Defense is one of the hardest positions to play in hockey. Patience, intelligence, hockey sense and confidence are four necessary characteristics.
A prime example is Christian Ehrhoff. The 23-year-old was a healthy scratch in 18 of the team’s first 50 games. But since Feb. 2, he’s been part of the defenseman rotation. He’s played at least 20 minutes in nine of his last 10 games.
Ehrhoff arguably played his best game of the season in Saturday’s 3-2 overtime win over Nashville. He played a season-high 25 minutes and 44 seconds and had 10 shots on goal. Ehrhoff’s 10 shots tied a franchise record originally set by Viktor Kozlov on Oct. 1, 1997 against Edmonton.
Ehrhoff, who scored the game-winning goal in overtime, now has at least one point in eight of his last 10 games (three goals and seven assists for 10 points).
“I got a lot of shots today. It was good to get one-timers on the power play and it was fun,” Ehrhoff said. Coach Ron Wilson used Ehrhoff for slightly more than 12 minutes with the man-advantage.
Fun is the key word. And that’s what happens when everything seems to be clicking. “I just play with a lot of confidence,” Ehrhoff said. “I use my skating and my shot a lot. The coaches seem to like that and they’re confident with me. And playing a lot of minutes helps.”
Another key word is confidence, as noticed twice in the last paragraph. And Ehrhoff has more of that lately. “My confidence was missing (early in the season),” he said. “I was afraid to make mistakes. I didn’t get that much ice time back then. The Olympics (Ehrhoff played in five games for Team Germany and had a goal and an assist) gave me confidence because I played a lot there.”
A PLAYOFF MOOD…IN MARCH! The sellout crowd of 17,496 certainly noticed a more intense atmosphere at HP Pavilion on Saturday. Yes, San Jose was playing its 62nd game of the season and there’s slightly more than a month left in the regular season.
But the opponent was the Nashville Predators, one of the biggest surprises in the 2005-06 season. Entering play on Saturday, the Preds were fourth in the Western Conference, trailing Detroit by eight points for first place in the Central Division.
This game was San Jose’s fourth and final regular season meeting between the clubs. The Sharks had lost two of the three meetings with their lone win coming over Nashville in overtime at HP Pavilion on Nov. 2.
When asked about the playoff-like feeling in the building, defenseman Kyle McLaren agreed. “The intensity level has picked up in the last couple of games,” he said. “Guys who haven’t been here have been bringing that into the room. They’re making others more accountable for hitting, being aggressive.
“Playing with intensity and knowing what’s at stake are driving guys to playing better. To win, we need to play with intensity every night.”
The two “guys” McLaren refers to are recent acquisition Ville Nieminen and Scott Parker, who was activated from injured reserve on March 9.