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Now for the fun part
Three keys to success in the 2nd half
1/27/07 - By Chris Wood

The NHL All-Star break is finally over, and the San Jose Sharks visit Edmonton tonight to face off against the team that knocked them out of the Stanley Cup playoffs last year. I didn't watch the All-Star game, which is a traditional borefest. Of the 3 Sharks at the game, Patrick Marleau scored a goal, Jonathan "Get on the" Cheechoo train had an assist, while Joe "still trying to earn my paycheck this year" Thornton was held without a point.

With 34 games remaining in the 2006-2007 season, the Sharks currently sit 5th in the Western Conference just behind Detroit and trail Pacific Division-leading Anaheim by a mere 4 points with two games in hand. Barring a total collapse, the Sharks will be playoff bound this April with a real shot at the cup. First place in the division and the conference are both within San Jose's grasp.

Keys for the second half of the season are blatantly obvious:

1) Continued solid play from the goaltender tandem of Evgeni Nabakov and Vesa Toskala. While rumors have been swirling since day one of the season that coach Ron Wilson will eventually settle on a number one net-minder, I see Ronny pushing the success of this particular platoon deep into the playoffs. At 110, the Sharks have the lowest GA in the league. When you can top Marty Brodeur and the New Jersey devils in between-the-pipes protection, you're onto something. If a trade happens, expect it to be a blockbuster, but 555 says the radical rotation continues for the Sharks.

2) The reemergence of RW Jonathan Cheechoo. Leading the league with 56 goals last year raised the bar pretty high for Cheechoo. Being on the top line with Joe Thorton had a lot to do with that, but chemistry is fleeting, and with the way that Wilson juggles his lines, you don't stay in one place too long if you are not scoring consistently. Many questioned #14's trip to the All-Star game in Dallas, and Cheech's comments that he intends to live up to the selection had more to do with what he has in store for the rest of the season as opposed to what he planned to do on the ice down in Dallas. Cheechoo has 5 goals and 7 assists over the last month with 10 power play points to boot. Look for him to melt plenty of ice for the rest of the year.

3) Obtain a play-dominating, stay-at-home defenseman. Kyle McClaren is great, he's my favorite Sharks blue liner, and no one can argue that Scott Hannan has grit (except maybe Mike Grier), and as much as I like Vlasic and Ehrhoff, there's an argument to made that you can't hoist Lord Stanley without the prototypical Big D. With Ron Wilson's patented "keep it outside the dots" zone defense, the good (albeit young) defensive corps has had quality success in keeping the shots long and visible for Toskala and Nabakov.

But if the Sharks have a weak spot, it's defensive turnovers leading to the odd-man rushes that have burned San Jose all season long. At 6-0 and 214 lbs, he's not gargantuan, but Ken Klee has been holding Colorado together this season in the back-end. He's got a plus/minus of 28 playing in all 46 games for the Avs, he's got the legs to keep up with San Jose's speed game, and he's familiar with Wilson's defensive strategies from their days together in DC. Just a thought as the Feb. 27 trade deadline approaches.

Contact Chris at

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