Sharks Gameday: Definition
|23-19-5, 51 points||29-10-7, 65 points |
|10th in Western Conference ||1st in Western Conference |
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With the Sharks finally managing to come out of their disheartening six game losing streak with wins over St. Louis and Phoenix during this past holiday weekend, the wheels have begun to finally begun to gain some traction in San Jose. The big three of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, and Dany Heatley are finally scoring. Logan Couture endured a slump to start January, and after being forced to sit out after a knee on knee collision with Colton Orr, now finds himself playing on Thornton's wing to give the top line the scoring production it has lacked all season. Joe Pavelski has returned after missing eight games with a lower body injury, further shoring up the Sharks scoring punch. Antti Niemi has been nothing sort of excellent in January, and looks to be establishing himself as the go-to netminder for the time being for San Jose.
Despite a key injury to Ryane Clowe, and a four-game suspension for Scott Nichol, things have begun to get a little rosier for the Sharks. They're finally winning games again. They added to their forward depth by acquiring Ben Eager and Kyle Wellwood on Tuesday. And you get the feeling that the team is finally understanding just what kind of fight it's going to be to crack the playoff picture this season.
But no matter which way you slice it, tonight's game against Vancouver is a definition.
A definition of details. San Jose has been able to do the majority of the little things correctly over their last two tilts, and as we saw at the tail end of the losing streak, had shown signs of improvement from their disappointing first half of the season. But consistency (or lack thereof) has been a glaring issue for San Jose this season, and it remains to be seen whether or not these types of performances can continue.
A definition of matchups. The Canucks come into tonight's game perched upon the top of the Western Conference, owners of 65 points and one of the deepest lineups in the league. From goaltending to defense to offense, Vancouver is stacked and remains one of the mid-season favorites to win the Stanley Cup. They're a roster loaded with weapons, and as the Sharks 0-2-0 record against Vancouver will indicate, one who has managed to outclass San Jose in many aspects of the game.
A definition of progress. Tonight remains one of the biggest games this season for San Jose. In an 82 game season some games stick out more than others, and playing Vancouver on the road after a dehabilitating losing streak definitely fits the bill. There's no better way to gauge the progress you've made over the course of the year than to play the best, and right now, Detroit and Vancouver are clearly the best teams in the Western Conference.
Added into the layer of intrigue is the two new acquisitions San Jose made this week. Both Ben Eager and Kyle Wellwood have a history with Vancouver-- Eager for being a part of a Blackhawks team that tormented the Canucks during the last two postseasons, and Wellwood for being a part of the organization before he was let go in the offseason and went to the KHL. New blood has a way of shaking up the locker room and increasing competition levels-- all of a sudden there's a guy sitting across from you that was brought in to take away your job, or at the very least, take away some of your minutes.
There's no doubt tonight is an important game for San Jose. Both in the sense of standings points allocation, which San Jose is hurting for right now, as well as potential playoff matchups. With Vancouver at the top of the Conference, and the Sharks looking at a low seed barring a sizeable reversal of fortune, this has the potential of being a game where statements are sent and matchups get made. It's getting more and more likely the Sharks will have to go on the road to start the postseason (if they even crack the top eight), and more and more likely that the Canucks will be a team they will have to face in order to reach their goals.
As Ric Flair once said, "You have to beat the best in order to be the best."
More importantly, you have to remember not to beat yourself along the way.
Prediction: Sharks win 3-2 in overtime. Goals by McGinn, Heatley, and Pavelski. Fear The Fin sells its soul to give away a free Sharks jersey, and Kyle Wellwood gets moo'd despite clocking in at under 180 pounds.