With 43 games in the books, the San Jose Sharks are sitting with a respectable 21-17-5 record. Although a 10-game losing streak and two, four-game losing streaks were not what the team had in mind before the first puck was dropped in October, there are plenty of reasons why Sharks fans can be excited for the second half of the season.
The Sharks began their climb out of the cellar on Dec. 1 when they shocked the hockey world by trading for Joe Thornton
. At the time of the trade, the team was 8-12-4 and in desperate need of a shake-up. The power play had been slumping, only converting at a 14.1 percent rate, one of the lowest in the League.
Since Thornton’s first game in a Shark uniform on Dec. 2 in Buffalo, the team has gone 13-5-1, winning 71.1 percent of their games and finding themselves just six points out of the final playoff spot. The power play has become dangerous, converting 21.4 percent of the time and the team has been playing with the type of confidence they had in the 2003-04 season.
We all know the effect Thornton’s arrival has had on the team, but what can often be overlooked is the play of the defense.
On the same day Thornton made his Teal debut, so did Doug Murray. Although Murray isn’t known for his point production like Thornton, the big blueliner’s bone-crushing hits have forced opponents to think twice about driving to the net. In his 19 games since being recalled from Cleveland, Murray has managed to rack up 68 hits, ranking him second on the team and eighth among rookies in the League, despite playing in almost half of the team’s games.
Another mainstay on the team’s defense has been Josh Gorges. The rookie was called up for the second time in mid-December and has stabilized the defensive unit. Gorges has played in each of the last 12 games and hasn’t been a minus in any one of those contests.
Speaking of plus/minus rating, what happened to Scott Hannan’s at the beginning of the season? Widely regarded as one of the finest young defensemen in the League, Hannan found himself sitting at minus-19 on Dec. 1. Since Dec. 2 however, Hannan has managed to work his way up to a minus-2, a 17-point increase, while scoring nine of his 12 points during that span. Hannan has found his old form and alongside his partner, Gorges, have shut down opposing team’s offenses.
Which brings us to the goaltenders. After struggling with injuries early in the year, Evgeni Nabokov and Vesa Toskala have found their comfort zone, regaining confidence and proving why they are perhaps the best one-two goaltender combination in the League.
Since Dec. 2, Nabokov has seen his goals-against average fall from 3.34 to 3.02 and his save percentage increase from .864 to .890. Toskala has been equally impressive, lowering his GAA from 4.81 to 3.36 and increasing his save percentage from .825 to .868, while earning victories in each of his last five starts.
On Thursday night,San Jose will play hoststo Edmonton at HP Pavilion. How convenient that the Oilers are currently sitting in the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference. With the Sharks having three games in hand over Edmonton, a win Thursday would give them a huge momentum boost.
Having won six of their last seven games, Team Teal is sitting in a good position to leapfrog over their Pacific Division rivals in the standings. They will have plenty of opportunities to do just that, as more than half of their second half games are against Pacific Division teams (20 games). If they continue to win and play at the level they have been playing at since that fateful Friday night in Buffalo, they will have no problem making it to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.