Earlier this week, NBCSports posted a story entitled “It’s Time To Pay Attention To The San Jose Sharks.”
The headline says it all. Team Teal is consistently playing good hockey and winning, making the race for top honors in the Pacific Division a close and stuffy affair. Heading into the weekend, the Sharks have taken the first two games of a five-game road trip, improving to 20-8-2 on the road and notching three straight wins for a 6-2-2 line in their last 10.
A lot of attention is directed toward the Anaheim Ducks crawling out of the Pacific Division cellar and how the L.A. Kings’ lead isn’t so cushioned, but San Jose deserves some spotlight as well.
So, yes, it really is time to pay attention, but for the right reasons this time
Frankly, the Sharks have always garnered attention, but in recent years it has been for less-favorable reasons. There was the epic collapse against the L.A. Kings in the playoffs two seasons ago, followed by grumblings of a fractured dressing room, public spats between general manager and a top player, and constant speculation as to why the team made such a habit out of going flat midgame and giving up leads.
At this time last season, San Jose was gearing up to host the Kings in Northern California’s first stadium series game — a tilt that the Sharks lost, bumping them out of playoff contention. Now, they are riding a two-game road win streak in which they have come-from-behind wins against both the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers. As for the gap between them and L.A., it shrinks by the game, with the Sharks now sitting just three points out of first place.
“It's a veteran group, and right now, there's a real good confidence level," Sharks coach Pete DeBoer told the San Jose Mercury News after the win over the Bolts on Tuesday. "We're feeling like we can win every game that we're playing."
That confidence level says it all. This isn’t the same Sharks team we’ve seen in years past.
Part of that is due to adjustments that were made during the offseason. The addition of forward Joel Ward has given the offense a boost, defenseman Paul Martin has been a decent anchor for swing man Brent Burns, and San Jose got an upgrade between the pipes by moving on from Antti Niemi and acquiring Martin Jones. And while the departure of Todd McLellan was first seen as a negative, the Sharks have since adjusted — quite well, actually — to DeBoer’s style of coaching.
The returning pieces of the roster — what has been commonly referred to as the “leadership core” — has also evolved. Joe Pavelski has grown into the captain’s role, with other young bucks such as Logan Couture and Tommy Wingels becoming regular voices in the dressing room. Even Joe Thornton, who made headlines last season after being stripped of the captain’s “C,” has continued to be a leading force on the ice, not to mention continuing to solidify his status among the league’s top veterans.
It has made for a winning combination, and now the Sharks are a dangerous team, particularly late in games. During a brief losing skid earlier in the season, Pavelski stressed how the team had to be better during the third periods of games.
“Our third period has to be our best,” he stressed in multiple post-game media sessions.
The Sharks have since implemented that formula into their regular routine, with wins over the Lightning and Panthers as the most recent examples.
“I don’t know if there’s a secret,” Burns said of the successful late-game pushes following a home win over the Arizona Coyotes. “I think the confidence in our team, both individually and team-wise, sticking to it I think.”
Now, this isn’t to say that there won’t be some shenanigans surrounding the Sharks as the trade deadline nears. There have been whispers since the season got started that veteran winger Patrick Marleau is willing to waive the no-movement clause in his contract and go play for another team. Even if Marleau isn’t dealt by the Feb. 29 deadline, there is no doubt that rumors of a departure will still be there.
For the meantime, however, the spotlight on San Jose is a positive one for a change. So, by all means, do start paying attention to the Sharks. You’ll probably end up watching a confident hockey team win a good hockey game.