The San Jose Sharks look to be in cruising mode now. The team is now rolling with confidence in all facets of the game.
The offense has been flowing for the Sharks, especially the first line consisting of Captain “Jumbo” Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley, and Patrick Marleau. The lined combined for 21 points in two games. The rest of the offense is rolling too, having outshot their last two opponents by a combined total of 80-53.
Although Joe Pavelski has been somewhat quiet, other players such as Devin Setoguchi and Logan Couture have stepped up in a big way. The physical play from Frazer McLaren and nonstop pressure from Scott Nichol have also helped boost the puck control by forcing turnovers and keeping the puck in te offensive zone.
The defense seems to have picked up the slack thanks in part to Douglas Murray’s hard hitting. Overall, opponents are being contained to the outside, and breakouts have become smoother.
The defense needed some backup from its goaltending to be comfortable stepping up to make hits in the neutral zone and to feel more comfortable when moving the puck up the ice. Notable performances came from Marc-Edouard “Pickles” Vlassic, Niclas Wallin, and Jason Demers. The rest of the pack has been good too, but have not started to pick up their game to a higher level.
The most important improvement for the success of the team is the play in between the pipes. Antero Niittymaki has outshined Antti Niemi in net. With Niittymaki in net, the team looks more confident and willing to take risks, which many times lead to keeping the puck deep in the offensive zone or just keep the puck moving when the Sharks are on the offensive. Niittymaki has not given up any regrettable goals in the past couple games. He looks sharp and brings more confidence to the entire team. He is challenging shooters and doing an increasingly better job controlling rebounds which give attacking forwards fewer options.
The Sharks’ penalty kill still needs to be improved on. Against the Ducks, the Sharks let up two goals on three shorthanded situations. The sharks were not able to impede the Ducks on their way to the front of the net, and were not solidly able to keep the Devils’ power play off the board or off the shot counter. The Devils’ offense has been so bad, no good chances should have been allowed. For continued success the penalty kill must improve.
On the other hand, the Sharks power play was very good, having gone 2-for-5 against the Ducks and 1-for-3 against the Devils. The power play units move the puck well and have done a better job at keeping it away from opponents. They have kept the puck moving, started making better decisions, and have been able to work for opportunities around the net, in the slot, and from passes across the goalmouth, the source of a few goals and opportunities this season.
If the Sharks can keep their feet moving all over the ice, they can continue their rampage on the scoreboard. They need to keep their confidence in their goaltending up.
Based on the way they played against the Devils and Ducks, the Sharks certainly have the talent to be atop the Western Conference during the regular season, and maybe, just maybe, they can translate that into postseason success in 2010-11.