What a difference a year makes.
Twelve months ago the San Jose Sharks were in a fight for their playoff lives. It seemed like every game in March was "must win." As you might recall the team responded with a 9-5-1 record in March and followed that up by ripping off an eight-game winning streak in April. Not only did the Sharks make the playoffs last year, they ended up grabbing the fifth seed in the Western Conference.
Here we are in March 2007 and the situation is much different. Barring a monumental collapse, the Sharks are going to be in the playoffs this spring. And barring a monumental collapse by Nashville, Detroit or Anaheim, it would appear that the Sharks are going to open the playoffs as the 5th, 6th, 7th or 8th seed. That means opening up on the road. But that's OK. Last years team opened on the road against Nashville and did away with the Predators in five games.
This years Sharks team has been one of the best, if not the best, on the road in the entire NHL. A 22-13 road record so far is fantastic. In fact it's a Sharks franchise record. On top of that they've posted road victories against six of the other seven teams in the Western Conference playoff picture. Nashville is the only team that swept the Sharks in their home rink this season.
Even though they probably won't open the playoffs at home in the first round, I like the position the Sharks are in. Last years team wasn't well rounded enough to get out of the second round series against Edmonton. The penalty kill was average at best, they lost too many important faceoffs, they weren't tough enough and they were low on fuel after a frenetic push to make the playoffs.
This year’s team has a solid penalty killing unit, they've become a very good faceoff team, guys like Ryan Clowe and Mark Bell make them much tougher and by the time the post season arrives there should be plenty of gas left in the tank.
And don't underestimate the importance of trade deadline additions Bill Guerin and Craig Rivet. First and foremost they are quality people and leaders.
Bill Guerin won a cup early in his career in New Jersey but he's hungry for another one. Rivet broke in with the Canadiens shortly after they won their last cup in 1993. He looked at all the banners in the rafters at the Molson Center for 12 years. Don't you think he thirsts for a sip from Lord Stanley's chalice? This is his chance.
From Day One, we've all been keenly aware that player-for-player and pound-for-pound, this is the best San Jose Sharks team so far. Patrick Marleau
and Joe Thornton
are world class talents and beginning the prime years of their careers. The defense is talented, physical and experienced. The goaltending is among the best in the League and the team is very well coached and prepared.
And don't forget the "pit" that the "Shark Tank" becomes during the playoffs. Sharks fans play their biggest role in the springtime. Hopefully it all comes together to give all of us the most memorable post season ever.
For Seagate Technology’s “In the Crease,” I’m Randy Hahn.