The San Jose Sharks have claimed nine points in their last five games and appear to be playing with the confidence and the consistency that eluded them in the early stages of the season.
The Sharks entered the season with high expectations, but could not establish any sort of rhythm through the first month. But San Jose made the necessary adjustments after a disappointing October and began gathering steam behind a four-game winning streak in mid-November.
Now as the team approaches the midpoint of the NHL’s regular season, they do so in the midst of a franchise-best 10-game road winning streak. Though the Sharks have made positive strides recently and propelled themselves to the top of the Pacific Division, the team is well aware that there is still room for improvement.
|Sharks defenseman Craig Rivet checks Kings left wing Ladislav Nagy in the first period on Saturday, Nov. 24, 2007. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar) |
“I’d say were happy but not satisfied,” said veteran defenseman Craig Rivet. “I think this team has room for growth and can be better in the second half. That’s our focus to be better.
“There’s not a team in the League that can say right now that there’s not a situation or a game they wish they could have back,” he said. “I’m sure we’d like to have a few certain situations back to help us out, but hey that’s hockey. You just play. When you don’t get the result, you put your head down and work harder.”
Defenseman Matt Carle, playing in just his second, full NHL campaign, agreed with Rivet’s sentiments.
“I don’t think guys are very happy right now,” said Carle. “Obviously we’re not happy with how we’re playing at home. If we can get that road mentality at home, I think we can be a pretty good team. I think we’re all on the same page in saying we’ve been pretty inconsistent at this point, but we definitely have a lot of room to get better and that’s a good sign with the spot we’re in right now.”
Carle, who is frequently paired with Rivet on the blueline, is optimistic that San Jose can improve not only at home, but also on the road.
“It’s only the halfway mark, so there’s still a long way to go,” he said. “We need to continue to work hard every day in practice and get better. We can be better consistently at home and even on the road. We’ve been good on the road and we just need to carry that forward.”
One of the bright spots for the Sharks in the first half of the season has been the emergence of rookie center Torrey Mitchell
. The Greenfield, Quebec native stormed into training camp and earned a well-deserved roster spot after an impressive rookie camp and exhibition season.
|Sharks forward Jeremy Roenick celebrates with teammates Torrey Mitchell Milan Michalek after scoring against the Vancouver Canucks during the first period on Friday, Oct. 5, 2007. (AP Photo/Richard Lam,The Canadian Press) |
Since making the team, Mitchell has become one of San Jose’s primary penalty killers and is currently centering a line between Jonathan Cheechoo and Patrick Rissmiller.
Mitchell has been a model of consistency, earning praises from Rivet who asserted after Thursday night’s overtime defeat that the team needed “to have the Torrey Mitchell
syndrome”, denoted by hard work, consistency and excitement to be at the rink each and every day.
“Rivs (Craig Rivet) and those guys have just been great with me,” said a humbled Mitchell. “I learn things everyday from them. Whether it’s how to prepare or how to work and make smart plays, those guys have just been tremendous in helping me out. They were in my position way back in the day and I think that’s really helped me progress as the season has gone on.”
Like the veterans, Mitchell agrees the team has room for improvement and feels that Thursday’s game was another step in the right direction.
“We had a pretty good first half, but we’ve got a lot to improve on and that’s the exciting part about going into the second half here,” he said. “We know we can play better and hopefully we will. We had a great road trip and last night we played well enough to win. If we play that way, we’re going to win a lot of games in the second half of the season.”DEFENSE STEPPING UP OFFENSIVELY
The Sharks defensive corps has begun an encouraging trend. In each of the past three games, the Sharks have gotten a crucial goal from a defenseman.
Twice the goals have been the game-tying goals (Kyle McLaren on Dec. 31, Rivet on Jan. 3) and the third was Carle’s game-winning goal in Nashville on Dec. 29.
“It’s something we’re always working on,” said Carle. “It’s just a matter of getting pucks to the net. Our forwards have been good down low and have been getting the pucks out to us. They are such a strong group offensively, teams need to collapse on them and that opens things up top in the offensive zone. You have to give credit to our forwards.”
“I don’t think we’ve done anything different than we did at the start of the season,” said Rivet. “If we would have been one of the top teams in the League scoring goals from the point, everything would have been great, but what happens in the second half of the season when you’re not? Then you’re left scratching your head asking why you’re not producing.
"We’re going in the right direction. Our D are playing solid. We take great pride in our defensive game. We’re obviously going to try and help out offensively and if it happens, it happens.”ALL-STAR ASSISTANT COACHES TO BE DETERMINED SATURDAY
Seven coaches still are eligible to earn 2008 NHL All-Star Game assistant coaching honors -- the San Jose Sharks' Ron Wilson, Vancouver Canucks' Alain Vigneault and Minnesota Wild's Jacques Lemaire in the Western Conference and the New Jersey Devils' Brent Sutter, Montreal Canadiens' Guy Carbonneau, Pittsburgh Penguins' Michel Therrien and Philadelphia Flyers' John Stevens in the Eastern Conference.
The assistant coaches for the All-Star Game will be determined following games of Saturday, Jan. 5. Under the selection process for All-Star coaches, the head coach and assistant coach for the Western Conference All-Stars are the head coaches of the two teams with the top points percentages in the Western Conference through games of Saturday, Jan. 5, the date on which the halfway point of the 2007-08 regular season is reached. The head coach and assistant coach of the Eastern Conference All-Stars are the head coaches of the two teams with the best points percentages in the Eastern Conference.
The Detroit Red Wings' Mike Babcock and Ottawa Senators' John Paddock have clinched the All-Star head coaching positions for the Western and Eastern Conference, respectively. Wilson can clinch assistant coaching honors on Saturday if the Sharks pick up at least one point in their contest against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The Sharks are on the second leg of their four-game home stand, playing host to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday, Jan. 5 at HP Pavilion at San Jose. Limited tickets are still available at the HP Pavilion Box Office and ticketmaster.com. Game time is set for 7:30 PM and the game will be broadcast on FSN Bay Area in high-definition, KFOX 98.5 FM, Sharks Radio Network Affiliates and SJSHARKS.com.