Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Detroit Red Wings Pose Early Season Test For San Jose Sharks

The rivalry that is Sharks/Red Wings goes back many years, and everyone knows that story well whether you root for one team or the other.

For now, the rivalry has swung the Sharks' way after two seasons of playoff exits for the Red Wings at the hands of the Sharks. Suddenly, San Jose is a playoff powerhouse after so many years of looking up at Detroit. If only they could get over that last hurdle, and there always seems to be one that time of year.

San Jose defeated the Red Wings 4-2 in their first meeting this season at Joe Louis Arena, but that was a Detroit team in the middle of a six-game losing streak and hardly the team we will see on the ice on Thursday.

Early season tests like the one taking place on Thursday night at the HP Pavilion between the Sharks and Red Wings may not mean much for either team in the grand scheme of things, as both teams will surely make their way into the Western Conference playoffs sitting among the top seeds.

And, yet, a game like this means everything.

The Sharks enter Thursday with a 7-2-1 record in their last 10 games, and Detroit has won four of their last five games. Both teams have around the same records with the Red Wings at 9-6-1 and Sharks at 9-5-1, and both have 19 points. The game should be a measuring stick for both teams, to say the least.

Both teams still have much to work on. The Wings have had some trouble this season with nearly every aspect of their game at some point, but goalie Jimmy Howard has kept this team afloat with one of the best stretches of his career.

For the Sharks, it remains that this team still has to deal with two aspects of their game if they want to contend way, way down the line. Penalty kill and putting puck in the net have been the main issues. The penalty has been up and down all season, and it is up for now. But the putting the puck in the net part has been a key factor in how their team flows on the ice. San Jose can get shots to the net, but getting them in the net is a different story.

However, the Red Wings have not seen this Sharks team. San Jose is now a team built on speed and physical defense, rather than the finesse and gritty team the NHL has grown used to in past seasons. Joe Pavelski is suddenly a star, Martin Havlat is the glue and Brent Burns is the drive that this team needs on a constant basis.

There are two things great about this rivalry: It concludes every season in the playoffs and it is always entertaining.

Not sure you can ask for more in a rivalry, which is why it is must-see-TV every time these two teams take the ice.

Thursday begins a new chapter, though, with the Sharks entertaining a different style of play that they hope will take them to that next step in the playoffs, and the Red Wings growing as a unit while gradually growing into a team for the future.

Sharks vs. Wings does not often disappoint.

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