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Special Teams Key For Stretch Run

by Staff Writer / San Jose Sharks
Sharks Coach Ron Wilson has preached for the last week about how improved special teams play will be necessary if the Sharks are to make a run at the Stanley Cup Playoffs. If last night’s game against Detroit was any indication of what’s to come in their final 25 contests, the Sharks should have no problem fighting for a playoff position.

In what was perhaps their best special teams game of the season, the Sharks outworked the Red Wings in nearly every facet of the game. They scored a franchise record five power play goals, converting at a 50 percent clip(5-of-10), while the defensive unit killed all six Detroit power plays.

“We were moving the puck around well, getting the loose pucks and just fighting. We were hitting the net hard and good things happen when you do that,” said Joe Thornton, who registered one goal and three assists in the contest. “We did real well last night. In the next 25 games, special teams are going to play a huge part for us. If we win in those two categories (power play and penalty kill), we’re going to have some real good success.”

Success has also been coming between the pipes. Lately, Vesa Toskala has taken the team on his back and played exceptionally well. The netminder has recorded a 10-0-2 record in his last 12 starts, is gaining confidence and is proving he’s one of the top goaltenders around.

“I’m pretty confident right now and I just enjoy playing,” said Toskala. “I’m having so much fun out there that I wish the game wouldn’t end sometimes. That’s a great feeling.”

Toskala admitted that playing with a huge lead takes a lot of pressure off of every goalie’s back.

“It’s so much easier knowing you can let two or three goals in and still have a chance to win because our power play was playing so well,” said Toskala. “We did a good job yesterday of getting in the shooter’s shooting lane and blocking a lot of shots. As a goalie it’s always hard to find a pocket. There’s always so much traffic in front, so it’s important for players to block those shots.”

And don’t forget the Sharks No. 1 goaltender, Evgeni Nabokov, who will likely man the net Saturday in Calgary. The Russian netminder had a tremendous Olympics, where he posted three shutouts in leading his team to the bronze medal game.

With both Sharks goalies playing at the top of their game, it give the team a distinct advantage in the playoff run, while also giving Wilson decisions to make.

“We’ve got to split the goalies this weekend,” said Wilson. “Looking at it now, I’d probably say Toskala on Friday (in Edmonton), but we’ll see how Nabby feels. Toskala’s been so hot, it’s hard to take him out. He’s played so solid and that’s not knock on Nabby at all, it’s just he’s playing well. He’s got to come out one of these games, but I think common sense says he’ll be playing on Friday and Nabby will play in Calgary.”

Nabokov played his last Olympic game on Saturday, but had various troubles returning from Turin and did not get back to San Jose until 1 a.m. Tuesday. Despite that, Nabokov feels he’ll be ready to go this weekend.

“It’s going to take awhile to adjust to the time obviously, but I feel pretty good,” he said.

In the last five games, the play of German Olympian Christian Ehrhoff has picked up considerably. This is evident in the amount of ice time the young blueliner has been receiving. In Tuesday’s romping of Detroit, Ehrhoff was second on the team in ice time, registering 21:41.

“He’s playing well,” said Wilson. “He’s not making mental mistakes that he made earlier in the year like a casual moment or forgetting his defensive responsibilities. He’s using all his tools. He’s skating and passing the puck well.”

Ehrhoff also notched his second goal of the season Tuesday when he fired a blistering slap shot through Manny Legace’s five hole.

“You can see it in his eyes that he has gained some confidence,” added Wilson. “He’s still got to compete defensively, but he has as much ability as any defenseman we have and certainly he’s the best skater we have with the hardest shot.”

Ron Wilson said Monday that the Sharks may be ready to get a boost from forward Scott Parker as early as this weekend, but there’s not going to be a rush on getting the winger back in the lineup.

“Honestly I don’t know what kind of a timeline we’re on right now, but we’re just taking it step by step,” said Parker. “All the progress has been positive and we’re taking it from there. I feel good. I just think they’ll be a little more cautious this time around. I definitely feel a lot better than I did the last time I came back.”

Parker’s only goal of the season came in his first game back with the team Dec. 20 against Anaheim. Before that goal, Parker’s last goal was in 2003-04 against those same Mighty Ducks. With a trip to Anaheim on the horizon, Parker joked about how he’d better get better before their next matchup March 7.

When laughing about his success against Anaheim, Parker joked, “Watch out Giguere!” He was referring to Anaheim goalie Jean Sebastian Giguere.

The Sharks will travel to Edmonton to play the Oilers on Friday at 6 p.m. The game is a radio-only game and can be heard on the Sharks Radio Network and
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