This past month has been a total blur, with the sharks winning consistently and climbing up the standings has eased all the concerns going into the playoffs. We still don't know where the sharks will finish in the west, but you have to think it will be in the top 4, guaranteeing home-ice for the first round at least. Earlier in the season, there were a lot of questions about the lineup and offense and where the defense was and where the goal-tending was going to come from.
All these questions seemed to be answered to most simple way possible. The Sharks just started winning. In the past 2 months, I have watched less sharks games, because i feel better about them finding a way to win. Earlier in the season, i could not get away from the sharks game, as there was a large chance that they were going to find a way to lose. With all of this said, we know that it is easy to comment on the strengths of a team moving into the playoffs. Here are the things to take note of heading into the playoffs.
1) How much of a matchup problem will our "3rd line" be for other teams? This is one of my favorite parts about the sharks this year. The Mitchell-Pavs-Wellwood line has just been on fire lately, and I do not expect that to slow down anytime soon, as teams are forced to match them up with their 2nd or 3rd defensive pairing. For me, this is the biggest key on offense for the sharks heading into the playoffs. The fact that we may be the deepest team on offense in the league with the injury to Manny Malhotra. Couture is starting to command the second defensive pairing regularly, and Seto-Thornton-Marleau have started to command the top defensive pairing as those 3 are also heating up right now.
2) What kind of defense will McLellan role with? Will he go with the puck moving young defense, or the older, more cup experienced defense? Personally, i think the best part about this question is that the sharks now have this dilemma to think about. It will be nice to be able to switch the defense after considering the matchups that the teams will pose for the sharks. I really hope that McLellan decides to role with Demers and Braun, as they have become better in the defensive zone and they make good defensive plays from time to time. To me, Wallin has looked very iffy at times, and continuously gets burned by the opposition and Niemi has to bail him out.
3) Will the Sharks rest any players going into the playoffs? This is a weird question, but one i think that needs to be thought about. The sharks have a lot of players that have been playing big minutes down the stretch and Niemi has been absolutely on fire. The question then is, with most of the games left against pacific division opponents, when do we find a time to rest him with Niittymakki taking a start away and giving Niemi the rest? Also, we know that some of the players have bumps and bruises that need to be rested, but with the tough schedule and no breathing room, will there be a time soon that they can rest those players? I fully trust McLellan to figure this one out and hopefully the team will be in good shape going into the playoffs.
So Lets Go Sharks, and lets build on last year's playoffs for maybe the most memorable one this year!