I have never been an advocate of a long layoff for the Sharks. I knew going into the Easter weekend, riding the hottest streak in the NHL, a few days to get lazy would not serve the team well. Tuning into last night’s game only confirmed my fears.
They came away with a point from a decent Phoenix team that is kept afloat by Ilya Brygalov in the crease, but Captain Shane Doan leads a bunch of guys who can jump up into the play. For the first time in memory, Wayne Gretzky coaches a team that no one can escape without playing a fairly solid sixty minutes to earn the win. And after a few days to relax and get fat on an Easter feast, the Sharks simply took too long to put the hustle in their game and find the back of the net.
The valiant comeback in the third was led by Joe Thornton, who is precisely the man the Sharks need to take control in such a situation. Thornton netted a hat trick and an assist for his second four-point effort this year. A strong defensive showing, however, would have saved the game much earlier. Evgeni Nabokov had an abnormally bad game, which was just the beginning of the defensive woes for a team that plays defense first. After allowing just 13 shots against in Friday’s contest with Anaheim, Phoenix got 33 through before overtime. Nabokov did not last that long – he was pulled in the beginning of the third frame, a move that has only been required a handful of times for the workhorse netminder. Nabokov leads the league in wins.
It’s unfortunate that Big Joe’s hat trick was not put to better use, but one point is better than none, and San Jose needs momentum going into Thursday’s game. Assuming Jonathan Cheechoo returns to the lineup for the last regular-season showdown with Dallas, Team Teal should play with more fire out of the gate. Cheechoo played with inspiration in the crucial win over Anaheim last week, prompting the colossal hit from Kris Kunitz that has temporarily sidelined the Sharks right wing. Whether or not Cheechoo plays at HP pavilion on Thursday, the Sharks will have to battle against a dangerous team that should not be discounted because of their recent slide.
Dallas has beefed up their offense this season, and if the Sharks plan on continuing this points streak the defense will have to look sharp, get back on the play, and get some help from a strong fore-check. If this will continue to be the post lay-off trend for the Sharks, one can only hope that the playoff run will bring constant action, and of course a lineup of teams that prove to be their lesser.