Saturday, November 19, 2011

San Jose Sharks Not Shy in Big Games This Season

It is hard to call any games "big" this early in the 2011-12 NHL season, but for the sake of the argument the San Jose Sharks have had a few, and won nearly all of them.

What defines a big game?

That is up to opinion, of course, but i think we can all agree on a few standout games that we had circled on our calendars during the offseason.

Games like the L.A. Kings returning to where they were scorned last season in the playoffs can be considered big, and even playing the defending Stanley Cup champs is a game that players get up for.

But this is a different team on the ice than in recent years. It was interesting to see how that would translate in larger games this season, and it seems that this franchise has not missed a beat with their acquired talent.

Through the first month of the NHL season, we saw the Sharks get tested twice, in both the Bruins game and Red Wings game. The result was the same; 4-2 victories that made statements as to how this team was to fair this season.

So far, in this second month of the NHL season, San Jose has been tested with several big games, including the Penguins, Kings, Wild and Red Wings. All resulted in wins, and rather impressive wins at that.

Why the big deal about these big games?

With the way this Sharks franchise has faired in the playoffs, it is hard not try to peer into the future. The playoffs are all about big games, and paying well in them. The Sharks have done that so far this season.

Another impressive characteristic of this team in big games this season: They look so comfortable doing it.

Eighteen games into the 2011-12 NHL season, it has occurred to the masses that this team is so much more ready to take on top-tier talent in the playoffs than in previous seasons. The change in artilary during the offseason is the main reason for this.

Physical players and speed to boot.

In those big games this season against teams that wake up in the playoffs, the Sharks are faster. And if they are not faster, they are more physical, which is why San Jose is primed for a deep run in the upcoming playoffs.

I do not mean to think playoffs 18 games in, but it is hard not to acknowledge the fact that this team has changed since last season, and we are seeing them come together and grow, while benefiting the team with the addition of speed and physicality.

In recent seasons, we saw the Sharks get boat-raced, outmanned and outplayed on the ice in the Western Conference Finals. These days, the Sharks are boat-racing, outmanning and outplaying whatever team happens to be on the ice when they are.

It is not to say that San Jose was not doing this in previous seasons. The Sharks can arguably be called "King of Regular Season" if it was not a knock on their terrible reputation in the playoffs. Winning is what the Sharks do in the regular season. It is the playoffs that have been the hard part.

And yet the Sharks franchise continues to upgrade their roster. This time, it was with speed and large men. Yep, large men (Burns, White, Winchester, etc.). They are the bone-crushing players that make way for the speed and fast play San Jose has used to claim wins so far this season.

In October, the Bruins had a hard time keeping up with the Sharks' fast play and physicality on the boards and in front of the net. Even against the much-hyped Kings, San Jose was able to get pucks to the net with their speed and less with sniped shots from the circles, like in previous seasons.

Much has changed in San Jose, and no one is complaining.

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