Feeding Frenzy: The 4 Keys to Keeping the Sharks in the Hunt for the Cup
As the season readily approaches the halfway point, it is hard to gauge the Shark's success. While they currently are in competition with Phoenix and Dallas for the division lead, they have lacked consistency both individually and on a team level.
With tonight's stellar 7-2 victory against the Tampa Bay Lightning, it seems like they may have turned a corner. However with a hard stretch of road games coming in the future, it has become clear that they need to keep up their strong play lest they end up missing the postseason in favor of high-octane teams like Chicago and Vancouver.
With that in mind here are four keys that are essential to keep them in the hunt for a playoff berth.
No. 1: Momentum at Home
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Many players along the National Hockey League have identified HP Pavilion as one of the most difficult places to play in. The Sharks better hope that's true because with 25 home and 28 away games left, every victory at home will be crucial.
The Sharks are currently on a three-game winning streak at home and face Los Angeles, Anaheim and Vancouver before the month is up. With two division rivals and one of the premier Western Conference teams, it would do a lot for the confidence of the team to continue their winning streak in such key games.
While the Ducks have struggled recently, it's unwise to underestimate them, as they did take two against the Sharks in the opening weeks of the season and the Canucks and Kings have both already claimed victories against the Sharks already this season.
With solid play and a continued spurt of offense, the Shark's can ensure a healthy dose of confidence and enough momentum to succeed away from home.
No. 2: Stay Healthy
The current buzz for the Sharks in terms of injury was the untimely loss of Martin Havlat to a hamstring injury caused by a freak accident while getting on the ice to start a power play shift against the Oilers.
Simply put the Sharks cannot afford to lose anymore key players to injury. While there are talented players such as Jamie McGinn and Benn Ferrio who have shown flashes of scoring talent, there is an intolerable amount of risk in relying upon them for the last half of the season.
No one wants to see the Sharks hobbled by injury forced to make trades in order to fortify the roster for the postseason. While the issue of health isn't something that can always be controlled, it is still essential that key pieces of the team such as Pavelski, Thorton, Marleau and Burns stay healthy to keep the Sharks in the hunt for Lord Stanley's cup.
No. 3: No Goalie Controversy
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The fact that this made the list may surprise some people, but it is a crucial issue to be addressed for the continued success of the Sharks. With Nittymaki already starting his rehab stint with Worchester, San Jose will soon have a choice to make about the future of their net minding.
While three goalies may not seem to be an issue to a casual fan, one only has to look at the mess it has made in Long Island to realize that it could easily derail a team. Especially since Greiss and Nittymaki are both talented back ups that can be trusted to give Niemi an off night.
While many are split on who should be traded, in my opinion Greiss has proven he can be more reliable and has the talent to hold onto the backup spot, and his youth ensures he could be a more valuable asset in years to come.
Nittymaki, while talented, could be better served as packaged deal at the trade deadline with teams such as Tampa Bay and Columbus who are in dire straits for a solid goal tender. In return, the Sharks could add an extra scorer for the third or fourth line and add depth in case the previous issue of injury becomes relevant.
What the Sharks should NOT do is try and establish the murky and ineffective goal rotation that the Islanders have tried to use. With the high level of competition in the Pacific Division and the Western Confrence as a whole, this year a goalie controversy could take away from more important issues such as...
No. 4: Find and Establish All Four Lines
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Todd McClellan has spent the last two months shuffling the lines around in an attempt to provoke offense from his team. While it is a standard tactic that has provided brief offensive spurts, the continued shuffling is having a negative effect.
Namely team chemistry is greatly suffering as players are unable to acclimate to their linemates before being shuffled again. While small changes are obviously necessary to keep play fresh, it has become obvious these great mix up every few games are hurting the team.
McClellan has to realize that in order for his players to start producing they need to be comfortable with the players on the ice and become accustomed to where there team mates will be in order to set up scoring opportunities.
As evidence of this, I would point to the so called "nine-line" of Logan Couture, Ryan Clowe and (formerly) Martin Havlat. Out of the entire Sharks roster, these three players have spent the most ice time together, and when they were rejoined earlier in the month, the play of all three picked up and they were able to find the scoring grove that had eluded them when they were continuously shuffled.