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Will Sharks be a springtime success?

by John Kreiser
Now that the San Jose Sharks have tied the 1943-44 Montreal Canadiens' mark for the most points in the season's first 25 games, they're a lock for the Stanley Cup, right?

Well — not quite.

The Sharks have been devouring opponents in the season's first two months. Their 22-3-1 record is the best in the NHL, as is their 14-0-1 record at HP Pavilion. San Jose is the only team that hasn't lost a home game in regulation, and the Sharks are 22-0-2 in their last 24 games at the Shark Tank.

The Sharks matched the 1943-44 Canadiens' mark of 43 points in 25 games with a 5-2 victory over Toronto on Tuesday. Thursday night's 3-2 victory over Columbus gave the Sharks 45 points after 26 games, the most by any team in NHL history — the '43-44 Canadiens lost Game 26. Of the five teams that had 42 points after 25 games, only the 2001-02 Detroit Red Wings and 1929-30 Boston Bruins won in their 26th game — for Boston, it was the second win of what would turn out to be a 16-0-1 streak that gave the Bruins, who were 21-4-0 after 25 games, a 36-4-1 mark at what would be the halfway mark of San Jose's season. That's a mark that would be tough to beat.

But even a start of historic proportions is no assurance of postseason success. Of the seven previous teams to earn more than 40 points after 25 games, only three — the 1943-44 Canadiens, 1984-85 Oilers and 2001-02 Red Wings — won the Stanley Cup. Two others (the 1980 Philadelphia Flyers and those '29-30 Bruins) lost in the Final; the others (Ottawa in 2005-06 and Buffalo in 2006-07) lost before the championship round.

Offense from defense — One reason for the Sharks' success has been a jolt of offense from their defense. San Jose's blueliners accounted for just 21 goals in 2007-08. With less than a third of the 2008-09 season in the books, they already have 19 — 14 of them from newcomers Dan Boyle (9) and Rob Blake (5).

A November to remember — The Boston Bruins had to be sorry to see the calendar turn from November to December after their best month in three decades.

The Bruins' 4-1 win over the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings last Saturday before a full house at TD Banknorth Garden capped an 11-1-1 month for the Bruins — the 23 points were their most in a single month since they had 24 in December 1978.

The win was also Boston's ninth in a row at home, including all eight home games in November. The Bruins outscored their opponents 41-14 in those games. It's their longest winning streak at home since they won 11 in a row from Dec. 5, 1982 to Jan. 29, 1983, and their best November at home since they went 8-0 in 2002.

Boston wasn't the only team that was sorry to see November pass into the history books. Despite a road trip that included a swing through California, the Washington Capitals went 8-5-2 last month for their first winning November since 1999. It was the most wins the Caps have had in the month since getting nine in 1996.

Party time — The Montreal Canadiens celebrated the 99th anniversary of the franchise's founding Thursday night when the New York Rangers came to town. For Montreal fans, the Blueshirts were the perfect party guests.

The Canadiens improved to 194-63-40 all-time against the Rangers in Montreal by beating New York 6-2. Their .721 winning percentage against the Rangers at home is their best against any of the other Original Six teams.

Thursday has been an especially good night for the Canadiens to play the Rangers — they are now 47-18-9 against the Blueshirts all-time in games played on Thursdays, including a 26-2-4 mark since 1953.

The Habs could have used some more of those games on previous Dec. 4s. Thursday's game marked the 37th time that the Canadiens were in action on the night of the franchise's birthday. The victory improved Montreal's lifetime record on the date to 14-18-5.

Plenty of help — Minnesota goaltender Niklas Backstrom's 4-0 shutout of St. Louis on Wednesday was the 12th of his NHL career. But few goaltenders have to do as little work as Backstrom to put a zero on the board.

Backstrom faced just 22 shots in his victory over the Blues, and now has faced fewer than 30 shots in 11 of his 12 shutouts. The only one in which he faced 30 or more came in a 1-0 shootout win at Tampa Bay on Oct. 18, a game in which he saw 32 shots (31 in regulation).

In each of the other 11 shutouts, he had to stop anywhere from 21 to 29 shots.


Shootout star —
Nikolai Zherdev didn't lose his touch in the shootout when he was traded by the Columbus Blue Jackets to the New York Rangers this summer.

Zherdev has been the NHL's surest shot in the shootout since the start of the 2007-08 season. His 10 shootout goals (in 16 tries) are the most of any player during that span, two more than runner-ups Patrick Kane of Chicago and Joe Pavelski of San Jose. Zherdev has also been remarkably consistent — he was 5-for-8 with Columbus last season and is 5-for-8 as a Ranger, a big reason that New York is 7-1 in shootouts this season.

Zherdev has some able co-workers as well. While the average shootout conversion rate is about 32 percent, the Rangers have three players connecting on at least half their tries: Zherdev (62.5), Markus Naslund (3-for-4, 75 percent) and Fredrik Sjostrom (3-for-6, 50 percent). The Rangers' trio accounts for three of the eight players who have three or more shootout goals this season.

OT ace —
New Jersey's Patrik Elias is the best active player in making sure that games don't get as far as a shootout. Elias scored the 15th overtime goal of his NHL career to give the Devils a 3-2 win at Philadelphia on Thursday. He now owns a share of the NHL record for overtime goals, along with Jaromir Jagr and Mats Sundin — neither of whom is currently in the League. They are one ahead of Washington's Sergei Fedorov and two in front of now-retired Steve Thomas.

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