These are not the Sharks you are accustomed to seeing. When Doug Wilson decided to revamp his team after yet another terrible playoff performance in 2009, he changed the culture of the team.
Gone are mainstays of skill over grit Matt Carle, Craig Rivet, Milan Mihalek, Brad Stuart, Marcel Goc, Christian Erhoff, Brian Campbell, Tom Preissing, Marco Sturm, Alexander Korolyuk, and most of the other hangers on that were not providing the competitive edginess needed for the playoffs.
Don't get me wrong, most of those players listed are skilled and can help a team win playoff games. The problem is that the Sharks did not have enough of the hard edged players that did the dirty work required to consistently win.
Some things to note that have either changed or evolved about this team.
Marleau is no longer captain.
Significant because captains are expected to lead by example. When your captain refuses to stick his nose in front of the crease while getting slammed by crosschecks, just so you can screen the point shot from the goalie, then you will not inspire many of your peers. Marleau's style has translated to goal scoring, but when the opposing team concentrates on preventing him from sneaking to the side of the net or goes hard to his body in the slot, he is just not as effective.
With that said, he has been successful in the past and leads the franchise in playoff goals.
Once Marleau lost the C on his jersey, he was free to just be Marleau, a super fast breakaway threat that stretches defenses, and has a wicked wrist shot. The fact is, Marleau is considered big for his speed and skill, he should be using that size and speed to blast the opposing team's best players when he can. Thus far he hasn't, but i think that will change this series. Call it a hunch, but if shows up on the fourth line tonight, you will probably see a much more aggressive Marleau.
Ryan Clowe has found his confidence.
It seemed that Ryan Clowe was slow and sometimes lost in the offense this year. His positioning was such that he was constantly reaching for pucks and players instead of being on top of his skates and being a force. Towards the last month of the season, all of that changed.
From about that moment until now, Clowe has found his niche and is inflicting his brute mucking on the opposing defense-men. It seems like every offensive zone shift his line gets, he is on the endless cycle in one of the corners, usually resulting in a shot from a scoring area.
Pavs has found his game and his confidence. He is playing like he has been in playoffs for a decade and knows what it takes to win. He will emerge as the new face of the franchise if the Sharks continue to ride his coattails to The Cup.
Dan Boyle/Rob Blake/Douglas Murray
Kudos for the defense for stepping up it's game and finding ways to get the puck up to the forwards. They had struggled with this in the past, especially against a team that forchecks with two forwards.
The knock on the Sharks had been that they didn't have enough grit and their lineup had tons of skill, but could be intimidated. Their previous answer was to bring in some hulking meat grinder to protect their talent. The problem is that an enforcer is only one person, and the rest of the team was not stepping up in the playoffs when everyone must have grit.
This year is different as they traded Shelley away and enter the playoffs without an enforcer. The team knows it must provide it's own grit across the board to get into the tough scoring areas.
The rain cloud that followed the past early playoff exits doesn't exist as the team is drastically different from past seasons. Time will tell if the right moves were made and if the organization will ever be able to bring The Cup to San Jose. My gut feeling is they will get past Detroit, if that comes to past, then they should be able to win The Cup.
Since starting this article the Sharks have gone up 2-0 in this series and are set to take a commanding 3-0 lead in Detroit tonight. That is, if they can conquer what has been a house of horrors for them in the past.
Detroit represents a barometer for the Sharks, as they should, as the defending Western Conference champs, and their stellar record since the All Star break. If the Sharks can get past Detroit, I feel they have what it takes to take the cup. Their confidence will be peaking and their won't be anyone that will have the mental edge against them.
On a side note, part of the emerging stardom of Joe Pavelski has sparked a thought on why the Sharks will succeed going forward. Most national talking heads are not able to see the dynamic shift that is happening in San Jose. Because the Pavelski/Clowe/Setoguchi line is leading the way, the Thorton/ Marleau/Heatley line is able to just concentrate on their solid two-way game.
For those of us who saw Marleau struggle when asked to lead the team, we can sense a big sigh of relief at being able to just be himself. It might even spark some healthy competition amongst the lines to outperform each other and we could be seeing the beginnings of a great team for a couple of seasons.
All I know is that if the Sharks can take one of two in Detroit and go on to win the series, the rest of the league will be hard pressed to stop them.
Another Sharks victory tonight. Amazing comeback victory with the Sharks down two goals with almost half the 3rd period expired.
Something I left out earlier. OT victories.
This makes the fourth OT victory in these playoffs for the Sharks. That means there is plenty of grit and heart to go all the way. They survived the first round and know what it takes to win and they are doing it against the team that many consider the best in the Western Conference.
With a 3-0 lead, it would be good to see the Sharks nut up and finish the Wings off in style, a sweep, in their home building. It would show a killer instinct that will be needed to bring The Cup to San Jose.
Yes that was the much maligned pair of Joe Thorton to Patric Marleau for the winner in OT. How fitting to shut the doubters up.