The San Jose Sharks have definitely been on the receiving end of awards the past few weeks as Patrick Marleau
, Joe Thornton
and Jonathan Cheechoo have each been named one of the NHL’s Three Stars during the past month.
“It can definitely be contagious,” said Marleau. “When one guy is playing well, you see them and pick up your game.”
Thornton has an amazing 29 points (6-23=29) in the past 17 games, Marleau has 10 (3-7=10) in the last 10 contests and Cheechoo has 16 (9-7=16) in 12 games and others such as Milan Michalek and Bill Guerin are tearing it up as well.
“That’s their job and they are delivering,” said Coach Ron Wilson.
And the Sharks are picking up their game at the right time with five regular season games remaining and the Pacific Division lead in sight.
“The team has been playing well the last few games, playing a playoff style,” said Marleau. “We have to get used to that.”
And the three award recipients know that individual awards go hand-in-hand with team success.
“I don’t’ think too many people are named to the Three Stars if their team isn’t winning,” said Cheechoo. “It makes it a little more special, but we’re going for the big team award at the end.”
The three feel that the offensive upswing is a partly due to the addition of another veteran blueliner. While Craig Rivet may have plenty of offensive skill, his reputation is based on being a difficult defender to face.
“It takes the pressure off some of the young (offensive) guys,” said Cheechoo. “They can play more relaxed and it gives the forwards a lot more confidence. It’s nice to have the veterans like (Kyle) McLaren, (Scott) Hannan and Rivet.”
Rivet says there are others who make his job easier.
“I’ve got to throw it back to Nabby (Evgeni Nabokov) and Tosk (Vesa Toskala),” said Rivet. “Both have been so strong since I’ve been here.”
As for helping out offensively, Rivet appreciates the forwards who still do the dirty work.
“We’re scoring goals because we’re big, strong and dominating in the corners,” said Rivet. “They make it easy on the defense.”
Wilson has not declared officially what he will be doing for the postseason with the goaltenders. It is likely the every other game rotation is quickly winding down for the regular season.
“Nabby will play three to four and Tosk will play one to two,” said Wilson. “Tosk missed so much time and Nabby played so well, I don’t want to mess with the team’s rhythm. We’re going to keep our options open through the playoffs. If I decide to go with one guy, the players know that Plan B is the same as Plan A. Both deserve to start.”
As for his talented mix of skaters, Wilson will wait and see how the Pacific Division race shapes up before he decides to rest any of his forwards or defensemen.
“Everything will depend on Anaheim,” said Wilson. “If we can finish in first, we will play every game like the playoffs. It is a good rehearsal.”
Wilson is glad his team is rested for the postseason this year, a stark contrast to one season ago.
“I don’t have to play (Joe and Patty) 25 minutes just to make the playoffs,” said Wilson.
SMITH A HIT
Mark Smith’s performance with the Vinyl Trees at The Fillmore in San Francisco proved to be a hit with teammates who attended the show.
“I’ve seen him a couple of times and I’m surprised how good he is,” said Steve Bernier.
Smith’s on-stage performance wasn’t as nerve-rattling as what was happening backstage.
“I met the band (The Tragically Hip) and gave them a couple of CD’s,” said Smith. “I was really nervous about that.”
San Jose will tackle the Phoenix Coyotes Friday night at 7:30 p.m. at HP Pavilion. Limited tickets are still available at the HP Pavilion Ticket Office and at www.ticketmaster.com. The contest will be broadcast on FSN Bay Area in high-definition, KFOX 98.5 FM, Sharks Radio Network Affiliates and SJSHARKS.com.