San Jose Sharks Feeding Frenzy: Key Thoughts on Nine-Game Point Streak
The San Jose Sharks are easily on their biggest tear of the milestone 2010-2011 season.
Up until shortly before Christmas, the Sharks had yet to win four games in row on the campaign. Now—by virtue of back-to-back 2-0 road wins against tough Eastern Conference opponents—the Sharks have achieved their third four-game win streak of the season. Even more than that, their last two have been separated by just a single shoot-out loss to the Los Angeles Kings just before the All Star Break.
The Sharks have gone 8-0-1 in their last nine games, earning 17 of 18 possible points and rocketing from the No. 11 slot to the No. 4 slot in the Western Conference. They now sit at 64 points and can tie or surpass the division-leading Dallas Stars tomorrow night depending on the outcome of the Stars' game against the Phoenix Coyotes and the Sharks' game at the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Leading the division before Valentine's Day is something that seemed nearly unfathomable just weeks ago, but thanks to recent heroics the Sharks have put themselves right back in contention for another Pacific Division title while creating some separation between themselves and the playoff bubble.
The turn-around has rekindled hope and vigor among a fan base that as recently as two weeks ago had to be seriously contemplating the possibility of missing the playoffs for the first time in nearly a decade. The details of how the Sharks have been winning should certainly provide some encouragement and hope for prolonged success.
The Sharks have seen renewed pep in their special teams, they have been getting more balanced contributions up and down the line-up, and they have been finding various ways to win. Goaltender Antti Niemi has posted back to back shutouts, and—as aptly pointed out by radio color commentator Jamie Baker—he was not named first star in either game (despite the tight 2-0 final score in each), indicating that the much-discussed defense has been much stronger in front of him.
The Sharks have also managed this revival despite some key injuries—most notably goaltender Antero Niittymaki, whose absence has spawned a plethora a different backups of late. Niittymaki and forward Torrey Mitchell now both sit poised to return to action very soon, which should give the Sharks extra jump and depth for the final stretch.
But is this streak really as great as it seems?
The Sharks have recently been a team that gets off to a red hot start to the season, only to suffer an inevitable swoon a couple months in. This torrid start to the stretch run has greatly resembled the type of early-season success the Sharks have had in seasons past, and a swoon a couple months from now would coincide with the start of the playoffs.
Furthermore, in the "If it ain't broke, don't fix it category," the Sharks are fast-approaching the NHL Trade Deadline at a time when they seem to be firing on all cylinders. Up until a week or two ago, it seemed certain that a blue-line deal was necessary, but with the recent improvement against top competition, that assumption has been clouded somewhat.
Is this recent defensive boom a mere temporary upswing or a true indication that the Sharks have finally figured things out. Reality is likely in the middle, but what does that mean for general manager Doug Wilson and a possible deadline deal.
All fans can do is rely on Wilson's impressive track record of excellent moves and hope for the best. It is doubtful he will decide to completely stand pat, but the Sharks' recent success may allow him to pursue a more modest (and less expensive) addition to the team than many had anticipated.
As for a playoff swoon, only time will tell. All that can be said is that this is a different path toward playoff contention than the Sharks have traveled before, and given their past track record, that might not be a bad thing.
This streak could prove to be just what the Sharks needed, as it has allowed them to leap back into contention for the division title and top-three seed while still maintaining the urgency of needing to compete for points every night. The Sharks now find themselves in a position where they can potentially rest key players if needed down the stretch, but will still need to play playoff-caliber hockey on regular basis to ensure a playoff berth.
That balance is something the Sharks have rarely if ever had before, and could prove a championship-caliber combination.
Keep the Faith!
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