The San Jose Sharks are hoping the rest of 2009 is as good as the end of 2008.
In the first half of the 2008-09 regular season, the Sharks have had a dream season. Their overall record is 31-5-5 and only during a 9-2-0 run through the month of October have they lost more than once in regulation during a single month in the season. November saw a 11-1-1 record and December brought an 8-1-4 mark.
The Sharks have 67 points at the 41-game mark. If they can duplicate that in the second half, they would reach 134 points and eclipse the all-time single season points mark of 132 set by the 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens. When the Sharks finished second in the Western Conference last year, they had 15 less points.
“Obviously it’s a feather in our cap,” Captain Patrick Marleau
said. “This isn’t the end we’re looking for. What we’ve done so far will help get us there.”
“If we can duplicate the first half, we’ll go a whole season only losing 10 games in regulation,” defenseman Rob Blake said.
“I knew coming in here this was a good team,” defenseman Dan Boyle
said. “But obviously, I’m very impressed with what I’ve seen.”
One possible reason for San Jose’s outstanding start is the new coaching staff, led by former Detroit Assistant Coach Todd McLellan. His initial success garnered him the head coaching position for the Western Conference in this year’s All-Star Game.
“Personally, I think he has done a good job,” Boyle said. “It’s a long season and they (coaching staff) do a good job of not giving us too much information. Just enough to push us, but not overdoing it.”
McLellan’s game plan is simple: put lots of pucks on the net and be strong in the middle at both ends. So far, so good.
“The system breeds confidence,” Grier said. “They’ve forced us to skate and we’ve done that.”
“The word for it is receptive,” McLellan said about how his team has accepted his methods. “They are receptive in different situations. We exposed them to things in training camp on how we wanted them to play. We’ve challenged them individually and as a team when things weren’t going good and they were receptive.”
Another reason for San Jose’s improved play comes via more involvement from the defense. Boyle and his partner, Brad Lukowich, came from Tampa Bay on the Fourth of July. Just before that trade, San Jose signed Blake as a free agent. Between the three, they’ve won four Stanley Cups.
“Doug brings in players he’s familiar with,” Marleau said. “When he brings guys in, they are great players.”
One more reason for San Jose’s great start is also the personalities in the locker room. Much has been said in the media this year about the great chemistry between the players. “Chemistry” is a worn-out cliché in sports, but in most cases, especially with the Sharks, it’s true.
“It starts with Joe and Patty,” said Blake about the influence of Joe Thornton
and Marleau on the team. “They’re so good to everybody and no one is above anyone else. That’s what has probably impressed me the most.”
“Joe has handled everything that has come his way,” McLellan said. “When a challenge is there, he accepts it. Patty is having a tremendous year and we’re all happy for him. It’s not just the coaching staff or the players, but everyone.”
“Everybody knows Joe and Patty, but you don’t go anywhere without the second, third and fourth lines,” Boyle said.
The list of those who’ve contributed is endless. Sophomore forward Devin Setoguchi has 19 goals. Douglas Murray
has become a big part of the defensive rotation. Center Marcel Goc has made an impression after Torrey Mitchell
went down during training camp with a fractured leg. And that’s just part of the list.
Regular season success is important, but not so much as what takes place from April to June. But before the postseason begins, San Jose still wants to get better.
“We have half a season to get there,” Marleau said.
“There’s room for improvement,” Blake said. “What we have done is good, but we expect more moving forward.”
According to McLellan, he wants to see improvement in two areas. “I’d like to see them a little more consistent and a little more tenacious,” he said.
JOSLIN TO PLAY
McLellan noted that with Brad Lukowich out for up to three weeks “if all goes well” due a sports hernia procedure on Monday, look for rookie Derek Joslin to be part of the defensive rotation. Under that premise, Alexei Semenov won’t necessarily be relegated to the bench, but for the short term will continue to skate as a forward.
“His game (Joslin’s) fits our team,” McLellan said.
The Sharks will return to action on Tuesday night against Tampa Bay and the game will be on CSN Bay Area, 98.5 KFOX and sjsharks.com. Tickets can be found at www.ticketmaster.com or at the HP Pavilion Ticket Office.