February has been a good month for the Sharks.
Consider this. The team entered the month in the 8th place in the Western Conference, and looking at 10 out of the next 13 games to be on the road. Could anyone predict they would win 11 of those games? I'd say all our wildest dreams came true, but I don't think anybody in San Jose even had dreams this wild.
With that much success, one would think the Sharks would climb high in the conference table, but not this year. The team is only 6 points away from dropping all the way to spot #11 in the conference. This means only one thing - there is no rest at this point, and the team must continue to work hard in every game during the final push to earn the playoffs berth. With 20 games remaining, if they play well they can still challenge Detroit and even Vancouver for the top seed in the conference, or if they don't, they can still miss the playoffs and hit the links as soon as month and a half from now.
Before this crucial, and likely the most important, month of the regular season begins, let's take a look at how the past month went statistically for the team. Yes, it is that time of the month again for Ivano to crunch the numbers and update his ever growing Excel story of the Sharks season and come up with 10 stats that stand out the most. .
1. In its 25 years of NHL history, the Sharks only had a better February once-- in 2002, when they did not lose a single game. But the asterisks could be put next to that year, as they only played six games before Winter Olympics started in Salt Lake City. They lost more than twice in all other years, including other years when February was shortened due to the Olympics.
2. Best offensive player of the month? Devin Setoguchi, by far. He lead the team in goals (8), tied for the lead in points (8), had just four giveaways in 13 games, and was second on the team in hits (28). All this in just 16 minutes a night on the ice on average.
3. Second best player on the offense? This one surprised me. It seems as though it would be Marleau or Thornton, yet there he was, Joe Pavelski, quietly earning points night in and out. He tied with Devin Setoguchi for points in February at 13 (4 goals, 9 assists). Joe the Clutch is heating up.
4. Only three players on the team were in the negative +/-. Mayers and McCarthy came in at -3, and Scott Nichol logged a -1. As a team, the Sharks were +66 in February. Compare it to -40 in January or -28 in November-- the two worst months of Sharks hockey this season.
5. No need to be a Larionov to see that the team is blocking more shots now. How about 210 in February vs 154 in January or just 118 in October? You're welcome, Antti Niemi.
6. Murray of course leads the team in blocked shots, with 38. He had 24 in January. Second on the team - Vlasic, with 26 pucks to the body, an improvement from 18 in January. Joe Pavelski and Ben Eager lead all forwards in blocks with 12 and 10 respectively in February.
7. That bust Logan Couture? Only 11 points in January. Is it time for Worcester yet? Maybe not yet, because somehow that young fellow had just one giveaway in all of February. Think about this once again-- one giveaway in 13 games.
8. Dan Boyle's average time on the ice is finally trending down. After averaging over 27 minutes a night in December and January, his ice time in February went down to 25 minutes a night. Healthy defensive corps and the arrival of Ian White helps.
9. While Dany Heatley continues having trouble finding the net with just two goals in 13 games in February (he's at least in Kent Huskins territory now who also had two last month), it is not for the lack of trying. He's only trailing Setoguchi and Pavelski in shots on goal in February. At some point, the pucks will start going in. If not now, maybe in April, May or June?
10. To round up this burst of positivity, let's look at Antti Niemi's numbers for February. In 13 games he had 11 wins, a 1.85 GA, anda 0.934 SV%. He is my player of the month and I will be shocked if he won't earn one of the stars of the month from the NHL itself, as it gets announced sometime later today.
The month of March is going to be easy on the travel, as the Sharks only leave Pacific timezone twice in the middle of the month, and play 10 out of the next 14 games at home. But with a large number of Pacific teams battling for small number of remaining playoffs spots, there won't be too many easy opponents for this team. Before regular season is over, the Sharks will play the Kings, the Coyotes, the Red Wings, the Predators, the Flames, the Stars, the Ducks - most of them more than once. None of these games will be easy.
Except, maybe, for tonight's when the Sharks are facing the Colorado Avalanche, the team that is headed in the exact opposite direction than the Sharks. Consider this-- they won just once in February, and have only 6 wins in 25 games they played thus far in 2011.
Not the worst team to play after a long and hard road trip.
PREDICTION: Sharks win 5-1, with goals by Setoguchi, Huskins, Wallin, Wellwood, Pavelski and another one by Wallin, into his own net.