Tuesday, January 24, 2006

What's a few months between friends?

Ok, so I've been terribly derelict in my blogging duties. It's certainly not attributable to my lack of hockey fandom, as I've watched more games this season than any other. Since we are at about the halfway point of the season (Sharks are 3 games past at the time of this writing), let me give my Sharks roundup for the first half:

There's no doubt in my mind that the Thornton trade made the Sharks a helluva lot better, and quickly. The line was until recently Thornton, Cheechoo, and Ekman, and whenever they've been on the ice, they've pretty well dictated play. Cheechoo has since been moved (demoted?) to the Marleau line, but I think he'll be back. And while I think that Marleau has the ability to be a first-line center, matching up against the opponents' best defensive pair rendered him not completely useless, but certainly mediocre. Marleau centering the second line provides the Sharks with maybe the best 1-2 center combination in the league. Although admittedly Alyn McAuley had a career year last year, he seems largely ineffective this year, and would be my biggest offensive disappointment. I didn't get to see him play much in Toronto, and perhaps he's just assumed his old form. Mark Smith's grittiness and good wrist shot has been a nice surprise.

Clearly the weakest aspect of the Sharks right now. Tom Preissing, who has the best +/- on the team (+12) is back, but has been out recently with injury. Scott Hannan was near the bottom of the league in +/- for the first quarter of the season, but is now at a more reasonable level (-3). The Sharks miss Mike Rathje more than they thought they would, and trading Brad Stuart didn't help. The defensive corps is just too inexperienced in my view to lead the Sharks deep in the playoffs, and maybe to the playoffs at all. Ehrhoff, Fahey, Gorges, Murray, and Preissing all have 100 games or less of NHL experience. Davison has only 110 games. Scott Hannan and Kyle McLaren, while probably top-4 defensemen on nearly any NHL team, are not enough.

Special Teams:
The power play was the worst aspect of the Sharks' game early in the season, and the most positively affected by the Thornton trade. Putting Marleau at the point on the power play has also helped. The Sharks were in the last 3 or 4 teams in the entire NHL for PP% in November, and now they are middle of the pack. The last few games the Sharks have taken too many penalties, which completely cost them one game (Phoenix) and almost another (LA). Giving up 5-on-3 advantages for one minute or more is bad news when your kill is in the bottom half of the league.

Traditionally one of the Sharks' biggest strengths, but injuries have hurt. Both Nabokov and Toskala missed quite a big of time, but we got to see Nolan Schaefer step up in late October (5-1, 1.88 GAA). Both Nabby and Toskala have been a little shaky, but they've both turned in good quality starts in January. I'm not concerned.

Looking Forward:
The Sharks might make the playoffs with their current roster, but given the quality of the West right now, it'll be a tough battle. They've been bad against division opponents, and continuing this trend will certainly eliminate a lot of hope in January; they play 4 more division games, and 4 in February. Unless they are much better than .500 in those 8 games, they'll be pretty much out of the playoff picture by the Olympic break. Since Nabby will be an unrestricted free agent next year, and both Schaefer and Dmitri Patzhold are playing well in the minors, look for the Sharks to deal him for a good stay-at-home defensemen in the next month. Names I've seen so far are Brendan Witt, Martin Skoula, and Eric Weinrich. Since Skoula is on the Stars now, and Turco is playing so well, I'm pretty sure that won't happen. Doug Wilson will not make the "Kipper to Calgary for a bag of pucks" mistake again. I'm hoping the Sharks don't trade a quality goalie like Nabokov for a solid defenseman in the twilight of his career, like Brian Leetch or Sergei Gonchar.

No comments: