I’m thinking about a phrase that my former broadcast partner Pete Stemkowski always uses at this time of the season. As the teams skate toward Christmas, Stemmer has a tendency to say, “It’s still early, but you’d better hurry up before it’s too late.” In the case of the San Jose Sharks, one of the reasons that they have been on this recent run is that they continue to play as if that phrase applies to them all the time.
Perhaps it does. That’s the focused strategy that is needed in the NHL, and the Sharks are hoping to continue that progress as they face Edmonton and St. Louis to close out what has been a good home stand.
Technically, the Sharks are tied with Vancouver for 2nd in the Pacific Division with 38 points, but the Canucks have a game in hand. That reminds me of a redacted phrase, “(Forget) the games in hand,” that former NHLer Reggie Fleming used to say when looking at the morning newspaper in the locker room. We won’t forget the games in hand completely, but we will note that the Sharks are finding ways to rack up those important points in the standings.
But that brings us back to the focused intensity that the team has been showing and the standings seem to be requiring from everyone. While they’re tied in the points for second in the division, they’re also tied with Winnipeg for the first wild card spot, are only 2 points ahead of Los Angeles for the second wild card spot, and are two points ahead of a team, Calgary, that are on the outside looking in when it comes to the post-season.
When you look at the full NHL standings, make sure that you keep an eye on the “ROW” column, which isn’t normally printed in the morning editions of the nation’s press. That column, which stands for “regulation and overtime wins,” shows San Jose with 15, which is 1 behind Vancouver, and just 1 ahead of Winnipeg, Calgary, and Minnesota.
Yes, it’s the little details that will make the difference. Here are a few:
Joe Thornton has 8-13-21 even strength, which ties him for 11th in the NHL (Tyler Johnson of TB leads with 8-20-28). He leads the Sharks with 8 even strength goals, tied-25th. He’s 8th (56.4% faceoffs). T-24th in NHL with 24 takeaways.
Tommy Wingels is 3rd in NHL hits w/124, 1 behind Cal Clutterbuck (NYI), 20 behind Matt Martin (144).
Antti Niemi has won his last 5 straight games, including the 2-0 victory against Nashville on Saturday. Over that span, he has stopped 92.7% of his shots. In the same span, Alex Stalock has gone 2-1-0 in 3 starts, and has stopped 92.9% of the shots he’s faced. That’s good goaltending, but it’s also indicative of solid play in the defensive zone.
Brent Burns is on top of the team’s list with an average of 23:29 of ice time per game. He’s one of the top scorers among defensemen, as one would expect, and he’s settling in well to a partnership with Brenden Dillon on the blue line. Against Nashville, he played 26:20, was +2, had 3 shots 3 hits, and 4 blocked shots.
Justin Braun leads the Sharks with 56 blocked shots, ranked 32nd in the NHL overall.
Joe Pavelski has 9 goals at home, which tie him for 9th in the NHL, but they’ve come in only 14 games. He’s also 5th in the NHL with 116 shots on goal.
The Sharks are the only team in the NHL with 2 players, Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton, in the top 10 list of best faceoff men in the game.
Patrick Marleau is on pace for 18-51-69. The assist total would be 1 shy of his career best, and if he can get over 70 points, it would be the 7th time in his career that he’s reached that mark. He also has 10 hits in his last 3 games, and when he gets involved physically, he usually winds up with more offensive opportunities.
The Sharks look to continue to develop these little details as they develop their team culture, and if they continue that, they’ll be ready to deal with any battle, and they won’t have to worry about the games in hand or hurrying up before it’s too late.
I’m Dan Rusanowsky, for sjsharks.com.