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Exciting but inconsistent Sharks
Evolution in progress
11/3/05 - by Steve Flores

After an 18 month lockout, a myriad of rule changes, a record breaking number of roster changes the early result is a far more exciting and very inconsistent level of on-ice play and the San Jose Sharks are a poster child of this performance. The early season play of the Sharks has been both exciting and exacerbating. The Sharks have showed great resolve, speed, agility and heroics both in goal and even on offense at times. However the team is basically at .500 after exhibiting far too many bouts of defensive lapses and periods where cohesive scoring units are all but myth.

Much has been written in the local media regarding the Sharks inconsistency on the power play and lack of quality scoring chances but the fact remains that the Sharks goals allowed totals are staggeringly poor. The team has scored several fewer goals than they have allowed and find themselves mid-pack in the Western Division. The team does deserve kudos for their fighting, never-say-die efforts and some of their wins have been as dramatic as any non-playoff wins could be, yet their lack of consistency on defense could be their Achilles heal come playoff time.

The Sharks failed to make any moves in the just concluded off-season and received some level of heat from fans and the media alike. The team has spun the lack of any noteworthy player acquisition as 'no big deal'. The team has stated countless times that G.M. Doug Wilson has remained on course with the team that has been built by Sharks management over the past few years. The team has made statements to the affect that the younger players currently waiting in-the-wings were more than ready to step in replace the Mike Rathje's, the Mike Ricci's, the Vincent Damphousse's. But, it's double speak really.

Wilson, a former All-Star caliber NHL Defenseman would be the first to tell you that defenders take far longer to reach a level of NHL maturity than any other position on a pro hockey roster. To play at a top level on defense in the NHL has more nuance and subtlety to it than any position on the ice. It's no secret folks. To expect Tom Preissing or Rob Davison to step in be effective is almost ludicrous. I hate pointing fingers but Davison has had so many defensive lapses in the early going that my hair is wearing very thin in the spots where I keep pulling it!

The losses of Ricci and Damphousse seem to have left a veteran leadership void that no one is truly able to step up and fill. This is not to say that the Sharks are doing everything wrong as the team is still quite youthful with many positives clearly being exhibited early in this season.

Some development that has happened on the plus side is pure beauty, however and should be noted. Captain Patrick Marleau has obviously taken the next step towards NHL stardom. Marleau's game is sheer beauty and the definition of skill, brains and brawn. He is playing under control and with a confidence that can only be exhibited by someone who 'get's it'. He is checking hard, playing under control, using his speed and puck handling skills like the best in the league. He gets his line mates involved, has been solid on the kill and is simply a force to be reckoned with.

Jonathan Cheechoo has a knack for scoring the big goal and being in the right place at the right time. The term Johnny-on-the spot could easily be stretched to the formal Jonathan-on-the spot in the case of Mr. Cheechoo. Rookie net minder Nolan Schaefer has done a yeoman's job in the nets. He has kept them in games despite his penchant for allowing some of the most hair raising rebounds this side of a Golden State Warriors game.

I would like to give one more kudos to Kyle McLaren. Scott Hannan gets all the press and the invites to Team Canada's National Team tryouts but McLaren is the heart and soul of San Jose's defense. He works tirelessly night in and night out using his body, stick and brains to hold the Sharks defense together. The guy is the best defender on this team and deserves to be acknowledged for it.

The Sharks are young, exciting and still in a learning process regarding the NHL's new style of play. I just hope that the team learns some consistency from those on the team that are currently providing that each night, otherwise the playoffs could be a mirage at season's end.

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