Are the San Jose Sharks in trouble? They have not outright won 4 of their last 10 games. Is it silly to propose there is trouble on the horizon? Don't think the coaching staff hasn't noticed the trend. The recent Sharks' practice was a 'return-to-basics' set of drills.
I think we all expect to see San Jose have to work extra hard to continue their torrid pace but work they must as the season is not even half over yet.
In the previous 10 games, San Jose has lost 1 game in regulation - that completely uncharacteristic loss to Detroit wherein the Sharks managed only 24 shots (they are currently 2nd in NHL averaging 34.9 shots/game) and were shutOUT by the Red Wings, 6-0.
Chalk that one up to the hockey gods having their say.
But on three other occasions, they lost in OT or in the Shoot Out. In fact, the Sharks have only won 1 out of the previous 4 games that needed 'bonus hockey' (OT/SO) to resolve the matter. For this powerhouse team that seeks to dethrone the Red Wings, this stat alone means they will need to buckle down on the little things that win games (finishing checks, a consistent forecheck, play along the boards, etc.) - esp. in OT.
But tonight we see what motivates San Jose. The Sharks are coming off a shoot out loss to St Louis (!) and head into the Big D (game 2 of a 3 game road trip) to take on the team that put them out of the playoffs last season. The Sharks have beaten the Stars in both meetings so far this season (one close game, one blowout) but this is the post-Avery Stars they face now. The Stars have picked up points in 6 of their last 10 games and are 8-3-1 in their last 12. The Sars are performing and are benefiting greatly by the return of Jere Lehtinen, the rise of James Neal and the ever-ready Modano.
So tonight's contest should stand to be a good measuring stick for both clubs, almost midway through the season. Keep an eye on San Jose's Jonathan Cheechoo who has struggled this season with both injury and production as he will be playing on the top line with Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton while Devin Setoguchi has the night off (personal). This may be Cheechoo's chance to get back in form.
Lastly, regarding the Sharks : opinion poll. Now that Claude Lemieux is one step closer to re-joining play on the NHL ice (2-way deal just signed w/ SJS), do we start a campaign to bring back Mike Keane, too? He currently plays for the Manitoba Moose (AHL), so conditioning might not be too far off...Enter your thoughts in the comments section below.
One other note: I am so excited for this year's Winter Classic I just can't stand it. Last year, I called all my family and told them to get on the couch and watch the Sabres/Pens go at it in Buffalo. After the game, several members of the extended family (not all watch as much hockey as I do) called me back to thank me as they enjoyed the game more than they could have imagined. Of course, the falling snow and holiday spirit can add much joy to any sporting event, but seeing the pond game played outside was magical to even the occassional hockey spectator.
So, all ye hockey lovers out there, get on the horns New Year's Eve, wish your loved ones some Merry 2009 and tell them to wake up late in the morning, prepare the best breakfast time allows and sit down with loved ones and friends on a comfy couch and TURN ON THAT GAME!