In The Rear View: The Sharks' First Month in Review
It was almost exactly a month ago when the Sharks kicked off their 2011-12 season with an opening night win against the Phoenix Coyotes at the Shark Tank. San Jose dominated that game by a score of 6-3, which doesn't really do it justice, considering just how much better the Sharks actually were. This was the first time fans and coaches alike had a chance to see just what this new, and hopefully improved, Sharks team would look like, and it looked good.
But then there were the dark times. A three game stretch where the Sharks played Anaheim, St. Louis, and Anaheim again, which saw the team in teal lose all three. As a fan of that teal team, I can tell you that the only thing worse than the Sharks losing, is the Sharks losing to the Ducks. The Sharks did not seem to do much of anything good in these games: they didn't play a full sixty minutes in any of them and they had an incredibly hard time putting the puck in the net.
After those three awful games, San Jose would embark on a 6 game road trip that would hopefully turn their game around. And thankfully, it did. The first game, against the Devils, saw a shootout where the Sharks would eventually win. In the following four games against the Bruins, Predators, Red Wings, and Islanders, the Sharks dispatched of each one, resulting in a 5 game winning streak.
However, that streak would not reach six, as the Sharks would drop the final game of the road trip to the New York Rangers, losing 5-2. After the game, Joe Thornton used a poor choice of words, saying the Sharks should have won, because the Rangers were “soft”. Well, Rangers' coach John Tortorella took exception to this, shooting back that Thornton had no room to talk because he had never won anything in this league. Apparently, Hart and Art Ross trophies are nothing, but I digress. Thornton later admitted that it was a poor choice of words, and everybody lived happily ever after.
There were more bright spots to this road trip than just the 5 wins in 6 games. The play of the top line was great, and Pavelski seemed to score a goal in every game. Couture also had a great road trip, registering a point in all games. The game against the Devils, which started the road trip, was the first game that Havlat played in, and instantly he made an impact on the second line, getting an assist in that game and playing well with Couture and Clowe. With a complete top six once again, the Sharks won five games in a row.
The Sharks have played one home game since that lengthy road trip, against the then league leaders in the Penguins. San Jose did not appear ready to play hockey that night, which is a massive understatement. The penguins walked all over them in the first period, and after allowing two goals in less than three minutes, the Sharks coach made the decision to pull Niemi and insert Greiss, which proved to be a genius move. The Sharks would com back in the third period to tie the game at 3 and eventually win in the shootout. Greiss played great and the team as a whole showed great resiliency with the comeback.
Record: 7-4-0, 2nd in the Pacific, 10th in the league.
Stars of the Month:
Star 3 – Martin Havlat: This was a tough choice, as many Sharks have been playing well, but Havlat has 7 assists in his first 7 games. Guess what, that's a point per game pace. He has yet to score a goal, but once he does, other teams better watch out for the Sharks' top two lines.
Star 2 – Joe Thornton: What can be said about Jumbo Joe. He is the leader of this team, and he is doing it while being responsible at both ends of the rink: he has 9 points in 11 game and is a +3. Thornton played his 1000th NHL game on October 21, against the Devils. Joe Thornton will undoubtedly go down as the best San Jose Sharks to date.
Star 1 – Joe Pavelski: The first star could not have been an easier choice, as Little Big Joe leads the team with 8 goals and 13 points. I think he is fitting in just fine on the top line with Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, for all the doubters out there.
The Happy Surprise – Thomas Greiss: With Niemi out to start the season, Greiss stepped in and played solid hockey and has really solidified himself as a solid backup. He is also a way cheaper option than Niittymaki to sit on the bench and watch the games.
Top Defenseman – Marc-Edouard Vlasic: He has really come in to his own as a trustworthy defensive defenseman. Pickles may not light up the scoresheet, but I do not think anybody in the league has a better poke-check than Vlasic.
Tonight, the Sharks take on the Predators in San Jose. As long as the Sharks can score a few goals and play competently defensively, they should come out with a win, as this Predators team seems to have a hard time scoring goals on most nights. But they do have one of the top defensive pairings in the league with Weber and Suter, and a $7 million goalie in Rinne, so scoring goals might not come very easily for the Sharks either, tonight.
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