After winning five straight games, the San Jose Sharks find themselves with a 10-4-1 record and the second overall spot in the western conference.
Lost in the midst of their domination over the past couple of weeks is that the Sharks are battling serious injury issues. Three of their top seven forwards are out with injuries. Devin Setoguchi, Joe Pavelski, and Torrey Mitchell are all battling various ailments.
Without these three forwards, the Sharks are essentially missing a forward from each of their top three lines. Setoguchi is penciled in as the top right-wing alongside Joe Thornton, Pavelski is the team's undoubted second-line center, and Mitchell is a speedy and versatile third line forward.
But despite these injuries, Joe Thornton still leads the league in assists with 16, Patrick Marleau is still flourishing on the second-line as the team leader in points with 21, and Ryane Clowe's scoring drought to begin the season wasn't ever that big of an issue.
Considering all these injuries, one might assume that the Sharks would be struggling at this point in the season.
Yet, the Sharks are still chalking up victories like there is no tomorrow.
So why are the Sharks on such a roll?
The Sharks are starting to fire on all cylinders because of the presence of one-man, Dany Heatley.
Heatley, or the "Heater" as both fans and teammates like to call him hasn't exactly been overwhelming so far this season.
Okay, clearly Heatley is playing at a high level. Anyone in the top-10 in NHL scoring must be doing something right but in reality he hasn't been relied on as heavily as Thornton and Marleau were last season.
In fact, Heatley's presence has simply boosted the team around him. Much like how Thornton made Jonathan Cheechoo and Nils Ekman better with is arrival in 2005, Heatley is making his teammates better as well.
But unlike Joe, Heatley is making more than just his line-mates better, he's making the second-line better.
Imagine if the Sharks still had Milan Michalek and Cheechoo instead of Heatley.
With Pavelski and Setoguchi injured, Marleau would almost have to be bumped up to the first-line with Thornton, and the top two lines would probably look as follows:
Without Dany Heatley, opposing teams could very easily just game-plan to shut down the Sharks' top-line, and wouldn't have to worry about any other line being much of a scoring threat.
However, with Heatley in the lineup, the Sharks haven't missed a beat despite their injury issues.
The current top two lines with the "Heater" in the mix look as follows:
What is the difference? With Heatley on the team, Marleau can play on the second unit. This simply gives the Sharks two potent scoring lines. Opponents have to game-plan to stop both the Thornton line and the Marleau line.
But not only does Heatley allow Marleau to flourish away from top-line duty, he also will take any potential blame away from guys like Marleau, Clowe, Setoguchi, and even Thornton.
Just like how Clowe's early season slump wasn't much of an issue, if Thornton, Setoguchi, and most importantly Marleau fall into a cold streak, Heatley will be the one looked at to carry the team.
Now if Heatley isn't playing well then Thornton might not be putting up his normal assist totals causing the media to blame "Jumbo". But having a true sniper like Heatley on the top-line will allow at-least some of the blame to be taken off players like Thornton who don't need that baggage.
If the Sharks have questions to answer about poor-play at any point in the season or playoffs, a guy like Marleau isn't going to be the main player fans and media bombard with questions.
Heatley will be the one garnering a larger percentage of those questions because he is the off-season acquisition that's suppose to take this team over the hump.
But Heatley will have no problems at all handling the San Jose media.
With everything he's been through in his career, a few bay-area media members getting on his case isn't going to be a burden on Heatley's mind.
However they can be a burden on the minds of guys like Clowe and especially Marleau who have spent their entire careers in the San Jose market.
By taking blame away from other players, Heatley is allowing his teammates to just play their games and not worry about results.
His confidence in his game and his person has provided a calmness about this Sharks team and that no matter how a game is going, they still can figure out a way to win.
With Heatley's arrival, the Sharks finally have everything an NHL club needs to win the cup.
But it wasn't just his scoring touch that the Sharks were missing, it was his confidence and accountability that has given this year's Sharks team a different feel, a winning feel, no matter what the circumstances.
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