The postseason is right upon us, so Plank and TCY thought it would be prudent to highlight each individual player on the Sharks roster heading into these glorious days. It gives us an opportunity to consolidate all the information we've obtained since the beginning of October, as well as examine the team at a micro-level. Every installment in this series can be found here.
There is literally nothing like the NHL playoffs in the entire world of sports-- the passion, the pain, the hope, the despair, the unrelenting feeling that this year could finally be the one. Each and every goal dictates whether or not you'll end up in some godforsaken alleyway in downtown San Jose singing songs to alley cats, or at home with loved ones singing songs of victory about the heroic undertakings of a team that has given meaning to the wild world in which we live in.
Maligned by both Plank and TCY this season for failing to live up to expectations and cited as a prime trade target at the trade deadline, Ryane Clowe has turned his season around since the break and solidified himself as a power forward that has the potential to do some damage for San Jose heading into this year's postseason.
Clowe's skillset is across the board-- last season he was a power play specialist, notching half his goals with the man advantage, while this season he has improved his even strength numbers greatly. He has good vision in the passing game and is able to engineer passes in tight spaces when in the offensive zone.
Where Clowe truly thrives is on the low cycle. Using his wide frame to protect the puck from opposing defensemen, he is able to generate a good flow for the offensive attack and open up holes in the defense for his teammates. Clowe prefers to kick the puck back to the blueline during the cycle, but has recently shown a willingness to attempt to create more opportunities below the circles by circling back towards the net. He seals the boards well on attempted clears and can muscle opposing players off the puck.
Clowe has been criticized for not using his big body to park himself in front of the net enough, and that is still an aspect of his game he could improve on. Furthermore, Clowe has a severe lack of skating ability that squanders offensive chances off the rush-- he has a tendency to pull up above the circles a la Joe Thornton and try to thread a cross-ice pass to a trailer, which is fairly predictable and easily defended. He is also a below-average defensive forward, and will not be counted on to do much when it comes to high pressure situations when the team is holding a one-goal lead with a minute remaining.
All in all, Clowe has proved his doubters wrong since the Olympic Break, and has shown no signs of slowing down heading into the postseason.
Before coming to San Jose, the book on Dany Heatley seemed to indicate he was a soft sniper who liked to float between the circles and bang home one-timers. And while Heatley has no issues putting those in the back of the net, he has shown to be a far more complete player than most imagined.
Heatley has a knack for scoring goals. And not just the aforementioned pretty goals-- he enjoys going to the dirty areas of the ice and jockeying for position with physical defenseman in front of the net to pounce on rebounds. When that is not working he has the uncanny ability to get open down low and essentially disappear from an opposing team's radar by floating outside the paint and slowly creeping back to the net, awaiting a pass or a loose puck sitting in front of whatever poor goaltender he will be victimizing next.
Much like Scott Nichol, Heatley is a player San Jose has sorely lacked in past postseason runs. This is a guy who has had tremendous playoff success in the past (35 points in 34 GP) and a storied International career. He is also an underrated passer who has good playmaking abilities off the rush and in the offensive zone.
While he has been a pleasant surprise on the penalty kill, seeing limited minutes from time to time, Heatley won't be called upon to shoulder the defensive responsibility-- and that's completely fine by us. His job is to score goals. Like Patrick Marleau however, Heatley in the midst of a dry spell, with a season-high seven game scoreless streak. While mildly concerning, the opportunities have been there for him, and we don't think it will be a problem once the playoffs kick off.
Patrick Marleau is the type of hockey player that every GM should want on their team. Both a gifted offensive player and a responsible defensive forward, there is no in game situation where the coach cannot deploy Patrick Marleau confidently and effectively.
While he might not have the panache or flash of other top NHL forwards, Marleau's quiet concentration and determination are well respected by his teammates.
And, although reserved both on and off the ice, Marleau's offensive game is anything but. He's one of the fastest end-to-end players in the NHL, and his 6'2" 220 pound frame means that the speed comes with some pretty decent strength. He's lethal on the rush, has arguably the best wrist shot on the team, and he's a capable playmaker. He's got superb vision in the offensive zone and is strong with the puck.
Defensively, he's also elite. Marleau has one of the best defensive minds on the team, and rarely finds himself out of position in his own zone. He's a determined backchecker, and although he usually doesn't dole out the big hits, he is good at taking his man out of the play. On the penalty kill, he's a solid; only Manny Malhotra and Joe Pavelski limit the opposition's scoring more than Marleau does on the kill. That, and Marleau brings his speed to the fold; #12 has scored four shorthanded this year.
However, as the season has worn on, Marleau has shown a few chinks in the armor. In the last 14 games, Marleau has just two goals. He's also been making some uncharacteristically bad turnovers, especially on the power play. We're not sure if this is a factor of fatigue (he's playing 21:13 per game), or is part of a bigger issue. We do know that his recent slide in production did coincidentally occur in part while Joe Thornton was out, and it's possible that Marleau was trying to do too much for that short span of time and has had to get back to his game.
