Jim Adams: Stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before, Sharks’ fans
There is a certain snarl in San Jose these days. Excuse the discontent and general air of skepticism. The natives, indeed, are restless, and their wait-and-see attitude through these dog days of hockey’s winter would leave the casual fan of the San Jose Sharks wondering if this were a first or last place team.
You see, not even a season full of sellouts, the best record in the Western Conference, the league’s leading goal scorer, or the best penalty killing unit in the National Hockey League provides comfort.
Being abandoned at the altar for so many years has left this town edgy. Most feel that January and February are of minor significance. It is March and especially April that will begin to spell the fate of one of the league’s premier teams. Forgive the chip on the shoulder. Most feel there really is only one acceptable result.
For the true aficionado of Sharks hockey, the regular season is but an appetizer for the real prize. There is no doubt that this campaign is but a prelude at this point to what really matters. It is the match-ups of late April, May, and especially June that really matter. The fans wait impatiently for a spectacular showing in the Stanley Cup playoffs. They search for atonement, a top caliber team living up to its expectations, one that brings the coveted Stanley Cup back to the South Bay town that has suffered an epic playoff famine that only can be cured by the arrival of hockey’s grandest accomplishment, most outstanding prize.
For the record, General Manager Doug Wilson has assembled a team even more impressive than last year’s President Cup team that earned the largest number of points, only to fizzle in the first round of the playoffs to the Anaheim Ducks. Wilson steamed after the exit and shed himself of more than a dozen players. He brought in worthy additions, promoted several players from the Worchester Sharks, and then pulled off the last minute blockbuster, bringing Dany Heatley from Ottawa to San Jose.
The Sharks went an impressive 10-2-2 in January. They found themselves leading the league at month’s end. Patrick Marleau’s 38 goals ties him for the league lead with Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin. Joe Thornton leads the league in assists and is third in the scoring race. The much maligned Evgeni Nabokov has come back with a stellar year, third in wins and fifth in goals against average. After a fierce postseason meeting with Wilson, he has brought back his A game and San Jose has flourished.
Thursday night’s 4-2 win in St. Louis was a perfect example of the workman-like effort the Sharks have exhibited this year. Nine different players figured in the scoring. With six away games in 11 nights leading up to the Olympic break, San Jose featured excellent goaltending, a gritty effort, and impressive scoring across the board to send the Blues to another home defeat.
This is an impressive squad. Their talent is broader than last year. Even with some veteran leadership, this team is young. Yet, It is dangerous to say they should be there for the Stanley Cup finals. Anyone with a superstitious streak would prohibit it.
For now, forget February. It will be March and April in which momentum is established for the playoffs. Last year, San Jose limped in. After a six game series, they went home.
The post Olympic games will tell the final tale of the regular season. It will dictate the hunger with which this Sharks pursue the Stanley Cup. This is a proven, well-established, expertly designed team.
The problem is there is so much hockey left to play. The heart of this team will be unveiled in the months ahead. Until then, edgy, uneasy, and skeptical will have to do. Sellouts aside, these fans are in it for the games to be played in spring. You see, it is not the snows of winter but the flowers of spring that will truly provide the final answer.
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The Little League District 11 postseason is off to a hot start.