Ever since the 8-0 debacle in Phoenix on December 30th
, a lot of good things have been happening to the Sharks. The team has been taking care of business on the ice, going 7-1-0 since that evening, and there are many examples of positive change in the team’s style of play.
What is going on? For starters, the Sharks are doing a better job of dictating play in all three zones. They are winning faceoffs, having superhuman success on the power play, initiating contact and coming together as a group.
But the best thing that is going on in this renaissance is that the players are taking care of one another on the ice. In the words of General Manager Doug Wilson, “When you take a liberty with one of us (the Sharks), you take a liberty with everyone on the team.”
We’ve seen an uptick in physical play, especially in the initiation of physical play. There have been big hits, like the two that Doug Murray unleashed on Shane Doan and Mike Zigomanis on Thursday night at HP Pavilion. Speaking to us on 98.5 KFOX and the Sharks Radio Network after the game, Murray noted the “suicide pass” that the Coyotes had made to Doan. “I gave him the old, classic chester,” he said.
For those who can’t figure it out, the “old, classic chester” is body checking the opponent on the chest, straight on. It is a clean, legal, hit, but when Murray delivers it at full throttle, it is as if the other player has been struck by a Mack truck!
Players on the Sharks are embracing the opportunity to show leadership, and few are doing better than captain Patrick Marleau
. With 17 points (6-11=17) in his last eight games, Marleau also took matters into his own hands in the Low Desert on Jan. 13 when he dropped the gloves and battled Keith Ballard of the Coyotes. It was Marleau’s first fighting major since Jan. 4, 2003, and it was a captain telling the other team, “That’s enough.”
It isn’t just the fighting, either. Joe Thornton
also has 17 points (3-14=17) in his last eight games since the “Coyote Ugly” debacle of Dec. 30. In full view of a national television audience on Versus on Jan. 13 against Colorado, Thornton had one of the more dominant individual performances of his season. He “only” had one goal and one assist, but he also had five shots, 12 face-off wins, and the puck magnetically attracted to his stick, where it stayed glued for much of the evening.
In that Colorado game, the so-called young defense, which is supposed to be missing something, made decisions in rapid-fire fashion. Crowd microphones and individual player mikes, the latter courtesy of Versus TV coverage, also illustrated Sharks defensemen communicating loudly to one another, which made for a great ice effect on our radio broadcast. In the read-react game that the Sharks play, these relatively young players showed that the coaching staff has prepared them well with every important detail of defensive zone coverage. They handled it coolly, professionally, and fully.
But even though these stories are all great ways to describe what is happening lately, I do have a favorite example of the Sharks’ latest renaissance. Let’s look back to Jan. 11. The place: the Staples Center in Los Angeles. The game: the Sharks at the Los Angeles Kings. The approximate time: seven-and-one-half minutes into the second period. The moment: a player quietly ensuring that justice is served on behalf of a teammate.
Scott Hannan had the puck in his own zone, at the end of his shift. Mark Bell, just out of the penalty box, broke for the puck in the neutral zone. Hannan fed him the puck, and with the pass successfully completed, saw the opportunity to change on the fly. He skated toward the Sharks bench.
As Hannan went off on the change, Bell moved down the wing, heading for the goal. Doug Murray jumped onto the ice to replace Hannan, and as he took his first stride toward the offensive zone, he saw that Bell was on his way to scoring a goal. Instead of rushing down the ice to celebrate with his teammates, Murray turned around and directed Hannan to jump back onto the ice to revel in the glory of the play that he had made seconds earlier.
What was the significance of that seemingly insignificant event? In the heat of the moment, Murray fully understood that he, rather than Hannan, would receive a +1 in the stat sheet if he was on the ice to be counted by the official scorers. Given that Hannan had done a lot of work to make the goal possible, Murray foresaw the opportunity to get his teammate back on the ice and allow credit to be given to a man who fully deserved it.
Scott Hannan got the plus-1, which he certainly deserved. Doug Murray earned a lot of respect from hockey people everywhere for taking care of his teammate. It was one of the classier moves of the season so far. My color commentator, Jamie Baker, who played nearly 10 years in the NHL absolutely loved it, and so did I.
Footnote: Murray got a plus-1 of his own later in the game when he assisted on Ryane Clowe
’s goal. The Sharks won, 5-2.
Seemingly small, subtle events like these all compound to help build a championship team. It shows all of us that the San Jose Sharks are bound and determined to build such a legacy.
For Seagate Technology's "In the Crease," I'm Dan Rusanowsky.