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Sharks showing competition no mercy

by John Kreiser /
Just like their nautical namesakes, the San Jose Sharks are devouring everything in their path.

The Sharks matched the NHL record for the most points through 25 games when they beat Toronto 5-2 Tuesday night. With 43 points, San Jose equaled (21-3-1) the 1943-44 Montreal Canadiens, who were 20-2-3 for 43 points after 25 games in a war-weakened League.

But it's not just the wins -- now eight in a row -- and the points that are impressive about the Sharks. It's the way they attack -- like, well, sharks.

"They come at you really fast, and we kind of expected that -- a quick start," said Leafs coach Ron Wilson, the winningest coach in San Jose history with 206 victories, but a victim of last spring's playoff failure. "We just weren't ready for it. The way they crash the net, they're going to cash in."

The Sharks cashed in big-time in the first period against Toronto, scoring four goals in the first 17:07. At times, they made the Leafs look like the kids in a father-son game.

"The game was over after the first 10 minutes," said center Joe Thornton, who scored one of the goals and set up the other three. "We're a pretty confident bunch in here."

They certainly impressed their former coach.

"From what I've seen, this is easily the best team in the league," Wilson said.

Getting off to fast starts is nothing new for the Sharks this season. They lead the NHL with 35 first-period goals, while allowing only 21. And despite new coach Todd McLellan's contention that his team isn't playing "complete games," they're also tops in second-period goals with 30 and four off the League lead in the third period with 28.

But McLellan has no intention of taking his foot off the pedal.

"The record is something that we're proud of and we're pleased with, but again -- I'm going to sound like a broken record here -- it's about the process," McLellan said after his team matched the Canadiens' mark. "It's about the full 60-minute effort. We had pretty good efforts for the most part tonight, but not consistent enough to be a team that can win at the end. We've still got some work to do, and we'll evaluate the team that way."

If the Sharks were "pretty good" against Toronto, it's scary to think what they'd be able to do if they ever do play the "complete game" McLellan is looking for.

Even without meeting that goal, the Sharks still take an eight-game winning streak into Thursday's game against Columbus. They haven't lost since a 4-3 overtime loss to Nashville on Nov. 11 -- a game in which they pelted goalie Dan Ellis with 57 shots -- and haven't come away without a point since a 4-2 loss at Phoenix on Nov. 9.

But like their coach, the players are taking their early success calmly.

"It's not like we're jumping for joy," defenseman Dan Boyle said after the win over Toronto. "We're pretty focused here. It's just the start of the season, and there's bigger and better things to work on."

The Sharks are especially deadly at HP Pavilion, known to most Bay Area fans as the Shark Tank. Nashville's overtime victory was the Sharks' only imperfection at home this season; they're 13-0-1 and are the only team without a regulation loss at home. Going back to last season, San Jose has earned at least a point in its last 23 regular-season home games (21-0-2) while playing in front of packed houses every night.

"Playing in front of these fans, how can't you be good?" said Thornton, who played his first game as a Shark exactly three years earlier. "We love playing here."

McLellan, Wilson's replacement, came to San Jose after winning a Stanley Cup ring with Detroit last spring as an assistant under Mike Babcock. He brought along a lot of the Wings' puck-possession concepts, and GM Doug Wilson brought in a couple of key pieces that have made it happen.

The Sharks saw their deadline-day acquisition, defenseman Brian Campbell, sign with Chicago as a free agent. They haven't missed him, thanks to the arrival of Boyle in a trade with Tampa and Rob Blake as a free agent.

"We had a chance to make history, and we got it done. Hopefully we can build on it and make some more history"
-- Patrick Marleau

Boyle and Blake have fit perfectly in McLellan's system and given the Sharks the kind of offense they didn't get from their defensemen last season. San Jose defensemen scored just 21 goals last season; they've lit the lamp 16 times in 25 games in 2008-09.

What the Sharks do best is get the puck on the net. Under McLellan, San Jose leads the NHL with 36.4 shots per game, just ahead of his old club, the Red Wings. Last season, the Sharks averaged 29.6 shots.

It's a basic strategy: Shoot the puck and get players in front of the net to screen the goaltender and battle for rebounds. There's nothing complex about it -- and it's been scarily effective.

"We're good when we keep things simple, when we skate and work," center Joe Pavelski said.

With more than two-thirds of the season remaining, captain Patrick Marleau said the Sharks are pleased with what they've done, but are looking for more.

"We had a chance to make history, and we got it done," he said. "Hopefully we can build on it and make some more history."
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