Wednesday, March 15, 2006

3/4 pole

The season is 75% over, and the Sharks currently have 71 points, 5 out of a playoff spot. San Jose has won their last three games, and have three more home games to go before a 5 game road trip. Here's my current status report, done in the same style as my half-season report:

Offense: The Sharks have scored 197 goals, 9th in the West. Their top line still scores very consistently (Thornton is the NHL points leader right now, and Cheechoo had his 4th hat trick of the season on Monday night). The problem is, the second and third lines aren't scoring as much as I would hope. I predicted that Marleau would score more, and he has (29 goals, his career high). But the other young players that I thought would flourish against 2nd and 3rd line D have come up short. Michalek has only 13 goals. Goc has 15 points, and is -12. I think the top line has as much firepower as any other in the NHL, but if they hit a cold streak, I've seen zero evidence that other players will pick up the slack.

Defense: Still spotty. I expected the Sharks to be in the hunt for a veteran defenseman at the deadline, but no big moves happened. Hannan has gotten his +/- up to a -3, which is quite an accomplishment given where he was earlier in the year. Erhoff looks solid, Murray hits like a freight train, but the jury's out on Gorges and Davison. On Monday, the Sharks gave up a goal twice on the shift following a Sharks goal. Everyone knows that a successful shift after you score is critical to keep the momentum, and the Sharks couldn't keep it. On the positive side, the Sharks have looked horrible with 1-goal leads late in the game, and this time, they kept it without too much scrambling.

Special Teams: Both the PP and PK have improved since midseason- both are middle of the pack. I think I saw a stat a few weeks ago that said that the Sharks are over 20% on the PP since the Thornton trade. It's amazing watching the D clear out when Joe has the puck on the half boards- they know how dangerous his passing is. I which he would shoot a touch more from that spot though.

Goaltending: I was very surprised to see the Sharks re-sign both Toskala and Nabokov, and not trade either. That being said, Toskala has clearly been the better goalie since the halfway point. It's a good feeling knowing you have two quality goalies for the playoff run, but I wonder if there will be a controversy next season if Toskala continues to play well. Nabby had a great Olympics and will want to be the starter.

Looking Forward: The Sharks are picking up speed at the right time, but their margin for error is now very small. With LA, Vancouver, and Edmonton struggling, the Sharks must win every game against inferior opposition. The last two and a half weeks of the season are absolutely brutal- 10 games in 17 days in April. If I had to choose right now, I would say that the Sharks will not make the playoffs. But as a fan, I think of all the opportunities they have this month. if SJ can beat STL twice, and win the Chicago, Columbus, and Phoenix games, that will put us at 81 points with 10 games to go. If the Sharks can get 11 more points in April, I think they will make the playoffs. Only two of the games in April are against teams not in the top 8 (and one is against the Ducks, who are ahead of us), so that's actually a pretty tall order.

Trading Note: I'm glad Niko Dimitrakos is gone, and I don't really care that much about the Ville Niemonen pickup. While it would have been nice for Doug Wilson to get another D man, I'm glad he didn't trade away high draft picks or young players to get a 3-month rental. There's plenty of cap room, so I'm hoping for some free agent fireworks in the off season.

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