The Sharks Regain Their Bite

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Written on 10/20/2009 by Jim Cerny


Compared to last year's record-setting start, the San Jose Sharks have come out of the shoot in a very halting manner so far this season.

However, last night's 7-3 road thrashing of a hot Rangers team just might be the signature victory that puts the Sharks back on their expected course this season.

"This is the team I expect to see," head coach Todd McLellan said after last night's win pushed his club to 5-3-1 through nine games.

Thirteen different Sharks recorded at least one point, with Devin Setoguchi (2-1-3) and Patrick Marleau (1-2-3) leading the way offensively. But more important to the coach was how his team battled back to escape from an early 2-0 hole...on the road...against a team that had won seven straight games...and with the fourth line contributing a clutch goal to set the stage for the stars to take over later on in the contest.

"(There were) a lot of plays against the boards, and I like the fact our team competed in those areas," explained McLellan. "Often we're about passing and making nice plays. (Monday) night we were about being ugly there, and the nice plays happened after that."

Guess what? That sounds like the formula for winning in the post-season, something that the Sharks have not had much success with since the end of the lockout, really throughout their history.

Last year the Sharks set franchise records for most points (117) and wins (53) in a season. They had a ridiculous .811 winning percentage by the All Star Break, did not lose in regulation over their first 22 home dates (20-0-2), and ended up winning the President's Trophy as the NHL's top regular season team.

All of that is well and good. But the trophy this organization craves is the one handed to the team that is the best in the post-season. And that most assuredly was not the Sharks last spring.

Ousted by the Ducks in the first round of last year's playoffs, the Sharks have not advanced past the second round now since reaching the Western Conference Finals in 2004. Since the lockout they have put up 99, 107, 108, and 117 points in the regular season, only to be knocked out early come playoff-time each year.

This past off-season, GM Doug Wilson added sniper Dany Heatley to the mix, and decided to retain Marleau---who has become the symbol of San Jose's repuation for great regular-season play and post-season failure. In a move as much to relieve pressure on Marleau as it was to embolden team leadership, veteran Rob Blake was handed Marleau's captaincy.

Expected to bolt out of the gates againt this year, the Sharks instead stumbled to a 3-3-1 start, with a disconcerting 4-1 loss in Washington last Thursday most troubling for the overall lack of effort shown by this talented team.

"We've played some pretty poor games so far this season," veteran defenseman Dan Boyle told me last night. "I don't think it's from lack of effort necessarily, though the Washington game was just horrible. I think it's up here to be honest with you. It's a lot of mental mistakes. We've had a few too many of those bad games."

Such was not the case last night. Though they did fall behind 2-0, the Sharks efficently took control of the neutral zone, won the one-on-one battles in all three zones, and dictated the play with a heavy forecheck that had the Rangers scrambling much of the night. The Sharks benefited from sloppy penalties by their hosts, as well as an off-night from back-up goaltender Steve Valiquette, but their battle level was extremely impressive.

"It was a good opportunity for us," stated Boyle. "We've been kind of a .500 hockey club, and they're seven and one, and it's a perfect situation for us to come into their building and get one, which we did. This was solid."

Halfway through a six-game road trip---with back-to-back wins over the Islanders and Rangers following the loss in Washington---the Sharks now need to build on this gritty victory with the Lightning, Thrashers, and Flyers still ahead on the schedule.

A mixture of great play from the stars---Marleau, Heatley, Setoguchi, Boyle, Blake, Joe Thornton---grinding efforts and timely contributions from the hard-working grunts---both Brad Staubitz and Jed Ortmeyer scored last night---pleasant surprises---Ryan Vesce has scored in both games since being recalled from Worcester---and the strong play of goaltender Evgeni Nabokov, is what the Sharks received last night. It is what they will need throughout the regular season. And most importantly, they will need to remember how they pulled themselves up off the mat last night when they get socked in the jaw at some point come playoff time.

"This is a good bunch of guys, and a really good team," a smiling Manny Malhotra said last night. "There's a lot of good stuff going on here."

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3 Comments

  1. Michael |

    Great blog Jim!

     
  2. Jim |

    Thank you, sir! Much appreciated...

     
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