Monday, March 26, 2012

San Jose Sharks: Reasons Why the Team Is Playing Playoff Hockey

You can call it desperation, or you can call it panic, but the San Jose Sharks are playing terrific hockey right now.  It just happens to be at the exact right time, as well, as the Sharks are in an ever-changing playoff scenario with five other teams to make the NHL playoffs.

The trade of Jamie McGinn to the Avalanche for T.J. Galiardi and Daniel Winnik is not looking so good from the Sharks' angle, but both Winnik and Galiardi are starting to make significant progress in producing for this team.  Their added production would only further the Sharks' chances of making the playoffs.

However, neither one of the NHL Trade Deadline acquisitions are even a factor in why the Sharks are currently playing well and making a case for why they should be in the playoffs.  In fact, the reasons why the Sharks are playing so well have been on the team or have been characteristics of the team the entire season.

Martin Havlat

Who knew getting one of the team's best offensive players back would make such an impact, right?

Of course Havlat coming back was going to juice this team up.  When he went down with injury months ago, Ryane Clowe, Logan Couture and Havlat were the ultimate line that no team could stop.  Back again, Havlat makes that line better and this entire offense better.  He can move the puck like no one else on the Sharks can, and that has been a huge addition late in the season.

Team Chemistry

Hockey is a game of momentum, and nothing fuels the Sharks' chemistry on the ice more than just that.  Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau have played together for what seems like forever and so have Clowe and Couture.  So when suddenly the team starts winning and momentum ensues, good things start to happen.

Again, Havlat is a major reason for that because of the Clowe, Couture and Havlat line that was so potent mid-season.  Now it seems Havlat has taken that chemistry to whatever line he plays on these days.  His game is awfully easy to play with on the ice.

Aside from those top lines, the bottom two have also played increasingly well over the past week or so, with Michal Handzus and Winnik clearly leading the way.  It was a consistent problem for the Sharks before the trade deadline.  Since then, the bottom six have produced on a consistent basis for San Jose.

Joe Thornton

The captain always has had that feel for the puck and making things happen, but it seems that his production has really picked up over the last 10 games.  Maybe it is because he is the captain and needs to lead that desperate and panicked attempt at making the playoffs. Whatever the reason, he is doing a great job of getting positive results from this team these days.

Thornton has two goals and 10 assists in his last 10 games.

His patience around the net is what differentiates himself from other players in this league, and his use of the body only furthers the development of the play.  With the chemistry he has developed with Pavelski, Marleau, Couture and Havlat (and whoever else he is playing with him these days), the Sharks continue to produce on both the power play and equal strength when Thornton is on the ice.

Todd McLellan's Line Changes

McLellan might have just saved his job with some of the personnel changes he has made late in the season, when lineups are supposed to be well intact.

Most notably, his changes to the bottom two lines have made the biggest difference in the last few games for this team.

The line of Winnik, Andrew Desjardins and Wingels has been tagged lethal over the past couple games, with Winnik scoring two clutch goals against the Bruins and Coyotes, followed by a goal from Desjardins on Monday.

They have obviously found some comfortability with each other.  Winnik is the big body of the line with somewhat of an offensive game, but most likely will hold down the fort on defense.  Also, Desjardins will play that scrappy role, which has made Wingels the scoring option on this line.

McLellan was searching for a spark to light up this team, and he may have just found it in his latest set of line changes.

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