All in all, though, Marleau is the Sharks all time leader in points in both the playoffs and the regular season. He's in the prime of his career, and will be relied upon heavily to carry the Sharks in the coming weeks.
Joe Pavelski has reached semi-cult status in San Jose ever since breaking into the league, and his game five heroics in overtime against the Dallas Stars solidified the notion that he is a big-game player. However, a tepid postseason against Anaheim last season means Pavs still has something left to prove, and a contract year is the perfect time for him to do so.
In terms of skill-set, Pavelski is similar to Patrick Marleau in that he's a complete player who provides standout play in both ends of the rink. He'll commit to the backcheck, lay the body on the forecheck, dig for pucks in the corners, and get in the sight line of opposing goaltenders. We mentioned that Clowe has had some issues getting to the front of the net the last two seasons in San Jose, but Pavelski has managed to step into those shoes admirably. Pavelski and Couture are the two players on this roster who consistently set screens and refuse to be moved out of the slot.
While we compared Pavelski to Marleau in that they both are complete players, don't let that imply Pavelski is as talented as the Sharks former Captain-- he doesn't have standout speed, nor can he pick corners at will. Instead, Pavelski relies upon his enormous hockey sense, displaying the mental prowess of a budding Jedi with a midichlorian count that is off charts. He is never out of position defensively, knows where his teammates are at all times, jumps back to cover for pinching defenseman, and doesn't take unnecessary penalties.
In essence, Pavelski is a player that knows how to make his teammates better in order to win hockey games. And with success at every professional level he has played at, the Stanley Cup is the only achievement Pavelski needs to round out the resume.
Joe Thornton is the best player on the San Jose Sharks. Period. From a talent standpoint, there is no one better. Whether he decides to apply that talent, though, is another story.
If you need a rundown of Thornton's strengths, you obviously haven't been watching much Sharks hockey over the last few years. Thornton is a massive player, one of the most gifted playmakers in the NHL over the last ten years, and a durable athlete who hadn't missed a game for San Jose since he was traded from Boston in 2005. That streak came to a close when he went down with a lower body injury only a few games before the end of the season. He also added a new facet to his game this year, logging some decent minutes on the penalty kill and playing in more defensive situations.
Even before the ironman streak came to an end, though, there were some issues. The Sharks top line, which had clicked for the majority of the season, had suddenly gone cold and the power play lacked chemistry. Thornton was making turnovers, playing lazily, and being too fancy in the offensive zone.
When Thornton went down with the injury, many feared that he'd be out for the rest of the season. However, being the ironman he is, Thornton returned after missing just a few games and has been a point per game player since. The issues that Thornton had before the injury have popped up from time to time, but he's simplified his game. It's the hope that he continues to do so going forward. He should have the creative license he deserves, but not at the expense of dangerous turnovers.
As San Jose's resident superstar, Joe Thornton has caught arguably the most flak for the Sharks last few postseason flameouts. He's one of the franchises most recognizable faces, and his clownish and lackadaisical off ice demeanor does little to quell the concerns of fans that think he's unable to elevate his game and play with a chip on his shoulder.
Thornton showed that he's capable of lighting the fire for short periods of time, especially when you consider his fight with Anaheim's Ryan Getzlaf In game six of the first round of last year's Stanley Cup Playoffs. It will be interesting to see, though, if that's the Joe Thornton who starts the series. The Sharks can win a game or two without a strong showing from Thornton. However, if they plan on getting deeper into the playoffs than in years past, Joe Thornton will have to be a big part of that.
While his 31 goal 2008-2009 campaign might have set expectations a little high for the young forward, Devin Setoguchi is still one of the most gifted offensive players on the team.
With the exception of Patrick Marleau, there isn't a faster forward on the ice than Setoguchi, and that speed is just one of the many weapons he brings to his game. He possesses a quick release and a powerful shot, and can pick corners with the best of them. Setoguchi is a decent passer, but he relies more on his teammates to generate opportunities, especially in zone. Setoguchi is much more comfortable finding open space on the ice, and usually drifts to between the circles where he can rip a shot through traffic.
Another one of Setoguchi's assets is his size, which he uses very well. He finishes checks as well as anyone else on the team, and can create opportunities by fighting off defenders and protecting the puck.
The 23 year old's game does have some weak spots, though. First and foremost, he doesn't always seem to "bring it" game in and game out, which can in turn frustrate his coaches and teammates. He also has a tendency to whiff on shots, especially when trying to crank it up to full power. Lastly, even though he checks well, a defensive forward he is not. It's pretty rare to see Setoguchi make a solid defensive play, and therefore you won't see him in any type of pressure situation. Because he usually plays with Pavelski, it's alright for him to make mistakes from time to time.
Setoguchi is still talented, though, and will continue to improve as his career progresses. His 20 goals this year are impressive, especially when you consider that he lost the crisp Joe Thornton passes he'd become accustomed to. He was also hurt for a good portion of the year, but has seemed to leave the knee injury far behind him.
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