The NHL’s Western Conference might be the biggest example of parity in the world of team sports. Currently spots two through 10 have only a two point difference between them. Eight teams and just two points is an amazing statistic one quarter of the way through the season.
It is surprising to everyone from the players to the coaches to the fans.
“It’s crazy isn’t it?” Scott Nichol asked. “There is no separation. Usually by game 20 there is separation, but I think Detroit is the only team and they are only four points up.”
Everyone knows where they stand, but they also know things will change the more games are added to the win or loss column. Even if a team climbs to the top of their division, as Los Angeles, Phoenix and Dallas have done in the Pacific Division, there are four clubs waiting to topple them.
“That’s certainly the truth, but I don’t know if a lot of teams are watching the standings,” Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan said. “It’s still early in the year. When you do look at them, you realize you can win a game and be first in your division and one, two or three in the conference, and you can lose a game and you could be in the 14th or 15th hole. I think it will be that way for most of the year. It’s been as tight as it’s ever been since I’ve been in the League.”
It’s not so much that some teams aren’t living up to their billing as others have raised the bar.
“It’s a testament to how competitive the League is and how quickly teams can rebound from quick years,” Jamal Mayers said.
“I think teams that have struggled in past years haven’t sold the farm to try and reinvent themselves,” Nichol said. “For the League as a whole, everyone has been really patient. Even in the summer the big free agent moves aren’t the same anymore because everyone is locked in. They are really developing from within their system.”
No one feels they will find much breathing room farther down the road either, but the hope is there could be a bit of breathing room.
“It’s going to be right to the bitter end,” Nichol said. “Hopefully everyone can stay healthy and you don’t want to get on the roller coaster ride of win five and lose five. It’s already happened this year with us. We’ve done it, Anaheim’s done it, Phoenix has done it. It seems like a lot of teams.”
San Jose’s players will continue to monitor the standings, but what other clubs are doing is not what is important.
“We really just want to focus on ourselves and getting points,” Mayers said. “If we do that, we won’t have to worry about where we are because we’ll separate ourselves from the other teams. If you look at it daily, it is pretty remarkable.”
No question the Sharks have been bitten by the injury bug as of late, but they will get a reprieve Tuesday night against Detroit.
Scott Nichol’s swollen eye has heeled to the point where he participated in practice Monday and he is ready to play. It is still black and dressed with a few stitches, but he is a hockey player after all.
“I feel a lot better today,” Nichol said. “I can see and that is always a good thing. I got a workout in with weights and practice. I’m ready to go for tomorrow.”
Nichol’s return will alter the roster a bit.
“Scotty Nichol will be available for us tomorrow,” McLellan said. “That will allow us to send Tommy Wingels
back to Worcester. We’ll reevaluate our backend tomorrow morning and we’ll have 20 people in a uniform and ready to play.”
Devin Setoguchi (upper body), Niclas Wallin (lower body), Kent Huskins (upper body) and Jason Demers
(upper body) are all day-to-day with their injuries.
FIRST GAMESJustin Braun
was in San Jose for the last home contest and did not play, but then dressed for both games on the road trip.
“The first one didn’t go as planned with the 6-1 loss, but it was good experience,” Braun said. “It was pretty nerve-wracking off the bat.”
That experience paid off the next night when the Sharks were forced to play 40 minutes with just four defensemen and the rookie Braun was one of them.
“I would have been a little more nervous,” Braun said of having to be just one of four blueliners in his first career NHL game. “It felt really good that Benny (Ferriero) could bury that. Playing with him down in Worcester, it was nice to help him out and help the team out.”
Braun actually had two helpers on the night.
“You always think about that, getting a point in the NHL,” Braun said. “Now I need a goal so hopefully one of those shots will go through one of these days.”
In addition to Braun, Douglas Murray
bested his previous best ice time total for a regulation game by 1:15. Marc-Edouard Vlasic
and Dan Boyle
had both played more in previous contests.
Sharks netminding prospect J.P Anderson has been invited to attend Canada’s World Junior camp in hopes of representing his country at this year’s championships.
The Sharks will host Detroit on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. and tickets can be found at the HP Pavilion Ticket Office and at www.ticketmaster.com. The contest will be on CSN California, 98.5 KFOX and www.sjsharks.com.