With the Sharks in the midst of a 7-0-1 run since dropping six games in a row, it's hard not to be excited about their current play headed down the stretch. They've managed to accrue 15 out of their last 16 possible points, putting them into contention for the Pacific division and home-ice advantage in the first round, doing it in just about every conceivable way possible-- controlling games, desperately holding on to third period leads, and relying on their goaltending to keep them in games.
Tonight it was the defense who shined.
Despite amassing a season low 18 shots on net, the Sharks managed to strike first on the scoreboard off the stick of, who returned to the lineup today after a bout with the flu. It was a nifty backhander from the high slot that got in on Bruins goaltender a little quicker than expected, slipping through him underneath his blocker.
It was all the Sharks needed offensively.
, who recently received praise from us in our latest podcast for his rebound control, had another strong game in net as his third shutout on the year will attest to. However, that rebound control we alluded to found it's fair share of struggles tonight, requiring the blueline to clear pucks with abandon in the face of Boston's offensive attack. The Bruins controlled the majority of the game from the get go, and with the Sharks offense unable to sustain any pressure in the opposite end, it was up to San Jose's blueline to come in and save the day.
had an excellent game by my standards, and was the best Sharks defenseman on the night. also played well, a good sign for a player who has really struggled since a strong start to the season. Those two players, along with rugged Swedish defenseman , were a big reason as to why the Sharks were able to survive four penalty kills, including one in the third period where the Sharks unit held Boston without a single shot.
It's refreshing to see the penalty kill begin to improve in a year when they've been mired in the middle of the pack league-wide-- as the Sharks main website touted yesterday, the special teams units are becoming special again, something that has been instrumental in their success as of late.
If you're looking for a harbinger of doom, San Jose's rough third period against Anaheim and today's anemic offensive output could be signs that the Sharks are falling back down to Earth after an excellent string of wins. However, the fact that they have managed to win these games are a good sign-- earlier in the season, it's likely we would have been looking at a two game losing streak to start the road trip.
As for lineup decisions, Logan Couture played center on a line withand , and HTML was reunited once again on the top unit. Todd McLellan found it in himself to roll all four lines rather consistently at even strength today. A lot of that has to do with the depth now at his disposable-- the additions of Eager and Wellwood have clearly put McLellan at ease when playing his bottom lines, and 's resurgence as of late has improved his value to the team. It's made the Sharks much deeper from top to bottom. Couture's inclusion on the third line is probably a matter of circumstance-- I'm sure McLellan will put him in the top six by the end of this year considering his production levels as well as the historical trends of quickly changing the lines when things aren't going well-- but Wellwood is a serviceable enough center for that third line to utilize if/when Couture gets a line bump.
The only thing necessary for the Sharks now is an upgrade on the blueline. Thankfully however, a blueline that has been criticized all season long came up big tonight, and put two more points in the pocket of San Jose.