San Jose will officially enter the second half of their season with Game 42 occurring Thursday night against Vancouver. Team Teal’s 52 points may not be the franchise record at the halfway point, but it has the Sharks on track for a 104-point campaign, which would tie the second best regular season mark set by the 2003-04 Western Conference Finalist club.
From top to bottom, second in the West is not a bad spot, but not a place the Sharks want to permanently hang their hats.
“There is always room for improvement,” said goaltender Evgeni Nabokov. “Look at Detroit. We want to be at the top and keep climbing higher. We want to improve our home record.”
“I think we’re okay with where we sit, but not satisfied with how we’ve played,” said Sharks Executive Vice President and General Manager Doug Wilson. “We’re not completely disappointed. A lot of good things have happened, but we’re not where we want to be. We’re looking forward to the next half season firing on all cylinders. Right now only one team is playing on all cylinders and that’s Detroit.”
The well-detailed home record woes may quickly go away with a few more performances like the other night against Columbus, but any mention of the home problems must be countered by the amazing road performances that lead the NHL.
“We still have things to improved on,” said center Joe Thornton
. “We’ve got to keep getting better every day.”
The best news of all is that the Sharks appear set to only improve on their first half performance. Defensively, the Sharks 2.14 goals-against average is second only to the NHL leading Red Wings and Nabokov, who has started every game this season, is a major reason why. Nabokov knows that lofty rating can quickly change, noting that it would not be fair at this stage to call this the Sharks best defensive season ever.
“Two years ago, we were second or third (in GAA) and then we gave up five goals in a game at Nashville,” he said. “Two to three games can make a difference. We have to keep playing the same way or get better.”
“Our team defense is one of the tops in the League,” said Wilson. “That’s a high standard and a group effort.”
He may not continue to start every night, but he certainly doesn’t mind the way things have played out so far. It must be noted that Nabokov faces far fewer shots night in and night out than many other goalies and despite playing every game, does not lead the league in games or minutes played.
“I think it’s a good thing,” said Nabokov. “I’m feeling fine and injury free.”
The Sharks team defense is important, but everyone acknowledges it all falls apart without the right person in the blue ice.
“He’s been our best player and been playing up to his capabilities,” said Wilson. “He’s playing at the top of his game and enjoying it.”
“It certainly starts with whoever is in goal and Nabby has played every game,” said Craig Rivet. “He’s the backbone and has given us a chance each and every night.”
The team play has been just as important though, a major reason Nabokov can play so many nights.
“Our system puts defensive responsibility on the forwards and they take pride in doing a good job,” said Rivet.
Specialty teams have been a hit or miss for Team Teal, similar to the home-road dilemma. They have posted a stellar 87 percent success rate, putting them second overall in the League on the penalty kill, but San Jose could definitely use more scoring up front. Patrick Marleau
and Jonathan Cheechoo have yet to find their standard offensive numbers and the power play is still a work in progress, sitting 23rd overall at just 15.3 percent. The best part for the Sharks is they’re not hoping for career years out of anyone, just for several players to play to levels they have maintained during their careers.
“We’ve got to improve our power play and our offense,” said Wilson. “It is being worked on every day. We know we have the capabilities because it the same players (who have been successful before). We’ve got guys with a history of showing what they can do, and it’s not just one or two players. We’re looking forward to addressing those things on the ice.”
“Obviously, we’d like to score more goals,” said Thornton. “We still have half a year. It’s just a matter of time before they get it going.”
What the Sharks truly want for their second 41 games is to be at their best when the season concludes.
“We want to go into the playoffs not being on a roller coaster,” said Nabokov. “We’ve been playing more consistent and want to keep it that way.”
If a little improvement comes in just a few areas, the Sharks could be the most unwanted opponent when the playoffs roll around.
“I feel good about this team,” said Thornton.
“I don’t think we’ve begun to touch our potential,” said Rivet.
Wilson probably summed it up best.
“Our goal is to be playing our best when it matters the most and be in a position to battle for the Cup,” said Wilson. ALL-STARS
The NHL Western Conference All-Stars are expected to be announced on Thursday morning.
Out in Worcester, forward Mike Iggulden has been selected to the Canadian squad for the 2008 AHL All-Star Classic. The event includes the 2008 CCM AHL All-Star Skills Competition on Sunday, January 27, and the 2008 AHL All-Star Game on Monday, January 28.
A 25-year-old native of St. Catharines, Ontario, Iggulden receives his first All-Star appointment in his third full season in the Sharks organization. Through 34 games this year, he has 15 goals and 21 assists along with 19 penalty minutes. He leads the Worcester Sharks in goals, assists, points, shots (85) and has played in every game this season for the Sharks.
Due to his playing every night, many wonder if Nabokov might be better off not potentially being named as an All-Star reserve.
“To have four days off and do absolutely nothing can be pretty tough,” said Nabokov.BABY RIVET
Rivet and his wife have named their third child Nicolas.GREISS SETTLING INThomas Greiss
practiced again with the big club following his call-up from Worcester and is quickly adjusting to the nuances of the NHL practices.
“Everything is fast and more precise,” said Greiss. “You get used to it pretty quick. It just takes a couple of practices.”ROTM
Sharks netminding prospect Timo Pielmeier was named rookie of the month in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
FRIDAY PRACTICE CLOSED
On January 11, the Sharks practice at Sharks Ice at San Jose will be closed to the public as a special Fremont Bank Reading Is Cool private practice will be taking place.
The Sharks are on the third leg of their four-game homestand and will host the visiting Vancouver Canucks on Thursday night at HP Pavilion. A limited number of tickets are still available and can be purchased at ticketmaster.com or the HP Pavilion Box Office. Game time is set for 7:30 PM and will be broadcast on FSN Bay Area in HD, KFOX 98.5 FM, Sharks Radio Network Affiliates and SJSHARKS.com.