The San Jose Sharks
are 18-0-2 in their last 20 games and 16-0-2 since acquiring defenseman Brian Campbell
on trade-deadline day. They have an outside chance at overtaking the Detroit Red Wings
for the Presidents' Trophy, given to the team with the most regular-season points.
Can anyone stop the Sharks? Perhaps only themselves. Late-season winning streaks are nothing new for the Sharks, who finished 7-1-2 last season and 8-1-1 the season before. In both seasons, the late success carried into the Stanley Cup Playoffs as the Sharks twice reached the Western Conference semifinals after eliminating the Nashville Predators
in five games. Then, with stunning swiftness, the Sharks were eliminated in the next round in dispirited performances after losing an overtime game.
General Manager Doug Wilson made two important acquisitions this season in Campbell and backup goalie Brian Boucher
. Campbell has three goals and 15 assists for 18 points in 18 games with the Sharks. Boucher is 3-0 with a 0.90 goals-against average.
Coach Ron Wilson credits Campbell and Boucher with improving the team, but the jury remains out on whether they can help it get over its postseason letdowns.
"We won't know until we see how far we've gone in the playoffs," the coach said. "Obviously it's worked up to this point. You know, last year we picked up Billy Guerin, and we only lost one of our last 17 games. People forget that last year going into the playoffs, and we played great for six games and lost to the Red Wings. And that trade looks like our chemistry wasn't right. Who the heck knows?
"I feel confident that Brian (Campbell) fit right in on in our team. He's got a friendship that he's had in the past with Joe Thornton
, and he just seems comfortable with our group and there have not been any issues.
"We had seen Brian (Boucher) play a lot, obviously when he was in Phoenix. He played really well at times. There was a time 10 years ago when he was the hottest goalie prospect on the planet and, for some reason, things had not worked out for him. We were just lucky enough that he was available and he's done everything and more.
"He's got a good attitude. I think more than anything he understands what his role is in terms of supporting (Evgeni Nabokov
), and then he's followed up by playing very calmly and has really earned the respect and confidence of his teammates in front of him."
Ron Wilson said Campbell has changed the way Sharks play because of his speed and stick-handling skills.
"Probably in our puck possession time," the coach said of the biggest change in the team's play. "He's come in and obviously loves to have the puck. It's just kind of changed our game, a little less dump-and-chase and forecheck, and more into a controlled attack through the neutral zone type of a game where we'll still use our size up front and forecheck, but we have to dump the puck less. And you've seen a difference in the rest of our defense."
The changes in the standard of rule enforcement are in their third year, and it's clear it has benefited defensemen who can skate, pass and handle the puck. Campbell, an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, is seen as one of the game's best offensive defensemen.
"He skates things out of danger," Ron Wilson said. "He doesn't have to necessarily pass the puck. ... That threat of the way he handles a puck, whether it's skating or passing, or his little spin-around move, seems to back the forecheck off and creates more passing lanes and openings for us to create speed through the neutral zone."
"We are on a great roll and we've got to continue it." -- Ron Wilson
Ron Wilson was reluctant to give Campbell credit for all the recent improvement in the Sharks.
"I think leading up to the trade deadline, we started to play some pretty good hockey, and kind of got some breakthroughs in how we were playing," he said. "He's certainly added another element that was lacking. To say that you've got all the pieces now is hard to say.
"We are on a great roll and we've got to continue it. Our confidence is where it should be, and we're playing the kind of hockey you need to be successful in the playoffs."
Ron Wilson said an improved defense gives him greater confidence going into this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"I feel a lot more comfortable with our defense," he said. "I think with the improvement in particular of Christian Ehrhoff
and Douglas Murray
. ... (Marc-Edouard) Vlasic was always good last year, but Ehrhoff and Douglas Murray
have really improved. And I think the fact that it's a little bit harder to forecheck us because of some of the speed we have on the back end now makes me feel a little bit better going into the playoffs."