Saturday, February 12, 2011

Sharks' Point Streak Over, Beat At Own Game

The San Jose Sharks' 10-game point streak came to an end on Friday at the hands of the new hottest team in the NHL, the New Jersey Devils.
It was a matchup of the two hottest teams since the All-Star break in a duel of who wanted it more, as goalies Antti Niemi and Johan Hedberg had a bout in opposing nets. The Devils, once almost 30 points out of the playoffs, have been scorching since game #41 and are now just 12 points out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Sharks also had been scorching, and it would come down a fight in New Jersey to see who would be declared the hottest in the NHL. It would take a gritty two-goal 3rd period by the Devils to snatch a victory from the Sharks.

But that was the Sharks' game throughout this point streak, keep it close and pull out a win. During this point streak, the Sharks were never going to blow anyone out. Every game was decided by one or two goals and the Sharks found a way to get the win. That was the X-factor during this streak, just finding a way. It could be a Couture goal here, a Niemi save there, the Sharks were finding ways to win. The sign of a good team, and for a good two weeks, the Sharks were the best team.

That was also the name of the game for the Devils, though. Which is why it was quite fitting for the Devils to find a way to win against a team that just barely finds ways to win, but does.

The other side of that is that the Devils need much more than a run to make the playoffs, while the Sharks are right in the thick of it. The Sharks fell to 7th in the West, while the Devils occupy the 13th position in the East. A tale of two seasons.

Maybe this was good for the Sharks. A wake-up call maybe. The games were too close and a loss had to happen at some point. No team can continually live on Antti Niemi standing on his head in net (except the 2010 Chicago Blackhawks).

There are positives to take from this point streak, other than the fact that it was a streak with a lot of points. We learned a lot. Patrick Marleau is heating up, he just needs to get a thrill out of the other two highly-paid players on that 1st line; Couture will continually give you stellar play, no flu can stop that; Niemi can stand on his head when it matters.

There's no doubt, Niemi is one of the hotter goalies in the league. Even after a 2-1 loss to the Devils, the score could have been a lot higher, and I couldn't help but think that Niemi was the only one keeping them close in that game.

So let's ride on that wave. Let's take the point streak for what it was, a much needed boost to make the playoffs. The Sharks are in the thick of it with a line-up that is giving effort for the first time all season and getting consistent play from key figures like Couture, Marleau, and Niemi. If the players that should be involved get involved (Thornton and Heatley) this team can only go up. Maybe another point streak in the works.

First things first, finish off this road trip on a high. It was successful already, but two more wins, especially one against the 4th place Nashville Predators, would put it over the top.

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