| Outlook 2005-06
Preseason suggests fruitful year
by Derick Bellamy
It's only the preseason. In actuality,
not a single game has been won or loss, nor a goal scored or saved, yet this
year. But in these lovable exhibition games where the seats are cheaper (unless
you're in Toronto, in which case you can't get seats any way,) one can
sometimes get an idea of what's going to happen once the real season starts.
With unbiased reasoning, I do predict that this is the season in which all of
my childhood dreams are going to come true, and The San Jose Sharks will win
the Stanley Cup. While the headlines in my sports section are, of course, on
the subject of Toronto going down to a 2 and 4 record (which makes my placing
them 7th in the East look optimistic,) there is little being said about the
fact that San Jose defeated LA 5-2 last night to give themselves a perfect 5
This complete snub just can't be justified by the fact that San Jose is on the
opposite side of the continent. The Sharks' current state is something that the
whole of the NHL should be aware of, and the sports section in the biggest
hockey city in the world shouldn't be taking them lightly. It was well said
when someone at a press conference asked San Jose's coach Ron Wilson which team
should be feared the most, and a fan yelled out 'THE SHARKS!'
Something should certainly be said about all the particulars of the team that
won those five games, so that we can see just how likely it is that they'll win
a whole lot more this year. Maybe we can get past the stigma built up by the
embarrassing, record-breakingly bad 1992-93 season (the next season they went
from 29 points to 82, a record-breaking improvement.)
Offense is their most superfluously criticized factor. Though they do have one
of, if not the, best defensive squads in the league, they remain a young, fast
club with an above-average offense, created by their ability to move the puck
up the ice. This is the team that scored 5 goals last night, that has the
second most in the conference so far this preseason.
They have their big point-getters in Marleau, Cheechoo, and Sturm (the first
two of which really proved themselves last play-offs,) but this isn't what does
it. More so than their offense or their defense individually, San Jose is the
most in depth team in the league. They have 3rd and 4th lines that aren't
afraid to step up and win a game. Christian Ehrhoff, who few have heard of,
tallied 2 goals against Anaheim the other night for the win. Ryan Clowe scored
twice last night in their defeat of LA. San Jose has a good offensive
frontline, and coupled with their amazing depth and full stock of players who
are willing to and able to act, they need have no worries about being able to
Not only are they defensive, they're a fast kind of defensive. The kind of
agile, passing defense that doesn't hinder scoring and makes for an exciting
game. Most important of all, the kind of defense that made them the team with
the fewest goals scored against them last season. Scott Hannan is an agile
youngster poised to rise in the league, while Brad Stuart is a D-man who isn't
afraid to get offensive himself. Much like the rest of the team, it's a very
deep defense with little distinction between the three lines. They aren't set
up in three separate, hierarchal lines each game so much as they're six players
who go out there together in different combinations and perform.
If there is one thing that this team certainly does not lack, it's chemistry.
Few argue this, but few acknowledge it either. After San Jose was completely
gutted at the beginning of last season, this (at that time) new, young
combination was what, after winning the Pacific Division and then coming last
in it, brought them back up to another division victory as well as the final
four. Brad Stuart's 30 assists as a defenseman is an example of this chemistry,
which can be seen in all of their games, no matter how the lines are set up.
This is a team that knows how to play together, that can balance co-operation
and individual talent in a way that will make them successful.
Any doubts about Ron Wilson can be accounted for by looking at that huge
improvement, which took place just after he got there. Did he not do all of
this for them? They fell, and he brought them back up, which is why he almost
won the coaching MVP last year (and should have.) Evgeni Nabokov, who won the
Calder Trophy in his rookie season, is the goalie for that team that had the
fewest goals against it last season; he was also in the top 13 for Wins, GAA,
Save%, AND shutouts, which he was 3rd in, last year. He, as well as the rest of
the team, then received all the play-off experience required by getting two
games within the Stanley Cup Finals.
Not much attention is being given to The Sharks right now. That, over a decade
ago, team teal had the biggest failure (and recovery) in NHL history seems to
have brought for onlookers an enduring atmosphere of 'The Sharks? Heh, they'll
never win any thing important.'
This, not many people understand, is the team that had the best defense in the
league last year; that came 2nd in the West and 3rd overall with a young and
still improving, recently redone roster; that beat St. Louis in five games and
Colorado in six before reaching the Western Conference finals and losing to a
hot Calgary team, despite the fact that they were missing their second most
effective forward in Marco Sturm. This is a team for which momentum has never
been a negative factor and is just as likely to win when they're down going
into the second, that has a history of reigning victorious against the
predictions of the hockey masses.
In approximately nine months, when Patrick Marleau takes The Stanley Cup from
its pedestal, people will finally understand, but that they do won't matter.
All that will matter is that The Sharks did it, and when you think about it,
they probably really will.
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