stars Dan Boyle, Douglass Murray and Marc Edouard-Vlasic continue to astound. Hell, they've got so much defensive depth this year that defenseman Jim Vandermeer has playing winger just to get ice time.
The Sharks have also been getting production from their third and fourth lines. Jamie McGinn seems to have finally come into form, netting 10 goals on the season, a career high. Blowing people out like the Sharks did last night has not been the norm this season - 27 of the Sharks 47 games this season have been decided by one goal, which is as close to playoff preparation as a team can get. In the 2010 playoffs, 12 of the 18 games the Sharks played were decided by one goal.
It should be noted that the Sharks have been winning without the services of Martin Havlat, who suffered a freak hamstring injury in December. Ryane Clowe is still out as well after injuring his face being slammed into the boards. Getting back to full strength, especially on the Sharks’ top two lines, should do more to further the chemistry needed to click offensively down the stretch run.
Defensive depth and production from all four lines are the keys to winning in the playoffs - just ask the Boston Bruins and the Chicago Blackhawks. The road to the Stanley Cup Finals is never an easy one, but the Sharks have proved that they can make it deep into the postseason before. This year, however, they’re playing to a formula that could take them just a little bit deeper.
Statistical Credit: Brodie Brazil, Comcast Sports Net
Photo Credit: Sports Illustrated