The San Jose Sharks responded to a tough loss to the Calgary Flames by returning home and dominating Martin Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils 5-2 Wednesday night.
On paper it looked like the perfect bounce-back win for a team that had struggled finding consistency so far in 2010-2011. The Sharks outshot the Devils 39-29, limited the defensive mistakes that had plagued them, and per usual won the face-off battle. Antero Niittymaki logged a strong effort, allowing just two goals on 29 shots.
The offense came alive too. After being shut out by former Shark Mikka Kiprusoff in Calgary, the Sharks scored five goals behind captain Joe Thornton's second hat trick as a Shark. Four of the goals came five-on-five, a scenario in which the Sharks had struggled mightily to date this season.
Is this the sign of a turnaround? Have the Sharks finally steadied the ship and proven the current group can stay the course for the foreseeable future?
Maybe, but not necessarily.
The Sharks put together a solid effort against the Devils, but their inability to maintain focus late in the game, leading to several penalties and a second Devils goal, combined with the fact that the Devils themselves sit at the bottom of the Eastern Conference with just two wins entering that game, suggest we need more of a sample size to make such a determination.
Scoring a hat trick is always great. Doing it against the likes of Martin Brodeur, doubly so, but the sudden reversal of fortunes for the Sharks from Calgary to San Jose needs to be viewed with the proper healthy skepticism.
The Sharks looked much better than they have all season and were able to drastically limit the amount of mental mistakes that allowed pivotal goals to doom them in previous games.
However, Niittymaki again started in net, and the Sharks always seem to play better in front of him. The Sharks will have to get significant starts out of another goaltender if they hope for Niitty to have anything left come the playoffs.
Further, their play suffered a serious lapse in focus in the final five minutes. Not a big deal when you have a four-goal lead, but old habits die hard and if such lapses surface with the Sharks protecting a two-goal lead, it could be game-changing.
It was great to see the Sharks finally put together a solid effort for most of a hockey game and get their first home win in style, but major questions still remain for Team Teal moving forward.
Fans should get a much clearer picture of the team the next time Niemi starts in net, which could be Saturday against the rival Anaheim Ducks.
As they march toward the 20-game mark, they need to start making some decisions about how they plan to move through the rest of the season. It is important not to let the emotion of particular games sway these critical choices.
Keep the faith!