After an incredibly disappointing first round exit last season, the San Jose Sharks, now famous for their regular season success and playoff chokes, have another chance to win the Stanley Cup.
This really might be the last chance for the Sharks in a while, as an early exit might mean a busy summer.
Goalie Evgeni Nabokov and forward Patrick Marleau, who have both spent their entire NHL careers with San Jose, will be free agents at the end of the '09-10 season.
A disappointing exit might also cause the Sharks to rethink keeping players like Joe Thornton, who had an average season with only 87 points with three games left, and who is notorious for folding in the playoffs and other pressure-filled situations like the Olympics, in which he was less than ordinary for Team Canada.
While their record proves that the Sharks have more strengths than weaknesses, some of these weaknesses may be the cause for their demise this postseason.
One weakness that has plagued the Sharks the whole season has been the lack of depth in their forward lines.
While their top line of Marleau, Dany Heatley, and Thornton is arguably the best in the NHL, one fantastic line and two ordinary ones won’t win a Cup. The second line for the Sharks has for the most part been Joe Pavelski, Ryane Clowe, and Devin Setoguchi.
Pavelski had a slow start to the season and missed a lot of games due to injury, but as of late he has been playing out of his mind and has been arguably the best Shark post-Olympic break.
Setoguchi has had a below average season, scoring only 19 goals and 34 points, a huge disappointment to the Sharks after his 31-goal, 65-point season last year.
Clowe has had a stronger season than previous years but seems to make some bad decisions on the ice, like taking dumb penalties or turning over the puck on easy plays.
While the second line has the potential to really step up this postseason, the third and fourth lines really don’t have the ability or talent. The third and fourth lines feature Torrey Mitchell, Manny Malhotra, Scott Nichol, Jed Ortmeyer, Brad Staubitz, Jamie McGinn, and, as of late, Logan Couture.
Mitchell has had an incredibly disappointing season with only two goals and eight points compared with his 10-goal, 20-point rookie campaign. Coming off a year-and-a-half-long injury, Mitchell’s speed and grit haven’t prevailed as much as the Sharks would have hoped. To succeed this postseason, Mitchell is one of the players that really needs to step it up.
Malhotra, Nichol, and Ortmeyer were all summer acquisitions. All three players had career seasons this year. While these players have been playing to their fullest abilities, their talent and ability just aren’t enough to round out a potent third line for the Sharks.
Rookies McGinn and Couture both have the speed and potential to make an impact, but it doesn’t seem like too much can be expected from them. Staubitz acts as the enforcer for the team but oftentimes takes dumb penalties and would probably be a healthy scratch to start off the postseason.
As for defense, the Sharks have solid defenders in Dan Boyle, Douglas Murray, and Marc Edouard-Vlasic. Veteran defenseman Rob Blake seems to have slowed down a bit this season and shouldn’t be played in the top two pairings. Trade-deadline acquisition Niclas Wallin has playoff experience coming from Carolina and has done well for the Sharks since arriving in February.
Kent Huskins had a rough start to the season and has seemed to play more consistently and without turnovers. Jay Leach seems to make more mistakes than good plays and would definitely be the seventh, if not scratched, defenseman.
It seems that the Sharks have three solid top four defensemen and three iffy ones. The last spot will probably go to Wallin or Blake, but more intriguing is the idea of it going to rookie Jason Demers, who has been shuffled back and forth between Worcester and San Jose this season.
Demers is definitely more like Blake and Boyle in the fact that he is offensively-minded, but that seems to work better for the Sharks. It would be interesting to see if Demers could crack the top four, while Blake and Wallin would round out the six with Huskins being a possible seventh defenseman.
For the Sharks to have a successful postseason, they need the third line to step up. Mitchell and Malhotra will probably be constants on that third line with others interchanging. They need to really make an impact not only as a checking line but also offensively.
The Sharks also have to have a solid top four defensemen who need to have an offensive impact.
Lastly, Nabokov needs to step up and really play out of his mind for the Sharks to go all the way.
They haven’t been able to put the pieces together in the past, but they definitely have the right pieces this year. Really, the only way the Sharks can call this season successful is if they are lifting the Cup above their heads come June.