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Sharks voracious going into stretch
"Kids" starting to contribute
3/22/06 - By Steve Flores

Parents love to see their kids grow up and San Jose Shark fans are feelin mighty proud of the way the kids on the team are growing right before their eyes. The streakin Sharks are playing their best hockey of the season at a time when they need to be doing just that. Early season hot and cold streaks seem to have subsided and the young core of the team has not only minimized their errors made but have begun to actually grow as players tend to grow when they get more ice time.

There was never any doubting the abilities on the roster, the only need was for more experience and these babies are getting plenty of that.

The three-headed monster of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Jonathan Cheechoo have led the way all season. Thornton is in a battle for the scoring title and is also on the short list for the Hart trophy as league MVP. The team will have to make the playoffs for the latter to have a legitimate chance but Big Joe is truly one of, if not 'THE' best offensive player in the world at this point. He simply makes everyone around him better. He is a large physical presence that imposes his will on defenses. We could laud praises on him for the rest of this article. Suffice it to say he is a savage.

Marleau, the Sharks captain, has been consistent since day one of the season. He has played with several line mates throughout the season and has handled it all with aplomb and professionalism. He is the senior Shark in terms of time served and has been the face of the franchise for the past few years. He is having his finest season as a pro and is going to come close to a 100 point season.

There is no coincidence that the Sharks current rise in effort has gone hand in hand with the development of that much ballyhooed 2d line. Marleau is anchoring rookie wingers Milan Michalek and Steve Bernier and the results have been awe inspiring.

Michalek is a player of size, speed and skating ability on par with that of Marleau. In his rookie season he is showing signs that he could well be an excellent NHL scorer. He is smooth and willing to take chances with creative skating and stick work.

Bernier is a physical force. His strength and nose for the goal has opened up the ice for his two line mates. Spin-a-rama moves, one handed passes, goal scoring and his mere presence in front of the net is something the Sharks have sorely been missing all season. Bernier's development has happened right before our eyes and it has given the Sharks two of the best lines in the league.

Although not heralded as being excellent or even very good for that matter, the Sharks young defensive core also deserves much kudos for their stepped up level of play. As noted in my earlier columns the craft of playing defense in the NHL takes years to perfect. Christian Ehrhoff, Tom Preissing, and Josh Gorges have all shown vast improvement this season. Ehrhoff has grown in leaps and bounds since seeing his ice time increase since the Olympic break.

The experience he has been receiving has been maximized by his solid effort and the fruits of his labor have been most impressive. The power play performances of Ehrhoff has allowed the Sharks to use Marleau in the more conventional role more befitting of an elite forward. Ehrhoff, an early season wooping boy of disgruntled Shark's fans has proven to them that experience is a must before someone should be blamed for the team's ills.

The team's defense as a whole still suffers breakdowns and has cost them some very close contests but as the old cliché reads - Rome wasn't built in a day.

Lastly it must be said that Vesa Toskala has been superb in goal. Toskala has become the clear number one net minder in the mind of this writer. I would also be willing to bet that most Sharks fans are feeling far more confident when Toskala is the one between the pipes when the anthems finish. His 6-0 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday was per haps the team's finest night in the net all season.

But we still have 15 games to go and the Sharks are still officially the 10th team in the conference. However the team has games in hand and is actually on pace to finish ahead of three teams that are currently ahead of them in the points standings. The road doesn't let up folks the effort has to be there for every shift of every game. This is where the youth is sorely tested.

The season of ups and downs is currently in one of its upward spells and it will need to continue if the Sharks and their fans hope to reach Lord Stanley's land of post season play. The youngsters have to grow up faster than most, but the proud parents of the Shark Tank appreciate their efforts, efforts that will hopefully lead to a shot at that big heavy cup.

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