Sharks Gameday: "I can feel your anger... it gives you focus, it makes you stronger!"
|7-3-2, 16 points||5-5-1, 11 points |
|4th in Eastern Conference ||13th in Western Conference |
| || |
With the red hot Tampa Bay Lightning rolling into town, and Joe Thornton's suspension making headlines all across North America, the stage is set for what could either be an inspiring performance by the San Jose Sharks or one that is a disjointed effort right from the opening whistle.
Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan clearly has his hands full right now-- his best player and Captain has been suspended, Sharks management is livid with the League, the players are confused with the ruling, and the fanbase is fired up beyond belief.
Add in the fact that San Jose has been shutout in their last two games and you have a perfect storm of distractions for the team.
The Sharks aren't playing well right now, the offense dried up. It's a rough patch during the season, and as we mentioned yesterday, every game from here on out feels bigger than it usually does at this time of year. Too early to hit the panic button, but too deep to brush it off as something insignificant. That eerie middle ground of uncertainty that makes you feel like Charlie's uncle Jack is waiting right around the corner with some marinara sauce and a box of chocolates. You don't why the hell he's there, and damn if you understand that creepy grin, but you have an inkling of what it all means. It's a scary time to be alive.
For the Sharks, this just might be the biggest game of their season to date. That phrase is bandied about with regularity when it comes to sporting events, but tonight it's definitely applicable.
Losing Thornton at a time like this, especially under controversial circumstances, is difficult beyond belief. He's your top point producer and head figure in the locker room, the team's de facto leader both on and off the ice. The lines are going to be patched together to make up for the loss in offense and the locker room is going to be put to the test. Leaders will have to step up, from McLellan to Boyle to Pavelski to Nichol, ensuring that the team stays focused on the task at hand-- taking two points and burying Tampa on the scoreboard.
San Jose's current issues with taking penalties are going to be a major factor here as well. HP Pavilion will be riding the referees all night, and any questionable call against the Sharks will bring the house down. I wouldn't be surprised to see the officials police the contest tightly right from the get go, in an attempt to dissuade any lingering frustration from the Sharks from bubbling over. It is absolutely essential San Jose can find that state of being aggressively in control without flying all over the place taking runs at guys. They need to stay out of the box and use that energy to play a clean, hard hitting, intense game-- anything resembling a penalty might get a whistle, something the Sharks can't afford to do with Steven Stamkos and Marty St. Louis waiting to capitalize.
I think that will be the biggest factor against Tampa-- the mental game. Not allowing Thornton's suspension to distract them, not using their frustration to play outside of themselves, but instead making sure to corrall that energy into productivity. It's strictly a team effort tonight, and one that can bring them together in a way that a regulation loss in Calgary during the first month of the season just can't.
Look for Dan Boyle and Joe Pavelski to have tremendous games. You can just feel it in your bones.
Prediction: Sharks win 4-1. Goals by Boyle (x2), Pavelski, and McGinn. Joe Thornton gets suspended for another game after bumping into a concession attendant who had his head down.