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Overhaul equates to early success
11/8/09 - By Steve Flores -

Has anyone else out there noticed that the 2009-2010 Sharks are not the same as last year's version? I mean really! These sharks are digging in the corners and playing more physically than all seasons past. Not to diminish the physical side exhibited a season ago but these Sharks are, to put it bluntly, doing all the dirty work.

Now suffering the affects of five key missing players to injury, the Sharks have managed a 6-game winning streak and have gutted and grinded out enough victories to again propel them to the top of the Western Conference standings.

To their credit the Sharks have achieved this early season success completely without having a fully healthy roster for even a single contest.

The off-season overhaul orchestrated by GM Doug Wilson saw a large portion of the roster turned over. The team started off with minimal chemistry. In fact the team has slowly, yet steadily, begun to exhibit that all important chemistry over the past couple of weeks. You can actually see the team getting better with each effort.

Believe me they are not without warts as the teams overall defense started out with more than their fair share of mistakes and mental errors that resulted in some nasty guffaws.

Kent Huskins appeared almost completely out of shape (both mentally and physically) from the get go. His pairing with rookie Jason Demers looked rough early on but the two have shown improvement in their own zone since the rough beginning. Demers has a flair for the O-side of the game, but still has lapses in his own zone. He is a rookie and this will probably happen all season. This is part of the learning curve. Huskins decision making has gotten better and his strength and conditioning seem to have improved immensely since the beginning of October.

The Sharks overall defense was and is considered to be their Achilles heal and is the most likely aspect of the game where Wilson may attempt to improve the club at the trade deadline. The team's third and fourth lines are a vast improvement over the past few season's Scott Nichol has been particularly stronger than anticipated and has yet to make any serious bonehead penalties of over aggression.

Dan Boyle has been everywhere on the ice. He is a pro's pro. His skating, offense and ability to control the flow of the game are so pivotal to the Shark's success that fans of the team had better hope Boyle doesn't fall victim to the team's current injury bug. Boyle is irreplaceable!

The Sharks are currently without Rob Blake, Devin Setoguchi, Torrey Mitchell (yes still), Ryan Vesce and Joe Pavelski. Yet they still have managed to overcome and achieve.

Patrick Marleau has been light's out. Marleau is skating like a man possessed. He is absolutely the best two-way player on this team and his detractors have very little to say at this point in time.

Joe Thornton is, well, Joe Thornton. He is the most important cog on the team. Without Thornton the Sharks are a completely different team. If you doubt this watch some replays of the 10 minutes that he missed when he got his Chiclets knocked out last week. Without Joe (even on the bench) the team's level of confidence takes an obvious slide. He is conspicuous by any long absence and the team is simply not the same without him. He too has his detractors and they, again, are pretty quiet at the moment.

Evgeni Nabokov has been stellar. Nabby endured an off-season of critique and soul-searching and has been as good as ever. He has kept them in games that they truly should not have had a chance to win and he has made saves that appear nightly on NHL On The Fly.

Lastly is the biggest off-season acquisition; Dany Heatley. The Heater has 10 goals folks. He is a 'cherry pickin', garbage finding goal scorer. He finds a way to score the types of goals that the Sharks have never been able to get in the past. He is a solid passer. He levies hits at certain opportune times and has been as good as his reputation. To those of you that think he should do more of this or less of that please realize that he has a role and an expectation on this team. His job is to score goals. Drew Remenda called him "a luxury". I am not sure if I would define him as such but a goal scorer he is with the instincts and nose for the net that is innate in nature and rare indeed.

Major kudos to Todd McLellan and his coaching staff. They have had to adjust and juggle and adapt the team to its new personnel as well as dealing with all of its injuries. The shuttle to and from Worcester must be understood as part of the living roster and they have done exceptional work on preparing the team game in and game out.

We are only about a fifth into the season but these Sharks have earned some respect for their efforts. There is a long way to go but the team is finding its way with every game. The advances in the 'less sexy' aspects of the game have given this team a dimension that some say is closer to the style played in the post-season.

Let's face it folks each year they seem to be missing something from a post-apocalyptical perspective. Currently they are coming together in pretty much every aspect possible and if they are currently missing anything look no further than the five injured gents. Their absence seems to be the only thing missing at the moment.

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