What a difference a win makes!
When the Sharks woke up in frigid Chicago Wednesday morning they were able to breathe just a little bit easier after Tuesday's slump busting 2-1 win in St. Louis. Even though they picked up a few points during their seven game winless slide, it was crucial to earn a two point victory and to do it in regulation. Before the win over the Blues the Sharks had actually gone 9 in a row without a regulation win. Do the math. In 9 straight games they were giving up points to the opponent. In an all Western Conference, 48 game season, that is not an advisable strategy. Now the challenge for Todd McLellan's team is to keep their collective noses to the grindstone and do it again on Friday against the hottest team in the NHL, Chicago. How they manage that is for another day.
It strikes me that the two big changes since early in the season when the team won 7 straight have been the offense, or lack there of and the power play. Early on the Thornton-Marleau-Pavelski combo was virtually unstoppable. The trio was involved in 18 of the Sharks first 23 goals. The power play was basically bullet proof too, clicking at over 37% after the first 5 games. Over the last 10 games the power play is 2 for 42. Ouch!
Three constants stick out. Except for the first few games, the penalty killing has been very good throughout the first month of the Sharks season. As of this writing the Sharks are killing 87% of their penalties. Thats good enough for a tie for 4th in the NHL with Edmonton. It's a far cry from last years dismal 29th place ranking. The goaltending has also been steady. Anti Niemi and Thomas Griess have a combined 2.13 goals against average. That's 5th best in the NHL. That's good. And there's one more constant, the lack of secondary scoring and scoring from the defense. The Sharks still have 11 skaters on the roster who haven't scored a goal yet including 6 forwards and including one "top 6" forward.
History tells us that Thornton, Marleau, Couture etc. will end up getting their points this year. They always do. What has to improve is that secondary scoring. The Sharks need the odd goal from a Clowe, Handzus, Havlat or Burns. Otherwise there will be many more nail biting, low scoring battles like the one the team battled through in St. Louis.
I'm Randy Hahn for SJSHARKS.com