|34-23-7, 75 points||38-21-6, 82 points
|8th in Western Conference
||3rd in Western Conference
I think what's been most interesting about this twenty game run from the Sharks is just how much the result can influence one's perception of the team. Wins are the driving force behind any and all discussion you'll hear in regards to a team's "hotness" or "coldness", and since the Sharks are about as hot as Randy Carlyle's temper following a 5 on 3 power play in the second period of a 5-0 game (people don't forget these things), it's interesting to take a look at San Jose's season in bits and pieces only to see how vastly similar all of the numbers are. Well, outside of one key metric of course, but we'll get to that in a minute.
I think it's only natural to look at San Jose's season in three parts-- the stretch leading up to the six game losing streak, the six game losing streak itself, and this current run of poetic brilliance that followed the six game losing streak. Those six games were a difficult one for the franchise considering all of the inconsistency that plagued the Sharks beforehand, and once the anvil came down, knocking some teeth loose and sending enamel flying westward into the murky depths of the Pacific, San Jose underwent a transformation that changed their entire approach to winning hockey games.
Get better goaltending, and get it quick.
Now I'm not saying that defensive responsibility is something that hasn't improved, or San Jose's current ability to dictate the flow of games isn't there, but like Dan Boyle told David Pollak of the San Jose Mercury News two weeks ago, "I can tell you that we haven't changed anything as far as X's and O's are concerned. It's not like there was a big revelation as far as our game plan is concerned."
Things, In Threes
||G/GP ||GA/GP ||SF/GP ||SA/GP ||S% ||SV%
|Pre 6 Game Losing Streak
|6 Game Losing Streak
|Post 6 Game Losing Streak
San Jose, consistently outshooting opponents, consistently falling in the lower end of team wide shooting percentage. Not much has changed in this run to that degree, with nearly every rate holding constant wherever you turn.
What changed was the performance they got between the pipes every single night. All of a sudden the team's SV% (i.e. Niemi's save percentage) shot through the roof and the team started winning games at a frantic pace. I wouldn't go as far to say that he's the sole reason for the turnaround, but if you're looking for the catalyst, the genesis, the alpha dog, there's no doubt he's your starting point.
Which is probably a big reason why Doug Wilson lifted his policy on in-season contract negotiations to lock the Finnish goaltender up to a four year contract worth $3.8 MM per year against the salary cap.
We're recording the podcast tonight, so expect more on the contract there. However, here's a question I'd like to throw out there for a primer for the discussion tonight-- who has been the most improved Sharks player in the last twenty games compared to their first thirty nine games?
My short list is(looks dangerous every shift), (he might be the consensus), and (who, in my opinion, has had a phenomenal year all season long and is finally starting to accumulate the points to show for it).
Prediction: Sharks win 3-0. Goals by Marleau, Setoguchi, and Pavelski.