It looks like the Sharks are putting the pieces together. They pieces were already there, just not all on the same page. Now, it looks like they’re finally getting things going.
It is the way of the fan — before the season, you rationally tell yourself (and everyone around you) not to make snap judgements, that you really need 10-15 games to get a feel for what the team’s really going to be like. And five games in, you’re screaming and ripping your jersey and throwing stuff at the TV because they suck (or alternatively, writing the check for the playoff tickets).
And then teams settle into to being what they are, not what their first few games say. And with the Sharks, early on, you had a team doing a bunch of things really well (passing, transition game, speed game, possession, high number of shots, hard work), and a few things not so well, and those things done not so well were consistently nailing them.
Typical problem #1: young kids shooting their gamer shot and ready to celebrate, only to watch the goalie stop it. I mean, really — those were goals in the AHL and the Bunde league! (but kid, this isn’t the AHL. that’s Marty Brodeur). Young NHLers always go through some kind of adjustment, a dry spell, until they learn just how much better an NHL goalie is than any other goalie they’ve ever seen, and how much harder they have to work to score. Some players never make the adjustment, and end up going back to Europe or the AHL and score zillions of goals, but never sniff the NHL again.
(the other side of that coin are goalies who stop everything in the lower levels, only to find out that shooters in the NHL can make that shot 8 out of 10 times. If the goalie can’t learn to stop it, he’s headed back to Binghamton or Utah…. The universe is littered with guys like Andre Racicot, who kicked butt until he hit a level where players didn’t shoot at his five-hole, they shot through it, and he couldn’t adapt. He wasn’t called “red light” in Montreal for nothing… It’s the equivalent of the hitter in baseball who can’t figure out how to hit a curve ball. he’ll tear up AAA, but never make the jump to the majors, where everyone has a curve ball)
Problem #2 for the sharks were defensive lapses. play well for 15 minutes in a period, look like the five stooges for five. Enough to kill you. It’s mostly a case of getting comfortable in the system, and learning your teammates well enough to know where they’ll be when — and be there when your teammates need you to support. that and concentration and focus.
problem #3: crease work. It’s natural not to want to get the snot pounded out of you. Normal humans shy away from guys with hunks of lumber. Hockey players can’t. But if you don’t put someone in the slot to create screens and fight for rebounds, you won’t score (period). If a goalie sees it, he’ll stop it. Exceptions are rare enough to that not to matter. The sharks, early on, were doing a good job of getting into that slot area, but had a bad tendency (Scott parker the exception) of sliding back out fairly quickly. so they’d penetrate, but not set up shop — end result being while the sharks were taking 30+ shots a game, few of them were screened, fewer of them were 2nd or third shots off the rebound. So they were generating good offense, but not much in the ways of goals.
All in all, not a bad start — except in the win column. enough to get you screaming and throwing early, well before the game 10 or game 15 deadline…. Some of the folks I know started screaming because they were flashing on last year’s disaster and couldn’t stand seeing it again. me, because they were close, but not close enough. grump.
But in the last five games? Their game is definitely pulling together. After a horrible loss to the Ducks and a worse tie to the Blackhawks (who the Sharks should have spanked), you could see progress against Phoenix in the tie, and then they went on the road. A fairly ugly game in Carolina (sigh), but then tying the Lightning, currently the hottest team in the league, spanking the Panthers, and tonight, tying the Thrashers (another hot team)? four points in three games, three game unbeaten streak, and .500 on the road trip so far, with a tough Devil’s game wednesday due up. that’ll be an interesting test.
I wanted them to be right around .500 after 15 games. right now, 12 games, 9 points. If they play .500 for the road trip, they’ll be a bit below, but not far off. If they string a couple of wins, even better. But they way they’re playing now has me hopeful.
Alyn McCauley is the guy who’s most impressed me. Wayne Primeau’s not far behind; both of them have really hustled their butts. Scott thornton’s worried me,his play has been slow and tentative. I figured he was hurt and hiding it. Maybe he is, but the last few games, he’s looking more like the Scott Thornton that helped drive the division championship team, and the ricci/thornton/cheechoo line is raising some fun havoc.
On defense, Scott Hannan is taking charge at 22:00 a game or more. Rathje’s been struggling, but better. McLaren’s been quiet and somewhat disappointing but not horrible. The kids are, well, kids. Rob Davison impresses with his grit, but I wouldn’t trust him with huge minutes yet, although tonight, he caught Kovalchuk with a hip check that put him two feet in the air in a hit that ought to be a candidate for hit of the year. Great classic whack of a guy with his head down. the thrashers took exception (and a penalty; another positive), but you could tell from the TV shots that Kovalchuk knew he had his head down and it was a clean hit.
That kid impresses me. He’s a gamer. He’s got the attitude and skills that Washiington thought a big contract could buy in Jagr. Watch out for Atlanta, they’re going to be pretty good this year, Heatley/Snyder notwithstanding. It’s not just adrenalin and mission-from-god in Atlanta. There’s some good skill there, too (foundation is Kowachuk’s 24+ minutes a game as a forward! whoof). And I don’t compare him to Jagr lightly…
(which doesn’t explain why, when I had him on my fantasy team, I waived him after 2 games because I didn’t think the Thrashers could deal with the accident and everything else going on. Silly me. Of course, silly me is still looking to be in 2nd in the league tomorrow, but what a bonehead move….)
Wednesday in New Jersey. Might be one of those games that defines where this season’s going to go. Even a competitive loss wouldn’t be too bad, if they hang with the Devils pretty well. But it won’t be easy.