What a difference a week makes. Just nine days after the Sharks made the biggest trade in franchise history, the team has managed to win all four of its games in dominant fashion, putting them right back in the playoff picture in the Western Conference.
After falling as far as 8-12-4, the Sharks have bounced back to .500 and have seemingly put the past behind them, as the team plays with the type of confidence that led them deep in the 2004 playoffs.
A team’s success relies heavily on the shoulders of their goaltenders. Evgeni Nabokov and Vesa Toskala, after struggling with injuries, have rebounded nicely the past four games. The tandem combined for a shutout in Buffalo on Dec. 3, starting their four-game win streak in which San Jose is outscoring their opponents 21-9.
“Before the trade we were gradually coming out of it all,” said Sharks Head Coach Ron Wilson. “All we really needed was to get a big save here and there and start to get some confidence from that. Coinciding with us picking up Joe, ‘Nabby’ played a great game in Buffalo, making big saves. There seems to be a big difference in his play.”
Since Joe Thornton
’s arrival in San Jose, all he has done is post eight points in four games (one goal, seven assists), while making everyone else on the ice better and bringing the confidence back to a lockerroom that was desperately in need of it.
“Joe’s had an indirect boost to everyone’s confidence,” added Wilson. “They see a player of that magnitude and it releases them because they know they are getting scoring chances. That relaxes them and allows them to stop squeezing their sticks as much.”
Players like Alyn McCauley, Jonathan Cheechoo, Niko Dimitrakos and Scott Thornton, who were having trouble catching the breaks early on in the season, have been racking up the points as of late. The confidence in the lockerroom recently is very evident.
“I don’t think we’ve played much differently, but we’ve played with more confidence,” said McCauley, who has ten points (five goals, five assists) in his last six games. “I think we’re seeing a few more plays out there and that’s because we’re relaxed. With that comes a little more creativity. We’re still working hard and doing things that we were doing three weeks ago that weren’t working for us, but I think in our patience and confidence has come goals and that’s really what we were lacking there during our tough stretch.”
All facets of the Sharks games have been clicking during their current win streak. The power play numbers have been up, as the Sharks are 6-for-20 during span, converting at a 30 percent rate. Meanwhile the defense has played stingy, allowing just one goal in 20 penalty kill situations.
Not taking away anything away from anyone else in the locker room, Preissing, the team’s current leader in plus/minus rating at 8, attributes a lot of the success to the arrival of Joe Thornton
and the play of Marleau.
”A big part of it is number 19,” he said. “When you add a guy like that who can do the things that he does it kind of reflects on the whole team. When you throw ‘Patty’ and Thornton together on the power play, it’s scary. I think it all started off with that first good period in Buffalo. We knew we could do it, it was just something that needed to happen and we’ve built from there. When we’re as good of a team as we are and we happen to go on a 10-game losing streak, as long as you keep working hard, something good is going to happen eventually. Hopefully this is just the beginning of how we can play.”
The one area where the Sharks have not been doing as well the past four games is in shots on goal (103-116). But Team Teal was among the league leaders in shots on goal per game, despite having trouble finding the back of the net.
“We’re starting to get a few bounces,” said Dimitrakos. “Guys are playing with more confidence and starting to make plays through the neutral zone. We’re attacking the net more and capitalizing on the chances we get. We had a lot of shots early on in the season, but we just weren’t getting the bounces. For some reason now, they’re going in.”
It has been eight games since Grant Stevenson played his first NHL game in front of his hometown fans in Calgary on Nov. 23. All he has done during that span is post eight points (three goals, five assists), while playing on the same line as All-Star Patrick Marleau
“It’s been fun,” said Stevenson. “I’ve had chance to play on a very good line and get some power play time. The speed is a lot faster and the guys are a lot better, but it’s pretty fun getting to play with Patty. He’s on fire right now so if you’re anywhere near him it’s pretty easy to pick up points.”
CARLE HONORED BY WCHA
University of Denver Junior and San Jose Sharks second round draft pick (2003, 47th overall) Matt Carle was named Red Baron WCHA Co-Defensive Player of the Week for Dec. 5-11.
A 6-0, 195-pound junior, Carle assisted on seven of Denver's nine goals this past weekend in a 4-2 (Dec. 2), 5-1 (Dec. 3) home-and-home sweep against WCHA rival and No. 2-ranked Colorado College. In addition to his seven scoring points, he earned a +3 plus-minus rating, blocked six shots and had eight hits as the two-time defending national champion Pioneers improved to 8-6-2 overall.
Denver's co-captain, Carle ranks tied for second in scoring nationally among NCAA Division I defensemen with 22 points in 16 games with six goals and 16 assists and he now has 24-67=91 in 89 career games for the Pioneers.
The Sharks look to carry their win streak to five when they play host to the Carolina Hurricanes Saturday night at HP Pavilion. Tickets are still available at the HP Pavilion box office and all Ticketmaster locations. Game time is 7:30 p.m. and it can be seen on FSN Bay Area or heard on the Sharks Radio Network and sjsharks.com.